Bowing in Repentance

Bowing in Repentance: Excerpt from Dharma Mirror Newsletter, Winter 2005

author Venerable Heng Sure

Every spring the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB), convenes a three-week bowing session, called the Ten Thousand Buddhas Jeweled Repentance. During this event at CTTB, we bow to the names of 11,111 buddhas. This Dharma practice is based on the sutra The Buddha Speaks the Sutra of the Buddhas’ Names.

Bowing together in ritual movement with 600 people, moving to music for eight hours a day creates a powerful catharsis. Those who have tried this ceremony know that the first day, you can think you’re going to die from so much bowing. The ego really resists being lowered so much. On the second day, you don’t doubt it, you know you’re dead. On the third day, metaphorically speaking, we really die, the ego has given up and gotten with the program. But after the fourth day, we’re reborn, so to speak and bowing becomes effortless from that time on.

Bowing a repentance liturgy is designed to bring to consciousness the negative things that we may have committed in the past. Bowing changes the blood flow to the upper body, particularly to the brain, and it seems to dislodge memories or thoughts that may be buried in the mind, or in our kinetic memory. Seated meditation doesn’t function the same way because sitting is stationary and our blood circulation slows down. When we bow, we place the head on the same level with heart. The flowing blood and changing energy stimulates and washes clean the effects in the psyche of deeds we have done with our body, mouth, and mind. While bowing, memories and thoughts of all kinds come to mind, thoughts that may be terrifying and embarrassing. They arise because the act of bowing relaxes the muscles from the shoulders, the small of your back, and the chest; it exercises the stomach muscles and the diaphragm, which also hold muscle memory. Attitudes and buried or repressed thoughts we can no longer “stomach” naturally return to awareness up during bowing.

Each bow helps us confront and let go of memories. The power of this technology comes from a combination of physical, psychological, and spiritual elements. Essentially the repentance allows us to say “Yes, I made a mistake and, yes I won’t do it again, I’m sorry.” When negative memories arise, and are repented of, they lose their power to block our consciousness and impede our moving on to healthy spiritual growth. Venerable Master Hua described the process as, “Big disasters becomes smaller disasters; small ones disappear.”

Bowing without an attitude of sincere repentance will not be as effective; bowing with sincerity helps clean up our stuff inside. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas taught the Dharma to help people like us to leave suffering behind and ultimately, to go freedom from birth and death. The method of repentance helps us change and transform our minds.

The self works like a hingepin on the structure of karma. If the view of self is gone, then there is no place for offenses to land or to stick. By emptying out the self with each bow, and here I’m using empty out as a verb, “to empty out,” gradually we can actually change the outlook of the Self, the big “me” in the center. If the thing that does good and bad deeds is not entirely in charge, if the agent that does deeds is gone, and ultimately doesn’t exist, then how much the less do the offenses themselves exist? And if we can then repent of the mistakes we have made, then slowly we turn the balance sheet around. Offenses are reduced, merit and virtue increases.

If we are determined to change and become like the Buddha, and want to transform afflictions and change the direction of our life, then repentance and bowing are good methods to do so. Bowing works to clean the mind’s closets.

źródło: Dharma Mirror