108 BOWS

Buddha Statues at Golgusa Temple near Gyeongju, South Korea.

Rina and I had the fantastic opportunity to visit and stay overnight at Golgulsa Temple, near Gyeongju (ancient Silla Dynasty capital city) in South Korea. “Templestays” are becoming much more common, as tourism rises in “The Land of the Morning Calm”.

Golgusa Temple near Gyeongju, South Korea.
Golgusa Temple near Gyeongju, South Korea. February, 2012.
This particular temple is known for Sunmudo. Golgusa runs a training program for those who would like to experience aspects of Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhism in this way. We had two sessions, and both kicked our butts.

Our stay at Golgusa was everything I had hoped it would be. It was an incredibly intimate and spiritual experience. I was impressed with how much was packed into our short time there. In addition to practicing Sunmudo, we shared vegetarian meals with other guests and monks, participated in evening and morning chants, as well as sitting and walking meditations.

The most powerful experience for me was bowing 108 times. These were not just little head bobs or curtsies either. I mean knees on the ground, face down, hands up kind of bows.

Why 108 bows? According to Golgulsa Temple’s website, 108 bows represent our basic mental sufferings:
These sufferings arise through the meeting of the six sense organs. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind and the six sense objects; namely corresponding color, sound, smell, taste, touch and concept. 
It is the combination of these organs and sense objects that result in reactions of likes, dislikes or neutral feelings which in turn lead to joy, sorrow or indifference. 
Take these six combinations of sense organs and sense objects and multiply by the three reactions (likes, dislikes, neutral feeling, which turn to joy, sorrow or indifference) to equal 36, then multiply 36 by three for the past, present and future to get 108. 
Doing 108 bows helps to sublimate and purify. By completely concentrating body and mind in unison, we rid ourselves of the scattering of energy that sensations and reactions cause us. 
Our basic nature is pure, infinite and capable of anything, but we keep losing our basic nature through our reactions to these sensory processes. We become incapacitated rather than infinitely capable… 
We can break the cycle of sufferings by constantly repeating 108 bows, because it is then that the body and mind are pure and integrated as one. Such determination to return to our basic nature will eventually lead us to attain enlightenment.
My path toward enlightenment has only begun, but by doing these 108 bows I felt the most prayerful I have in a very long time. Each bow has a particular focus. And every time my face met the floor, I read the reason for that specific prostration. Some of my favorites include:
I bow to wonder where I came from and where I am going.  
I bow to think about who I am. 
I bow to appreciate the life I live today. 
I bow to know that unchangeable love is flowing through the universe. 
I bow to avoid expecting difficulty in my life. 
I bow to make the best of each moment in my life. 
I bow to repay even the smallest debt of gratitude. 
I bow to try not to obtain valuable things with little effort. 
I bow to know that suffering comes from an attached mind. 
I bow to avoid looking back at the past, and to not worry about the future. 
I bow to own possessions, but not to be controlled by them. 
I bow to pray with a thankful mind for everything. 
I bow for friends who have been beside me, sharing my laughter and tears. 
I bow for humility, so that I can always put others first. 
I bow to realize that all lives are interconnected. 
I bow for all the lives destroyed by the greed of humanity. 
I bow to realize that my life is the movement of my soul. 
I bow to be refreshed by the feeling of a cool breeze. 
I bow to be thankful for all of the good and beautiful things in my life. 
I bow to be thankful for my life and to reflect on the lives that are yet to be.
See the complete list of 108 bows on Golgusa's website if you are interested in reading more.

You do not have to be Buddhist, or even religious to practice these bows. They are true for life, and important for all of us to process and reflect upon. Taking time to bow 108 times every day is not realistic, but I hope to do so at least a few times every morning and night. Through bowing we learn how to humble ourselves. I can think of only a few things more humiliating than kissing the ground with my forehead.

RELATED POSTS:

JOIN CHASE: And it was Real
JOIN CHASE: Spanning the Globe
JOIN CHASE: Suddenly, I'm Buddhist

RELATED SITES:

GYEONGJU: About Gyeongju
OFFICIAL SITE OF KOREA TOURISM: Gyeongju, Museum Without Walls
WIKITRAVEL: Gyeongju Travel Guide
TEMPLESTAY PROGRAM: Templestay

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