Posted by: Upāsaka | 04/02/2010

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa

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 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.



  1. Thankyou for this page. I came here while looking for the meaning of the word ‘samma’ which appears in all the path factors.

  2. Namu Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambhuddhassa!

    How beautiful! I’ve been on the path of Vipassana for a while, now it is time to study the Mahasatipatthana Sutta. Your website is as if made for me. Thank you for taking the time to explain how it means what it means.

    Bhavatu sabba mangalam.

    Phillip Irwin

    • Hello Philip,

      Thank you for your comments. May you soon attain the threfold bliss and realize the Deathless! Sukhi hotu!

  3. He who has experienced the true transformation and power of prayer and devotion, will know that ‘really meaning it’ when one says the Vandana, and with full previously contemplated understanding of what one is devoting ones words and respect to, then transformation will really happen, and even miraculous things such as the 5 Piti (raptures) can occur.

    The problem is, we only ever understand how to tryly practice and transfrom, once we have done it at least onece truly. Before this point, we just ‘say it’ kind of mindlessly. This is normal, as Bhante Gunaratana explains, its like kids playing doctors and nurses – firts you play the part, then one day you wake up put your uniform on (robes) and look down and see ‘hey, now i really am a doctor’

    Dhamma practice is the same, until we awaken the causes and begin to wipe some dust from our eyes, we dont feel the Dhamma intuitively. This comes after many years of repeated contemplation, practice and experience.

    In the beginning we chant. If we have the Panya to advance further, then we will surely see that really meaning something in your heart will emit more magical effect than chanting a load of Pali you dont understand.

    The reason the Buddha healed Bhikkhus with a Kata (Ghata/Mantra), is not that it was a magic mantra like a magic spell, it was because the Pali he spoke was the language they spoke in more or les, so basically he gave them an explanation (‘Ghata’ means ‘speech’ not sorcery or mantra) of impermanence and suffering and non self.. the Bhikkhus who were sick then immediately understood his logic, and their ilness faded because of their understanding and enlightening to the matter. Unfortunately we ignorant humans always assume and get all cave mannish again and then assume that this string of five words we cant understand will make you fly if you chant it 12 times.. thats like saying that walking under a ladder brings bad luck.

    we usually dont have enough Panya to be able to see clearly what any being superior to our dumb level would see as obvious. Namely that words are just sound waver without the observer, and are sunyatta (empty of inherent qualities). They therefor only exist as meanings in our head, but on their own in the personless nibbanic non self natured firmament, they dont exist as such.

    There is nothing that does not arise from Mind itself.
    Where the individual stops, there is only one cloud of particles and space – ther is no table, chair and floor – they are all just clouds in the sky and made from the same porousy nothingness

  4. On www is an article: nama tassa Bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa – Introduction. How can I found out who wrote it? It is a very good article but I have some question, which I think that writer could answer. I am interested in the use of Ye Dhamma in the Bagan Era Votive Tablets. See: The world of Buddha Footprints

  5. Vandanaa bhante

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