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.