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On Doing Bows
From Exposed in the Golden Wind - An Introduction to Zen and Buddhist Forms

Sword requires considerable strenght in the legs, for this we rely on bowing. There are eight basic forms of bowing which are; hapchang, standing bow, half standing bow, sitting bow, full prostration, half prostration, three prostrations and 108 prostrations. In the following section the use and fom of each of these types of bows will be discussed.

Bowing practice or prostrations are an effective means of prosessing our life's karma. Bowing helps us truly understand the Zen aspiration of "how may I help you" in a very real and physical sense. Performing 108 prostrations frequently helps us to balance the scales of our ongiong accumulated karma; however, if our accumulated karma begins to weigh heavily on us, then prostrations can be used as an 'emergency measure' for clearing the mind. They are a very powerful technique for seeing the karma of a situation because both the mind and the body are involved. Something that might take days of sitting to process may be digested in a much shorter time with prostrations. The usual practice is to do 10 bows as a warm up before class. This can be done all at once or as is usually the case, spread out through the day.

*Here is a suggested schedule for 1080 bows:
*1 set for morning bows
*2 sets before breakfast
*2 sets at lunch time
*2 sets mid-afternoon
*1 set before evening practice
*2 sets after evening practice

Hapchang means "palms together" and is performed by placing the palms of hands together in front of body, with the fingers together and pointing upward at chest height. The arms are relaxed with the elbows pointing down. Hapchang is used during every kind of bow that follows. Performing hapchang without a bow can signal a request to be hit with the stick during sitting meditation, or during the formal meals, hapchang means "no, thank you." It is also used when standing during sitting periods and by the person collecting water at the end of a formal meal.

The standing bow is performed while standing erect with hands held in hapchang, then bending the body from the waist 90° forward while dropping the hands (still together) to the knees, and then returning to standing position with hands in hapchang. When bowing it is correct form, to keep your head down. The standing bow is used when greeting teachers, when entering or leaving the Dharma Room, before sitting on your cushion in the Dharma Room, and when passing out our collecting the chanting books.

The half standing bow is performed by standing with hands held in hapchang, and bending the body 45° but keeping the hands up, in same position relative to the chest, and then return to standing position. The half standing bow is used when greeting laypeople, friend to friend. This bow is also the reception bow which is used by a Zen Master or Ji Do Poep Sa Nim.

The sitting bow is performed while sitting with hands in hapchang and bent forward from the waist, keeping the back curved and head down. Next, dropping the hands forward (in hapchang) to your crossed legs, and then siting up with the hands still in hapchang. Sitting bows are used at the beginning and end of chants, before standing up during meditation, at the end of meditation, and before and after being hit with the stick during meditation.

The full prostration is performed while starting from standing position, with the hands in hapchang. Then keeping your back straight and knees together, bend the knees until you are sitting on your heels, continue with toes turned under, bend forward on both hands and knees. This is done while keeping the trunk of the body parallel to the floor, and lower the body to the floor in a crouching position. The toes are out straight with the left big toe over the right. Then touch your forehead and hands to the floor and rotating the palms 90° towards the ceiling, keeping them shoulder-width apart and near the ears with the forearms touching the floor. Come up by swinging forward again onto the hands and knees, then back onto the heels with the toes tucked under, and swinging to a standing position using the strength of the legs. If one cannot swing up by the strength of the legs alone, use one hand on the floor to push off and keep the other in the hapchang position. When perfoming one prostration, always start and end with a standing bow; when doing more than one, always execute a standing bow at the beginning and end of the series.

The half prostration is performed when the head is already on the floor during a full prostration, by rising to a kneeling position with the toes still crossed rather than tucking the toes under the feet, and then returning back down, with the forehead touching the floor as in a prostration. Afterwards rising to a standing position as in a full prostration. At the end of a series of prostrations, a half prostration is always done. The following series is used-one prostration (a standing bow, a full prostration, and a standing bow)-when greeting the Zen Master after a short absence, when greeting the Zen Master each time before formal practice, when greeting the Abbot of the temple, and Ji Do Poep Sa Nims after a long absence.

The use of three prostrations (a standing bow, three full prostrations, one half prostrations, and a standing bow)-takes place when greeting the Zen Master after a long absence, bowing to the Buddha when leaving the Sangha for an extended period or returning to the Sangha after an extended absence, and bowing to the Buddha at other temples when visiting.

Finally the 108 prostrations (a standing bow, 108 full prostrations, one half prostration-and a standing bow)- is performed every day usually in the morning and more often by people doing special practice.