Prostrating

On the roads to Lhasa, from time to time you can see Buddhists prostrating. They begin their journey from their home and keep on prostrating all the way to Lhasa. They wear hand pads (protective appliance on their hands), kneepads, and a protective leather upper outer garment. With dusts on their faces, with the innumerable hardships, slowly they move forward by prostrating for every three steps, for months, or for years, toward the holy city – Lhasa. Three or four acquaintances may go together under the same belief and for the same direction. Many years ago, Buddhists would go empty-handed, even without food or extra clothes. When they felt hungry or cold, they would beg and beg. Things are different now. A Buddhist may be designated for taking charge of food and clothes, providing convenience for his companions, but never will he be allowed to replace a prostrator. The prostrating Buddhists are very scrupulous. They won’t relieve their tiredness and exhaustion by negligence. In case of heavy traffic or other situations, they will draw a line along the way with some pebbles instead of prostrating. With determination and strong faith, they walk and prostrate forward.

The prostrator follows these procedures: first, stand straight upright, chant the six-character truth meaning “merciful Buddha”, put the palms together, raise the hands up over the head, and take a step forward; second, lower the hands down in front of the face, take another step forward; third, lower the hands down to the chest, separate both hands, stretch them out with the palms down, kneel down to the ground, then prostrate with the forehead knocking the ground slightly. Stand up again and repeat the whole procedure.

Another way is to walk around the monastery on clockwise and prostrate. Starting from the front gate of the monastery, Buddhists also prostrate once for every three steps, chanting the six-character truth and some Buddhism scriptures.

Prostrating is related to the Lamaism and it has much to do with the Chinese custom of kowtow. Kowtow was a kind of daily etiquette in the feudal society in China. According to the ancient book Zhouli Chunguan Dazhu, there were nine kinds of kowtow, illustrating that the etiquette was popular as far back as in the Zhou Dynasty. In the following year of the Revolution of 1911, Sun Yatsen abolished the etiquette.

The exchange between Tang Dynasty and Tupo Regime indicates the two nationalities can learn from each other. Kowtow spread to Tibet. In order to show their fidelity, Buddhists transformed kowtow into prostrating. Gradually prostrating was widely accepted and practiced.

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