Vimalakirti and the Single Doctrine, Wang Chen-p'eng, (1280-1329), Chinese, Yuan dynasty, handscroll, ink on silk. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Vimalakirti and the Single Doctrine, Wang Chen-p’eng, (1280-1329), Chinese, Yuan dynasty, handscroll, ink on silk. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dogen Zenji once said: “As long as there is true bowing, the Buddha Way will not deteriorate.” In bowing, we totally pay respect to the all-pervading virtue of wisdom, which is the Buddha.

In making the bow, we should move neither hastily nor sluggishly but simply maintain a reverent mind and humble attitude. When we bow too fast, the bow is then too casual a thing; perhaps we are even hurrying to get it over and done with. This is frequently the result of a lack of reverence.

On the other hand, if our bow is too slow, then it becomes a rather pompous display; we may have gotten too attached to the feeling of bowing, or our own (real or imagined) gracefulness of movement. This is to have lost the humble attitude which a true bow requires.

When we bow, it is always accompanied by gassho [placing the hands together] although the gassho itself may not always be accompanied by bowing. As with the gassho, there are numerous varieties and styles of bowing, but here we will deal only with the two main kinds of bow which we use in our daily practice.

1. The Standing Bow. This bow is used upon entering the zendo, and in greeting one another and our teachers. The body is erect, with the weight distributed evenly and the feet parallel to each other. The appropriate gassho is made. As the bow is made, the body bends at the waist, so that the torso forms an angle with the legs of approximately 45 degrees. The hands (in gassho) do not move relative to the face, but remain in position and move only with the whole body.

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