Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
The Meaning of Bowing
There is an old proverb that says, “Pinch yourself,
and you will know the pain of others.” The meaning
of this is that when we ourselves experience
suffering, maybe for the first time we can recognize
the suffering of other people. In other words, no
matter what the subject is, we can understand it
best if we experience it for ourselves.
Buddhism teaches us, “Difficult is it to be born
as a human being”―to receive the gift of life and
be born into this human world is very rare and
almost miraculous. When we ourselves feel, deep
in our very bones, gratitude for this fact and the
preciousness of life, we spontaneously feel welling
up within us the realization that the life of every
other person is just as precious as our own. We then
have to respect others, and no longer are able to
deny their importance.
Even if we think we understand this, however,
we tend to be critical of and be influenced by those
around us, and often end up complaining that life
treats us unfairly or that we never have enough.
“To revere oneself” may sound arrogant, but in
fact that is not the case at all. When we can place
our palms together reverently toward ourselves,
aware of the sanctity of life, we can also sincerely
honor the Buddha with our palms placed together
toward him, and also become better able to pay
reverence to other people.
“The first principle of bowing is to express
respect for others and, at the same time pay reverence
to ourselves by exchanging bows with
others,” in the words of a well-known Japanese writer. When we greet others and they return our
greeting, it is an indication of mutual respect. That
is the solemn meaning of the act of bowing.
Zen master Dogen (1200- 53) stated, “Learning
the Buddha Way is learning one’s self.” By that he
meant that because the Buddha Way is the path
along with the buddha-nature unfolds and develops,
clearly knowing that one’s buddha-nature is
one’s true self is knowing the Buddha Way.
Not Denying Others
In one of the sutras, Shakyamuni states, “We may
search everywhere, but we will never find anyone
as dear as ourselves.”
This statement comes after the following conversation
between King Pasenadi of Kosala and is
wife, Queen Mallikah.
When asked by the king, “Mallikah, is there
anyone dearer to you than yourself?,” the queen
responded, “No, there is no one dearer to me than
myself.” She asked the king in return, “And is there
anyone dearer to you than yourself?” To which
King Pasenadi replied, “No one exists who is
dearer to me than myself.” Soon after, the king told
Shakyamuni about this conversation, and Shakyamuni
made the following comment.
“We can search everywhere but will never find
anyone dearer to us than ourselves, and this is true
of other people as well. This is why people who
truly love themselves shall do no harm to others.”
Not harming other people means not to deny
them. Our own existence and that of other people
is, after all, a manifestation of the one life that is
the buddha-nature. Therefore, when we look
deeply into the roots of the lives of ourselves and
others, the sanctity of ourselves and others
becomes apparent to us, so we can no longer do
harm to others or cause them grief.
The Christian religion teaches, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and it is
basic human nature that when we ourselves feel
happy and elated, we cannot help but wish that
those around us will experience the same happiness
While we may understand that we ourselves are
worthy of respect, however, we also become aware
that we are not perfect. We notice the faults and
shortcomings of others because we ourselves have
similar failings. We cannot see in others what we
do not have in ourselves.
That is why Shakyamuni also tells us, “When
you know that you love yourselves, do good.” To
“do good” means to respect and revere one another.
In other words, it is most important not to be influenced
by the opinions of others and to be prejudiced
about what is good or bad, or strengths and
weakness of other people, and to view everything
as objectively as possible, focusing on the positive
In our daily lives, when we seem to be losing
sight of respect for the lives of ourselves and
others, the existence of the sangha, that is, our
good friends in the Dharma, will surely give us the
opportunity to reflect on ourselves anew.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.