By Zen Master Wu Kwang
Zen Master Seung Sahn says in the Temple rules, “We bow to see True nature and help others.” My point of view is that to see bowing only as something transplanted from Asian culture is to miss its deep and profound meaning, and that bowing expresses the essence or core of our practice. When we bow at that moment we put down and let go of our limiting ideas of self and touch base with openness. This is the realm of “Don’t Know.” At the moment we let go of ideas of the self, we also let go of limiting ideas of “the other.” As relates to the formal Kong-an interview at the moment of bowing, there is no separate sense of student, teacher and teaching. When these ideas are let go of, the True intimacy of real relationship is possible. Sometimes the student learns from the teacher, sometimes the teacher learns from the encounter with the student. Sometimes both Teacher and student appreciate the teaching together. When we get a taste of this in formal interviews we also begin to perceive Zen Master Lin Chi’s advice, “Your True Teacher is always just in front of you.” We then receive teaching from our daily lives, moment by moment as we internally bow to our circumstances and experience. Bowing to the teacher is just a physical enactment of this basic attitude of practice.
Additionally, when we bow to the teacher we are expressing gratitude for receiving teaching and for the teacher’s dedication to long years of practice and devotion to the Zen way. We also express our appreciation and respect for the Tradition and lineage of teaching. For these reasons and perhaps many more, we feel that we should continue with this practice.