Zen Wisdom 111



Would you explain the practice and significance of prostrations in Ch'an? With what attitude should one do prostrations? Sometimes you say to do it with a mind of repentance, sometimes with awareness of body movement, sometimes with gratitude. You have also spoken about different ways to prostrate and different levels of attainment possible through prostration practice.


Prostration is an ancient practice, present in India long before Buddhism appeared there, about 2500 years ago. At that time religion was the dominant force in India and there were accepted modes of interaction between people and deities and the spiritual realm. Prostration was such an accepted form of interaction.

When people stand or sit, the head is up and the eyes look forward. When you prostrate, you are symbolically putting your head at the feet of whomever or whatever you are prostrating to, and the upright palms symbolize holding the feet of the other. The head is the highest part of the body and the feet the lowest, so the prostrator is using the most dignified part of his or her body to touch the most lowly part of another's. In this position it is much easier for sentiments of humility, inadequacy and imperfection to arise in someone's mind.