GOVERNOR Chris Patten looked at little embarrassed when he found his usual handshake greeting didn't fit the moment. Instead, Zhou Nan, Director of Xinhua (the New China News Agency), politely offered a Buddhist greeting when they met at the inauguration of the giant Buddha. The Governor then replied in kind. It was their first meeting since the breakdown of Sino-British talks and the traditional salutation meant there was no physical contact. The key figures were among guests at yesterday's ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Tian Tan Buddha statue. Mr Patten and his wife, Lavender, accompanied by Secretary for Home Affairs Michael Suen Ming-yeung, arrived at the venue next to Po Lin Monastery at 10.50 am, five minutes after Mr Zhou and his deputy, Zhang Junsheng. The monastery's masters, Chi Wai and Yuen Quing, introduced the officiating guests to Mr Patten, before leading him to Mr Zhou. The Buddhist greeting involved pressing the palms of the hands together and bowing. Mr Zhou had greeted other guests in like fashion. The two VIPS were then seated either side of Zhao Pu-chu, the president of the Buddhist Association of China. Asked about the moment, Mr Patten said: ''I didn't reject any hand-shaking with Mr Zhou Nan. Mr Zhou Nan made a Buddhist sign to me and I made a Buddhist sign back. ''I imagine Mr Zhou is a Buddhist. I don't know. I shake hands with everyone everywhere. If others don't do so that is something for them to explain.'' Mr Zhou, referring to the incident, made use of part of a Buddhist saying. ''For those who make the 'three violations', it is a sin and he will go into a boundless bitter sea,'' he said. ''For those who return to three accords, it is very benevolent and will hold unlimited virtues.''