Rituals are significant in the practice of Buddhism. They are forms of practical expression that show the relationship among Buddhists with their physical and spiritual environment. That is to say, Buddhism ritual practices are mostly the practical activities that lead to the ultimate awakening. Moreover, the practice of rituals in Buddhism is a means of showing the situation of our existence as humans.
When you have chosen to practice Buddhism, the practice of rituals will help to enhance your experience. That is to say, life has a lot of distractions already and to always remain devoted to the path of enlightenment you have chosen, then ritual is a great way to go. On the same note, just like many other transition processes in life, becoming an official Buddhist comes with a ritual. Certainly, this is a tradition marked by vows and introduction. And, other members accept you as part of the family during this ceremony.
On the other hand, many westerners who practice Buddhism see Buddhism rituals as mere superficial activities. As a result, they do not adopt many Buddhism rituals except meditation. However, this assumption defeats the aim of rituals in Buddhism. That is to say, in Buddhism, the ritual is not the point of concern but the inner connection it creates for those who practice it. This is still similar to the experience you have during meditation. For instance, Buddhists rituals such as bowing can go a long way to improve one’s humility and sense of gratitude. In addition, it makes you appreciate and respect everyone no matter your societal standards.
We are going to look into the Buddhism ritual practices in the following subheadings:
– The Significance Of Buddhism Rituals
– Characteristics Of Buddhism Rituals
– Types Of Rituals In Buddhism
– The Process Of Rituals In Buddhism
The Significance Of Buddhism Rituals
Even from the time of Buddha, the practice of certain rituals has been a great part of Buddhism. Therefore, the significance of these rituals in Buddhism cannot be overemphasized. Here are the reasons you should take part in the Buddhism ritual practices.
– Buddhism rituals help to enhance your connection with the dharma and the intention
– The rituals improve your understanding of the whole essence of Buddhism as you journey towards awakening.
– Practicing the Buddhist rituals together with other participants helps to create a sense of community and togetherness.
– The reverence you have for fellow beings will increase when you engage in Buddhism ritual practices.
– You will learn how to let go of self-centered thoughts and care more about others.
– The Buddhist ritual practices serve as a major means of inner transformation for many individuals.
– One of the greatest values of rituals in Buddhism is that it gives you a feeling of security. This is most understandable when you see how children feel safe and watched out for when treated with a daily routine. This is applicable to those who participate in constant ritual practices. Above all, this process gives you a sense of regularity and makes you feel familiar with the whole practice.
– Humility is another reason to participate in the Buddhism ritual practices. This implies that if you can treat everyone with respect, then humility is a virtue which you have just acquired.
It is important to note that while the Buddhism ritual practices play an important role in the path to ultimate enlightenment, it cannot take you there alone. Therefore, relying on only rituals to attain awakening would be a hindrance to the process. Moreover, the Buddha teaches that one must overcome reliance on precepts and religious observances as an attachment before you can attain awareness. However, the Buddha is only emphasizing on the strict attachment to the observances as the only way. Therefore, rituals in Buddhism still have a major role to play especially in our characters.
Characteristics Of Buddhism Rituals
Here are the fundamental attributes of the Buddhist rituals. These involve the relationship of rituals in Buddhism with other activities we engage in.
– Buddhism ritual practices share common characteristics with some emotion-provoking activities such as dance, poetry, art, and theater.
In addition, these rituals engage every part of your being, mind and body alike. It touches the heart and makes you feel fulfilled and alive. Most importantly, it boosts your confidence in what you have believed in.
– Prayer and rituals in Buddhism are similar forms of activities.
That is to say, you are not wrong when you refer to prayer as a ritual in the form of speech. While most Buddhism rituals involve a series of faith activities, prayers involve declaring your faith with the word of mouth.
– In Buddhism, rituals can range from usual to unusual activities.
