Dec 22 2022 - Bowing

We start each day with zazen. Immediately before and after zazen we bow two times, once facing the cushion we’re about to sit on and once facing outwards towards each other. We do this as a sign of respect for each other’s practice. This ritual is infused with deep meaning for me.

When I sit, my seat becomes the entire universe. In the act of sitting I am committing to experiencing life exactly as it is with nothing added or subtracted. Sitting is a brilliant act of defiance to the constant demands put on us by ourselves and this culture of consumption and ruthless self-improvement. It says that, just for now, things are good enough the way they are, so I am going to do something that is completely good for nothing. This is the doorway to a purity of awareness and deep peace that is always available to us right here, right now. So I bow to the one who experiences all things, who never left this place of beginningless peace, to myself, and the seed of Buddha nature within.

Bowing outwards, I bow before the world and all beings, because they are perfect just the way they are too. This may seem wrong given all the problems we see in the world today, real problems like war, famine, greed; there’s no denying this suffering. We don’t know why there is suffering in the world, but there is, so we accept it too, just for now. We don’t try to change it, we just let it in fully.

By sitting with this in zazen, I begin to recognize that fundamentally there is no difference between my experience and the experience of the world. My experience is the world. This is the union of the apparent opposites of self and other. My heart begins to melt and maybe I find I’m able to act from a feeling of genuine care and compassion for the people, places and things all around me. Because I am so intimate with my own suffering I’ve become intimate with you and yours too. Maybe now I’m able to find a useful response to the world that’s in front of me.

Things are perfect the way they are not because they are in a finished state, but because they exist at all. Things need our careful attention to bring out their natural perfection. This is the peculiar state I find myself in as a human being, balanced right between the joy of life and the horror of life. This heartfelt practice of zazen is the precious jewel that brings these two halves together and allows us to live a life that is fully human.

Arousing the desire in myself to practice this perfect zazen is Bodhicitta. Vowing to continuously take up this posture for the benefit of all beings is the Bodhisattva way. I bow to all the Bodhisattvas that have helped me, and to the awakening heart of the world expressing itself in everyone I meet.