The Seven Sacred Physical Postures and Mental Attitudes of Philosophic Worship (Essay)
The function of these postures is suggestive and helpful. They are symbolic of seven emotional attitudes. Each physical posture is to some extent an index to the feelings which actuate it. Because man dwells in a body of flesh, his bodily posture is as significant during prayer and worship as during any other activity: it becomes a sacred gesticulation.
Some mystically minded people, either because they reject all ceremonial observance or because they can see no utility in them whatever, object to using these postures. On the first ground, we answer that in philosophy such practices are not hollow rites, but valuable techniques, if performed with consciousness and with intelligent understanding. On the second ground, we answer that the exercises depolarize the physical body's earthward gravitation and render it more amenable to the entrance of spiritual currents. They clear the aura of undesirable magnetism. If anyone feels that he has no need of them, he may dispense with them.
Three remarks by Avincenna serve as an excellent introduction to use of these postures.The act of prayer should further be accompanied by those
attitudes and rules of conduct usually observed in the presence of kings:
humility, quietness, lowering the eyes, keeping the hands and feet
withdrawn, not turning about and fidgeting.
These postures of prayer, composed of recitation, genuflection,
and prostration and occurring in regular and definite numbers, are visible
evidence of that real prayer which is connected with, and adherent to, the
rational soul. In this manner the body is made to imitate that attitude,
proper to the soul, of submission to the Higher Self, so that through this
act man may be distinguished from the beasts.
And now we would observe that the outward, disciplinary part of
prayer, which is connected with personal motions according to certain
numbered postures and confined elements, is an act of abasement, and of
passionate yearning on the part of this lower, partial, compound, and
limited body towards the lunary sphere.
--from Avincenna on Theology, by A.J. Arberry 1. Standing and remembrance.
(a) Stand comfortably, facing towards the east or the sun. (b) Plant the feet ten inches apart, raise arms forward and upward until they are about halfway between vertical and horizontal levels, at forty-five degrees above the horizontal, and fully extended. (c) The palms of both hands should be turned away and upward. (d) The head is slightly raised and the eyes are uplifted.
Bring the mind's attention abruptly away from all other activities and concentrate only on the Higher Power, whether as God, the Overself, or the Master. The act of uplifting the arms should synchronize with decisively uplifting the thoughts. The mere fact of abruptly abandoning all activities and of practising the lifting of hands for a certain time will help to bring about the uplift of the mind. 2. Stretching and worship.
(a) Assume the same position of feet and arms as in the previous posture. (b) Bend in lower part of arms at elbows and bring palms of both hands flatly together, at the same time inhaling deeply. Hold the breath a few seconds. Exhale while letting arms fall.
The attitude should be one of loving, reverential, adoring worship of the Overself. 3. Bowing and aspiration.
(a) With feet still apart, place both hands lightly on front of the thighs. (b) Bend the trunk forward at the waistline until it is nearing a horizontal level. Take care to keep both knees rigidly strait and unbent. (c) Let the palms slide downward until they touch the knees. Relax the fingers. (d) The head should be in line with the backbone, with the eyes looking down to the floor.
By pouring the devotion and love towards the Higher Power, the feeling of a personal relation to It should be nurtured. 4. Kneeling and confessions.
(a) Drop down to the floor and rest the knees upon it. (b) Lift the trunk away from the heels, keeping it in a straight erect line with the thighs. (c) Flatten the palms of both hands together and bring them in front of, as well as close to, the breast. (d) Close the eyes. This, of course, is the traditional Christian prayer posture.
Remorsefully acknowledge weaknesses in character and confess sins in conduct in a repentant, self-humbling attitude. Be quite specific in naming them. Also confess the limitations, deficiencies, and imperfections one is aware of. Second, ask for strength from the Higher Power to overcome those weaknesses, for light to find Truth, and for Grace. The qualities needed to counteract them should be formulated in definite terms. This confession is an indispensable part of the philosophic devotions. When it is sincere and spontaneous, it makes a proud man humble and thus opens the first gate in the wall of Grace. It compels him to become acutely conscious of his ignorance and ashamedly aware of his weakness. The praying person humbles the ego and breaks up his vanity, therefore he must not hide his mistakes or look for excuses. Only through such frankness can the time come when he will get the strength to overcome that mistake. This confession forces the praying person down to the ground and his self-respect with him, like a humiliated beggar. In his anguish, he constantly rediscovers his insufficiency and need of help from God or God's man. 5. Squatting and submission.
(a) Remaining on the knees, sink down until both heels support the trunk's weight, spine and head erect, hands on thighs. (b) Lower the chin until it touches the chest. (c) The eyes should be kept half-closed.
This posture is to be done with the mind and heart together completely emptied and surrendered to the Higher Power in utter resignation of the self-will. Humbly surrender the ego and discard its pride. Pray for Grace and ask to be taken up into the Overself completely. It is a sound instinct which causes a man to bend his head when the feeling of reverence becomes strong within him. 6. Prostrating and union.
(a) Without rising, and keeping legs folded at the knees, bend the torso forward and incline the face as low as possible. (b) Bring the hands to rest upon the floor-rug, with palms outstretched, taut, and touching. (c) Place the forehead upon the hands. The knees should then be crouched up toward the chest. All ten toes must touch the floor. (d) Shut the eyes. The ancient Egyptian religion made "hetbu" or "bowing to the ground" an important part of its worship. The Muhammedans make bowings of the body during prayer equally important. This posture is practised widely in the Orient, but it is inconvenient to most Western people and is therefore usually withdrawn from them. If anyone, however, is much attracted to it, he may practise it.
During this posture, one should empty the mind of all thoughts and still it. Relax the emotions, open the heart, and be completely passive, trying to feel the inflow of heavenly love, peace, and blessing. 7. Gesturing (with thoughts concentrated on service and self-improvement).
(a) So as not to lose this high mood, rise from the floor slowly and smoothly to resume ordinary activities in the world. At the same time, turn attention away from self towards others, if inclined. Intercede for them, draw blessings down upon them, and hold them up to the divine light, power, and peace. (b) Press the right hand to brow, mouth, and heart by turns, pausing at each gesture. Resolve to follow firmly the ideal qualities mentioned during the confession of posture 4. When touching the brow, resolve to do so in thoughts; when touching the mouth, resolve to do so in speech; and when touching the heart, resolve to do so in feelings. Epilogue.
Cross and fold the arms diagonally while standing. The hands will then rest upon the chest, the fingers will point upwards toward the shoulders. In this last stage, you are to be sincerely thankful, joyously grateful, and constantly recognizant for the fact that God is, for your own point of contact with God, and for the good--spiritual and material--that has come your way.
-- Notebooks Category 5: The Body > Chapter 9: Prayer > # 2