Body, Speech and Mind: Learning to Prostrate

3 March 2010 - 6:57pm Comments Off

In last week’s Manjushri Class, we discussed why, when, where and how prostrations are carried out in Kechara. We watched a short teaching that was given by His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche about prostrations which was recorded three years ago. Check the video for yourself here and here!

The class kicked off with a brief explanation of the Four Noble Truths, which we have discussed in detail in our previous class. We were then introduced to the Preliminary Practices, with Prostrations being the focus of our class. It was revealed that by tradition, we should do a minimum of 100,000 prostrations in a retreat.


Why are prostrations so important?

Before engaging in any practice or retreat, we need to know why we need to do it. Understanding the reason for carrying out a certain practice is equally important as doing the deed itself! Not understanding the true reason behind the practice will ultimately result in misplaced confidence and motivation.

Through the act of prostrating and taking refuge in the Three Jewels, we purify all negative actions accumulated through our body, speech and mind. When taking refuge, we should visualise that purification taking place, and think that we are gaining the Buddha’s body, speech and mind.

As a physical act of taking refuge, prostrations benefit our physical body by removing a lot of diseases. Prostrations also benefit our mind – for countless lifetimes, our actions and thinking have revolved around ourselves, making us very well-practised at being a self-centred individual. By going on a prostration retreat, we directly admit defeat and understand the need to modify our mindset to destroy our ego. Doing a prostration retreat also increases our ability to absorb the Dharma.


Motivation is the key

Before engaging in a retreat, it is essential to set a motivation so that we have a direction in our practice. Not setting a strong motivation will result in a ‘yoga’ session rather than a retreat.

During prostration, our mind should be clear and full of confidence in the qualities of the Three Jewels, that their blessings purify us on all three levels and clear the darkness in our mind.


When is a good time to start a prostration retreat?

Any time!

Any time is a good time to start a prostration retreat! Pushing it aside to be done when we’re older is not the answer, but an excuse. Remember that we get weaker as time passes, and our negative karma grows stronger so there’s no better time to uproot this negative karma than NOW!


What to expect during a prostration retreat?

We CAN expect mind transformation, an egoless state. However, due to our countless past lives, we probably have accumulated negative karma right up to our necks! Therefore it is no surprise that we may experience some difficulties or obstacles during prostrations, because it is extremely difficult to eliminate negative karma. This unpleasantness may manifest in many ways, such as dreams, emotional disturbances, fantasy, physical pain, and much more.

Unpleasant experiences, be they physical or mental, are considered as suffering arising from karma. Because karma is impermanent, suffering has an end. Therefore, when experiencing suffering during a retreat, it is essential not to give in to suffering but to ride it through calmly in a controlled environment (with the blessings of our Guru, and support of our Dharma brothers and sisters).

At the class, KH Ng gave a simple analogy: when we go through a detoxification program, trips to the toilet to expel toxins from the body are unavoidable. We may feel the aches and pain in the beginning, but eventually we will feel the benefit.

It is the same for prostrations, a spiritual detoxification program. Experiencing discomfort during a prostration retreat should be viewed positively. Instead of dwelling on suffering, we should transform our mind to view it as a beneficial experience. As we experience this purge of negativities in small doses throughout our retreat, we will be grateful that this experience has help free us from a much greater suffering that otherwise will occur.


How to engage in a prostration retreat?

A more detailed explanation on how to do prostrations has previously been written for anyone interested in doing a prostration retreat.

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