Andrew Bowling's REIKI HISTORY Archives
I was recently given a paper listing the various types of Gassho and Bowing, I supply this, in-part, for your information.
The gassho and the bow are common to all sects of Buddhism, both Mahayana and Theravada. These two gestures date from the earliest days of Buddhism, or even earlier than that, and they have moved from India throughout the Orient.
Let us examine the gassho and the bow more closely.
The word /gassho/ literally means "To place the two palms together". Of all the mudras (symbolic hand-gestures or positions) we use, it is perhaps the most fundamental, for it arises directly from the depths of enlightenment. Its uses are many, but most commonly it is employed to express respect, to prevent scattering of the mind, to unify all polarities (such as left and right, passive and dominant, etc.) and to express the One Mind -- the total unity of Being.
There are many types of gassho and I give these more common types for your information:
1. THE FIRM GASSHO. The most formal of the gasshos, this is the one most commonly used in daily practice. It is the gassho we use upon entering the zendo, and upon taking our seats. We also use it at least sixteen times in the course of a formal meal, and during all services.
It is made by placing the hands together, palm to palm in front of the face. The fingers are placed together, and are straight rather than bent, while the palms are slightly pressed together so that they meet.
The elbows are held somewhat out from the body, although the forearms are not quite parallel with the floor. There is about one fist's distance between the tip of the nose and the hands. Fingertips are at about the same height from the floor as the top of the nose. This gassho has the effect of helping to establish an alert and reverential state of mind.
2. THE GASSHO OF NO-MIND. This is the next most commonly used gassho. It is basically used in greeting one another or our teachers. In this position, the hands are held a little more loosely together, with a slight space between the palms, although the fingers still touch. The elevation of the elbows from the floor is not so great as in the Firm Gassho; forearms should be at approximately a 45-degree angle to the floor. This gassho has the effect of deepening one's state of samadhi.
In each of these gasshos, we keep the eyes focused upon the tips of our middle fingers. But regardless of the style or variety of the gassho, and in whatever setting it is being used, the fundamental point of the gassho is to be one with the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Of course, we can look at the Three Treasures from many perspectives, and with varying degrees of depth and clarity. At perhaps the most superficial level, the Three Treasures are seen as external objects of supreme reverence for all Buddhists. Unfortunately, in this view, the Three Treasures tend to be perceived as something other than oneself.
But as our vision opens up, we experience that each of us is, in fact, the Buddha. We see clearly that everything we encounter in the world is none other than the Dharma -- the functioning of underlying enlightenment. And, realizing the oneness of all beings, we come to realize that the Sangha -- the all-embracing brotherhood of practice -- is simply all composite things, including each of us. Having this awareness we become -- or rather, we /are/ -- one with the Three Treasures.
So, joining our hands palm to palm, we simultaneously create and express the absolute, the oneness which goes beyond all dichotomies. It is from this perspective that we make the gassho, and that we bow.
It is no ordinary person who bows; it is the Three Treasures recognizing itself in all things. If anyone thinks of himself as "just ordinary", he is, in effect, defaming the Three Treasures. And as we place our palms together we unite wisdom and samadhi, knowledge and truth, enlightenment and delusion.
Dogen Zenji once said: "As long as there is true bowing, the Buddha Way will not deteriorate." In bowing, we totally pay respect to the all-pervading virtue of wisdom, which is the Buddha.
In making the bow, we should move neither hastily nor sluggishly but simply maintain a reverent mind and humble attitude. When we bow too fast, the bow is then too casual a thing; perhaps we are even hurrying to get it over and done with. This is frequently the result of a lack of reverence.
On the other hand, if our bow is too slow, then it becomes a rather pompous display; we may have gotten too attached to the feeling of bowing, or our own (real or imagined) gracefulness of movement. This is to have lost the humble attitude which a true bow requires.
When we bow, it is always accompanied by gassho, although the gassho itself may not always be accompanied by bowing. As with the gassho, there are numerous varieties and styles of bowing, but here we will deal only with the two main kinds of bow which we use in our daily practice.
1. THE STANDING BOW. This bow is used upon entering the zendo, and in greeting one another and our teachers. The body is erect, with the weight distributed evenly and the feet parallel to each other. The appropriate gassho is made (see above). As the bow is made, he body bends at the waist, so that the torso forms an angle with the legs of approximately 45 degrees. The hands (in gassho) do not move relative to the face, but remain in position and move only with the whole body.
Master Obaku, the teacher of Master Rinzai, was famous for his frequent admonition to his students. "Don't expect anything from the Three Treasures." Time after time he was heard to say this. One day, however, Master Obaku was observed in the act of bowing, and was challenged about his practice.
"You always tell your students not to expect anything from the Three Treasures," said the questioner, "and yet you have been making deep bows." In fact, he had been bowing so frequently and for so long that a
large callus had formed on his forehead at the point where it touched the hard floor. When asked how he explained this, Master Obaku replied, "I don't expect. I just bow."
This is the state of being one with the Three Treasures. Let us just make gassho. Let us just bow.