The morning after Philip Kapleau and Professor Phillips arrived at Ryutakuji Monastery they were given a tour of the place by Abbot Soen Nakagawa. Both Americans had been heavily influenced by tales of ancient Chinese masters who’d destroyed sacred texts, and even images of the Buddha, in order to free themselves from attachment to anything. They were thus surprised and disturbed to find themselves being led into a ceremonial hall, where the Roshi invited them to pay respects to a statue of the temple’s founder, Hakuin Zenji, by bowing and offering incense.
On seeing Nakagawa bow before the image, Phillips couldn’t contain himself, and burst out: “The old Chinese masters burned or spit on Buddha statues! Why do you bow down before them?”
“If you want to spit, you spit,” replied the Roshi. “I prefer to bow.”
One Bird One Stone: 108 American Zen Stories by Sean Murphy