In other words, when rituals involve shaking or bowing to others as a means of greeting, then one can see it as a usual or ordinary ritual. However, when it gets to a complex ceremony that involves using various sacred objects such as candles, flowers, and other objects, then it becomes an unusual ritual practice. In addition, unusual ritual practices sometimes involve making a vow especially to uphold a precept.
– Rituals in Buddhism serves as a way of expressing deep feelings and interests.
Moreover, when practiced frequently, rituals have a way of communicating with your subconscious. As a result, it can help direct your disposition. Rituals can equally help you to discover life aspirations and wholly express them.
– When rituals involve being mindful, it will help raise your awareness.
As a result, you will be more conscious of those life experiences requiring your attention. This can be a great way to avoid becoming entangled with the negative thoughts everyday living throws at you.
– Buddhist uses ritual practices mostly at the beginning of a new phase of life.
In other words, it is a common practice to see rituals performed in the form of ceremony to mark the beginning of a new direction. This is evident when you take refuge, after which you are officially recognized as a Buddhist.
– Some ritual practices are in stages which include, the beginning, the middle and the end stages.
That is to say, some rituals require the participants to pass through phases of transformation. For example, the act of visiting a sacred location. This mostly requires a ritual for entry into the location, the activities performed within the place, and the coming out of the place to continue your normal living.
– Rituals are evidently transformative.
This implies that all the process of rituals which includes setting a goal, involving emotions, increased concentration, and body movements all work together to make you see things as they really are. On the same note, when you constantly practice rituals, you will start living out what you already believe in. And, you will end up becoming your thoughts. Also, rituals can help you heal during times of chaos. This is possible through the psychological and spiritual corrections that ritual practices provide.
Types Of Rituals In Buddhism
Here are the basic ritual practices performed by Buddhists. These rituals mark the basis of traditional Buddhism practice.
1. Taking Refuge In the Triple Gem
This is the first ritual you are likely to witness when you want to be officially recognized as a Buddhist. On the other hand, this ceremony involves taking a vow to uphold the five Buddhist Precepts. Meanwhile, the Triple Gem constitutes of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. And, this is the oldest form of ritual from the time of the Buddha.
2. Practicing Dana (giving)
This is the act of offering to help others. Giving in Buddhism is very important because it is the basis of positive karma. That is to say, following the principles of cause and effect that karma represents, the act of Dana will bring good fortune in this life and those to come. Moreover, the ritual of giving freely when coupled with a moral living will place you on the path of liberation from repeated existence.
3. Cultivation Of Brahmaviharas
The brahmaviharas are also referred to as the four immeasurables. These are four virtues in Buddhism that you can cultivate through meditation practices. The brahmaviharas include:
– Metta – Loving-kindness
– Karuna – Compassion
– Mudita – Empathic Joy
– Upekkha – Equanimity
The effective cultivation of the four immeasurables will make one be reborn into the realm of Brahma.
4. The Buddhist Rites Of Passage
This involves ritual practices such as initiation, marriage, and funeral. The processes involved in these practices are in accordance with the Dharma. For example:
– Introduction rites in Buddhism involve a ceremony of short sermon and robing of the young Buddhist with a saffron robe. Afterward, the child takes a vow to adhere to the rules of the Sangha and respect the Dharma.
– Marriage Rites in Buddhism is for only the lay Buddhist community. That is to say, the monks and nuns do not marry. However, there is no particular wedding ritual in Buddhism. They often combine the Civil ceremony with a blessing from the Sangha.
– Funeral ritual in Buddhism involves the washing of the dead body laid in a wooden coffin adorned with flowers. After a procession and short teaching, the body is cremated. Above all, they collect the ashes and pour it into a water body.
5. The Dedication Of Merit (Punya)
In Buddhism, this is a practice that involves the transfer of merits conceived in our minds to other people. To clarify, the dedicator of the merit conceives pure energy, thoughts of well-being, positive speech and actions, and dedicates it to others. This ritual is more of spiritual than physical, you cannot see the process with the naked eyes. This process is likened to the transfer of radio waves. But, the dedicator of the merit energy will also gain the energy as much as the person he dedicates it to.
