The Meaning of the Term “Ji” in the Indian Culture: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar
In the Indian culture, we sometimes add the word “ji” at the end of someone’s name to convey respect.
For example, if someone’s name is Ashok, and we want to convey warmth and respect, we call him Ashok-ji. If someone’s name is Maya, we call her Maya-ji.
However, in the Indian culture, no one will ask or demand that we add “ji” when addressing them to show respect. That would be very uncool. It would actually be humorous. It is up to us when we want to add the “ji” after the name of the person. There is no compulsion that we have to add “ji” to the name of everyone we meet and greet.
Typically, the older people when calling on younger people or children will not use the term “ji”, but just call them by their name. Similarly, friends greeting each other will not add the term “ji” to the names of their friends as they are equals.
Younger people when talking to their parents will automatically add “ji” after the designation. For example, the father may be called Papa-ji or Bapu-ji (instead of just Papa or Bapu) and the mother may be referred to as Mata-ji (instead of just Mata).
Grandfather and Grandmother on father’s side are called Dada-ji and Dadi-ji respectively. Grandfather and Grandmother on mother’s side are called Nana-ji and Nani-ji respectively.
In referring to one’s teacher, one typically calls the person Master-ji or Guru-ji, etc.
In the Western world, this phenomenon of adding the term “ji” after someone’s name is not well understood.
Some modern Satsang teachers have made “ji” simply part of their chosen spiritual nickname, hence forcing people to use the respectful term “ji”, whether they want to or not, when they refer to such teachers.
For example, let us say that a satsang teacher has chosen the spiritual nickname of Foo. Now Foo is the actual name. By adding “ji” to it, the name itself is made into Fooji. Everything then gets convoluted.
Everyone referring to Mr. Foo is forced to call Mr. Foo, Fooji! This essentially means “Respected Foo.” The option to call Mr. Foo, simply Foo or Mr. Foo is thus taken off the table. The name Fooji is hence imposed on the innocent whether they wish to use the term “ji” to refer to the person or not.
Recently, I have noticed that some of the students of such teachers have also started adding “ji” to their own made up spiritual nicknames. This practice of adding “ji” to one’s own name has always struck me as a bit odd and also comical and shows a cultural misunderstanding.
The practice of adding the “ji” behind one’s own name is a distinctly Western practice based on a misunderstanding of the Indian culture and how the term “ji” has been historically used and is actually used. Such a practice appears to be an attempt by some people (based on insecurity) to ask others for some respect when referring to them. This addition of “ji” as part of a name reflects the fear that no respect will be forthcoming without the added “ji” to the name.
There are other examples as well of people adopting high sounding spiritual names, etc. All such things, of course, have some entertainment value and I do not diminish that part of the spiritual circus.
For a true devotee, however, change of name and dress for outward show is not important. Real spiritual growth and Self Realization have absolutely nothing to do with such things at all.
Just my two cents and homespun wisdom for the day.
Please feel free to share this to help educate the new people just getting on to the spiritual path on the proper use of the term “ji”.
If you disagree with my views, please share that as well. I am happy to hear opposing perspectives and be corrected. Thank you.