Just Bow!

By Lulu Cai

In April 2001, I left Manila [the Philippines] for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to participate in the Ten Thousand Buddhas Repentance Ceremony. Clad in my ‘bowing gear’ that comprised the following…
    1. Nike sandals and bobby socks—to help ease my anticipated aching feet
    2. Cotton shirts that presumably allowed my skin to breathe
    3. Light sweater and jog pants to protect me from the cold wind outside the 
Buddha Hall
…I left my country feeling very confident that I was ready to bow with all my heart and mind, as I had already participated in this ceremony several years back. Hence, I figured I would surely do better this second time around.

A couple of days after the Bowing Ceremony started, I caught these words from the Venerable Master over lunch, “Just continue bowing, no matter what happens ...”
At first I thought that this injunction served merely to tide me over the first three days, as my body started aching from all over.


However, it was on the fourth day that things became rather tough. Pointedly, the false thoughts that started during the morning bowing session continued through the rest of afternoon. Worse, the unwanted thoughts even followed me to my room. I tried every imaginable strategy to anchor my thoughts, but the false and deviant thoughts seemingly came in endless heaps. Worst, the weather suddenly became cold and spring felt like winter to me. Blisters erupted on my skin, lips, and at the tips of my thumbs.

Nonetheless, I did not relent as I continued to attend each and every bowing session at the Buddha Hall. After all my unsuccessful attempts, I decided to try another tack. I decided to use the 15 to 20-minute breaks in between the bowing segments to sit in meditation. Although this did the trick for a while, yet after two days, I became bored with this maneuver, too.

Not giving up, I desperately clung to the words of the Venerable Master, “Just continue bowing, no matter what happens ...”  Thus, I plodded on. Interestingly, it was only toward the end of the second week that I stumbled upon the notion of anchoring my thoughts on the gigantic figure of the Guan Yin Bodhisattva, i.e., the gilded statue of the Bodhisattva with a thousand hands and eyes that stood at the middle of the Buddha Hall.

Cautiously, so as not to push myself far too early in this newly conceived strategy, I started by simply looking at the face of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Although I was contented at staring at the image of the Bodhisattva as I slowly bowed and rose with the chanting rhythm of the Sutra, it did not take long before the false thoughts started inching their way inside my mind once more.

Soon, I got tired of my latest approach and tried another method. This time, I shifted my gaze to the one thousand hands and eyes of the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Then through a sheer force of imagination, I turned the thousand hands and eyes into a huge spinning blade. I used this imaginary huge wheel-like blade to slice through the waves of false thoughts that entered my mind.

Although the huge-wheeled blade worked for a while, soon my false thoughts were back. Notably, unlike the previous episodes, this time my false thoughts appeared to be more deviant than before and it would seem that with these false thoughts alone, I must have violated the Five Precepts many times over.

Not wanting to give up, I quickly changed my tactic and likened my mind to the awesome figure that stood right before me—the Vajra indestructible body of the Guan Yin Bodhisattva. In particular, I willed my mind to copy the stillness of the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva that towered over the Assembly.

With this last try, I felt I made my home run. My mind finally calmed down as the bowing session came to an end. In retrospect, there were two very important insights I took home from this bowing session, that is, the relentless pursuit in being mindful of my thoughts and that cultivation is a never-ending process of overcoming the mind.


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