Aisatsu: a Zen Buddhist “greeting”

Here’s a random cultural fact about Japanese and Zen. In Japanese, the word commonly used for “greeting” is aisatsu (挨拶). However, a while back, I read in my cultural guidebook, that the word was originally used in Zen Buddhism to describe when two monks met one another, and tested each other on their knowledge of the moral precepts and other aspects of Buddhism. It helped the two monks establish who was the elder (the wiser, more experienced monk) and the junior, I believe.

Now though, the term means anytime you meet someone and exchange greetings. It’s another example of Buddhist terms that become everyday Japanese. :)

Something I wanted to pass along. :)

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About Doug

A Buddhist, father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
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2 Responses to Aisatsu: a Zen Buddhist “greeting”

  1. johnl says:

    I used to think the Japanese were pretty obsessive about greetings. You know, school kids have to greet their teacher in unison at the start of the day, etc. Then, my feelings changed a bit when I was in a performance with a (medium-) famous kabuki actor. My teacher took me to his dressing room for ‘go aisatsu’. Even though we both knew the name of the other (I knew who he was because of his medium-level fame; he knew about me because I was the only non-Japanese in the production–something else the Japanese are a bit obsessive about), we couldn’t really relate until having the greeting. I felt it was a bit like booting up a computer–you can’t do anything without that. Also, I could relate a bit more to Victorian ladies and gentlemen who could not speak to each other without being formally introduced.

    JL

  2. Doug says:

    Good point about appreciating the ritual behind greetings. I underwent a similar transition where I thought it was overly stilted and annoying, but when you get into the system and get used to it, it makes sense. I think it also goes back to Confucius’s emphasis on ritual above all else, and now I appreciate why he would say such things. It sounds funny to an American like me whose raised to believe that ritual and custom are old and backwards (and even manners aren’t what they used to be), but now I guess I appreciate the “old ways” more, like the Victorian stuff you cited. Good call.

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