To Bow is to Thank and Respect

I’ve begun exploring the basic concepts of Zen through the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Zen has come up often in my readings this last year and I felt it was worth properly looking into. I don’t expect learning about Zen will change who I am but I think it will open up ideas and provide insight.

The book has introduced me to the concept of dualistic ideas. It’s complex but the basics as I understood is that things which we have semantic differences for—like mind and body, me and you, breath and vision—are actually one. We should be practicing without dualistic ideas.

At this point, the sceptic in me starts to push back on some of these “we’re all one energy” ideals until they begin to connect to something that’s relatable. This book teaches that meditation should be done in the lotus position so that “when we cross our legs like this, even though we have a right leg and a left leg, they have become one.” This symbolizes the oneness of the body and mind and puts our body in a “right”—meaning correct, not the opposite of left—position so that our mind can also be right. I give you this example of dualism as background.

In exploring Zen, I wanted to approach it in a way that connects the oft ancient parables and exemplar teachings to our modern world. This gem, a lesson on humility, can be lost unless modernized:

By bowing we are giving up ourselves. To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas.

Usually to bow means to pay our respects to something which is more worthy of respect than ourselves.

My understanding of these passages is this: when we bow, we get over our egotistical view of ourself and see that you and the person you are bowing to are equal; that you have things to learn from them and things to teach them. By bowing, we respect the person and the things they do. They are worthy just as we are.

Bowing isn’t culturally relevant to most of us but we can still acknowledge our respect to people through simply saying “thank you.”

Ever been thanked when you should be the one giving the gratitude? When it happens to me it brings a feeling of mutual regard. It shows that they think I bring some value which is worthy of some esteem. They don’t see dualism between themselves and me.

Giving up yourself—being humble—is a tool in getting things done. The reality for many is that doing good work requires permission. Being liked and respected by your peers grants you opportunities to do more and making strong mutual relationships gives you access to the people and resources you need to ship work you can’t do on your own.

Bow to the people around you and through thankfulness you will lead a simpler path of practice.