Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Counting To Nine

I bought myself another copy of 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind',  and I was looking for the explanation of why we do nine prostrations at the beginning of morning service instead of three, which I have heard here many times over the years: Suzuki Roshi thought American students were more stubborn than Japanese and needed more help in letting go of the ego.
In the book we read, "After zazen we bow to the floor nine times. By bowing, we are giving up ourselves. To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas. So there is no difference between zazen practice and bowing. Usually to bow means to pay our respects to something which is more worthy of respect than ourselves. But when you bow to Buddha you should have no idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are already Buddha yourself". These last two sentences are ones I should probably memorise, as I often find myself answering a question around this from new students or visiting high school kids - if there is no god in Buddhism, why are you bowing, who are you bowing to?

Recently a couple of doans have expressed doubts in our service review as to whether they had got the number of bells right for the nine prostrations. Linda Ruth offered us a practice at Tassajara of reciting the full refuges as we did the nine prostrations, so I decided to pick up the practice for myself. Apart from being a good thing to bring to mind every morning, it also lets me know if the doan has successfully managed  to count to nine.

I take refuge in Buddha.
I take refuge in Dharma.
I take refuge in Sangha.

I take refuge in Buddha, as the perfect teacher.
I take refuge in Dharma, as the perfect teaching.
I take refuge in Sangha, as the perfect life.

Now I have completely taken refuge in Buddha.
Now I have completely taken refuge in Dharma.
Now I have completely taken refuge in Sangha. 

I have had a succession of ideas over the years about what taking refuge means. Currently I see it, as I have heard other people express it, as more of an active process than is usually associated with the word 'refuge' - it is not sheltering, and it is more than just allowing these things to be part of your life. It is more like the phrases Dogen uses in the Fukanzazengi and the Genjo Koan: 'taking the backward step' and 'to carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion; that myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening':  taking refuge means that Buddha, dharma and sangha can come forth and experience themselves.


Mike said...

Whenever I bow to Buddha, I bow down to everything in the universe - I deeply honor it ALL. Yes, even my flawed, screwed up, and beautiful self. Like most I found bowing perplexing and my teacher said something along the lines of your quote. Now prostrations (the full bow) are the favorite part of practice - those few moments sometimes provide me with the best check-in with my mind. When I absolutely cannot sit due to family or work - I always offer incense and bow down to the ground.

Mike said...

I left a comment here, but it is gone. Curious.

Shundo said...

Indeed you did, and I saw it, and it was a lovely comment too; your practice sounded wonderful. I hadn't had a chance to sit down to reply to it, and I hope it might still return as part of the returning to normal after the Blogger outage.