Monk prayer gesture is actually more common that people may think. This ancient way of worshiping started in the tenth century, and has been practiced and perfected by Buddhists, Hindus, and Buddhists of other religions for centuries now. While some have come to see monk prayer as a form of superstition, the practice has endured throughout the years because it is a simple, and effective method of connecting oneself to an elevated state of being. There are five gestures used in monk prayer: the bow, the sitting posture known as the chair pose, the crossing and the coming together of the feet or the heel bones, and the striking the body with the left foot. With each of these actions, you are able to focus your entire being into one unified motion, allowing your body and soul to receive higher spiritual nourishment.
The bow is an essential part of any Buddhist monk’s practice, whether or not they choose to take up meditation as their profession. Without this, they are not able to focus their mind, which is the most important part of their prayer practice. While meditating, one tends to think in terms of opposites: good and evil, or black and white, etc. However, when you are bow your head to someone – even if it is just a fellow monastic – it helps you become aware of such opposing viewpoints, allowing you to transform them within you.
Sitting down, you sit straight in a chair. You place your hands either on top of your lap or beside your knees. In both cases, your fingers should point toward your heart, which is your source of wealth and protection. The sitting position is also a very comfortable position, allowing for the full expansion of your internal organs, including your lungs and heart. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, your legs begin to expand, forcing your rib cage to expand as well, thus drawing your chin upwards.
The sitting posture is the simplest way you can develop a sense of self, an awareness of who you are beyond your physical exterior. This will lead you to an inner balance: a balance between the spiritual and the material, between the inner and outer, and between the physical and spiritual realms. Because you cannot see yourself at a distance, you must align your attention internally, with the self, until your vision clears. Only then will you see yourself in the world.
The next stage of the meditation involves the head. For most Monks, the only time they consider themselves as being whole is during their meditation, when their head is at a state of total stillness. As the eyes are closed during meditation, the Monks feel their mind more clearly; they hear more clearly; they can distinguish external sounds with internal sounds, such as heartbeats, lunges and breaths. Because the head is the highest point in a Monastery, when the Monks look downwards they do so from their heart.
To keep the head in this focused state, the Monks wear simple headgear, such as a simple turban tied around the back. They use this headgear to protect the eyes, as well as to help them maintain eye contact. However, some Monks wear full face masks, called the “Dalai Lamai”, which are basically a turban covered in thick cloth, resembling a hat. Traditionally these hats are made of 100% pure silk, but materials are becoming less important as the popularity of monasticism has spread throughout the world.
Lastly, while the body is focused on the external world during the meditation, the inner world continues to play a vital role. During a typical meditation, the Holy Spirit dwells within the praying monk’s body, and they pray, along with the Holy Spirit, as though they are alone. Once the body enters its true state of consciousness, God begins to speak to the Monks. This is where most of the emphasis in Buddhist monasticism is placed: in the practice of meditation. There is much more to it than just saying prayers.
A monk’s work entails far more than just saying prayers, however. A true monk, by definition, is someone who has mastered the ability of letting go and finding true freedom within themselves. With the assistance of an experienced teacher, a true monk can learn how to release the suffering in their lives, both mental and physical. Through the many tools that a true Buddhist monk uses for meditation, the path to true freedom from all that is painful and stressful is made possible.