The Importance of Prostrating in Buddhism
What is prostrating and what is its purpose?
In Buddhism, prostrating means to make a submissive, physical gesture that can range from either a slight bow to full body prostration.
Prostrating provides several benefits for Buddhists.
The main goal of prostrating in Buddhism is to help train ourselves to help eliminate our selfishness, pride and ego as bowing down is an act of giving up control and showing respect to someone or something else.
Prostrating also help to clear the mind and to put our minds at peace. Prostrating should be done slowly, and you should be mindful of your body.
If done properly, the mind and body become harmonious and one.
Is Prostrating absolutely necessary in my practice?
No, you can obtain enlightenment without prostrating but rituals such as prostrating can be valuable tools to aid you on your path towards inner peace.
Remember that Buddhism depends on reason and insight, not rituals. As we discussed in Do Buddhists Believe in God, Heaven and Hell?, Buddha never declared himself to be a god and encouraged his followers not to worship him as such.
To reduce or eliminate your suffering, you must first examine and understand the true nature of the world and this life.
Then you must live and act in a manner that is inline with that true nature. Prostrating is only done as a means of helping your practice by recognizing and showing respect for Buddha’s discoveries and insights.
How do you correctly Prostrate?
In Buddhism, full body prostration is called the “Five-Limbed Prostration” and involves putting yourself in a kneeling position with both sets of palms, elbows, toes, knees and your forehead being placed on the floor.
If you are physically able, then you should prostrate with correct form as follows:
- Place your knees close together on the floor;
- Bring your forehead all the way to the floor;
- Place your elbows close to your knees; and
- Place the palms of your hands on the floor next to your head about three inches apart
Are there other methods of prostrating?
Yes. While the above method is preferred, prostration can be done in many other effective ways and there is no wrong way.
Additionally, different schools of Buddhism use prostration in various ways. For example, some schools of Buddhism will recite Buddhist prayers during prostration.
The important thing is that you use the outward form of prostrating to train your inner self. Your focus should not be on how other’s prostrate.
It is a mistake to watch and judge others because of their poor form or sloppiness. If you judge them, then you will only increase your ego and thus your suffering. Instead, focus on your own form and practice.
How often should we prostrate and where should we prostrate?
Prostrating is very important in the practice of Buddhism and should therefore be done often. It is recommended that you incorporate prostrating into your daily practice.
Buddhists will often prostrate three times in a row to show respect to and remind themselves of Buddha, Buddha’s teachings, and the Buddhist Monk Community. These three things known as the “Triple Gem”, the “Three Jewels” or the “Three Refuges”.
You can prostrate anywhere but most Buddhists prostrate before some type of sacred object of veneration.
Prostration is also common in Buddhist schools as a way of showing respect as well as in temples and monasteries.
You should feel free to prostrate wherever you feel comfortable even if it is only in your own home.