Ritual prostrations of Tibetan pilgrims

ethnic china

Ritual prostrations of Tibetan pilgrims

The end of the path of any pilgrimage is a temple or mountain considered the abode of the gods. Reaching it is the culmination of the journey. At that moment the pilgrims, in spiritual bliss, pay homage to the gods in two ways: by circulating around its cora or by performing prostrations.

The key concept of performing a prostration is to show respect and reverence to a god or a holy figure, so it is mainly performed at the entrance of places of worship or in front of Buddha statues.

Each prostration consists of three movements, symbolizing the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma (the doctrine), and the Sangha (the Buddhist community). Others see in each prostration a release of the sins of the mind, mouth, and heart, which are pointed out during the prostration, and spread out on the floor.

Prostration is a great source of spiritual merit. Many Tibetans keep count of the number of prostrations they perform during their pilgrimage, 5,000, 10,000. It is a task that requires considerable physical effort to which the body adapts with practice. For most pilgrims, when they begin their great adventure, their bodies are not used to it and can only perform a limited number of prostrations per day. Then, little by little they get used to it, of course, faster the young ones, and the number of daily prostrations increases.

Every day there are hundreds of Tibetans prostrating in front of the Jokhang Temple, in front of the Potala Palace, along Bakhor Street, and on any of the hundreds of roads leading to Lhasa and other sacred places.

For example, to complete the 52 km of the circumambulation of Mount Kailash through prostrations, as some devotees do, takes about a month.

Others advance by prostrating during their whole pilgrimage, which sometimes covers hundreds of kilometers and can take years to complete.

What is certain is that for all travelers, the continuous presence of pilgrims prostrating at the most sacred sites of Tibetan Buddhism is proof that the values by which this people is moving are held at a level far removed from our constant material concerns.

The pilgrim is a journey to another world, and to another time. With his personal sacrifice, he opens a window to a world that has already disappeared in other parts of the world.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Ritual prostrations of Tibetan pilgrims," in Ethnic China, 1 febrero 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/ritual-prostrations-of-tibetan-pilgrims/.
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