Prostration: Why and How
The main purpose of prostrations is to purify the nonvirtuous deeds and negativities of the body. In Tibetan, the word chak means sweeping away the impurities of the body. One does prostrations in front of a statue, in a temple, in a holy place, in front of one’s teacher, and so on…
There are two kinds of prostrations: the full prostrations (kyang chak), where you lay down the full length of your body; and the easier and shorter prostrations (kum chak), where the five branches of your body (your forehead, both hands, and both knees) touch the ground while you do a recitation prayer with the visualization of the deities and the enlightened ones.
The most important aspect of this practice is again one’s pure intention. In Tibet there is a tradition of of circumambulating holy mountains like Kongpo Bonri, the mountain of Bon in the Kongpo Valley blessed by Tonpa Shenrab himself, by doing prostrations after every step.
Prostrations are not the only way to purify bodily negativities. You can also purify them by circumambulating temples or other holy mountains. Another way is also to participate in the construction of a temple or other holy place such as a stupa or a sand mandala.
How to Do Prostrations
1. Stand straight
2. Bring your arms up in front of you
3. Palms up. This symbolizes offering to the whole world.
4. Lift your hands higher, and when you reach the level of your crown wheel put your palms together. This is the offering to the enlightened ones.
5. Touch your hands to your crown wheel, then your throat wheel, and then your heart wheel. This way you receive the blessings of the body, speech and mind of the enlightened ones.
6. Then sweep your hands down your body, symbolizing sweeping away the negativities.
7. Kneel down,
8. Stretch your body flat on the ground,
9. Bring your arms and hands straight on your head,
10. Flat on the floor.
11. Remain in this position for a few seconds,
12. Then stand up and repeat these same steps three times.
After the third, stand up and repeat only the part with the hands.
The text says that the more you challenge yourself and the more pure intention you have for this practice, the more blessings you will receive. Thus, the most important thing is to have proper motivation, full devotion, and precise visualization. Otherwise, doing prostrations will be just physical exercise. It is best to do prostrations in holy places. It is believed that you multiply merits by cultivating this practice.
From “Open the Door to Bon”
Drawing: Khun Ek (Atipong Padanupong)