- This is part of a series introducing the book "In One Lifetime, Pure Land Buddhism" by Venerable Wuling through selected excerpts. Read the first chapter on Amitabha Blog titled "What is Pure Land Buddhism?" here.
We bow not to worship but to pay our respects to the Buddha for teaching us, to recognize the Buddhanature that is in him and in all beings, and to practice humility by touching the floor with our head.
If we are focused and sincere in what we are doing, we will be cleansing the three karmas of body, speech, and mind. For example, as we bow, our body will be moving as we chant, and with each bow, we will purify some of our negative karma we had created through our former actions. As we think “Amituofo,” we will purify some of our evil karma created by our past thoughts. As we chant “Amituofo,” we will purify some of our past harmful speech. In our chanting, we pronounce each syllable clearly and distinctly so that we hear the chant whether it is voiced or silent. Regardless of whether we chant when walking, sitting, or bowing, our focusing on the Buddha’s name will decrease our everyday worries. Eventually, they will be eliminated.
To begin bowing, stand with your feet pointing slightly outward in a “V” and your heels a few inches apart. Place your hands in the hezang position, look down at the tips of your middle fingers, and slightly tilt your head down. Keeping your neck straight, slowly bend forward until you have bent over almost forty degrees. Then, bend at the knees and, while holding your left hand in the same position at chest level, move your right hand toward the floor so that it will support you as your bending knees complete lowering you to the ground.
When your right hand touches the ground bring the left hand to the ground as well, but about six inches ahead of the right. With this support of both hands on the ground, continue bending your knees to the ground until your knees are on the floor. Your right hand should be just in front and slightly outside the edge of the right knee, and the left hand still ahead of the right. For those with problems in the wrist or joints, or who feel unsteady due to physical conditions you may place both hands down at the same time to form a better support.
Next, flex your feet so that the tops of your feet are resting on the floor and your toes are almost touching each other. Your lower legs and feet will now be resting on the floor and your buttocks will be resting on your legs.
Move your right hand to a position level with your left and angle your hands towards each other so your lower arms and hands form an inverted “V” without the hands touching one another and with your palms down. Continue lowering your upper body until your forehead touches the floor. At this point, slowly and supplely make a loose fist with each hand and then turn your hands over so they are palms up with fingers very gently curled. Position your hands as if offering to hold the Buddha with your hands. This is the final position in the full bow. Your forehead, forearms, knees, lower legs, and feet will now be resting on the floor. Keep your slightly curved back parallel to the floor. Do not push your stomach down thereby pulling the middle of your backbone down; keep the back gently curved.
To raise yourself, just repeat the entire bow in reverse order. Slowly turn the hands so they are palms down. Then pull your right hand towards your body a foot or so and this will help to straighten and raise your trunk. If needed, pull your left hand towards your body until it is more level with your right hand then using both hands push yourself up. Change the position of your feet so your toes are on the ground and your feet are ready to support you as you rise. Continue rising and straightening up until you are again standing upright with palms together at chest level.
Begin with only a few bows, bowing slowly and gently while being mindful of your movements, and gradually increase the number you do. If possible, do this practice while a chanting machine or tape is playing. You may remain in the full bow position for several seconds until you begin to rise.