Each school of Buddhism has its favoured texts and its favoured practices. Thus, for instance, the Soto Zen Shu favours the Diamond and Heart Sutras, (and was once based on the Lankavatara) and emphasises the practice of zazen, while the Pureland schools favour the Larger Pureland, Amida and Contemplation Sutras while being focused upon the invocation of the name of Amitabha Buddha. If we go to the Tibetan schools we also find characteristic differences and so on throughout the Buddhist world. Now over the centuries there have been instances of friction between Buddhist schools, but they have seldom been major and by far the more common circumstance has been at least tolerance and often co-operation. When we consider this in relation to the history of Europe where oceans of blood has been spilt over fine points of doctrine that have little or no practical implication, it is rather remarkable. The differences between Buddhist schools are arguably much bigger - they don't even revere the same book. One can rightly wonder at this. The kindly spirit of the founder has somehow persisted down the centuries to a remarkable degree. I myself have travelled to quite a number of countries and met Buddhists from many different schools and universally been well received. We meet practitioners who have different styles, welcome them in, invite them to join in, ask what they do, share and discuss. It is all rather creative and certainly friendly. I think that one of the bases of this is the sense of our humanity. We might prefer one practice to another, but we can appreciate that different ways suit different folk, that what we are invoking is universal truth but without claiming to be know-alls or experts about what that means. An acceptance of our fallibility, limitations and vulnerability is a prerequisite for any meaningful practice at all.
The great Zen Master Bodhidharma said, "When bowing ceases, Buddhism ceases." By this he did not mean that his school was the best and only right one and its practice was bowing so everybody ought to follow suit or be excommunicated. He meant that the attitude of bowing permeates all Buddhist practice. In bowing we bend, we reduce our egos, we acknowledge something higher than ourselves, and we "touch the earth" just as Shakyamuni did at the time of his enlightenment. A stiff tree breaks when a storm comes along, but the tree that can bend survives. The same is true for people: learning to be flexible without giving up one's root. The source of nourishment that we draw upon comes from a deep place. The winds that blow across the surface may require us to bend from time to time, now this way, now that, but if we draw our true strength from a deep place, then we shall come back to an upright position afterwards. Thus there is no point in rigidly clinging to form. It is good to have forms since they facilitate practice together, but I am happy to follow whatever is customary in the temple I am in at the time, so long as no cruelty is involved. It does not matter whether I am bowing to Amitabha or Quan Shi Yin or Medicine Buddha and I'm sure they don't mind either. What matters is not clinging to form, but transmitting the gentle spirit of the founder - it is so much needed in this world.