Only after many years did I begin to observe how the monks bow, to each other, to us, to the triple gem. I learned far more from watching them than I had known from just practicing myself. I previously reserved my bowing to things of reverence; people I Ioved, gratitude I wanted to extend, love I wanted to exchange.

My bowing and humility and all the stuff a bow stands for was reserved, conditional.  The monk’s bows were entirely unconditional. They bowed to the same things I did but it didn’t stop there.  They continued their bowing to people who caused them suffering, they bowed to the car full of kids who were screaming obscenities at them as their robes stood in contrast to our typical American street scene.

I once observed this funny little monk bow to a flat tire, somehow paying respect to the teacher within the situation.

“Bhante, what are you doing?” I inquired.

“Humbling myself to the task of fixing this tire, extending my gratitude for how far it got us and sending blessings to all the people who made that possible.”

“For fucks sake, you are not for real.  Nobody is that noble.” 

“That’s why I do it.”