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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
SUMMER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 11 WHY WE BOW Alan Sidi of The Buddhist Society in England suggests Western Buddhists rethink their resistance to bowing. The physical act of bowing is familiar to all Buddhist traditions and, coupled with pros- trations, is a powerful practice. Bowing is quite foreign to most Westerners today. How- ever, in Victorian times and before, bowing to each other as part of social protocol was very much part of our culture. Bowing nowadays is associated more commonly with the culture of the Far East and also with the practice of Buddhism. Bowing and prostration are acts of rever- ence. To express reverence is to look up to what is above oneself. This has to be worthy of reverence. In Buddhism, we have the three treasures: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. They are imbued with wisdom and power and with qualities greater than one- self. To look up to what is above oneself is to lift oneself out of the narrow confines of the delusion of self and the petty self-interest that goes with it. When we start the practice of bowing, there is a feeling of stiffness or awkwardness, or a sense of it being a holy act. The stiffness may be due to unfamiliarity with the action but also to a resistance to “lay myself down.” A student once remarked to me, “I bow to no one but the Queen.” Although this comment was made in a lighthearted way, it did reflect the resistance we feel to bowing down. This resistance is very important to recog- nize because it points directly to the stiff and rigid nature of the delusion of “I,” the delu- sion that there exists an unchanging perma- nent self, one that is always in control. There is a sense that nothing can happen in my life unless I wish it and intend it. This being so, how could I possibly bow down to a higher power? To bow the body and bring the head lower means to willingly lay oneself down and thereby lower this sense of “I” the controller. We need only to contemplate nature, from the most basic elements of birth, life, and death to all of nature’s forces—storms, earthquakes, drought, cold, and so on—in order to realize that we are not in any sense in control but rather form a part of it. If we can see this, we can begin to develop a sense of reverence. FROM THE MIDDLE WAY, NOVEMBER 2012 POST-MODERN DEMONS Today’s demons may look different from the ones Milarepa experienced, says Lee Worley, but they’re just as challenging. As a young and starry-eyed Buddhist, I thought Milarepa was the most romantic ILLUSTRATIONS ERIC HANSON FIRST THOUGHTS