Saturday, June 02, 2007

Why do we prostrate?

Buddhists prostrate themselves everyday before the Triple Gems, whether it is to pray, to chant sutras, before they meditate etc. What is the purpose of such practice? Is is only for showing respect to holy people & objects, to venerate or even worship them? Or is there a deeper meaning to it?

The Noble Ones taught us that it is not the outward show of veneration that matters, but the conquest of ego & pride within your own mind that is really important. We do not prostrate ourselves out of fear or to beg for favours; we do it for the wisdom that arises from the weakening of attachment to a Self.

However, some people who studied the Mahayana teachings of emptiness come to the conclusion that most of the traditional Buddhist practices, including prostration, are meaningless outward rituals & should thus be abandoned. They fail to appreciate the teachings that these practices symbolize & how they benefit the mind. This is a mistake. One would think that the enlightened ones no longer need to follow such rituals, but the truth is not like that. There is a very interesting Koan to illustrate this point.

Once a young novice saw Huang Bo prostrating in front of a Buddha statue at a monastery. So he asked the master:
"Not to cling to the Buddha, not to cling to the Dharma, not to cling to the Sangha; may I know what is the master praying to?"
"Praying to such teachings of non-clinging" was the reply.
"So why are you still prostrating?" the novice pressed.
At this, Huang Bo gave the novice one tight slap!
Reeling from the pain, the novice exclaimed, "How can you be so rough?!"
"What place is this, such that you complain about roughness & fineness?"
The novice had an awakening at that moment.

Contemplate on "what place is this" & you may see the answer for yourself. Then you will automatically bow to the Triple Gems daily without anybody telling you to!


Kim said...

Sorry, my mind is a bit dull. I do not understand what the master is trying to teach the monk in the story. Could you please kindly elaborate?

Thank you,

hoangkybactien said...

The above question has been posted but there has seemed no answer to it...

To Kim:

In this particular situation Ven. master Huang-Po did not really teach the young disciple of his anything!

As soon as receiving the hard slap in the face, the young monk reacted (concentratedly, focusly) strongly: "why you're so rough...bla...bla...bla..."

The master, by experience and being skillful, recognized that his innocent disciple's mind, at that particular instant, was so focus that all myriad thoughts was momentarily ceased, except for the pain on that cheek. So, he (HuangPo) quickly and sharply replied "what places..." (moon-pointing-finger) back to the young monk (in a hope that he might be able to see the flaw in his own complaint and thus realized his buddha nature).

It must have been due time for the young monk that as soon as he heard the word "what places...", he "see" his original face. Meaning apart from the physical pain on his cheek, he realized that his original mind was not hurt! It could not be touched or hurted. It was always there, neither got older or duller, or smaller, or bigger. It was unpolullable. It was luminous. Just like that. That was what he realized: the one from which all things come from and all things will returns to. He was awakened.

Of course, had the young monk failed to "see" his own nature at that instant, nothing the master could have done, except for a long sigh and would have asked him to go back to his daily tasks, and waited for other times.

Now, It is your turn, Kim. You said your mind is a bit dull. Can you show exactly where or the location at which that part of your mind is dull!? If you can find/locate it, you then would be in the same position as the young monk after he heard "what places..." in the above story.

Or you can try this: You said you do not understand what the master is trying to teach the monk in the story. Ask yourself: Do "I" not understand the story, or "something else" that does not understand the story? If, indeed, it is "something else", then what is that "something else"? Where is it?

If you do what has been said above, you're no different from "koan" or "huatuo" practitioners. It is the power of concentration that will shatter one own ignorance to "see" his/her buddha nature.


Now, on prostration:

Just want to add a bit to what Wayne has already explained:

1. With arogance present in mind, one would not, or hardly, or reluctantly bow to vennerable objects. Arogance, in essence, is a sign of blindness and stupidity! Why? Because no one can escape from karma. To be precise, no one can escape away from his/her own mind.

Karma works, when viewed from certain angle, in the same way as a pendulum works. Meaning, if one pulls a pendulum side way then release it, it will swing to exactly the opposite side (assuming no friction force present). And it will keep swinging till all the potential engery (karma) it possesses exhaustes. Then will it comes to a stand still (no more karma).

Therefore, prostration is the best way to curb arogance. But always keep in mind this: When we say prostration, we always mean outwardly, prostration is made with physical body, and inwardly, repentance is made with sincerity. Otherwise, making prostration mechanically with the mind of indifference is just no difference from a machine! It is useless.

2. Prostration is a natural expression of being deeply gratiful toward whatever/whoever from which one feels owing immense gratitude.

Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, ancient ancestors, the tripitakas (sutras), and countless sentient beings have been manifestating into this samsara worlds to help us. What would we do to express our sincere and honest appreciation?

Without sincere prostrations and repentance, don't hope for real realization.

May all sincer dharma practitioners attain awakening just in a sudden.