Sunday, January 8, 2012

Take a Bow

Leonard Cohen at the 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards Ceremony (watch video)

The audience, only moments ago transfixed by a flawless performance, erupts. Cheers and whistles punctuate the applause. Everyone stands up, unspoken message clear: "We are honoured by your performance and appreciate you from the bottom of our hearts!"

The performer, hand over heart, bows deeply, unspoken message clear: "I am honoured by your response and appreciate you from the bottom of my heart!"

Performer and audience, their previous actions so different, yet in that moment, in their hearts, so similar, perhaps even identical.

Did something in one, recognize and bow to itself in the other? But what bows?

The present moment is continually unfolding. As life evolves, awareness of self and other, and self in other, emerges. Life bows to life.

Of course, these are only thoughts and words. What actions will bring them to life? Well, yes, bowing to each other, but what I had in mind was manifesting respect in our lives. Respect what? Literally everything. With our every thought and action. Just another never-ending chore - you know, like liberating every last sentient being. One moment at at time.

Respect for little things like keeping the floor swept. Respect for all of creation by diligently attending to our daily practice. Respect for the person behind by holding the door open. Respect for our bodies by giving them healthy food and exercise. Respect for nothing in particular by whistling a happy tune.

One of my favourite Zen personalities is Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, author of Opening the Hand of Thought, former abbot of Antaiji, disciple of Homeless Kodo Sawaki.

This was Uchiyama Roshi's final poem, completed on the last day of his life.

Just Bow

Putting my right and left hands together as one, I just bow.
Just bow to become one with Buddha and God.
Just bow to become one with everything I encounter.
Just bow to become one with all the myriad things.
Just bow as life becomes life.

Before I sign off, I'd like to put in a plug for Why Do Buddhists Bow? posted last year by Seth Segall over at his terrific blog The Existential Buddhist.


  1. Well of course my first thought was for the wonderful acceptance speech given by Leonard Cohen as shown in your picture. But bowing, there are small things I like to bow to, but I used to find it a bit of an empty gesture in the Zendo. I was not tuned into its deeper meaning on a regular basis and I wondered if all those bowing were. I am not much on ritual, but I do love the way you describe it here and the idea of small gestures and respect.

    I am a big lover of small tasks such as sweeping the floor, cleaning something well, there is a completeness in these acts.

    I look forward to reading the article you mention on bowing. I love it that by reading a post like yours I can see the deeper meaning of things, in this case a simple gesture of bringing the palms together and bending forward. Thanks, David

  2. First of all, Leonard is my hero. For him, he truly understands the meaning of bowing, in his entire being.

    Secondly, I read "Why Do Buddhists Bow" and recommend it highly to all your readers. Don't pass this one up! There is bit of info in there about carrying around 2 pieces of paper with notes on them. It reminded me that I awoke this morning with this repeating in my head, "We are always alone. We are never alone." I cannot remember the dream, just the saying from whence it came.

  3. A good humble bow to something simple and beautiful feels so good. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Thanks, Carole - I bow to your first thought. I should indeed have included Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech, which makes me want to watch it again every time I see it. Here it is: Speech by Leonard Cohen in the 2011 Ceremony

    I agree on both counts, Tara – Leonard is my hero too, and Seth Segall did a great blog post. Good reminder that we are important but not self important. Do you always dream in koans? :)

    Thanks, Matt – and thank you for adding me to your blogroll. Glad I discovered yours over at Inviting the Bell.

  5. just as you had posted this, I had written the poem'just bow' in my notebook. it is the perfect message.
    thanks for shedding light on it...Roshi would be pleased to see how you presented his words.

  6. This blog entry plus Susan's comment reminded me that I would love to start journaling again. That poem is a very interesting snippet to save.

    One of the reason's that I love your blog is the combination of God and Buddhism, which is something that not too many people are writing about. How/where/if God fits in is something that a lot of Buddhists contemplate.

  7. I'm remiss in my correspondence - sorry.

    Wow Susan - that's an amazing coincidence. As if the world isn't mysterious enough! I really love his book. I'm on the verge of reading it for a fourth time. Thank you!

    Thanks, Lola - I like the way you put it - how/where/if - quite a koan.

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