Refuge is the beginning of the path, it is the point where we decide to change direction in life. Instead of taking refuge or turning to things, such as our job, sex, power, fame, shame or any of the eight worldly concerns, decide that the Dharma is the way we put our bets on. We engage our body, speech and mind in taking refuge when we do prostrations.
You can use a hardwood or linoleum floor as a surface to slide on, or you can buy a masonite board. Masonite boards are found at stores such as Home Depot or Lowe's. For a 5' 8" (172cm) tall person, 2' x 6' (60cm x 182cm) is a good length for a board.
You will need gloves with the cotton/fabric on the side of the palm. This way you can smoothly slide down.
You will need a clicker or a tally counter to keep count of your prostrations. In the photos on this website, Trinle is holding the counter between his hands, which is why his hands are bowed out like that, and he can hit the clicker each time his hands point over the crown of his head at the end of the movement. Many people use a calendar or notebook to keep track of their total progress; it is important to set goals and keep them if you want to finish quickly.
A headband can help reduce swelling in your forehead. You'll also want a mat for your knees. Place the mat in front of the masonite board for your knees to rest on during the prostration.
The Anjali Mudra
When we take refuge we do not go as a beggar, a desperate child. We go for refuge as a child of a noble family who has accepted their destiny. We summon up our dignity, integrity and warrior spirit. With this demeanor of nobility we stand up straight and fold our hands in the anjali mudra. This mudra, or hand gesture, is like a lotus bud. This is the bud of our Buddha Nature’s realization. When the warm sun’s rays caress the lotus’ bud it opens and its beauty and scent is revealed. The blessing rays of authentic refuge caress the yogin and the blossom of wisdom and compassion opens sharing it scent with all beings. The fingers of the right and left hands are also seen as the aggregates and elements known to be the five mother and father Buddhas. When the hands touch, these male and female Buddhas meet in the most exquisite blissful union dance. This lotus bud blossoms into Buddhahood and our very own aggregates and elements become the wisdom families of the Buddhas.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I repeat the verse / prayer?
It’s fine to repeat the verse in your head or out loud. In this Ngöndro, you count the prostration movement, not the verse, for the accumulation. It’s fairly simple to do one verse per prostration.
How many should I do at a time?
Depending on how athletic you are, it is a good idea to start with a smaller number, whatever is doable without injuring yourself. Some people start with as little as 25. Doing more is great of course if you can handle it. Doing too many at the start can result in crazy emotional backlash, so pay attention to that as well. Consistency is by far the most important thing; doing 100 a day, every day, is far better than doing 600 one day then taking a month off because you flip out. Once you find a consistent number you can do daily, build up in increments of 50 or 100 over a period of weeks. It’s important to work up to doing at least 300 non-stop, because less than this will not result in the same experience or impact. More than this is of course good; some people work up to doing around a thousand a day, or more. The goal is to do as many as possible. Prostrations can be done on retreat in very large numbers and finished in a matter of months. The accumulation of prostrations should not take longer than 3 years; doing them too slowly will not achieve the result needed.
How fast should I do them?
As fast as possible while keeping correct form (see the how to prostrate page to see some detail on proper form) and holding the visualization. The goal is to finish as quickly as possible to accumulate strength. 500 an hour is a reasonable goal for most people. It’s ok for it to be difficult. It will be difficult, you are going as fast as you can for as long as you can manage. Pace yourself as much as you need to finish your goal for the day without a lot of breaks. You may get very sweaty and be breathing hard.
Important: Your back and knees should never hurt from prostrations. If they are hurting or sore you need to correct your form. It is normal to be sore and hurt in your thighs, abs and also sometimes your arms and chest, and all kinds of other places, because it is a strenuous physical activity like lifting weights or running. It will go away as you develop strength. Pain in the knees and back won’t go away until you correct your form.
Obstacles or upheavals are likely to come up during prostrations, it is just purification and nothing need be done if you hold this view, just more prostrations. Many people experienced things like:
- physical ails or woes that come up during prostrating such as weird pains/ soreness as things are purified
- mental things like crazy rampant thoughts or difficulty keeping the visualization at all
- a backlash of sorts after prostration session where you have mental or emotional things, like rage, crying and the like, come out strongly
- some physical things come up, feeling ill, sore, feeling like you physically cannot do prostrations and so-on may happen as a result of purification