Why Bow?

Richard Harrold at My Buddha is Pink recalls an explanation from a monk of why Buddhists bow. I like it.

He explained that the bowing down before a Buddha statue was not an act of obeisance as if the Buddha was a deity, but rather an act of respect. He used the example of a parent’s or grandparent’s grave. If you had respect for them while they were alive, you often continue to show that respect by assuring that their grave is kept nice. On special days you may put flowers on the grave. If the headstone becomes dirty, you clean it. And you spend silent moments occasionally in reverie at the grave, remembering what your parents or grandparents taught you. If you do not live near the grave, then perhaps there is a special photograph of them you keep, or a photo album. That is what we do, he said, when we pay respect to the Buddha image or a Buddha shrine; we are showing our gratitude for the Buddha leaving for us the Dhamma. When we chant, we are not praying because there is nothing out there to hear our prayers. We chant because it reminds us of the Dhamma and focuses our minds.

This explanation certainly appears useful for putting bowing in a perspective that is easy for non-bowers to understand.

One thought on “Why Bow?

  1. Archivist’s Note: Comments have been preserved from the original website for archival purposes; however, comments are now closed.

    Richard HarroldDecember 26, 2009 at 3:36 PM
    Thank you Arun! I have also found that it makes a very good impression on others when I visit a new temple has mostly Asian members and I immediately remove my shoes, then kneel and do the three bows before the Buddha image, then sit on the floor with my feet tucked under my butt. It’s so simple, and it certainly warms people up!

    AnonymousDecember 26, 2009 at 7:38 PM
    Bowing also shows humility. That we are not beyond anyone or a statue to bow. So no matter what status you hare in society a King, minister, rich man, janitor, bowing brings everyone to the same level in the eyes of Dhamma.

    SeanDecember 26, 2009 at 9:10 PM
    A sign of respect – it’s good to have a right intention in mind, for the gesture.

    Respect could seem like a rare quality, socially. One might have learned it in one’s youth, but come to think it was supposed to be hardly any more a matter of course, in one’s adulthood, if judging solely by the actions and speech of others.

    That to recite some thing, per tradition, would also be a matter of respect, then, buy I may have to spend some more time in thinking about that. I wonder if it could conflict with the concept of not seeking for enlightenment, outside of oneself – nor either, seeking it in some ideal attached to, inside of oneself. I don’t want “inside” or “outside”, and I don’t want “enlightened” or “not enlightened”, for myself, nor for others, such discriminating judgment.

    If I can put some kind of a crowbar, now, into a fissure within my own dim box of recollection, I don’t think I’m any further from enlightenment than where I started. Where am I, now?

    Gassho, friend.

    EricDecember 29, 2009 at 11:09 PM
    Thanks! I think this helps those, such as I, who have questions about the difference between the way our parents practice and experience Buddhism and the way we practice and experience Buddhism, understand the other side better.

    Café ZenFebruary 4, 2010 at 9:12 AM
    Yes, prostrating and bowing “horizontalize the mast of ego” as Philip Kapleau Roshi put it. It’s also the simple yet profound act of throwing everything away in the presence of Buddha, as Buddha.

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