Gasshō- the Zen vow
The Buddhist Bow is a beautiful expression of our deepest beliefs and quiet action in our effort to find our Buddha-nature and become One with the Universe.
In Zen, nothing is worshipped, for in Zen, there is no supernatural. Instead, we recognize the unity of all existence, and with our extended palms, we symbolize holding the feet of the Buddha or the whole universe.
Please recall the bow, or gassho- the placing of the palms of the hands together in a prayerful position accompanied by a slight bow. This is a custom giving outward expression to an inward feeling of respect. In Zen Buddhism, the gassho is performed twice before beginning meditation- when facing the other members of the session and toward the place where you will be meditating. This shows the respect you have for both.
The Buddhist bow is made before the altar and is usally performed three times. The first bow is in honor of the historical Buddha; the second, in honor of his teachings (dharma); and the third, for the commmunity (Sangha). These Three Jewels of Buddhism are not worship in the usual sense, but are honored to show our respect for them, to express our gratitude for their wisdom and guidance, and to actualize our devotion to them. This bow is a way of our recognizing our "Buddha-nature", our need to follow the Buddha's teachings, and our part in the community.
The hand position symbolizes non-duality. Two seemingly separate hands, one hand represents the everyday, ordinary self, the otherhand the true self, or Buddha-nature. Both hands clasped together means non-duality of the self. Gassho expresses our gratitude for the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, for Zazen, and for others sharing our practice of Zen.
Bow when entering or leaving the Zendo (meditation hall), passing the altar, approaching the zafu (meditation cushion) greeting teachers, disciples or other Sangha members, or when confronting a grievous or vexing situation.
In Zen monasteries, a monk will make the gassho before even eating a meal or entering a room. The idea is not to idolize everything, but to show respect and to be grateful for it.
When the body is reminded to show this respect and gratitude many times each day, the inner attitude will gradually be applied to everything, and will become a frame of mind rather than merely a ritual.
In most religions, when a man prays, he does so to a supernatural being or power fo rhelp or deliverance. He puts his trust in this being or force, or perhaps tries to persuade, or even deceive it. So when Buddhists are seen making the Buddhist bow, it is frequently misunderstood.
In making the Buddhist formal prostration bow, we first gassho and then kneel on the floor. Next, the arms are extended in front, and the forehead is touched to the floor. In this position, the palms of the hands are extended, turned upward, and then slowly closed to form a loose fist. The position is held for a few seconds and then the form is reversed, the person rising to his or her feet, preparing to repeat the bow three times.