The Way of Salutation

The most appropriate devotional practice begins with a triple prostration before the Buddha image. The triple prostration ensures the understanding and conviction of one’s sincerity. It is a formal act of deep commitment to any honest and mindful deed. While prostrating one should collect one’s attention and bring it to bear upon the reaffirmation of one’s faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

This act of prostration is called “five-point prostration”, because in this position both hands are placed together in front of the body with the thumbs and fingertips touching and slightly cupped at the palms. This is simply a form of respectful salutation used frequently as a greeting for monks or nuns and also for saluting parents and other elders. Holding hands in this position one should kneel down – the lower part of the legs under the thighs and the feet under the buttocks. Although there is no standard way of placing the hands down on the floor, we recommend that the palms be faced up or down and the hands separated, leaving enough room for the forehead to touch the ground. The forearms up to the elbows should be on the ground with the elbows touching the knees. Thus the body is resting on the ground at five points: the forehead, forearms, and lower legs. Following this the upper part of the body is raised and the hands rejoined in “anjali.” The full prostration should be done three times altogether.

The three prostrations are done in order to express reverence to the Triple Gem and to inspire a posture of devotion, modesty, and openness. It also brings the additional benefit of curbing pride and arrogance. Those who are humble open themselves to the guidance of others and thus become capable of learning and growing. Reverence and humility are considered to be blessings in Buddhism because with these two qualities one can lower one’s head which is the topmost part of one’s body holding the brain and the main sense organs. By bowing down before the image of the supremely enlightened Buddha one prepares oneself to accept his teaching and guidance leading up to the attainment of enlightenment.