Sometimes the disciple bows to the master;
sometimes the master bows to the disciple.
A master who cannot bow to his disciple cannot bow to the Buddha.
Sometimes the master and disciple bow together to the Buddha.
– Shunryu Suzuki
The practice of nonharming is the overriding social ethic of the Buddha Way, and bowing is an expression of this. I’ve learned that when the body is taught to bend, the mind will bend with it and the Earth is spared injury.
Bowing receives the world’s injuries into the soft core of itself. Bowing, when undertaken anywhere, under any condition, witnesses only its own presence, exerting no willful control over anything else. Bowing leaves the world to itself, a quality so rare that it serves to explain the unlikely power it has to calm even the most frantic situation. Bowing is like that one calm person in an angry crowd whose quiet steadiness draws all the others toward a state of calm.
When human greed and ambition sets us against each other and our spines stiffen with angry resolve, could we but learn to bend our backs a little, the mind too would soften and conflict be averted. The world threatens to be wrought up into one great angry crowd whose anxious fear and determination drives them toward war and who will not be put aside by counterforce or threat. We must learn instead to yield, knowing when it’s best to bow down.