A blog from the archives…
Satya writes: Prostration.
Even now, seeing the word written down stirs something faintly uncomfortable in me.
When I first attended a Pureland Buddhist service, after some ordinary sitting and walking meditation and some slightly-out-of-my-comfort-zone chanting, I was alarmed to see the entire room tipping forwards to kiss the floor with their foreheads over and over again.
I joined them, feeling extremely awkward. When I came up each time, my hair was all mussed up and covered my eyes. I wasn t sure I was doing it right. I felt like I was outside my body, on the outside of the room, looking in and thinking, What are these people DOING?
At the time, I thought to myself, Well, this prostrations business makes me REALLY uncomfortable. So it s probably quite helpful to carry on doing it and see what happens.
A year later, the awkwardness has disappeared. I find a strange kind of pleasure in placing myself at the feet of the golden Buddha on our shrine.
It is a (gradual, drip by drip) antidote to the huge ego in me that wants to be bigger, better, richer, more beautiful, in charge, in control, the ego that thinks it knows best (it doesn’t).
It is a way of paying respect to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and other Buddhist teachers, to other people and things I’ve learnt from, to the marvellous awe-inspiring jaw-dropping universe.
It is a way of being grateful.
I hope to get better at prostrating both formally as part of a service, and informally as when I say grace before a meal or express my gratitude at a beautiful view in much the same way as Barry Lopez describes below, with a slight dip of my head.
Here’s Lopez, speaking of a summer he spent in the western Brooks Range of Alaska, in his book Arctic Dreams.
“…I went for a walk for the first time among the tundra birds. They all build their nests on the ground, so their vulnerability is extreme. I gazed down at a single horned lark no bigger than my first. She stared back resolute as iron. As I approached, golden plovers abandoned their nests in hysterical ploys, artfully feigning a broken wing to distract me from the woven grass cups that couched their pale, darkly speckled eggs. Their eggs glowed with a soft, pure light, like the window light in a Vermeer painting.
I took to bowing on these evening walks. I would bow slightly with my hands in my pockets, towards the birds and the evidence of life in their nests because of their fecundity, unexpected in this remote region, and because of the serene arctic light that came down over the land like breath, like breathing.”
I prostate myself before you, oh wonderful reader. _/\_
Things you might be curious about
When are you humble? When are you the opposite of humble? What helps you to remember your place in the universe? How can you connect with gratitude?
As Westerners we tend to think of prostrating as a gesture of defeat or abasement. We think that to show someone else respect is to make ourselves less. Prostrating irritates our sense of democracy, that everyone is equal…On one hand we want to receive the teachings but on the other we don t really want to bow down to anyone or anything.
There are two kinds of egotists: Those who admit it, and the rest of us.
~Laurence J. Peter
Prostrate before the world once a day during January by joining our Mindful Writing Challenge... 3 days to go!