In the world of Theravada ritual and practice the following words are heard not infrequently at the opening of a Dhamma talk, a session of group meditation or a reading of a sutta. According to the site http://www.what-buddha-taught.net this phrase can be understood as follows:
namo = homage
tassa= to him(Buddha)
bhagavato= worthy one
arahato= without any defilements
sammaa sambuddhassa= The fully self enlightened
Homage to him the worthy one the one without any defilements the fully self enlightened
A more common rendering of the Vandana is as follows:
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Honour to the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the fully Enlightened One
For many years now I have chanted the vandana three times before every meditation session or puja. What initially began a self-conscious act with little meaning (I really didn’t have a firm grasp of what the Pali meant when I started) has become a meaningful way of paying respect to the teacher and consecrating the deeds and acts which follow the vandana. In brief the procedure is as follows:
It is time to pay one’s respects with the whole body to the Teacher. When afterwards one says “Namo tassa….” that word “namo” (homage) comes from the root nam meaning “to bend”. So now one bends oneself, one’s mind and body, down and acknowledges that the Buddha was indeed the Perfectly Enlightened One that one’s own understanding of Dhamma is insignificant. In the kneeling position, one’s hand in anjali are raised to the forehead and then lowered to the floor so that the whole forearm to the elbow is on the ground, the elbow touching the knee. The hands, palm down, are four to six inches apart with just enough room for the forehead to be brought to the ground between them. Feet are still as for the kneeling position and the knees are about a foot apart. this is called the prostration with the five limbs, that is the forehead, the forearms, and the knees. This prostration is made three times, the first time to the Buddha, the second to the Dhamma, and the third to the Noble Sangha.
For myself, the vandana or preliminary homage has become more than a formula to be chanted mindlessly but has become a type of abridged Buddhanussati. By reflecting on the fact that the Lord Buddha really was the Blessed, Exalted and Fully Enlightened One I gain courage and confidence in my own practice and in the Dhamma-Vinaya as a whole. I have been experimented a lot of late with the practice of the five-limbed prostration and Buddhanussati, Dhammanussati and Sanghanussati and the preliminary homage offers both a succinct and meaningful way to do so. I hope to develop this practice until it becomes a regular part of my own practice but we shall see how things work out. May you be well.