Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gusto for Gassho

"The handshake is thought by some to have originated as a gesture of peace by demonstrating that the hand holds no weapon."

Wikipedia entry on "Handshake"


With a fast growing global economy, and with it the threat of world-wide pandemics exponentially growing, I think it's time we start re-thinking some of the old-fashioned, generally accepted western traditions regarding modes of greeting. For example, what used to be considered a "gesture of peace," - the hearty handshake, now has the potential of being a "weapon of mass destruction," in the hands of an infected person!!!

Having studied and practiced Japanese Buddhism - I became very aware of the deeply-rooted cultural greeting practiced in Japan and other parts of the eastern world. Instead of the handshake, their custom is to press the hands together and bow toward the other person. I think it's time that this practice, called Gassho, started gaining ground in the west - not just among the hippies and new agers - but as a standard greeting for all social events.

I'm sure at first that the practice would be viewed as quirky or strange amongst our family, friends, and peers - but once we get over this initial social discomfort at the adoption of a "foreign" practice, I'm sure it would become generally accepted, and possibly the best form of greeting.

I think that most people would also be happy to drop the handshake habit when they realize it's strange, barbaric origin. I have to admit that after I discovered the supposed origin of the handshake as a gesture of peace because it revealed to the other person that you had no weapons, I felt embarrassed to shake anyone's hand - what a strange, warped perspective on the meaning of peace!!

"Everyone has Buddha nature, the potential to become a Buddha. Because of this we treat all with highest respect and greet them with gassho, a bow. It think this is a wonderful teaching - to respect others."

Gyomay M. Kubose, The Center Within, p. 4- 5

Beside the benefit of potentially reducing the spread of disease, there are of course many other reasons to perform gassho.
  • It is a sign of humility, by giving honor and respect to others
  • It encourages a sense of openness and friendship (as opposed to the attitude of someone checking for "hidden weapons!!")
  • It prevents the occasional, painful crushing of innocent fingers by the gregarious relative. (in loving memory of my Uncle Ernie - a gentle dock worker with incredibly strong hands - who brought me, as a young boy, to tears many times, with his "hearty" handshake.)
  • It helps avoid a lot of social awkwardness between men and women.
  • Children love to do it - and it makes more sense to them than shaking hands. 
However, gassho is not just a matter of "how you use your hands," it also has tremendous potential in subtle ways that we, at first, may not be aware of: 


"....Gassho is not necessarily shown only by its form-the putting together of the hands and bowing. Without the form there is still gassho. Gassho begins in each individual's mind-the mind where we are able to respect others. When a husband respects his wife and vice versa and when parents respect children and vice versa, there is the foundation for peace. Virtue is not our own; virtue always has neighbors. This is how the attitude of gassho can start to vibrate in our environment. It is through gassho that we can fulfill the Buddha nature within us."
Gyomay M. Kubose, The Center Within, p. 4- 5

illustration: "Gassho" by Laurie Ledingham (

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