The Gassho Gesture in Buddhism

Gassho, greetings and gratitude. Getty

The word gassho is Japanese word  that means "palms of the hands placed together." The gesture is used in some schools of Buddhism, as well as in Hinduism.  The gesture is made as a greeting, in gratitude, or to make a request. It can also be used as a mudra--a symbolic hand gesture used during meditation. 

In the most common form of gassho used in Japanese Zen, hands are pressed together, palm to palm in front of one's face.

Fingers are straight. There should be about a fist's distance between one's nose and one's hands. Fingertips should be the same distance from the floor as one's nose. Elbows are held slightly away from the body.

Holding the hands in front of the face signifies non-duality. It signifies that the giver and receiver of the bow are not two.

Gassho often accompanies a bow. To bow, bend only at the waist, keeping the back straight. When used with a bow, the gesture is sometimes known as gassho rei. 

Ken Yamada, of the Berkeley Higashi Honganji Temple where Pure Land Buddhism is practiced, observed: 

Gassho is more than a pose. It is symbolic of the Dharma, the truth about life. For instance, we place together our right and left hand, which are opposites. It represents other opposites as well: you and me, light and dark, ignorance and wisdom, life and death

Gassho also symbolizes respect, the Buddhist teachings, and the Dharma. It also is an expression of our feelings of gratitude and our inter-connectedness with each other. It symbolizes the realization that our lives are supported by innumerable causes and conditions. 

In Reiki, an alternative medicine practice that grew out of Japanese Buddhism in the 1920s, the Gassho is used as a stationary sitting pose during meditations ​and is thought to be a means of circulating healing energy.