The Benefits of Making Prostrations

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

These teachings are extracts from The Preliminary Practice of Prostrations, available from FPMT Foundation Store, as a hardcopy or pdf e-book. A practice CD is also available.

The Benefits of Prostrations is from a teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, September 2004. Compiled and edited by Ven. Gyalten Mindrol, FPMT Education Services, Dec 2005. Commentary on the Practice is a compilation of teachings by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Lightly edited and reformatted by Ven. Constance Miller, Kendall Magnussen, FPMT Education Services, April 2003.   

See also: Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book and Making Life Meaningful, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.  

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching during the Ninth Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976.
The Benefits of Making Prostrations

General Benefits

One of the general benefits of prostration is that in the future you will achieve a good rebirth with a perfect body, golden in color like Buddha’s holy body, with a beautiful shape and complete sense faculties. Having a beautiful body attracts many sentient beings. It draws sentient beings, hundreds, thousands, hundred thousands, millions of sentient beings. Then, because they like you, if you say something or explain something easy for them to listen to and do, it is very easy to bring them to the Dharma, the path to enlightenment, the unmistaken path to happiness.

You will have a very sweet voice. There are singers whose voices attract many millions of people. By having that quality, you are easily able to benefit others and help sentient beings. Because they listen to you, it is easy for you to bring them to enlightenment.

Some people can’t communicate; they have no courage to speak, or their speech has no power so people don’t listen to them. But another person can speak on the same subject, and the way that person speaks makes it very easy to listen. They can give help to others because people pay attention.

You won’t be shy to do things in public; if you aren’t shy, you are able to lead sentient beings. The Tibetan is lha mi ga; it means devas and human beings are happy with you, wherever you are, wherever you go.

You will appear very glorious, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama or His Holiness Ling Rinpoche. His Holiness Ling Rinpoche appeared very radiant and glorious, very special among human beings. Even though he had a human body like ours, there was something special, something glorified. Even in the West, there are some good-hearted, warm-hearted people that, even just by looking at them, you see they are very genuine and sincere. Somehow they look different when they are among others; you see something shiny and glorified.

You will always be accompanied by buddhas and bodhisattvas. If you want to always be accompanied by buddhas and bodhisattvas, you must do prostrations! As many as possible!

You will have great wealth and enjoyment. Prostrations create an unbelievable amount of merit. The results of our virtuous actions don’t have to be just in future lives; some of the results can be experienced in this life. That is because in this southern continent where we live, whatever karma we create in the early part of our lives is so powerful, it is experienced in the later part of that same life. Whether it is negative karma or good karma, you can experience the result in the later part of this life.

You will gain a higher rebirth as a deva or human. Also, you will achieve the sorrowless state, liberation from samsara. Every time you make prostration, every time you put your palms together to a statue of Buddha, a picture of Buddha—five-limb or full length or whatever, even one hand like this, even if you just bow down in respect—this immediately becomes the cause of enlightenment. So I think this benefit should include enlightenment, not just the lower liberation but also the great liberation, enlightenment. I added that specifically just to make that conclusion. You achieve the state which is the cessation of all mistakes and the completion of all qualities. That is the conclusion. Any type of prostration has this benefit.

The Ten Benefits

When you put your palms together to a statue of Buddha, a picture of Buddha, or whenever you see a holy object, you immediately get ten benefits:

1. You will achieve rebirth in the king’s family. If you are reborn in the king’s family, you will have wealth and power, and you can become king. If you were a king, you would have a lot of influence to benefit so many sentient beings. You could make charity of your wealth to many sentient beings and those beings would listen to what you say. In this way, you would cause so many beings to meet the Dharma. You could teach them the right ways to practice, and to abandon wrong things that harm themselves and other sentient beings. You could give them correct wisdom.

That is one big problem in the West. For example, parents have a very difficult time knowing how to guide their children, how to help their children. If you don’t have correct wisdom, it is very difficult to help children.

