What Is Gassho?

Kobun Chino Roshi explains the meaning of gassho, a hand gesture that is often accompanied with a bow.

By Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi

Photo by Nathan Dumlao.

Mudra means “identity.” The appearance of form, color, and shape along with your recognition of a flower or candle together makes an identity. In the mudra of attjali (in Japanese called gassho) with palms together, all kinds of dualism—man and woman, past and future, parent and child, teacher and student—they all come together in front of you as you bow. The hands fit together perfectly, so they must have been one before, otherwise such identical opposites could not exist.

When one drop of father and one drop of mother came together, from that moment, a potential is there, and at some point this is very inconvenient, so the hands separate in coming to be. We say man and woman were one before. Teacher and student are not different entities, but one, so they can feel each other, touch each other. A gassho is like that.

By being separated you cannot feel the beginning place. When you touch your cheek, you feel, “Yes, it is a cheek, and it is a hand, both,” as if from a blind state. This is both an intimate and independent practice, this life. In such a lost state, touching is very important. Being recognized by someone, recognizing someone without destroying the other, is a very, very important subject. Touch means one glance of Christ could save Mary Magdalene who had lost the hope of life. Life—connected life—gives meaning. A gassho you instinctively feel is not just a Buddhist activity, it is before and beyond, and it feels good.

Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi

Kobun Otogawa (February 1, 1938 – July 26, 2002) was a Sōtō Zen priest.