The ultimate purpose of greeting someone is to convey to that person a feeling of gratitude.
On meeting one another we exchange greetings. What is the purport of this ‘greeting’? Usually we don’t know the real meaning of the word nor have we ever stopped to contemplate the essence of a greeting. One in ten people may not even know the actual meaning of the word ‘greeting.’
In a dictionary of classical Chinese, with Japanese explanations, the Japanese word for greeting, aisatsu, is described as follows: ‘to come near and jostle one another.’ Later it changed to a Japanese word meaning ‘to make a bow’ or ‘salute each other.’
In English dictionaries descriptions of various forms of greeting abound but the actual meaning of the word is never made very clear. Actions with no intrinsic meaning, such a greeting one another, become a habit that we keep repeating throughout life without further thought, occasionally jumping to the conclusion that such and such a person doesn’t know the correct procedure for greeting people. It comes as quite a shock to realise that such is the reality of our lives.
Thus, the most frequently used phrase in Japanese for greetings is domo, which is equivalent to the English words, ‘indeed,’ ‘very much,’ ‘quite,’ ‘really.’ Let me take just the formula, “Thank you very much,” as an example. Its Japanese equivalent is domo arigato, arigato meaning “thank you” and domo, “very much.”
Incidentally, I consulted a Japanese Dictionary, Kojien, for the meaning of domo. It says that the word means: ‘not certain but somehow,’ ‘somewhat,’ ‘kind of,’ ‘something or other,’ or ‘without knowing why.’ It is apparently also a leftover from a complete phrase or sentence whose latter part has been dropped, domo being a short version of domo arigato, arigato having been omitted.
Encounter with others, however, is a maturation or fulfillment of our karmic conditions. It can be said, therefore, that, if we truly express our gratitude toward the people we meet, we will be restoring once again the true meaning to the word ‘greeting.’