Who do you bow to?

Being new to the monastery, one of the senior monks pulled the new monk aside for further instruction. " In this monastery you must not only bow when entering the meditation hall and receiving teachings from the master, but also when you meet your elders." The new monk asked who his elders were, he received this answer; "It is traditional that all who are older in ordination time, who've been monks longer than you, are your elders." Which meant everybody.

So the new monk began to bow to them. Sometimes he was fine with this--there were quite a few wise and worthy elders in the community, but sometimes it felt ridiculous. He would encounter twenty one year old monks, who were only there to please their parents or to eat better food than he could at home and  were only ordained a week before himself. Or the sloppy rice farmer who had come to the monastery the season before on the farmer's retirement plan, who chewed betel nut and never meditated a day in his life. It was hard to pay reverence to these dwellers as if they were great masters.

He continued to bow and was in conflict, there had to be a way to make this work. Finally, as he prepared for a day of bowing to his 'elders', he began to look for some worthy aspect of each person he bowed to. He bowed to the wrinkles around the retired farmer's eyes, for all the difficulties he had seen and suffered through and triumphed over. He bowed to the vitality and playfulness in the young monks, the incredible possibilities each of their lives held ahead of them.

This story brought something forth into my mind. Not that I would bow (although it would be funny to see how many people bowed back just because they didn't know what else to do) but I started to look at my judgement of people and wove in a new light. No matter how big or small, I try now to see something in people and situations that I could 'bow' to. You can 'bow' to both beauty and suffering, to your confusion and fears. Honoring the truth of this helps in the acceptance of things you can and cannot change. To bow to the fact of our life's sorrows and betrayals is to accept them; and we discover that all in life is workable. The more 'bowing' the more the realization that the heart holds more freedom and compassion than we could have imagined.

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