„We greet you with heart, not with hands, “was written on a sign in a hospital that I visited some time ago. By now, it has become a global rule in fighting the cornoavirus: no handshaking. But how to replace the handshake? Creative inventions like foot taps, air high fives, or elbow bumps have been introduced. The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged the Indian ‚Namaste` greeting in place of handshakes during the coronavirus outbreak. For some, it took some time to adjust. Funny videos on social media showed vips like Prince Charles and Donald Trump getting used to the new way of greeting each other. For devotees of Krishna, of course, that has always been the way to greet someone. The Vedic Añjali Mudrā (placing one's hands together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards) and the expression Namaste indicates a greeting from the heart: “the divine in me respectfully recognizes the divine in you.”
This gesture and way to greet each other indicate a deep culture of respect. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has taught us that we should not demand respect but be willing to give respect to everyone. Bhaktivinoda Thakur makes the point that one who has sastriya shraddha, faith in the holy scriptures, will automatically give respect. How? Because he will understand that the Lord is residing in the hearts of everyone, and therefore everyone is respectable. Disrespect, on the other hand, is a sign of ignorance and a great obstacle on the path of bhakti.
„Brahmanas should be respected according to their knowledge. Kastriya should be respected according to their power. Vaisyas should be regarded according to their wealth, and Sudras should be recognized according to their age.“ This is the advice of the Manu-Samhita. Bhaktivinoda Thakur, however, advises us to give respect to everyone who has some of these qualities, after all, a Vaishnava gives respect to every living entity, even to an ant!
What happens if we do not cultivate a proper attitude of respect?
Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakur describes four levels of disrespect and its consequences, based on Kapiladeva’s instructions to Devahuti in the third canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam (1):
1.) Avajñayā —Disregarding or Arrogance. This means we are looking down upon someone. Feeling superior, maybe even in a very subtle way, not yet expressed in words. As a result, we lose the simplicity of our hearts; simplicity means we respect everyone. We lose the attitude of honoring everyone as devotees of the Lord. We become hypocrites, and our judgmental mentality grows more and more. Because we become pretenders, we start to see everyone else as a pretender.
2.) Upekṣā —Neglect. We become so arrogant and disrespectful that we neglect others. We pass by somebody not saying anything. We deny someone's existence. That is very painful for others. As a result, we lose our faith in God. The unconscious message we give with the behavior of not properly respecting another person, not recognizing the presence of God in their heart, is that we’re negating the existence of God! Therefore ultimately, we lose our faith in God.
3.) Dvēṣa — Hatred. To actively hate somebody. It starts from avajñayā, looking down on someone, but if it's not stopped initially, it grows to hate someone actively. As a result, we live in a very hostile environment. We start to feel „I am living amongst enemies“, we will begin to see all others hating us. If we have dvesa in our heart, we will see enemies everywhere.
4.) Nindā — Openly criticizing somebody. Hatred may be there even in a way that’s not expressed yet, but nindā means we openly criticize. It seems that there is a particular rasa, a taste in this if we look at the internet. The ‚nectar of committing an offence‘, some people enjoy this. As a result, their bhakti lata, their creeper of devotional service, gets destroyed.
Disrespect is the murderer of our spiritual life. If we want to develop ourselves individually, and as a society, we have to establish a culture of respect! If you do not have respect you do not understand sastra! On the other hand, one who has shraddha will naturally express respect.
I think it is a good start if people around the world adopt some aspects of Vedic culture, such as folding hands and slightly bowing down their heads as a show of respect. For us as devotees, already accustomed to the lifestyle of Namaste, it might be an excellent reminder to live the Namaste - meaning to try to see the Lord in everyone's heart and to truly show respect to each-other!
1 - Adopted from a talk by H.H. Bhakti Vijnana Goswami at the program organizied by the Institute for Spiritual Culture, in February this year at Mayapur