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Bowing and Offering Incense

Bowing is an act of demonstrating humility, a cornerstone of Taoist spiritual development. Bowing shows utmost respect towards spirits and other people. Bowing is one of the most expedient means for eliminating arrogance. By following these reasons for bowing, we exemplify the conducts of the sage and emulate the sage’s spiritual demeanor—expressing humility, respect, and the absence of arrogance. Seen in this light, bowing is a very important spiritual practice.

Entering the Meditation Space

Before entering your meditation area, you should make a bow towards the altar or shrine to show respect for the space. Perform this by standing up straight with the feet together. Grasp the left thumb with the right-hand fingers (making a fist of the right hand as it is grasping the left-hand thumb [photo 1]). The left-hand fingers then lie across the right hand [2]. This hand positioning is called the “Taiji Knot.”

To make the bow, bring the hands together in the Taiji Knot so they rest upon the solar plexus [3] and then raise them up to the level of the forehead (Third-Eye area) [4]. When bringing the hands up, turn the wrists so that the fingers are on top and the palms face downward, but keep the hands together in the Taiji Knot. Return the hands to the solar plexus and then bow the head toward the front of the space [5]. Return to an upright position, then enter the meditation area and position your sitting mat and cushion for ceremony and meditation. Make the same bow when leaving.

Offering Incense

When lighting the sticks of incense, hold them horizontally in the left hand with the tips pointing to the right [6]. Place the right-hand index and middle fingers under the sticks as the tips of the incense are held over the left-side candle’s flame for lighting [7].

Once the incense is lit, bring the sticks back to the horizontal position and wave your right hand in front of the tips to extinguish the flame [8–9]. Then hold the end of the sticks by placing the left-hand thumb, index, and middle fingers at the base with the same fingers of the right hand directly in front of the left-hand fingers [10]. Do this as you bring the sticks up to the forehead (Third Eye) with the sticks held horizontally and pointing straight ahead [11].

Raise the sticks up over the head three times, and with each upward positioning recite the name to which the incense is being offered [12]. Then bring the sticks down in front of the body and hold them vertically [13]. With the right hand, retrieve each stick separately and place them in the incense burner while making the appropriate recitation [14–16].

When all three pieces of incense are in the burner, take a half step back, right foot first, followed by the left foot, and then make a half bow to the altar with the hands in the Taiji Knot position. Coming up from the bow, bring the folded hands up to the Third-Eye region and then back down in front of the chest.

Making a Full Bow

During a ceremony, make a full bow after lighting the final series of incense. Do this by stepping back to kneel onto the right knee [17]. Set the left knee down [18], bend over, placing the hands on the floor [19] and touch the Third Eye to the hands in the Taiji Knot position [20].

Kneel up [21], step forward with the right leg [22], stand up [23], then raise the folded hands up to the Third-Eye region [24]. Return them to the front of the chest in conclusion.

Bowing text excerpted from Taoist Chanting and Recitation.

Taoist Chants

Bowing and Offering Incense

Incense Offering PraiseThe Eight Great Taoist Spiritual Chants

Jade Emperor’s Mind Seal Scripture ChantGreat Compassion Chant

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