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Why Indians address people as 'Ji' || Acharya Prashant, Vedanta Mahotsav (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
5 min
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Questioner (Q): Obviously, I am new here, so I don’t know how anything works. But there is one custom I have noticed and it was the first thing you said in the whole session. It was ‘Ji’, and when you address someone formally, you put that in the end. So, where does that come from? Is that just some social custom or is there something behind it?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It’s a social custom, we address people as ‘Ji’ . But surely there is a lot behind it. Good that you raised it. Actually, it has come to me earlier as well.

See, ‘Ji’ is not like Mr. (Mister) or Ms. (Miss) or Mrs. (Missus). ‘Ji’ is different, very different. In India, most of the customs have now been corrupted, equally a lot of customs have a very strong spiritual basis, and they are meant to teach you something in the daily run of life. So, anywhere in the world, we have a name and a surname, right? The name refers to your physical self—you exist so you have a name. Your name is Rohan. You exist, so you have a name.

So, the name refers to your body. The surname comes from your ancestors. It is history, and history exists in the mind, so, the surname refers to the mind. But if you address a person just as a body and a mind, that’s injustice, because the person is much more than that.

So, you add ‘Ji’ . ‘Ji’ comes from the Sanskrit ‘Sri’ . ‘Sri’ in Sanskrit becomes ‘Ji’ in vernacular. What does ‘Sri’ mean? ‘Sri’ means all that is beautiful, ‘Sri’ means abundance, ‘Sri’ means auspiciousness; so, ‘Sri’ basically means the true self, the Atman . So, when you address a person, you say, ‘Rohan Kumar Ji’. Now, you are reminding him that you are much more than the body and the mind.

The ‘Sri’ is not merely a token of respect, ‘Sri’ refers to the real thing that you are. But now it has become a very dead custom, it has become a mark of respect—hollow respect— obeisance. If you do not address someone has ‘Ji’ , some may get offended. But there is hardly anybody who realizes why ‘Ji’ is important to be added to somebody’s name.

It could go both ways—see, you could either say the fellow actually has no name and that’s a beautiful way to say, that’s the Buddha’s way. That the one you really are, can actually have no name, you are beyond all names and forms—that’s one way. That’s the way of Buddha, we said. The way of Vedant is different, rather opposite. The way of Vedant is, you anyway take yourself as the body and the mind, that cannot be taken away from you. As long as you are alive, the body is there. So, saying that you don’t exist at all, that you are beyond all names and customs and addresses or addressals won’t work. So, Vendat says, “Now that you are anyway identified with the body and the mind, I am giving you something better to be identified with— ‘Sri’ .”

So, you could either extend these two to three, or you could reduce these two to zero, the intention is the same. The intention is to tell you that you are not just these two (body and mind). Or rather, Vedant says you are not just these two; Buddha would say you are not these two. The Buddha would be totally silent on ‘who you really are’, about that, he would remain silent. Vedant says, “The body and mind, we acknowledge are facts. Obviously, you are there, otherwise there can be no conversation.

But don’t be unjust to yourself, don’t be so disrespectful towards yourself, don’t see yourself as just the material, you are beyond that.” So, ‘Sri’ . Sri Julius (Questioner). Julius you are, but much before being Julius, you are ‘Sri’ ; and long after Julius ceases to exist, ‘Sri’ will remain. ‘Sri’ is the Truth, that’s the reason this custom is there, but hardly anybody knows the reason, so, we just blindly follow it.

Q: But I have also noticed that it’s also used as kind of an affirmative statement. Is there a reason for that?

AP: That’s not the way it was intended. You say something and if I want to affirm what you are saying, I want to convey my agreement, then I just say ‘Ji’ . That’s not the intended usage, but that’s a popular usage. That’s not the way ‘Ji’ should be used. Or you could say that if I agree to you, I convey my agreement by using ‘Ji’ or ‘Sri’ to mean that I agree to the truth. Since ‘Sri’ points to the truth, so what I am saying is that if I agree to you, I am actually agreeing to the Truth.

But this is just too far-fetched. When people in the normal course of conversation say ‘Ji’ , this is not what they mean. But this is what they could mean, if they understand things deeply.

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