The ‘Twelve-Step’ Bowing Programme

Image: Woman prostrating her way around the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, India: the site of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. Photo: Mahabodhi.


We might initially think that to bow to an image is to ‘give away our power;’ that it is an act of debasement, or superstition or blind faith that we have come to expect from religions. But in fact the bow is something that can be very useful in opening us up to positive influences outside of ourselves and through that influence we can develop qualities in ourselves that were not there before.


If we break the bow down into a number of rational steps – what I jokingly call the ‘Twelve Step Bowing Programme’ – our rational mind can more easily accept what we are doing and we can then cultivate desired qualities within ourselves.


To try this stand in front of an image of the Buddha, or if you like, an image of someone you really admire – it might be Martin Luther King, or even a real person, and take yourself through this sequence:-



Step one – Reflect that it is very unlikely that you are the kindest / wisest / calmest being in the universe  (pick a quality you wish to develop or that you respect in the person.)


Step two – Therefore another being must be.


Step three – Let the image or person you are bowing to represent that being.


Step four – Be aware of the respective heights of your head and the height of head of the other person / image.  Allow the different head heights to symbolize the person who is more developed in the desired quality, e.g. kindness.


Step five – Mentally acknowledge the others’ greater kindness.


Step six – Feel you need to acknowledge the others’ greater kindness with an action, and do that by symbolically making your head lower than the others’ (bow.) Try to feel conscious during the bowing action that the other person is kinder than you are.


Step seven – Consider how it would feel to be as kind as they are.


Step eight – Think that the best way to become as kind as they are is to let yourself come under their influence.


Step nine – Make a resolve to be open to their influence in this area.


Step ten – Kindness becomes more on the agenda for you.


Step eleven – You gradually become more kind.


Step twelve – You become as kind as they are.




By following this logical sequence we don’t have to believe anything we don’t honestly know to be true. The imagination often works on the principle that if we can feel something is ‘out there,’ it is easier to orient ourselves towards it. It doesn’t really matter who we imagine a quality to be embodied in, it only matters that through our imagination we are able to connect with it.



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Author: Mahabodhi

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