Prostrating to the Buddha to Train the Body and Cultivate the MindProstrating to the Buddha is a fundamental requirement to practice Buddhism. Similar to the trend of vegetarianism, more and more people are taking up prostration practice purely for health reasons. The movement of prostrating to the Buddha, which is simple and easy to do, is highly beneficial for both our physical and mental health.
Western Medical Perspective: Low Intensity Cardio Exercise for Fitness
From the medical perspective, prostrating to the Buddha is an easy-to-learn stretching movement that exercises the entire body, without the risk of injury due to overexertion. It combines a series of simple movements, including bending the waist forward, kneeling, and stretching out, thus making it suitable for people of all ages as a form of daily fitness exercise.
The act of prostrating includes joining the palms, bending the waist forward, kneeling, lowering the body downward, extending the arms forward, touching the floor with the forehead and rising up. These movements require one to utilize muscles in the upper limbs, shoulders, back, abdomen, lower limbs, and neck. From the Western medical perspective, it helps relax and unwind our tensed muscles and ligaments and restores their elasticity. In addition, prostration also forces us to extend the cervical vertebra and spinal joints, thereby relieving pressure on the nerves, blood vessels and lymph gland, as well as alleviating headaches and shoulder and neck pains. As an effective low-intensity cardio exercise, it increases lung capacity, strengthens cardio-pulmonary functions, enhances blood circulation, and helps burn body fat.
A medical doctor trained in both Traditional Chinese and Western medicine, Venerable Dao Zheng strongly encouraged people to practice prostrating to the Buddha. In her book, Prostrating to the Buddha and Medical Science, she analyzed the act of prostrating in terms of anatomical physiology and cited actual examples to illustrate how it benefits our health. She also pointed out that it helps us adjust our incorrect posture--- for example, by standing upright without hunching our back, holding our head straight, and relaxing our shoulders.
Modern people lead such a hectic lifestyle that they often suffer physical stress, have tense muscles, and find it hard to really relax. Students and office workers, in particular, often have to maintain a seated posture for an extended period of time to study or work in front of their computers, thereby suffering from musculoskeletal disorder, chest tightness, dizziness, and migraine headaches. If we can develop the habit of prostrating to the Buddha, it will certainly help us improve our health condition.
Traditional Chinese Medical Perspective: An Ideal Way to Improve Qi and Blood Circulation
In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the act of prostrating combines the benefits of Taoist qigong, Indian yoga, Taiji martial arts, and Chinese chiropractic massage. Maintaining routine physical exercise with regulated breathing enhances our qi and blood circulation, and thus helps dispel symptoms of internal physical imbalance caused by poor qi circulation.
The theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine differs from the "external" anatomical knowledge of Western medicine in that the former is a medical science based on a set of intangible "internal" meridian-collateral circulation systems, with an emphasis on maintaining harmony between a person’s physical and mental states, to enhance the body's immune system and its natural healing powers. From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the act of prostrating softens the body's joints and invigorates the internal organs through the movement of repetitive bowing, kneeling, and rising. It enables our circulation system to flow freely and helps stabilize our emotions, leading to a balanced body and mind free of disease.
Whether joining the palms, bowing, kneeling, extending the arms, or touching the forehead to the floor, the most essential requirement for doing prostration is complete relaxation of the body. This allows the Baihui acupoint at the top of our skull, the Yongquan acupoint on our soles, and as the meridians and acupoints located at the tips of our fingers and toes to be stimulated, while obstructions are removed from the twelve meridians and eight extraordinary meridians. This is the reason why practicing prostration can relieve symptoms of headache and poor blood circulation to the limbs, making it a very good healthy routine to follow.
Apart from the actual benefits for our physical and physiological well-being, prostrating to the Buddha also enhances our emotional stability as an ideal moment for self reflection. Rigorous in keeping the precepts and single-mindedly committed to promoting Pure Land Buddhism, Venerable Chan Yun made prostrating to the Buddha a life-long routine practice. In addition, he always urged others to do the same, for it helps one clear one’s head, attain inner peace, and cultivate mindful concentration.
Moment for Retrospection
As Master Sheng Yen pointed out in his book, The World of Chan, prostrating to the Buddha requires one to “contemplate the body by being mindful of the bodily movement; contemplate the feeling by being mindful of the sensations through the limbs; contemplate the mind by being mindful of our perceived thoughts; and contemplate the dharma by being mindful of our mental activities and reactions". Through the practice of prostrating to the Buddha, we remain mindful by being clearly aware of body, sensation, mind and dharmas, each time we prostrate and rise.
Through prostrating to the Buddha while observing ourselves, we can gradually see our attachments, thereby beginning to change ourselves into gentler beings. In our daily life, once we have developed a gentler body and mind, our relationship with our environment will naturally change. We’ll become more grateful when interacting with others, less attached, less confrontational with others, and less opposed to our environment. This is why ancestral patriarchs and great practitioners also encouraged people to practice prostrating to the Buddha.
Prostration: Paying Homage to the Buddha
Common Buddhist Etiquette
Common Qs and As on the Practice of Prostrating to the Buddha - 1. Buddhism does not advocate for idolatry, so why would people still make Buddha statues and even prostrate to them?
Common Qs and As on the Practice of Prostrating to the Buddha - 2. If we do not have a Buddhist altar or a Buddha statue at home, then towards which direction should we prostrate?
Common Qs and As on the Practice of Prostrating to the Buddha - 3. When is the appropriate time to make prostrations to the Buddha? How many prostrations should one perform?
Common Qs and As on the Practice of Prostrating to the Buddha - 4. Are the objects to which Buddhists prostrate only limited to Buddha statues?
Common Qs and As on the Practice of Prostrating to the Buddha - 5. Can prostrating to the Buddha eliminate karmic obstacles?
Prostrating to the Buddha to Train the Body and Cultivate the Mind
Prostrating to the Buddha and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness
Practice Method of Prostrating to the Buddha
Resource: Issue 347 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 347 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: Cheng-yu Chang (張振郁)
Editing: Chia-chen Chang (張家誠), Keith Brown