Quite literally meaning ‘I acknowledge the spirit within you’, the three musical syllables of ‘Namaste‘ are the essence of what keeps Nepal ticking.
While economically poor, ripe with political in-fighting and ever-looming oppression from the socially backwards and anachronistic Maoists, the spirit of humanity contained within the word allows Nepal to remain rich with the daily happiness and strength required to survive.
There aren’t many words like ‘Namaste‘ (the closest I can think of is the Hawaiian ‘Aloha’). It is a beautiful concept: a simple acknowledgement of the fellow human, an ideal so often and depressingly ignored throughout the world. No matter your caste, creed, social status, color, or occupation, the word ‘Namaste‘ is uttered to passers on the street and on the trails as an equalizer, a recognition that we are all in this grand old show together.
In the English speaking west, we say “Good Morning” as our casual verbal nod, often abbreviated down to just “Morning.” In France, it’s ‘Bonjour’ meaning ‘Good Day’; in Australian, it’s condensed to a fleeting ‘G’day’.
These are cop-outs. They are the shortest, most worthless utterances of small talk imaginable. They are remarks about the weather or the time of the day. ‘Good Morning’, or ‘Morning!’ is a trite acknowledgement that yes, it is indeed morning, maybe hopefully it is going to be ‘good’ (for whom exactly, the speaker or receiver, one might wonder?). Does hearing someone say ‘good morning’ actually make your morning better? The remark might even make it worse, if one’s day had actually just gotten off to a terribly rough start.
‘Namaste‘ doesn’t try to beat around the bush with small talk about the time of day or the amount of precipitation in the sky (you don’t hear ‘good morning’ as often during thunderstorms). The word is recognition of the essence of the human condition; it is a cheerful sounding utterance that actually forces you to smile when you say it (go ahead, say it right now), a simple physical act that has been shown in studies to actually elevate your mood. Maybe this is why Nepalis are almost always in a good mood, regardless of their lack of relative economic prosperity and crappy smelling bathrooms.
I’m not suggesting you give a heartily bellowed ‘Namaste!’ to the next person you share an elevator with in New York City–yes, that would be super weird–but it might be a worthwhile endeavor to remember as often as possible that inside each human is a spirit much like your own that drives them onward and through the pain and suffering we all deal with from day to day. We are all playing around in this biological theme park together, and it’s only with the positive natural and essential support that we’re going to get through it and enjoy ourselves and each other as much as possible.