In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, prostration, or full-body bowing, is an important element of practice. Within all other Buddhist traditions, there are traditions of bowing. Each country and type of Buddhism may have specific ways in which prostrations are performed. We know that such practices date back to the time of the Buddha. The Pali canon, for example, mentions both monks and laypeople joyfully prostrating before the Buddha.
In this video filmed at Samye Hermitage New York in 2015, Tulku Migmar discusses the purpose of prostration. Sometimes we may feel uncomfortable with this practice as we see it as merely a custom. Here, Tulku-la reminds us of the profound meaning and the purpose behind prostration. He speaks of the proper visualization as well as the proper motivation that should accompany the practice. We should also understand that our reaction to the practice may be a way of our tricky ego trying to assert itself–prostrations are designed to reduce pride and ego-clinging.
For many of us beginners, it may feel unnatural to do prostrations and we may be unsure of how to correctly perform them. Tulku-la here demonstrates the correct form. He begins here with the traditional three prostrations that are made when entering a shrine hall. Also, we can bow in this way when approaching an image of enlightenment, and when meeting a teacher.
The first type of prostration Tulku-la demonstrates is a short version (06:51).
For those who have physical difficulties or for the elderly, there is a way to adapt the practice (08:01). This still conveys the same intention and meaning. Here Tulku-la demonstrates how we may modify. We might also do these adapted prostrations in very large crowds where there is no space to do regular prostrations.
For Vajrayana practitioners doing the Four Foundations (ngöndro) practice, the full body is engaged. Here Tulku-la shows the form used in our tradition for the full prostration (09:06). Remember that Samye Institute features an online support program for those who engage in the Tukdrub Barche Kunsel Ngöndro.