In Nepal, there is one Nyingma lama, Urgyen Tulku Rinpoche, who lives near Bouddha. There is a very big monastery there. Urgyen Tulku passed away. I think he was regarded as Padmasambhava or something like that. Anyway, he was a married lama having the wisdom mother. He had a few sons, I think four or five, and every one was an incarnate lama. The eldest son also has a child who is an incarnate lama. I heard that some other lamas called this family a “lama factory.” I think maybe it was a special family; the father and mother were both special. I think the mother’s thoughts were always on impermanence and renunciation, and she had no fear. Their minds were not ordinary, always looking for samsaric pleasure, caught in samsaric pleasure. They weren’t like that.

In the West, whether the children happened without choice or the parents purposefully planned them, it becomes a huge problem if there is no wisdom how to guide the child. There is so much unhappiness in the life of the parents and the life of the children. Instead of becoming beneficial to society, to humankind, to sentient beings, they don’t benefit anyone.

There is a similar problem in schools, due to lack of real wisdom. This also becomes a huge problem. There is a lot of violence and wrong conduct, which destroys the children’s lives. Then they become difficult to control.

So anyway, if you are reborn in a king’s family, the people in the country will listen to you. You can open their wisdom eye, teach them what is to be practiced and what is to be abandoned, what is harmful to others and themselves, and what is beneficial for others and themselves. You can bring them to the correct method for achieving even temporary happiness, and no question liberation from samsara and enlightenment. That is the first benefit of making prostrations.

2. You will achieve the extensive form. That means you will have a perfect body with complete sense faculties, as I mentioned before. If you have a perfect body, there are no obstacles to whatever Dharma you wish to practice, such as taking vows, taking ordination. A perfect body allows you to do that.

3. All the people surrounding you, maids or servants, people in the office or your family, will be perfect. Their minds will be harmonized to yours, so there won’t be any fighting or difficulties, and they will do exactly as you like according to your wishes. So your practice of benefiting other sentient beings becomes even more beneficial, because you have the help and support of people around you.

4. You will be able to make extensive offerings to the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

5. You will receive respect and service from others.

6. You will be able to listen extensively to the Dharma.

7. You will have extensive devotion. Prostrations cause us to achieve devotion. Without devotion to the Guru, without faith, you cannot receive blessings from the Guru. Therefore, you cannot achieve the realizations of the path to enlightenment. Without devotion to the Triple Gem, you cannot achieve their qualities within yourself, the qualities of Buddha, the qualities of Dharma, and the qualities of the Sangha. Being without faith is like a vehicle without fuel—unable to function; or like everything in a city not functioning and then collapsing when there is no electricity. Devotion is an extremely important foundation.

8. You will have a very good memory and a clear mind. If you want good memory, it means doing a lot of prostrations! If you don’t want to become intellectually disabled or suffer from Alzheimer’s, do a lot of prostrations.

9. You will achieve extensive wisdom.

10. You will achieve extensive realizations, all the way up to enlightenment. You will achieve the complete, perfect quality of cessation, the perfect quality of realization. In the case of the Lesser Vehicle, you will achieve the right-seeing path, the path of meditation, the path of no more learning, freeing you from the cycle of death and rebirth and all the sufferings of samsara. In the case of the Mahayana, you will be able to completely abandon the suffering of rebirth, old age, sickness, and death. In the case of Highest Tantra, the clear light of meaning, you will be completely free. You will cease the disturbing-thought obscuration and achieve the pure illusory body.

The Eight Benefits

1. You will have a beautiful body.

2. Those around you, in your family or office, will be harmonious to your needs, so you can best help others. You will live in harmony and be successful.

3. You will be able to live in pure morality. This one is very important. Without the foundation of living in pure morality, you can’t achieve perfect meditation. The most important cause to achieve shamatha, calm abiding, is pure morality. That is the foundation; it’s the preliminary. If you are not living in pure morality, then it is difficult to achieve realization of shamatha. You cannot complete the nine stages, perfect concentration, and achieve the rapturous ecstasy of body and mind. Without perfect meditation, calm abiding, you can’t achieve the higher training of wisdom. Without calm abiding, you cannot achieve the right-seeing path, the resultant path. You can’t develop the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, which ceases the disturbing-thought obscuration and brings liberation that is forever free from all suffering and its cause, delusion and karma.

