Prostration is an act of submission, to crawl at the feet of someone is a physical interpretation of a mindset that says:
“You have complete authority over me.”
“You are the absolute power above me.”
“I submit. I obey.”
It’s psychological and is a potent form of control.
After all, we prostrate before the Gods.
World history is riddled with prostration as a form of control, specifically in religion.
In Buddhism, we prostrate before monks, statues and other holy entities.
In Christianity, we are on our knees to pray to God. In the past, prostration would involve lying flat on the stomach in front of the holy cross.
In Islam, we prostrate when we pray.
The act varies depending on the religion, but the purpose is the same, complete submission to divine authority.
Religion then transferred into politics.
In the past, and some cases in the present, whether it’s European kings or Eastern monarchs, we either bend the knee or fully prostate. Why? Because they are either God-anointed, a Son of Heaven, a descendent of a deity or an earthly incarnation of the Lord Buddha.
The psychology behind it is simple: a man wouldn’t prostrate before another man. But before a deity or a divine representative, it’s a different story. After all, the equation involves an eternity of burning in hell. So we’d better drop to our knees.
The fear of God is a powerful method of control. Hence, historically monarchs link themselves to divinity in one way or another.
In modern times, when it comes to monarchs, a polite bow replaces prostration in much of the world.
But even non-Gods expect prostration.
In the past, lords and ladies would demand prostration from their peasants, serfs or prai (ไพร่). In the present, the “social superior” would expect it from the “social inferior.” Teachers would demand it from students.
But the words control, obey and submission are negative. So we replace them with words that have a positive connotation such as respect, manner and loyalty.
And we train our children to submit.
In my class at Thammasart University, there’s this same scenario every semester.
Those from an international school would strut over to my desk like a diva on the catwalk. But students from a Thai school would approach my desk in two different ways, depending on how traditional their background is.
Some would walk over bowing a little in a gesture of respect. Some would walk over and drop to the knees before me. Why? Because they have been conditioned to do so since they were in kindergarten school.
That’s over a decade of training the mind and conditioning the soul to submit.
It is ingrained into our psyche since we were young.
The repetition of doing it constantly makes it normal. Prostration becomes a part of our identity. It’s coded in our cultural DNA.
From years of repetition, eventually in mind and in spirit, we submit. Therefore, giving the person whom we prostrate before absolute power over us.
So I would tell this to the students.
Please get off your knees, pull up a chair, have a seat and talk to me.
If you’re going to pay me respect, do so because of what I teach.
If you’re going to fear me, fear me because I can pass you or fail you.
If we’re going to practice social courtesy, you wai me and I wai you, that’s polite enough.
Otherwise, you’re a person, and I’m a person. We can just sit and talk.
Perhaps this is a way for us Thais to move forward if we could just sit and talk, human to human.