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every/day bowing

Go to any Zen practice centre, be it a large monastery or a small sitting group, and you’ll see people bowing. They bow when the meet someone, when they enter the meditation space, when they approach their sitting cushion, when someone speaks to them, after a teacher has given a talk, when they accept a cup of tea, when they light a stick of incense, and when they leave the meditation hall. What’s with all that?

One Zen center’s brochure explains that “we acknowledge the unity of all things by bowing. We bow to each other, bringing our palms together to symbolize the separation of the two becoming one, then bowing to each other to acknowledge our true oneness, rather than a dualistic view of being separate from each other.”

I take easily to bowing. Someone told me that North Americans resist bowing as it runs counter to the independent, me-first spirit of this relatively new continent. Europeans are used to various forms of bowing, mostly to show reverence and to acknowledge differences in social status.

Outside a meditation hall I occasionally bow instinctively, usually by way of greeting or thanking someone. I’m careful to do so with a smile and an expression of kindness so as not to cause discomfort in the other. Some people reply in kind, others aren’t so sure, no-one’s yet complained.

Brenda Shoshanna suggests an experiment on bowing and says that “the result is not the point, it’s the effort that is valuable.”

Today bow (in your mind, or physically if you can or care to) to every person you have an interaction with. Before you start interacting with that person, take a moment and bow. See how this changes the quality of the interaction. See how it affects the quality of your day.

I’m going to do this today. Please join me.

source: Shoshanna, B. (2002). Zen miracles: finding peace in an insane world. New York: Wiley, p. 183.


2 responses »

  1. And my first bow was to you, Peter for writing this post. I am a self confessed non-bower. Ritual and ceremony don’t really speak to me in any deep way. (This is my honest response to it all) I sense some hierarchy and organizational chart around all of this.

    As I read your post I thought, I don’t mind bowing to people, in fact it seems like a lovely act, but it’s bowing to things and then the continual act of bowing (My joke at a retreat one time was “When in doubt, bow!”) Ah this is flippant me.

    So I will try today’s bowing. As I read. I think it may make me pause and be more mindful. I think perhaps it’s what you do with the bow, rather than simply the act of bowing?

  2. dear carole,

    i thought of two responses to send you, a long one and a short one. i’m sending you the long one: “Everything is mind-made.”

    with a bow,


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