Like so many around the world, I have experienced anguish, heartache and deep worry for the people of Japan following last week’s earthquake and tsunami. Their nuclear crisis is still unfolding and shows no immediate signs of abating. There is so much I could say about this disaster, but I wanted to focus on something more specific.
Yesterday, I was reading the latest updates on the New York Times and came across several photos of rescue workers recovering victims’ bodies. It both touched and saddened me to see the workers praying over the bodies. Like many images coming from Japan right now, it was an intesely private moment made public, which only increased its sense of poignancy.
The workers’ hands were in gassho, essentially a prayer pose with palms together at the heart, or just in front of the mouth. The word gassho in Japanese literally means “two hands coming together” and is used to express greeting, request, thankfulness, reverence and prayer. But it represents something far deeper. It represents the true reality of our being, our ordinary self and our enlightened self coming together as one. When one person bows in gassho to another, they are acknowledging as Maezumi Roshi points out, “the One Mind – the total unity of Being.”
This disaster didn’t happen just to the Japanese people; in the realm of spiritual existence and reality, it happened to us too. We share in their loss, grieving and healing process. Within the action of gassho, the rescue workers are doing more than simply showing respect for the dead. They are acknowledging the spiritual aspect of human existence that transcends the body. In gassho, they (and we, too) are one people, one mind, one heart.
The kanji character above represents “kokoro”, or “heart.” Image courtesy of Towofu Soft.
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