I love the expression sawubona. It’s a Zulu greeting my friend Summer taught me that means, “We/I see you,” to which you could respond, yebo sawubona, meaning “We/I see you too.” It’s similar, if not the same, as Namaste (or Namaskar) that is customary on the Indian subcontinent. What if we acknowledged each other in this way every now and then? This is certainly not the half-hearted or passing response “How are you” has become. In India, when someone says “Namaste” to you, they look right into your eyes….you are connected, and truly acknowledged. It’s not something you can fake. You cannot say, ‘I see you’ and not stop to look at the person. Couldn’t this phrase gradually change people? I feel this phrase could seal relationships. Hearing this phrase would remind me of my obligations to those around me. My obligation to love, to pay attention, to serve, to listen, to invite, to understand, to see…..

I believe there’s a reason we are on this Earth with other souls to interact with. If my purpose is to learn, how can I do that without a teacher or fellow students? If my purpose is to serve, how can I do that without another person to serve? If my purpose is to grow, how can I do that without someone to challenge me? If I become complacent, how can I revive without another to push me? If I am to love, how am I to fully understand it without another to break it open? Whatever my purpose is, it involves people. It involves the teacher who forgets my name. It involves the friend I haven’t truly spoken to in years. It even involves the random stranger I meet and hardly think of again.

On a seemingly average day not long ago, I needed time to relax. From the monastery, I went to a local library where student work was being displayed. Generally when viewing art, I keep to myself and don’t bother people……and they do the same. But that day an older woman visiting the area from India came up next to me. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” I responded, “It is.” She continued, “Did you see the one on the other side…” We talked about the art. Then we talked about our families. We talked about our interests and our experiences. Mine as a monastic, her’s as a secular student of the Dharma. She was so much like me. But she was so far ahead…

When we were done, I walked out of the building, looked at the sky and saw an eagle circling above. I just stood there. I smiled. Then I literally laughed out loud. I looked around. I really looked.

I felt so much joy. I felt like I had just experienced something that I’d been missing. How many of those moments had I missed? Such ‘passing-stranger’ experiences defy worldly laws.

For half an hour, she had given her time to me and for half an hour she had given her time to truly look at me.

Sawubona…

For half an hour of our lives, we were devoted to each other. When I looked back at her, something happened.

Yebo sawubona…

I don’t really understand what happened……maybe I’ll understand what it all meant some day….maybe not. I almost felt like I had discovered something secret or forgotten. All I know is I was full.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama often teaches that when children are born, whether and how they are welcomed makes a profound difference. Giving all children the greeting they need…..one that says “I see the soul inside of you” and “come in, my honored guest”…..Sawubona, Namaste…..ensures we’ll spend less time regretting the simple things we didn’t do to help them on their way.
I truly believe in people….humanity. But more importantly, I believe in seeing them.