How to Do Bow

On Bowing

There are a number of ways in which we can understand bowing.

One way is that bowing has no inherent meaning – we just do what we do. We bow, we sit, we walk, we stand, we lie down. All of these are postures. We bow as a meditation practice, which does not have to have any meaning attached to it at all. Just being present to our experience. What is your experience of bowing? What does it bring up for you? What thoughts? What reactions?

Bowing practice can be useful when you are agitated or wrangling with a heavy feeling state. The mind and heart can quiet down as you drop into the physicality of bow after bow. Just this. Nothing extra. Just bow. Sometimes we do thirty bows before meditation to wake up and get the energy flowing in the early morning.

Bowing is an ancient  practice, a “dharma gate”. We drop to the earth, bowing to the ground of all that is, and we acknowledge that we creatures of the earth. It is a gesture of communion, of humility.

Of devotion. When I bow to Buddha I am experiencing and expressing my Buddha nature. When I bow to Manjusri, I am my wisdom nature. Likewise with Kwanyin, I bow from my compassionate heart and my vow to embody it.

Bowing is also a way to acknowledge our gratitude and respect. It is a part of the zendo “choreography”.  In the zendo everything that we do reminds us to be present to the life that we share. Just as we cultivate an upright posture in our meditation, so do we also bow in appreciation at a number of transitions during our formal practice.

Standing bows – place palms together at the level of the heart, and bend mindfully at the waist.

Full bows –  do a standing bow and then drop to your knees and bring your forehead to the mat. Placing your hands alongside your ears, open palms to the ceiling and lift them up several inches. This is an expression of our aspiration to awaken to our fundamental nature. We  are lift our Buddha self over our self-cherishing, habitual self.

When to bow

  • Entering the zendo – one standing bow
  • At your cushion – one standing bow towards the cushion in acknowledgement, “this is the place I wake up.” (In this sense, we could be bowing every step of every day). Then turn around and bow to the sangha before being seated on the cushion, bench or chair.
  • When the bell rings to end a period of zazen.
  • At certain times during walking meditation (kinhin)
  • As we begin and end a chanting service we do three full bows across our square cushion (zabuton).
  • When offering incense at the altar
  • Generally, bow when bowed to
bowing at the alter