From the DRBY Blog
Reverend Heng Sure, Ph.D., of Berkeley Buddhist Monastery shares his insight on bowing and repentance practice from the Buddhist tradition.
Since the third century CE to this day, bowing to the Buddha is the most common practice for Asian Buddhists. However, among Westerners, bowing practice, as compared with meditation, is not as well-known. Last summer, I had an opportunity to speak with Reverend Heng Sure, the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, and asked for more information about Buddhist bowing and repentance. In the late 1970s, Reverend Sure and a fellow monk did a three-year bowing pilgrimage for world peace along the coast of California. Their journey began in Pasadena and ended three years and 800 miles later at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah. And most astonishingly, their knees had already endured over a million bows….
Loc: Would you describe the purpose and benefits of a bowing practice?
Rev. Sure: Bowing, like other Dharma practices, can be considered a technology. It’s actually a method for changing one’s consciousness. And because it’s a Dharma practice, it works by using the body. It is true that Buddhism emphasizes the mind; however, we often use the body to get to the mind. A renowned Chinese monk from the Tang dynasty, Master Cheng Guan, explained that bowing reduces pride, teaches us respect, and increases our goodness. Bowing awakens these qualities within, effecting our conscious state and view of ourselves and place in the world. The technology of bowing, from his ancient description, is precise. He considers bowing as a medicine, an antidote for pride. It also teaches respect because when we bow, we are physically down on the ground and potentially allows a feeling of reverence to emerge in our heart. Bowing increases goodness because the “self” shrinks. Things that we do with a reduced sense of self, and we’re not talking about low self esteem, but things we do without the big “ME” in the middle, tend to turn out better. Bowing is the first of the ten practices recommended by Samantabhadra (Universal Worthy) Bodhisattva, one of the four revered bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism. Bowing is a foundational practice, along with generosity, and ethics, for preparing someone for a spiritual life.