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Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

In their book, The Essential Dogen Writings of the Great Zen Master, Tanahashi and Levitt open the section on bowing like this:

Bowing with palms together expresses respect to the awakened nature of others.  It also sanctifies and expresses gratitude to the room where one practices, the meditation seat, and anything that is offered, including food.  Formal bowing follows an offering of incense and is done in multiple prostrations to the floor (page 16).[1]

I am reminded of the time that President Obama met with the Prime Minister of Japan and he bowed to him. Some in America were shocked that he was bowing—there was indignant outrage—to say the least.  I am sorry that some people are not aware of the value, use, and reason for bowing since it is used in many cultures and nations around the world.

When I first came to the Zendo (Southern Palm Zen Group) and was instructed on the basic steps to follow before, during, and after the service I was told about bowing. I followed along and as I bowed to the alter on entering it reminded me of the bows that are made by the Catholics as they walk around the sanctuary and bow to the alter as they pass it.  Protestants don’t do that.  Hummm.  Then as I bowed to the cushion I felt like I was paying respect to the person who made that cushion and the things that went into the fabric and the stuffing and the buttons and all.  I felt like it was a silent thank you to them for giving me a soft comfortable place to sit while I joined in the service and ultimately into a time of quiet meditation.

Bowing…since that time I have used it everywhere and as often as I can.  I bow to my students when they come into the classroom, I bow to my food whenever I eat, I bow to my students at the end of each class as a silent thank you and good-by. The other day I bowed to each of my students as they stood up to make a speech at their graduation luncheon from their six week leadership training program.

As the student looked at me from behind the lectern we made eye contact, I smiled, reminded him or her to take “3 breaths” and then I gave them a little bow.  It helped the person to release some nervousness and proudly and confidently began the speech.  What they had to say may have only taken a minute or two but I could see it was one of the proudest moments of their lives.  Upon completion I gave him or her two thumbs up–they smiled at me and walked back to their table. I felt exactly as Rujing describes in this verse.

 Rujing chanted a verse:

Both the bower and bowed-to

Are empty and serene by nature—

The way flows freely between them.

How wondrous (page 17)![2]

The way flowed freely between us that afternoon.  The way flows freely each time I take the opportunity to bow to someone or something.  Bowing helps me stay in the moment, mindfully, compassionately, and gratefully.  To become one with all and to be liberated from my small ideas and my small self, this is a wondrous practice to master.  I recommend it highly…

in gassho, Shokaiingassho

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day setting my intention to bow to everyone and everything.

2.  I will remind myself that life is wondrous—even when I don’t see the wonder!

3.  I will remember to be open to new ideas, new cultures, new ways, and new things.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

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As I study the great Zen patriarchs and I come to Huineng I am reminded on this National day of Remembrance another great man who not only said but lived this question: Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Dr. King experienced discrimination in this life he set out to do the things he could do to eliminate it—not just in his life but in the lives of all Americans.  And then there was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, who was poor and illiterate and one day as he was delivering wood to a home he heard the words of the “Diamond Sutra” and it is said, “his mind cleared and he understood.”  That led him to seek a teacher.

Janet Jiryu Abels in her book Making Zen your Own (2012) writes this about Huineng’s journey to find his teacher.

“So it was that after what must have been an arduous journey, this poor, insignificant, illiterate, twenty-four-year-old man of lowly birth found himself before Master Hongren himself.  Here is their exchange in an abridged version:

‘Where are you from?  What are you looking for?’

‘I come from the south.   I wish to be a Buddha.’

‘If you come from the south, you must be a barbarian.  How can you be a Buddha?’

‘People may be southerners or northerners, but in Buddha nature there can be no south or north.  I may be a barbarian but what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’

Indeed, what difference?  It is a question to ask ourselves of all whom we meet.  What difference is there in our common essentialness (page 23-24)?”

This is the ancient question that Dr. King grappled with each and every day.  Although he was born into a family of educated parents and was taught to read by his mother, who was a teacher, before he entered school, he too wanted to know why things were not open to him and others of color like him.  He wanted everyone to know that there was “no difference” in their “common essentialness” so much so that he was willing to give up his life for his mission.

I am sure that he, like Huineng, had been called a “barbarian” and worse in his life time, but it did not stop either of them from seeing the truth about themselves and all others.  All men and women are created equal and deserve such equal treatment in the law and everywhere.

Jiryu writes, “Let us leave the sixth patriarch as he gives his last talk before his death:  . . . ‘This is the great way.  After I die, just go on practicing as before, as though I were still here.  If you go against this teaching it is as though my life here as abbot were meaningless.  And so Huineng died.’  The year was 713.  He was seventy-five years old. Today, because of him we can each say to ourselves: ‘I seek the great teaching.  Why should I stop halfway (page 32-33)?’

Dr. King did not stop half way either he gave his life for freedom and justice for all people regardless of their birth, low or high, literate or illiterate, rich or poor, black or white.  He once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”[1]  Today we follow in his footsteps as we continue to work for freedom and justice for all, and as we follow in the footsteps of Huineng and live a life where there is “no difference” in our “common essentialness.”

We too can make a difference in the world in which we live. Today is a very special day to continue on our current path or begin anew.  Not only is it the day we celebrate the life of Dr. King it is the second inauguration day for the first black president ever elected in the United States of America—a feat that could not have been won without the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Through the example of these great men’s teachings and lives we too can help transform the world around us.  So why should we stop halfway—Huineng, Dr. King, and President Obama did not and neither should we.

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