If you practice pure morality, everything else is easy to achieve: renunciation from samsara, bodhicitta, emptiness. Everything is very easy if you keep the mind virtuous.

4. You will have devotion.

5. You will achieve a brave mind of courage for practicing the Dharma and working for other sentient beings, a mind brave in facing up to the delusions.

6. You will be reborn as a deva or human.

7. You will achieve the exalted path.

8. You will achieve enlightenment.

All of this comes from just putting your palms together, no question doing full length or five-limb prostrations. The minute you put your palms together to a statue, stupa or scripture of Buddha, you get these benefits. So whenever you see a holy object, use your palms like this to prostrate.

If you go through the benefits as explained by the Buddha, you can see they help. Practicing prostrations to the Buddha—not just to the car or your friend or a tree or flower, but making prostration to the Triple Gem: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, statues, stupas, scriptures—takes care of your life. It takes care of so many things in your life, now and in the future, up to enlightenment. It takes care.

So each time you see a stupa or a picture of Buddha, a statue of Buddha or a text, the minute you put your palms together you achieve all this extensive, incredible benefit. You made it so worthwhile that your parents sacrificed their lives to you for so many years: nine months carrying in the womb and for so many years sacrificing their human lives, which are so precious, to take care of you. For so many years, they dedicated their lives for you, worked for you and bore so many hardships, created so much negative karma for your well-being and happiness, for your survival. They exhausted themselves and had so much worry and fear. The minute you put your palms together in respect when you see a holy object makes it all worthwhile. The benefits are unbelievable. You can benefit so many sentient beings by achieving these benefits and enlightenment. You can liberate all sentient beings, including your parents. This makes their sacrifice for you so worthwhile. This gives meaning to their lives, their effort, and how much hardship they bore.

When you go for pilgrimage or when you go to a temple where there are many paintings and statues of Buddha, even though you don’t have time to precisely look at each buddha and prostrate, you just prostrate to all the holy objects, however many hundreds or thousands there are, small and big. Just turn around with the palms together and think from your heart, “I am prostrating to all of them.” It only takes a few seconds. If there are one billion or a hundred thousand paintings or statues of Buddha, you have collected a hundred thousand times the causes of enlightenment, and by the way, liberation from samsara, all the happiness of future lives, and even the success and happiness of this life. Within a few seconds, going around with the palms together, and thinking, “I am prostrating to all of them,” you go home with so many hundred thousand causes of enlightenment. You have all this merit when you go home!

It is the same when you look at an art book of Buddha. Each time you see a picture of Buddha, put your palms together. By the time you finish looking through the book, you will have collected so many causes of enlightenment and all other happiness!

Don’t only prostrate, but also pray, “May I become like you, the glorified Guru.” The deity is the Guru. “May I achieve your holy body and holy name. May I become like you, having all your qualities, and become able to benefit numberless sentient beings and the teachings of the Buddha.” Prostrate and then pray like this. Generating this positive wish, you create so many causes to become like those enlightened beings.

In his previous life, Shariputra was on a journey. He stopped in one house to rest and fix his shoes, and he saw a beautiful painting of the Buddha on the wall. It was so beautiful, he generated the wish to become like that. In his next life, he became Buddha’s heart disciple, always with the Buddha, and benefited many sentient beings.

Buddha made it so easy for us to achieve enlightenment, so easy to purify negative karma, so easy to be free from this terrifying samsara, which has no beginning. Therefore, we must put this into practice.

There is so much hope in our lives. Our lives are so full of opportunity. It is so easy to purify, so easy to become free from samsara and achieve enlightenment. Even with just prostration, we can achieve all of this.