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May 19 Sunday Zen: with John Tarrant & Friends

June 3 Zen Luminaries: Poet Marie Howe in Conversation with Jon Joseph & Friends

June 10–16 Great Summer Sesshin: Meeting the Inconceivable with John Tarrant & PZI Teachers


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WEDNESDAY ZEN: To Bow or Not To Bow – with David Weinstein

April 12, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Free – $10


Huangbo was at Yanguan’s temple performing rituals. At that time the future emperor Tang Xuan Zong was serving as a novice monk in the temple. The future emperor asked Huangbo, “Not seeking Buddha, not seeking Dharma, not seeking Sangha—when the master bows, what is it you’re seeking?”
Huangbo said, “Not seeking Buddha, not seeking Dharma, not seeking Sangha—one always bows in just this manner.”
The novice said, “Then why bow?”
Huangbo hit him.
The novice said, “You’re really too crude!”
Huangbo said, “What place is this we’re in? Is it for idle chatter?”
He then hit the novice again.

(from Transmission of the Lamp)

This koan with Huangbo led me to remember when I first encountered bowing during a “meditation course” at the Kopan Monastery outside of Kathmandu. I thought I was heading into a one-month study of what meditation was that would involve lots of talking about meditation and maybe a little meditation. As it turned out, it involved a lot of meditation, and not only meditation but a lot of bowing—full-length prostration kind of bowing. I questioned what I had gotten myself into. But my faith in and trust of the friend who recommended I check out the “meditation course” kept me from bolting from what at first sight appeared to me to be some kind of cult.

It helped that I was told that there was no obligation to bow. That left me more open to hear the gentle suggestion that I might try it and see what happens. “Make an experiment,” was a phrase the Lamas often used. So, I made an experiment. At first, I found myself holding the prostrations as a kind of warm-up exercise before sitting down and not moving for a couple of hours. Conversely, they were a welcome way of getting the kinks out after sitting for a couple of hours. Gradually, I noticed that my meditation was quieting down. It seemed like doing the prostration “warm-ups” helped me settle in. It felt familiar, like the way I warmed up before playing tennis or working out with weights, or any of the sports that I participated in.

Then I made another experiment with a practice called the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas. It involved doing one prostration for each Buddha, while holding a visualization of the Buddha and saying their name. The combination of physical, imaginative and cognitive components felt like I was doing a martial art, linking body and mind in action.

I had studied Psychology in college. My advisor was a Skinnerian behaviorist. Bowing seemed to me like arranging the contingencies of reinforcement involved in cultivating a meditative mind. I thought of Pavlov’s dog: ring the bell every time the dog gets fed and eventually ringing the bell alone, without food, elicits salivation. Do prostrations before and after each meditation and prostrations get linked with the cultivation of the meditative mind and the meditation begins before the meditation begins as I’m doing the prostrations. When I explained to Lama Yeshe that I felt like I was brainwashing myself, arranging these contingencies of reinforcement, his response was, “Very good, carry on.” I think Huangbo would have hit me.

David Weinstein Roshi

Join us for a koan, meditation, dharma talk, & conversation.
All are welcome. Register to participate.



April 12, 2023
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Free – $10
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David Weinstein Roshi
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