One of my favorite parts of the Lotus Sutra is the story of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. This Bodhisattva was said to have lived in the mythic past and he did not devote his time to reading or reciting the scriptures, but simply went about bowing to people, bowing in reverence to everyone he met and honoring their inherent Buddha nature. We don’t know his real name because Never Disparaging was a title given to him by others as a dig because he always would bow deeply and say, “I have profound reverence for you, I would never dare treat you with disparagement or arrogance.. “ and then bow again. I can imagine him walking up to people today on the street and bowing, “ I bow to the Buddha nature within you, one day you too will be a Buddha.” We would probably name him Crazy Bowing Guy Bodhisattva.
The practice of gassho illustrated in this story, the honoring of others inherent Buddha nature, is essence of the way of oneness and can be applied not just to other people but to all things. The practice of bowing is a tangible practice that can help us cultivate a non-dichotomous reality when we come to understand that, “The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are the same.” It can also help us realize the interdependent nature of all things and is the true spirit of namu amida butsu.
I have a friend who practices bowing. One example he shared was that whenever he exists a street car or bus he bows to the driver to thank them – some smile but most ignore him or wave him off. The same was true for Bodhisattva never Disparaging but even worse. According to the Lotus Sutra not everyone was appreciative and some would get so angry they would try to hurt him. I remember times in my past that I didn’t want others to tell me how good I was or about my “potential” mostly because I was doing certain things that were far from where I wanted to be. It would make me realize how far I had fallen. Like Dulcinea in Don Quixote who curses him because of his respect and courtly love for her only makes her suffering greater because it now she has become so much more aware of being nothing more than a prostitute.
Many of us suffer from inferiority complexes, self-hate, feelings of worthlessness and a constant mantra of harmful self-talk. We may have compassion for others but rarely does it reach back to ourselves. Because of this it can be hard to see the inherent goodness within ourselves or acknowledge the reality of our own capacity for evil. We build our identities around so many false narratives, that our “self” is nothing more than a teetering house of cards. When something challenges those narratives we push away not wanting to acknowledge it, we retreat into our self-imposed ignorance. This does not stop our Bodhisattva from bowing. allowing his humanity to shine forth upon us. He is still bowing toward us. Maybe he knows that the simplest things can get passed the myriad of landmines we place to protect our egos, knowing that arguments, judgements, reasoning, will never be as effective as a heartfelt, humble bow of a Bodhisattva. With humble compassion and without judgement, Never Disparaging Bodhisattva invites us to realize our Buddha-nature welcoming us, as he helps us to realize “The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are the same.” He is bowing right now before each of us,
“ I have profound reverence for you, I would never dare treat you with disparagement or arrogance. Why? Because you are all practicing the bodhisattva way and are certain to attain Buddhahood.” Lotus Sutra – Chapter 20