Putting Our Palms Together
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
The Attitude of Following the Dharma
Happy New Year!
With our hearts full of hope and gratitude as we
wish each other a successful year, let us be cheerful,
joyful, and diligent.
At every New Year’s season, following the
founder’s example I do my first calligraphy of the
year. I select two subjects for this and the results
are mounted on two hanging scrolls. One of the
subjects in recent years is gassho, meaning placing
the palms together in prayer. The act of placing the
palms together in this way is inseparably connected
with faith, and since we Buddhists follow
the principle of revering the buddha-nature in
others, the spirit of the act is just as important for
lay practitioners as it is for monks and nuns.
Placing the palms together in prayer does
not seem to have its origin in Buddhism, however.
Someone once wrote about the act of placing the
palms together “We have, since ancient times, put
our palms together to pay homage to the gods and
the buddhas, and when we do this, we are engaging
in spiritual communion with the gods and the buddhas.”
In fact, a clay figurine of a seated figure
with hands clasped in prayer and eyes raised to
heaven was excavated at a Jomon era (about
14,000 B.C.E. to about 400 B.C.E.) archeological
site in Japan. So placing the palms together must be
an extremely ancient form of prayer.
In Europe, people say that placing the
palms together is communicating with God. In all
parts of the world, the aspiration to follow the
Absolute, the Wondrous—in other words, the Truth and the Dharma—leads people to spontaneously
place their palms together.
From another perspective, it can be said that
when people place their palms together they
become truthful and return to their basic humility.
Placing the palms together—calming the
mind by bringing the left and right hands together
in the center of the body and closing the eyes to
gaze inward—creates a sense of balance in all of
the organs of the body. This could be considered a
basic position that promotes our physical and
Placing the Palms Together Before Others
Whenever the founder met other people, he placed
his hands together before them. We members of Rissho
Kosei-kai — good friends in the Dharma — also usually
greet one another by placing our palms together. We do
not need to reevaluate the importance of placing our
palms together in this way, but we need to ask ourselves
if in our everyday lives we are placing our palms
together before the people nearest us, our friends and
Some people can pray before images of the Buddha
but not before other people. And some people may say
they would never even dream of placing their palms
together before the members of their own families.
Shakyamuni never gave preferential treatment to any
member of his own family. He accepted as disciples
those relatives who wanted to become followers. He
respected all members of his family equally.
Children are not the personal property of their
parents, so it is important that all family members place
their palms together before each other as a first step in
respecting and appreciating their individual personalities.
The Bodhisattva Never Despise, who appears in the
Lotus Sutra, reverently placed his palms together before
everyone he met, telling them, “You will certainly
become buddhas.” This practice of revering all symbolizes
the substance of the enlightenment attained by the
Buddha — the realization of the preciousness of all things.
We ourselves are not the only ones who deserve
respect. Of course, so do the members of our families,
but so does everyone else who has received the precious
gift of life. In other words, the fundamental principle
permeating all living beings is mutual respect. Placing
the palms together in reverence is the form that only
human beings are able to perform to manifest the spirit
of mutual respect.
Therefore, a world in which everyone placed their
palms together in this way would be a world free of
conflict. Placing one’s palms together is the simplest,
most immediate religious act, and helps to achieve
peace and harmony. At the same time, of course, it is not
necessary for us to insist upon the form of placing the
palms together. What matters most is that we offer
reverence to people in a spirit of mutual respect, truthfully
follow the Dharma, and place our palms together
in prayer before the gods and the buddhas.
The underlying meaning of this act of placing one’s
palms together is that this simple act could grow into a
religious movement which would reflect the basic
essence of Buddhism.
All over the world, people are calling for lasting
peace. Each of us, all of us, one by one, fully realizing
the spirit of placing one’s palms together and regularly
following this practice can be of profound significance.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.