There is a sutta AN or SN, I believe, I read months ago that discussed about a kingsman who wanted to give respect to the Buddha by bowing but couldn't because he would lose a good job, family, and reputation. He went to The Blessed One to pay respect but told him that, instead of bowing, when he rides on his horse and tips his hat, that is the sign that he is bowing to The Blessed One. He gives other like signs to hide the respect he wanted to give The Buddha by bowing. The Buddha's religious neighbors in town questioned The Buddha and were particular about the Blessed One's teachings and practice, and, thus, opposed anyone who followed The Buddha would be opposing the religious teachings of the land.

The Buddha didn't complain. Like other suttas, there is a lot of repetition, but the main message is it doesn't matter how you do X action it's your intentions that count.

I ask because in western culture bowing in respect to others isn't common. Shaking hands or eye to eye contact takes precedent. We may nod our heads when acknowledging a person equally (say walking pass each other) but not insofar out of hierarchy (spiritual, political, etc). To many it can be seen as an act of submission; but, in general, people usually "bow" to people closer to them than they would strangers.

With that in mind, this sutta I can't find really caught my attention about The Buddha looking at intentions rather than requiring the practice of his teachings be congruent with the cultural norms in his day.

-Specifically, I am looking for that particular sutta or one very close to it. Any of you familiar with this story?

2 Answers 2


The sutta is in the DN - Digha Nikaya. DN 4 to be precise, Sonadanda Sutta. The ending indicates he didn't gain stream-entry while listening to the Buddha's teaching. This is read by some as a result of him not being able to relinquish the pride and desire for reputation getting in the way of him paying formal respect to the Buddha. (See note to Maurice Walsh's translation - Long Discourses of the Buddha.)

Here is the relevant quote:

DN 4: ‘Reverend Gotama, if when I have gone into the assembly I were to rise and salute the Lord, the company would despise me. In that case my reputation would suffer, and if a man’s reputation suffers, his income suffers ... So if, on entering the assembly, I should join my palms in greeting, may the Reverend Gotama take it as if I had risen from my seat. And if [126] on entering the assembly I should take off my turban, may you take it as if I had bowed at your feet. Or if, when riding in my carriage, I were to alight to salute the Lord, the company would despise me ... So if, when I am riding in my carriage, I raise my goad, may you take it as if I had alighted from my carriage, and if I lower my hand, may you take it as if I had bowed my head at your feet.’"


Answered for those with proper regards.

Bowing down, falling of respect (toward what's proper to), is nowhere common. Noble culture and common, are of cause not the same.

The retold story seems to be merely a tale from outsiders, and there are instances where the Sublime Buddha even urged to bow down. To get formal integrated into the heritage, bowing down counts as a prerequisite.

Within the Buddhaparisa (like with every community), paying regards isn't a generosity but a matter of virtue (Sila). Of course, for one not yet into, there are no must's at all and one is free to either give into, or not.

And other then western, modern believes, things start to be trained from gross to fine, not otherwise. Before developing mind, speech, before speech, body is required to be developed.

If one bows down to one, that's a very serious account, like if one adopts a child, gives one refuge, when accepted. If one tries to think in skillful ways, and right objectivity, one can easy see the blessing of right view, right regards, and knows how much such goes against one's defilements.

Just think how often and many people bow down for most low, say fleshy coupling...

How clear and consequent the matter actually is, and how one cut himself actually of when in not so good thinkings groups (like modern, western ones) might be shown well on the Sublime Buddhas advices for his monks: Groups to avoid, to approach

Much success in finding ways to overcome doubts!

  • 2
    Thank you. The story I'm referencing is specific story in the nikayas (SN or AN). There wasn't an interpretation of what it meant (I didn't get a commentary). However, in the story it wasn't that the kingsman didn't want to give respect or felt negative about bowing. It was, in his case, wasn't in his best interest. So, he told The Buddha don't think that I'm not respecting you by not physically bowing. Know that I'm respecting you by tipping my hat (or so have you). The moral implied that intentions (mind) count just as much if not more than actions (body). Body/Speech/Mind.
    – Carlita
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:15
  • I've added the relevant quote. It's DN 4. "Not in his best interest" - he was concerned being seen to bow would damage his reputation, Commented Jun 2 at 4:20

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