Today Ven. Aggacitta answers some questions put forward by a devotee.
Question: What is the proper way of showing respect?
Answer: The customary Buddhist way of showing respect with the 5-point prostration is a cultural practice and is not explicitly described in the Pali scriptures. Its origin is unknown but is practised in Myanmmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. In Buddha’s time it was the practice for a junior monk to respect his senior by raising his hands in anjali, bowing and then massaging the senior’s feet with loving-kindness and respect.
Q: Is it necessary to perform the 5-point prostration each time one meets a monk?
A: It does not really matter. Respect can be shown in other ways. There is a story of an elderly Brahmin who had taken refuge in the Triple Gem. He told the Buddha that it would be awkward—from the Brahmin perspective—for him to do anjali or kneel to the Buddha since the latter was younger. Buddha accepted the Brahmin’s less conspicuous ways of showing respect. From my own personal observations, devotees in Myanmar and Thailand perform the 5-point prostration more readily in comparison to those in Sri Lanka. In Malaysia, people are not so used to kneeling to a monk. So, when circumstances do not allow, one can just show respect by raising the hands in anjali and bowing the head instead.
Q: When asking for forgiveness, is it necessary to do so a) everyday b) in front of a Buddha image?
A: If the act of asking for forgiveness is performed as a mere ritual, then it is meaningless. What is important is that one realises one’s mistake, confesses it, asks for forgiveness and then tries to be more restrained in future.
If one has insulted an are, then this will impede one’s progress in meditation. There is a story in the Visuddhi Magga of a young monk who had thought ill of a senior monk, an arahant. The senior monk, having read the thought of this young monk, told him that since he had insulted an ariya, it was futile for him to strive on in his meditation.
So, it is a good practice to ask for forgiveness from everyone and anyone, if indeed, one has done wrong. In Myanmar, it is customary to ask for forgiveness when taking precepts. In Thailand, it is part of their chanting. In Sri Lanka, monks practise mutual sharing of merits as well as ask for forgiveness whenever they meet.
Ideally, one should face the person one has wronged and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes we may not have the opportunity to do so. Also, one may have unknowingly or unintentionally wronged someone—thus the belief that one can ask for forgiveness from the Triple Gem. In fact, one can ask for forgiveness verbally or mentally when alone (whether in front of the Buddha image or not) as long as one is sincere in doing so.