By doing prostrations, body and mind settle down, you leave behind your karma, and become one with the universe. It is also a very good method for letting go of wrong views, desire and anger. Even though prostrations seem like a physical exercise, our purpose is never to make a zillion prostrations just for the sake of numbers. Why not? Quantity alone never makes a difference, even worse: it may create a the ‘I’ of a strange Buddhist champion: Attaining something where there is nothing to attain.
The purpose of every Zen practitioner should be the experience of a clear, non-dualistic state of consciousness, whether bowing, sitting, walking, standing or lying down. A humble, selfless and helpful mind can be attained in many ways. One important way is bowing.
During sleep, when our body lies in bed, our consciousness starts its memory and chemistry-driven journeys. It can go on an adventure to save the world, and if that fails, rebuild it after the apocalypse. The roaming mind can create a horrible movie, too, in which one is chased, beaten up, or dies an unbearable and ugly death. It may also create a clip wherein one lives the trauma of an uneasy, helpless, and robotic life. In our dreams, we often ride the subway of our karma to many secret destinations. These experiences frequently occur in a dream-like state, when body and mind disconnect, allowing one’s karma to manifest. After such dreams, it is not easy for the mind and body to reconnect and become one again.
Thus, it is good to start the day with three prostrations, and some people even prostrate themselves 108 times, because it brings about a quicker reunion of body and mind. This makes the recognition of our situation, relationship and function clear.
The three prostrations before the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha express respect to the teacher, the teaching and the fellow-practitioners. In the duels between life and death, awakening and dream, doing prostrations is a way to let go of what we usually cling to with so hard: ignorant views, desire and anger.
The number 108 appears in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and it refers to the 108 contaminated, afflicted aspects of our mind. If done sincerely, each prostration removes one such aspect; it sweeps that part of the mind clear and void. According to the Mahayana tradition, in order to remove the 108 afflicted states, we ask for the help of the 108 Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The medicine of our true self can heal the ailments of your karma. The elixir has always been there, we just need to dig for it to Orphic depths. This is exactly what prostration does: your ego wears away, and your true self shines through.
Every morning, whether we prostrate 3 times or 108 times (or even more), it becomes the practice of awakening to a clear, compassionate and selfless mind.