The Meaning of the Term “Ji” in the Indian Culture: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

At Arunachala Ashram in Canada

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.

Namaste

 

 

 

44 thoughts on “The Meaning of the Term “Ji” in the Indian Culture: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

  1. Thanks for clarifying this for me. Although I have been on the path of Sufism for some 45 years, and my teacher comes from India, there are indeed many misconceptions we Americans have, despite our deep respect for the ancient Indian culture. For instance, I looked this up because an Indian friend attached it to my name, and I assumed it meant something akin to endearment. But it is about respect! Now I know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A nice and concise article.

    You seem to be aiming a little bit of criticism at Mooji and Gangaji here (especially choosing the word “Foo” as your example). Both are realized disciples of Poonja-ji and certainly deserve the honorific moniker. If there are any other western “Wannabe-ji'” advaita teachers you may be referring to I have not heard of them, although I’m confident such people may exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ji or Jii can also mean spirit or soul as well as “to pay respectful attention to.” Thus, in the case of my adopted name Happijii, which is based upon Ramana’s statement of “Happiness is true nature” and the notion (?) of one great spirit, the name could serve as a constant reminder to remember or investigate into the origin of all risings (Vichara). So, I don’t see a forcing or a negative in it. As Buddha might say, “happiness never decreases by being shared.” One may even discover happiness is indeed “true nature…” But, yes, all words are secondary superimpositions…including these.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Like the simple way conveying our respects to a person, by suffixing -ji to their names (or “job-titles”), Indians (and many Asians too) have thehabit of using –sir, in their “respectful convesrations”; which, in fact stands for “Arya” is Hindi & Sanskrit and “Ayya”. This is seen in the way Indians write letters too.

    Another distortion that is is taking place is – using titles of Swami, Brahma Sri, Paramahans with their names!! All by themselves.

    In a leading Indian Newspaper, one can see a (self-) Swami serving with his own hands– beef
    (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/feasting-on-beef-in-protest/article7020148.ece)

    With the youth in India now absorbing the Western Ways at a fast rate, it will not be too late before they learn to calling everyone with their first names.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. With out knowing the concept of word ‘Ji’, nothing can be said as imposed upon the innocent .. Referring to Fooji .
    And respect doesn’t come from words ….so it hardly matters if anyone does attach a ji to themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoyed this article. I had gathered that the term was one of respect and not used automatically or at all times but still had confusion about the actual meaning and relational significance. I will now always use the term in the traditional cultural way intended. I agree that the addition of -ji to ones own name is comical and demonstrates a confused understanding of the term.

    Thank you Dr. Harsh-ji. (Western convention of respect requires the inclusion of the prefix Dr.!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well explained. Clarifies a lot. To me ‘Sri’ is the same as ‘ji’. The same as English ‘Sir’ meaning s(uper)i(o)r re s(en)i(o)r meaning elder or ‘Holy and Venerable Father’… Thx.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sir one thing I want to ask is if some elderly person starts calling you with ji after ur name and you r younger to them . as in my case I feel odd should I request them not to use it as it feels odd.

    Like

  9. I Like the article. According to indian culture the word ji is used to give respect show their affection to the elders and respected great personalties..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dr Luthar Ji, I thank you taking the time to clearly (and cleverly) explain your point of view on the proper use of “Ji”! Prior to reading your article I struggled with when and if it was appropriate, or even expected! Now I see the Ji is in the mind of the beholder! Thank you, Sir.
    Namaste

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Suffixing Ji is not Indian culture but North Indian culture centered around Hindi/Urdu geography natives. All non Hindi states in India never use Ji . Instead each language has its own form. Like Avare(ಅವರೇ)/some times GaLe in Kannada, gAru in Telugu, etc. But prefixing Shri/Shrimati is accepted across India in most languages. Ji seems to be Mogul era inherited material in North India. Often we observe, any North India specific culture is being branded as Indian culture. India is too diverse for anyone to claim any regional culture as Indian culture.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Language and cultural customs are so easily misunderstood. We are human in our mistakes and errors indeed. Perhaps visitors to other countries try so earnestly to be absorbed in a culture without obviously sticking out! Quite hard! Lovely erudition. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. By the way, as a Brazilian matriarchal, eclectic pagan (Taoist/Shamanist) who has always felt deep admiration for the Hindu culture and its rich expressions from the north to the south of the country, I was amazed to learn the following connection between the term ‘shri’ and Maa Laskhmi (I confess I didn´t know that):
    Excerpt from the page: “…In India, Sri Lakshmi, The Goddess of wealth is also referred as Sri. Sri, Shri (Sri) 0r Shree, — is pronounced halfway between Sree and Shree — which is a Sanskrit title of veneration, a Hindu honorific stemming from the Vedic conception of prosperity. …” (end of the excerpt)
    So, jaye Maa Ji!
    https://www.trsiyengar.com/id294.shtml

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dr. Luthar-ji:

    Would the use of “ji” be appropriate with Namaste when meeting or leaving the presence of a respected person but their name is unknown, i.e., Namaste-ji?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I am NOT a fan of giving certain people more respect than others. To refer to someone with a ji at the end of their name because they are your parents or they are older seems unhealthy to me. To me — we are ALL souls and whether we have 2 legs, 4 legs, wings, fins, are black or white or purple, or 1 month old or 88 yrs old — it doesn’t matter. We are ALL equally worthy of respect, love, joy and happiness. It simply is our birthright no matter what our age is or how many degrees we have. Quite honestly — the souls that are coming in now have a MUCH higher frequency with MUCH more awareness — so if you want to play by those rules — wouldn’t the younger generations have the ji at the end of their name?

    I personally prefer to treat all animals and humans as equals no matter what!

    I have taught both privately and in schools (piano) and I ALWAYS have my students refer to me as Tara. One school told me that my students wouldn’t respect me if I was not addressed as Ms. X. I completely disagreed and refused to change the way my students addressed me. My students loved being valued equally as me and truly appreciated being treated with respect. I was their favorite and they respected me more because I respected them with equality!

    Just my two cents!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So g at end of word is the same as ji? When texting all my Indian friends use g. I’m not Indian but I’m trying to learn because my boyfriend is Punjabi.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s