Bend your heads and fold your hands: Asian Culture Ahead of the Curve

President of the United States called it, when he verbatim emphasized the need for separation during these Coronovirus times. President Trump spoke about how the Japanese bow their heads and Indians fold their hands as a sign of greeting and respect, instead of shaking them. Well, they are not doing it now, they have been doing this for centuries. It’s part of their culture, that’s what they do.

The Japanese handshake (if it does transpire) is short (not prolonged and extended) and has little or no eye contact. Thais greet one another with a wai – bow, elbows in, hands clasped as if in prayer. The gesture is said to date from the 12th century. Indian namaste in a posture called Añjali Mudrā means “I bow to the divine in you”, and effectively keeps safe distance, both physically and psychically. Besides viral infections, it prevents people’s subtler energies from invading yours, which is taken very seriously in Hinduism. Many Hindu deities, including Hanuman, are seen in this posture.

Buddhist monks’ emphasis on sanga (or company) is essentially a forewarning of not just physical but psychic contamination in proximity of people. It points to the criticality of being around those who are more evolved than yourself. In his book Breaking the Death Habit, Leonard Orr speaks of the many Himalayan masters he encountered to learn the art of immortality. While you may not agree with Leonard when he says death is a “grave mistake”, and overall concept of physical immortality, the extended lifespans of these yogis is documented. Social distancing (at least 50 ft away from other humans) was their key techniques of maintaining physical health and spiritual purification.

Certain sects of Jain monks Muhapatti Waale Sadhus habitually wear a cloth mask to not harm micro-organisms by inhaling them, and at the same time protect themselves from invasion. Note, the cloth mask is obviously not the N95 type, yet creates a basic layer of protection between their breathing and airborne infections. It’s a win-win, just as all ethical spiritual practices are.

Thus, social distancing is not just (potentially lifesaving) tradition woven into Asian cultures, it is a safeguard of spiritual health in the midst of our busy materialistic pursuits. Bowing of heads and folding of hands quite naturally promotes humility, and a grateful fame of mind. Other noteworthy Asian habits (such as not bringing shoes inside living areas, not keeping shoes on tables) are common sense hygiene measures, one would think. Predominantly (if not strictly) vegetarian diets offer another layer of serious protection against acquiring “novel” animal viruses.

Perhaps, Coronavirus is a blessing in disguise, nature’s wake up call or a corrective measure. The enforced “social distancing” may curtail some compulsive shopping at malls, some culinary gluttony or a ruthless hankering for co-dependancy, and just maybe turn us “inwards”, the first essential towards any real growth.