Hindu Reverence for Elders
A unique and magnificent feature of Hindu religious thought is that
salvation is the birth right of each and every human being, and is attainable in
due course of time (i.e. either in this life or in some future life) through
spiritual practice and training. In the words of Betty Heimann, late professor
of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy at Ceylon University, "It is an
undeniable fact that no philosophy outside India makes such a varied and
manifold use of [spiritual] instruction in order to visualize the supreme Truth.
It is the very metaphysical bent of Hindu thought which makes room for this
practical educational training." 13
In Hindu culture, the elders (senior citizens) are considered to be the
progenitors of spiritual instruction and training. The relationship with elders
is, thus, viewed as a spiritual relationship by the young generation, and is
revered as such. This reverence for old age in Hindu culture is reflected in the
following Hindu etiquette and mannerism towards all elders in and outside one's
- Elders are received by standing up. One must stand up, if seated, in order
to receive an elderly person.
- Elders are not called by their first or last names. They are addressed
with conventional titles of courtesy such as Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., or
personal titles such as Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle, Papa, and Mama. Depending
upon one's level of familiarity with an elder(s), the word "Ji" is
commonly added to the elder's first or last name (if male) or to the first
name (if female) to form an appropriate address.
- In the presence of elders one sits or stands upright. Sitting with legs
dangling, feet stretched or pointed towards or in the direction of elders,
hands behind one's back or clapped around the neck, or arms folded are
viewed as disrespectful to elders.
- In the presence of elders, smoking, chewing gum, drinking liquor,
exhibiting overt behavior of love, affection, anger or bad temper are
- Abusive, sarcastic, vulgar, or "street" language, boastful
(words of self-praise), possessive (I, me, my or mine), or impersonal words
are not used in communication with elders.
- When talking to an elder, one should always look towards the elder person.
Looking towards other directions or rotating one's head or eyes while
talking to an elder are considered rude and disrespectful.
- When elders are talking or discussing, a junior person addresses questions
or converses with only the eldest person in the group. Addressing questions
or conversing with junior persons in such a group, unless specifically
permitted by the eldest person, is deemed as rude.
- When walking with an elder, one either walks in step with the elder or
within a step behind the elder. Walking ahead of elders is deemed
discourteous and disrespectful.
- In home or at the dinner table the elders are seated first before others
take their seats. At public places (such as a bus or train) elders are
offered seats first before others occupy their seats. When getting into a
car, a person opens the door for elders and lets them sit first before
others take their seats.
- Elders are not confronted in the presence of others. Any disagreements or
differing viewpoints are discussed with them separately and only on a