Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Do Buddhists Bow?

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshicha (1765-1827) used to say that everyone should keep a piece of paper with “for my sake the world was created” in one pocket, and a piece of paper with “I am but dust and ashes” in another. The Rabbi was expressing an existential truth: each individual being is important, but not self-important.

The practice of bowing can sometimes be difficult for Westerners to fully appreciate. They often see it as a violation of the Biblical injunction against bowing down before graven images and idol worship or associate it with “kow-towing:” acceptance of undemocratic status differentials, submission to power, and self-abasement.

These connotations may prevent Westerners from experiencing the beauty of bowing practice. Bowing is an expression of Buddhism through motion. In Zen, for example, one bows upon entering the Zendo, bows to the Buddha, bows to one’s cushion, bows to one’s teachers, and bows to one’s fellow practitioners. Zen is a bona-fide bowing bonanza. What’s the meaning of all these bows?

Continue reading at The Existential Buddhist

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