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I'd like to ask a few questions, if I may. I am having some trouble seeing meanings or attributes being assigned to some things in Buddhism.

The yellow robe worn by monks is an emblem and reminder of the Triple Gem, as is the Buddha Statue. Therefore one is really bowing to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, not to some person or statue.

  • I've also heard that one bows to show respect for the monk/nun/Buddha image. What is the actual meaning of bowing? I don't think that it makes the respect I already have for people any different. I can't seem to understand if it is right to assign a meaning to such simple act. Shouldn't we be seeing this just for what it is? (Bending the body, moving)

  • Another example that I could use is the general idea of beauty. I know it results from the personal interpretation of the things that surround us, and we should set ourselves free from any kind of personal point of view. Yet, i've seen people (monks) talking about the beauty of the nature, and at the same time I disagree with such thing, I can only see nature as a beautiful thing. How do I deal with that?

  • Different people find different things pleasant. Therefore, pleasure is something personal and results from our personal interpretation of reality (an example of this is humor). The buddhist teachings tell us that there's no problem on feeling pleasant sensations, yet one can't cling to them. But if we should see things for what they truly are, finding something pleasant is not right, is it?

Thank you in advance, Nicolas

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    Hi. Welcome to Buddhism SE. To be honest this looks like 3 different questions one for each bullet point. Would you consider splitting them and asking 3 questions or maybe editing this one down to one point. Many thanks – Crab Bucket Dec 28 '14 at 14:12
  • On bowing, this could simply be culture. Buddhism is strong in cultures where bowing is a form of respect, and many (outside those cultures) who adopt Buddhism also adopt the outward forms. There's no need to think there's anything more to it than that. Even the opportunities for practice that come from the discomfort of bowing can be had in any uncomfortable situation (and applies in reverse -- an opportunity to practice by making people who bow stop bowing and show respect in another way). – R. Barzell Dec 29 '14 at 22:23
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First off, you can't "see things for what they are", because "things" not "are" in any single way. The way things are is always context dependent. As much as we may want to see things from superhuman objective perspective, we can't escape a point of view. Now, if we understand that there is no truly objective point of view then we may get close to seeing things as they are, which means accepting our necessary limited perspective as part of "how things are" -- but not being fooled by it!

IMO, your assuming that you currently see things as they are is conceit and delusion.

Now, individual points:

The symbolism of bowing is making yourself vulnerable to the person you're bowing to. This is like handshake in which you show you have no weapon, but taken to the next level. Basically, by bowing you're saying "my life is in your hands". It would seem like it makes no difference if you already have respect for the person, but you have no idea how deep the egoistic resistance runs its roots. Try laughing authentically in front of a group of people you don't know and you will see what I mean. Similarly, bowing sincerely requires breaking through our false pride. And if you don't have pride anymore, bowing becomes expression of your understanding of the significance of Dharma and how it is manifested by Sangha, along with your gratitude to the Buddha. Again, it's like you are saying: "Thank you Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha -- I'm glad to have you be the force that guides my life, and I would like to keep this connection alive"

Regarding beauty and pleasure, Buddha taught us to train to see pleasant in non-pleasant and non-pleasant in pleasant. Only then can we be free from the dictate of "things as they are". You will not hear monks finding beauty in what most people consider beautiful. Back in the day when nature was prevalent, and people praised castles and statues, monks praised a bird flying off a branch. This was expression of their ability to find beauty anywhere. These days the beauty of nature has been romanticized and became popular, which is why it seems like monks were simply indulging, but they were not.

To summarize, it is not about seeing things as they are, it's seeing things in a useful way.

  • I am very grateful for your answer. This was bothering me for quite a while now. I still don't understand why do symbolism exist. Why do we attach meanings to things? I mean, I do recognize the genuine bowing, wich is made by the mind. Yet, why do we connect this to the act of "bending"? – Nicolas Amaral Dec 28 '14 at 17:09
  • Please upvote answers you like and post new questions for follow-up questions. – Andrei Volkov Dec 28 '14 at 17:37
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  1. Bowing

This has 2 functions:

  • Help reduce conceit
  • Be grateful to have found (so much effort and pain by the Buddha to find the solution for unsatisfactory), preserved (by linage of teachers) and taught (your meditation teacher) you the technique. The chances as you would have not found this on your own. If the Buddha has not taught or the linage of teachers had not preserved it and for some reason your teacher did not take up teaching then you still would have got the teaching. So a lot of respect is due.

    1. Beauty

There is nothing wrong with enjoying beauty. What you should remember is that when you enjoy you get a feeling then there is a chance to get attached to this sensation. Also conditional reaction of you mind creates proliferation of reaction to beauty. This is what you have to put right. Be pro active than reactive to situations than dancing to the carrot and stick input from your sense door.

  1. Finding something pleasant

Once contact arises you will get some sensation. This can be pleasant or unpleasant. You have no control over this. Only thing you can do is not react to the sensation that follow. You cannot stop sensation. As your perception becomes less then your reaction will be less.

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    Thank you so much for your reply. This was bugging me for quite a while now. – Nicolas Amaral Dec 28 '14 at 17:13

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