6. The Ritual Of Ordination
The process of ordination in Buddhism starts with a formal request (Pabbajja) from the applicant. This ritual is otherwise referred to as “Going Forth”. Here, the applicant sends a request to the senior monk (bhikkhu) for the novice ordination (samanera). As a result, the senior monk grants permission to the applicant after which he makes preparations for the ceremonial process. He acquires a complete set of robes and with the assistance of other monks, he shaves his head. Subsequently, he goes to the senior monks to pay his respects and gets robed by the monks. Afterward, the monks will hand him over the Ten Precepts and the Three Refuges, these contain the training rules.
7. The Ritual Of Taking The Five Buddhist Precepts
Becoming a lay Buddhist starts from partaking in the ceremony of the Five Precepts. The laity requests for this ceremony and a member of the Sangha conducts the ceremony. In addition, one main feature of the ritual is the triple bow of a laity member to the Sangha. Subsequently, the participants will recite the Pali request with responses. Also, on some occasions, offerings of the tray which involves candles, flowers, and incense might ensue. Moreover, from time to time images of Buddha and a length long of robe material is offered.
The Process Of Rituals In Buddhism
Although simple ritual practices such as a handshake and bowing may not have a regular structure, however, complex practices are recognized by their structures. On that note, complex rituals usually follow three phases which include, The Beginning of a Ritual, the Middle of Ritual, and the End of a Ritual. Similarly, each phase performs a specific function in the whole ritual process.
– The Beginning Of A Ritual
This phase of a ritual is what marks the difference between a ritual practice and an ordinary activity of daily living. In addition, it helps to give the whole ritual process a focus and direction. Above all, it paves the way for the middle phase of the ritual process.
To create an environment that gives a sense of a ritual practice, rituals follow a specific time and location. That is to say, visiting a sacred place such as a temple already evokes the feeling of a special event. Moreover, activities like the sprinkling of holy water, lighting of candles, and burning of incense will help to channel focus onto the next phase.
Sometimes, a few minutes of silence and meditation helps to give the participants strength for the next phase of the ritual. In addition, some preparatory words or words of introduction are said at this stage to usher in the next phase.
– The Middle Of A Ritual
This is the phase of a ritual process where the main purpose of the ritual is carried out. The purpose of a ritual can be any of the following:
1. Mark a new beginning (initiation)
2. Offer a blessing
3. Facilitate reconciliation
4. Sacred connection
5. Healing of ailments
6. Making a commitment
7. Evoking of positive energy and strength
8. Letting go of a bad habit
9. Cultivate compassion
10. Understand an important event.
These activities are the ritual proper. It is at this phase that you leave behind your natural identity and assume a new identity that represents the ritual. In addition, the participants at this phase of the ritual are now willing to perform some distinct activities.
– The End Of A Ritual
Once the main activity of the ritual is concluded it is important to give a ritual a definite end. This will help the participants to return to their lives. However, the purpose of the end phase of a ritual is to provide the participants with a reminder of the whole activity as they go back to their lives. To achieve this, an object associated with the ritual is often handed to the participants. Moreover, the Buddhist community will prefer to dedicate merits (Punya) to mark the end of a ritual.
This phase also accommodates the showing of appreciation and the acknowledgment of the participants. Lastly, a definite gesture such as a bow ends the ritual. Also, Buddhists can proclaim “Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!” enthusiastically to mark the end of a ritual. This is translated as “Excellent! Excellent! Excellent”.
In Buddhism, rituals are crucial to the path of enlightenment. But, many westerners who have an interest in Buddhism still have doubts that is a mere superficial activity. It is important to know that even participating in the Buddhism ritual practices will help you understand more on the path to awakening. That is to say, the whole essence of the ritual is the impact it has on our lives and not really the ritual practice itself. Moreover, it is important to not attach yourself to the process of a ritual as a means of salvation, rather, focus on the transformation it makes in your life.