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Panipata

A prostration (Pali: panipāta, Skt.: namas-kara, Ch.: li-pai, Jp.: raihai) is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to show reverence to the Triple Gem (comprising the Buddha, his teachings, and the spiritual community) and other objects of veneration.

Among Buddhists prostration is believed to be beneficial for practitioners for several reasons, including:

  • an experience of giving or veneration
  • an act to purify defilements, especially conceit
  • a preparatory act for meditation
  • an act that accumulates merit (see karma)

In the Pali canon, laypersons prostrating before the then-living Buddha is mentioned in several suttas. In Theravada Buddhism, as part of daily practice, one typically prostrates before and after chanting and meditation. On these occasions, one does typically prostrates three times: once to the Buddha, once to the Dhamma, and once to the Sangha. More generally, one can also prostrate before “any sacred object of veneration.”

Theravada Buddhists execute a type of prostration that is known as “five-point veneration” (Pali: patitthitapanca) or the “five-limbed prostration” (Pali: pañc’anga-vandana) where the two palms and elbows, two sets of toes and knees, and the forehead are placed on the floor.More specifically:

… In the kneeling position, one’s hand in añjali [palms together, fingers flat out and pointed upward] are raised to the forehead and then lowered to the floor so that the whole forearm to the elbow is on the ground, the elbow touching the knee. The hands, palm down, are four to six inches apart with just enough room for the forehead to be brought to the ground between them. Feet are still as for the kneeling position and the knees are about a foot apart….

In Thailand, traditionally, each of the three aforementioned prostrations are accompanied by the following Pali verses:

First Prostration Araham samma-sambuddho bhagava
Buddham bhagavantam abhivademi.
The Noble One, the fully Enlightened One, the Exalted One,
I bow low before the Exalted Buddha.
Second Prostration Svakkhato bhagavata dhammo
Dhammam namassami.
The Exalted One’s well-expounded Dhamma
I bow low before the Dhamma.
Third Prostration Supatipanno bhagavato savakasangho
sangham namami.
The Exalted One’s Sangha of well-practiced disciples
I bow low before the Sangha.

In Theravadin countries such as Sri Lanka, when one goes before one’s teacher, in order to “open one’s mind up to receive instructions,” one bows and recites the phrase, “Okāsa ahaṃ bhante vandāmi” (“I pay homage to you venerable sir”).

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