Monday, August 10, 2015

Why do we greet the manifestation of the divine with palms together?

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Whenever a manifestation of divinity appears in the Mahabharata, the ancient Sanskrit epic that at over 200,000 lines is about 7.2 times longer than both the Iliad and the Odyssey combined and which contains the entirety of the Bhagavad Gita which itself is one of the clearest and most direct expositions of the ancient wisdom to have survived anywhere, the characters typically greet the divinity with palms pressed together.

The text itself in most cases will specifically describe this palms-together greeting.

For example, in the portion of the Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Krishna the divine charioteer reveals his cosmic form to Arjuna -- reveals his infinite, divine, and un-definable nature to Arjuna -- the text specifically states that Arjuna experiences "great ecstasy" and the hairs of his entire body stand on end as if under the influence of an electric current, and that Arjuna then offers obeisances to Krishna and performs the anjali mudra -- he places his hands together (see the text of Bhagavad Gita 11.14 here, which shows the Sanskrit characters as well as a word-by-word or phrase-by-phrase translation, and also provides an aural reading of the sloka).

The text itself says literally:
Thereafter being overwhelmed with amazement, with his bodily hairs standing on end due to great ecstasy, Arjuna with his body offered obeisances unto Lord Krishna, and began to speak with folded hands [krta-anjalih].
Again, when Krishna directs Arjuna to invoke the goddess Durga in the chapters immediately prior to the section of the Mahabharata containing the Bhagavad Gita, the text once again specifically describes Arjuna as performing the anjali mudra (placing palms together):
Beholding the Dhartarashtra army approach for fight, Krishna said these words for Arjuna's benefit. The holy one said, "Cleansing thyself, O mighty-armed one, utter on the eve of battle thy hymn to Durga for compassing the defeat of the foe." Sanjaya continued: Thus addressed on the eve of battle by Vasudeva endued with great intelligence, Pritha's son Arjuna, alighting from his car, said the following hymn with joined hands. Arjuna said: "I bow to thee, O leader of Yogins, O thou that art identical with Brahman, O thou that dwellest in the forest of Mandara, O thou that art freed from decrepitude and decay, O Kali, O wife of Kapala, O thou that art of a black and tawny hue, I bow to thee. O bringer of benefits to thy devotees, I bow to thee, O Mahakali, O wife of the universal destroyer, I bow to thee.
The same palms-together gesture is described many, many other times in the Mahabharata when divinities appear.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

What does it specifically mean, that the ancient sacred Sanskrit texts describe the performance of the anjali mudra at the appearance of a celestial? 

Please take a moment and re-read carefully the previous post entitled "Namaste and Amen" from July 10, 2014. There, the meaning of anjali mudra is discussed, along with references which explain that the gesture signifies something along the lines of "the divinity in me acknowledges the divinity in you" or "I recognize the one-ness of the divine presence which is in me and in all other beings and in all other things."

In other words, the ancient text is of course telling us that the person who encounters the divinity is recognizing and acknowledging that divinity by pressing together the hands in this gesture. But the text is also showing us with this gesture that this divinity which they recognize is within them as well.

The characters in the epic, to put it most directly, are constantly greeting the gods and goddesses with the palms-together gesture which says: "Divinity in you -- divinity in me: all one." The divinity which appears, in a very important sense, is already there before he or she appears. Our connection with them is already within us.

This concept is discussed in previous posts discussing the sudden appearance of deities in the Mahabharata (often while meditating or at the recitation of a mantra), including "Why divinities can appear in an instant: the inner connection to the Infinite" and "The blindness of Dhritarastra, and Upamanyu at the bottom of the well."

The fact that the ancient texts are telling us that our connection to the Infinite, as represented by Lord Krishna or the goddess Durga, is actually internal is also discussed at length in the previous posts on the Bhagavad Gita and on the hymn to Durga which also contain videos on the subject.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

When the characters in the Mahabharata place their palms together, they are recognizing that this infinite deity with whom they are now in communication is in fact within them also.

The text is trying to tell us that this is not a "special power" of the characters depicted in the epic (such as the semi-divine sons of Pandu, including Arjuna). It is telling us that this is the condition of each and every human being who has come down to this incarnate life (another reason why violence against others or against oneself is so wrong). We are each "semi-divine" and in actual contact with the infinite (and this is why in India all persons are greeted with this palms-together gesture and the expression "Namaste," just as the previous post linked above discussing the similarity between Namaste and Amen shows that the ancient Egyptians, as recounted by Plutarch, greeted one another in the same way with the word "Amun").

And, it is most significant that this same hand gesture is associated with communication with the Infinite divinity in New Testament times -- because the New Testament texts also tell us quite specifically that the divine is within us. 

There were other texts written at the same time as the texts which were allowed to be included in the New Testament, but which were specifically banned from inclusion in it, which explain the divinity of the individual in even plainer language and metaphor. For example, the Gospel of Thomas speaks of Thomas as having a "divine twin" (see previous discussion here).

And, have a close look at the multiple paintings from previous centuries depicting the New Testament episode of the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan which are shown and discussed in this previous post. Here again, the hands in each and every depiction are in the palms-together gesture -- and note that it is at this event, which in fact is known as "the Epiphany," that the divine nature was revealed (depicted in the episode by the manifestation of a divine voice and the visible descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove).

It is also significant to note that in the first passage from the Bhagavad Gita cited above (from chapter 11 and verse 14) Arjuna is described as having an "electrified" feeling in the presence of the supreme form of Krishna. This may well relate to the invisible power which is called chi in Chinese tradition, and prana in India, and which is discussed in this previous post among others. This discussion of the hands-together gesture of namaskaram specifically states that there are different energy points throughout the human body, and that the different hand gestures or mudras of Indic tradition make use of them. It says:
So namaskaram is not just a cultural aspect. There is a science behind it. If you are doing your sadhana, every time you bring your palms together, there is a crackle of energy -- a boom is happening.
I believe that the Mahabharata (along with other ancient sacred texts) is telling us that we all have access to the Infinite, and that when you feel the presence of the Infinite and you place your hands together, you are recognizing that the divinity is also inside you.


image: Wikimedia commons (link).