Indianapolis Zen Center: Buddhist Prostrations
As I have been learning throughout this project, immersing oneself in a new culture or religious tradition is the best way to learn about it. I recently attended a day of services at the Indianapolis Zen Center, which is a Zen Buddhist center. This was a great opportunity to experience another religious tradition I was not familiar with, and I even got to see how movement fits into the Zen tradition.
Zen Buddhism is a form of Buddhism that emerged from the Mahayana tradition. A very large focus of this tradition is meditation, in several forms. Traditional sitting meditation, chanting, and prostrations are all methods they use to focus the mind.
I spent several hours there on a Sunday morning/afternoon, participating in all the services they offered. This included about 30 minutes of chanting different chants, including the Heart Sutra (“sutra” can be translated as “scripture”). We also meditated sitting down for 30 minutes, and listened to what was like a sermon from a Zen teacher. Perhaps the most interesting to me, though, was the 108 prostrations that started the service.
A prostration is a bow; it involves going from a standing position all the way down to the floor with your forehead touching the ground. Part of the Zen Buddhist tradition is to perform 108 of these prostrations as part of the service. Although not dance per se, these prostrations are still a form of movement that is uses as a method of religious practice. The stated purpose of these prostrations is varied; it is used as a form of meditation and a way to clear the mind, and can also be a way to cleanse the body of different impurities. In any case, this shows that almost every tradition, even one centered around meditation, has at least some kind of movement incorporated.
Actually participating in these prostrations was a very interesting experience. First of all, many people may not realize how physically taxing these prostrations are. Going from standing to the ground on all fours 108 times is very demanding. Even though I am a dancer, I still felt the burn in my quadriceps for days after. I could also see, though, how this practice can cleanse the mind. Repeating one simple movement over and over allowed the mind to focus and push out other toxic thoughts. I definitely preferred this physical form of meditation to sitting meditation; for someone as active as I am, it was easier for me to focus while doing some kind of movement.
This was yet another great experience in which I was able to immerse myself in a new religious tradition. Although I went for one of my classes, I was surprised to find that the Zen tradition also includes a movement-based practice like other traditions I have been researching. I encourage everyone to learn more about this interesting concept of movement as meditation.