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When I was a little girl taking ballet we all had to learn how to bow. Then I started reading all of the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and continued to practice my bows. After all, I always believed, in my little fairy tale of life, that at some point I would meet my prince. I’m still watching for him, I still know how to bow.

I came to Nepal and watched on a daily basis as the ladies and men would make their circles around the Stupa and bow in reverence in certain spots. Displaying reverence in major world religions, traditional rituals and ceremonies, and as a show of respect to authorities and accomplished masters is called a Prostration. Even bowing, which I think shows the highest of manners, is a lost art that most Westerners have forgotten. Because of pride and not wanting to “bow down” before someone else or a religious figure, doing a full prostration or bow is rarely ever seen. Most consider themselves “above that.”

That is not the case here. Thankfully, I am surrounded by those who take their religion, practice and manners seriously and are keeping the art alive! On my semi-daily rounds at the Boudha Stupa each day, I see hundreds of people inside the inner wall doing tens to hundreds of prostrations.

It is not only in Buddhism and the base of the Boudha Stupa where this is practiced. If you think about the various religions: Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism; they all use prostrations to embody the lowering, submitting or relinquishing of the individual ego before a greater spiritual power.

Outside of traditional religious institutions, prostrations are (or were) used to show deference to worldly power in Hawaii, Imperial China, Japan, Martial Arts and Yoga. In these forms prostrations are used as a sign of deep respect for the elders or for the pursuit general spiritual advancement.

A prostration is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to show reverence to the Triple Gem (comprising the Buddha, his teachings, and the spiritual community).

In Vajrayana Buddhism, prostrations are often performed before meditation or teachings, but can form a separate practice by itself. Prostrations are seen as a means of purifying ones body, speech and mind of karmic defilement, especially pride. Prostrations are used in tandem with visualization and can be used to express reverence.

In the context of offering homage in Buddhism, prostrations are performed as follows:

Bring your hands together in the 'lotus bud' mudra (the base of the palm and the fingertips together, and thumbs slightly tucked in) and place them on the crown of the head, then to the throat and heart.

As you place your hands on your crown, you offer homage to Guru Rinpoche's enlightened body, purify defilements and obscurations incurred through the avenue of your body, and establish the potential to realize nirmanakaya.

At your throat, you offer homage to his enlightened speech, and establish the potential to realized sambhogakaya.

Bringing your hands to your heart, you offer homage to his enlightened mind, purify your mind's obscurations, and establish the potential to realized harmakaya.

The actual prostration is performed by dropping the body forward and stretching it full length on the floor, the arms outstretched in front.... Again, with hands in the lotus bud mudra, bend your arms back and touch your hands to the top of your head, a gesture that acknowledges the blessing flowing from Guru Rinpoche.

Then stretch your arms out once more and push yourself up.... Bring your hands into the lotus bud mudra for the third time and touch your heart in a gesture of reverence. Then, with a smooth motion, bring your hands to your crown and perform the next prostration.

This type of prostration is often done 3, 7, 21, 108 or 100,000 times. A prostration mala can be used to facilitate counting. Prostrations done in large numbers (like 100,000) can be part of the preliminary practices to the practice of tantra.

While doing this cross-training exercise (I mean prostrations) there is a mantra to read before and after so that spiritual energy aligns with the physical energy. While doing the prostrations you should also release your thoughts of negativity.

The mantra which multiplies one prostration into a thousand prostrations:

Om namo manju shriye nama sushriye nama uttama shriye svaha
Namo gurubhya namo buddhaya namo dharamaya namo samghaya

By prostrating to the three supreme jewels,
May I purify the defilement of myself and all beings,
By joining the palms of two hands equally,
May this unify method and wisdom.
By placing the palms of the hands on the crown of the head,
May I be born in the excellent pure field of Sukhavati.
By placing the palms at the forehead,
May this purify all the defilements of the body.
By placing the palms of the hands at the throat,
May this purify all the defilements of the speech.
By placing the palms of the hands at the heart,
May this purify all the defilements of the mind.
By separating the joined palms of the hands,
May the two form bodies’ work for the benefit of beings.
By touching the ground with the knees of the legs,
May this gradually attain the ten stages and the five paths.
By touching the forehead to the ground,
May this attain the eleventh stage of universal light.
By stretching and bending the four limbs,
May this spontaneously accomplish the four enlightened activities.
By means of stretching and bending all the nerves,
May this release all the channel knots.
By means of bending the central backbone,
May all the airs completely enter into the central channel.
By means of rising up from the ground.
May this attain the path of liberation without remaining in Samsara.
Then by prostrating many more times.
May sentient beings be lead and may they not dwell in Nirvana.
By the power of having virtuously offered full-length prostrations,
May I temporarily accomplish a long life and good health.
Although having died and been born in Sukhavati,
May this quickly attain the state of perfect Buddhahood.
May all the sentient beings be endowed with happiness.
And all the lower realms always be empty.
Wherever the Bodhisattva dwells,
May all of their aspirations be fulfilled.
Sarva mangalam!
By the merit of this work, may all sentient beings attain perfect and complete Buddhahood.

I thought that doing prostrations would be a great cross between yoga and bowing. What I have now discovered is that it is some of the toughest exercise, physically and mentally, that I have done in recent months! My back aches, my hamstrings are tight and my pecs are screaming. It’s fantastic exercise!

If you have ever thought that you could easily overpower a monk. Be forewarned, they may look docile, but those men have muscles! All the monks are doing it and they could easily come to the rescue of a damsel in distress!

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copyright 2011-2017 Loxley Browne

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