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Introduction to Korean Buddhism

02. Buddhist Behavior and Etiquette - Significance of Prostration and its Merit

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Writer Jogye Date08 Jan 2020 Read4,810 Comment0


02. Buddhist Behavior and Etiquette -Significance of Prostration and its Merit

02. Significance of Prostration and its Merit

Prostration symbolizes taking refuge and paying respect to the "Three Jewels": the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, known in Korean as the Bul, Beop, and Seung. Moreover, this is one of the practices to maintain "hasim," or a humble and modest mind. Prostration is a formal practice as well as a ritual that is performed frequently in Buddhism.

Prostration is an excellent Buddhist practice, and its merit is immeasurable. Not only is prostration good for one's physical health and appearance, one can also gain confidence, give a favorable first impression, spontaneously eliminate fear, be protected by Buddhas at all times, and be filled with dignity. All of these merits will ultimately lead to enlightenment. Thus, as a form of penitence, practice, or prayer, one hundred and eight, one thousand and eighty, three thousand, or ten thousand prostrations are often performed.

Half Prostration:

As the first rule of thumb, one must do full prostrations when paying homage to the Three Jewels. However, one may use a half bow when it is difficult to perform full prostrations, or in the following situations:

<1> Before and after completing 3 prostrations or 108, 1080 or 3000 full Ohchetuji 

       (see description below) prostrations.

<2> Before and after offering flowers, incense, candles, or other offerings to the Buddha.

<3> When entering the temple or prostrating in the direction of the temple

<4> When prostrating to the stūpa outside the prayer hall

<5> When it is too crowded to do full prostrations

<6> When at an outdoor Dharma teaching

<7> When meeting monks or Dharma friends on the street

<8> Before and after entering the Dharma Hall

<9> In other situations, as required

(2) Ochetuji: Full Prostration

Ochetuji is the most pious way to revere and venerate the Buddha. Also called Keunjeol, or full prostration, it is a way of being humble and paying sincere respect to others.

The same Keunjeol (or prostration method) that is traditionally used in Korea is used during Ochetuji, but all five points of the body, including the elbows, knees, and forehead, must touch the floor.

When starting Keunjeol, or full prostration, one must first begin by making a standing half bow. Then, bow down naturally, with the head down first, and kneel. Place buttocks on the soles of the feet and place both hands on the floor. In the meantime, create an ‘X’ with your feet by placing the left big toe on top of the right big toe. When placing your hands on the floor, the tips of your fingers should face each other at a 15 degree angle. The final position of the Ochetuji is when the forehead, elbows, and knees are touching the floor and the buttocks are placed on the soles of the feet. In this position, the elbows should be placed near the outer edges of the knees, and the palms of your hands should face up towards the ceiling. The tips of the fingers should not be placed beyond the head, and both palms should be placed close to the ears, parallel to the ground. Follow the reverse order as described above when standing up. First, bring the palms back to one’s heart, starting with the left hand, and then bringing the right back to meet it in hapjang, or prayer position. Bring the legs back and return to the original standing position. The Ochetuji prostration is also called Jeopjokrye (接足礼) because in India people threw the whole body down to the floor in front of the revered person and touched his feet with both hands.

(3) Godurye

Even with countless prostrations, it is impossible to fully demonstrate the unfathomable devotion one feels towards the Buddha and the Three Jewels. For this reason, Godurye is performed at the end of the prostrations while reflecting on the profound merits of the Buddha. This last prostration gives disciples a chance to bow down one last time with full devotion. It is also called Yuwonbanbyae (唯愿半拜). This is a traditional way to express one’s regret for not being able to prostrate and venerate eternally.

Godurye is performed not only after 3 prostrations, but after one hundred and eight prostrations, three thousand prostrations, and at the end of performing any number of prostrations. Just before standing up at the end of the last prostration, hold up the head in the Ochetuji position and bring the hands together in prayer in front of one’s face. The hands should be held before your face, and the tips of the fingers should not reach beyond the top of the head. Finally, place the forehead and hands on the floor before standing.

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