Thursday, April 14, 2005

Example of a weekly Buddhist service

"Religion will possess strength to the extent that it puts into enduring poetic form the highest values of humanity consistent with empirical knowledge."
--Edward O. Wilson (Biologist, humanist)

While I value being consistent with empirical knowledge, I would suggest religion in fact is a collection of the highest values of humanity in poetic form. Sorry, just pondering my opening quote. Hello? How are you this fine day?

Last night marked the 14th straight week I have gone to a weekly meeting of a local Buddhist sangha. Now, one does not need to go to a sangha to practice, nor is there some special recognition or achievement award for regular attendance. However, keeping the routine is very helpful. So what exactly do we do at these meetings, anyway?

Well, first, we don't have a formal Buddhist temple but we do recreate one with an altar, a stature of the Buddha, flowers, water, candles, and incense along with cushions for sitting. Personal benches and chairs are also available. The person leading the service rings the large bell and the raps several times on the drum to signal the beginning of seated meditation, which lasts 30 minutes. Another strike of the large bell signals the end of the thirty minutes, and when the bell is dampened it signals a seated bow.

A clack of wooden clappers marks the beginning of a ten minute walking meditation and also the end of that meditation, which is followed by bows in all directions accompanied by the small bell. The seats are turned outward and another ring from the large bell and the tapping of the drum signals the beginning of the second 30 minute seated meditation, which, like the first, also ends with a ring of the big bell and a bow when the bell is dampened. Another clack of the wooden clappers to stand once more and turn to the altar for three prostrations, each accompanied by a ringing of the small bell.

Seated once more, the chanting service begins, first with a reading of a purification verse, then a common reading used before reciting sutras referred to as the opening of the sutra. The sutra which follows is the Heart Sutra, which is chanted at one even beat per syllable with the rhythm kept the beating of the drum and punctuated at times by the small bell. The large bell is rung prior to each reading an appropriate number of times, and after the Heart Sutra the readings continue with the four Bodhisattva vows and a dedication of merit. At the end of the reading is a brief chanting session, starting with Namu Dai Bosa and ending with Namo Amitabha Buddha. The meeting ends with a bow.


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