Tag Archives: culture

Bowing as Greeting

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about cultivating the wholesome seeds within us, and not watering the unwholesome seeds. Within this discussion, he talks about the custom of bowing to someone and what it signifies.

The seed of Buddhahood, the capacity to wake up and understand things as they are, is also present in each of us. When we join our palms and bow to another person, we acknowledge the seed of Buddhahood in him or her. When we bow to a child this way, we help him or her grow up beautifully and with self-confidence.

Where I come from (West Coast), you’re lucky if you can get someone to even say hello to you. Where I live now (The South), I feel much more comfortable and safe in this culture of greeting people, looking them in the eye, calling them “Ma’am” and “Sir.”

But how different would it be to bow?

I always saw bowing as extremely submissive. But then, I always thought saying “Ma’am” and “Sir” was butt-kissing as well, until I began to live it. It’s respect, pure and simple. It’s either mutual, in which case no one is lower than the other, or it’s one-sided, in which case, the person saying “Ma’am” has the high ground, because they’ve done what they’re supposed to do.

So if I were to bow to someone as a show of respect, an acknowledgement of the seed of Buddhahood within them, it wouldn’t be that I was saying the person is better than me, but simply that they are capable of great wisdom and awareness.

I realize that someone bowing would be seen as somewhat of a weirdo, but it’s still a fun thought experiment, an interesting “what if?”

Thoughts?

Flashback to the West Coast

We’d been wanting to check out Asheville, NC (about one and half hours west of here) for a few years. Well, we did go to a Drive-By Truckers concert there a couple of years ago, but I don’t count driving into town in the dark, going into a concert and leaving town in the dark as actually visiting somewhere.

I was looking forward to being around the hippies and freaks, the art and culture, the diversity of opinion. I’m from such a place, after all, having lived in the East Bay, Mendocino, Santa Cruz, Eugene.

How telling it was that along with the “peace and love” artsy-fartsiness we encountered, we also got the West Coast ‘tude. As in, I don’t see you and if I did I wouldn’t give you the time of day anyway.

I instantly missed Hickory. I was immediately desperate for a stranger to look at me, smile and say hello. I went 37 years of living on the West Coast, which is devoid of that kind of hospitality, but after 4 years of being surrounded by civilized humans here in the South, I guess I am seriously addicted.

I just don’t understand how cultivating an open-minded community leads to being closed-hearted. I don’t understand how being surrounded by art and culture results in such coldness and rudeness to fellow humans.