I love Buddhist ritual.
There, I’ve said it.
Anyone reading this who doesn’t know me personally is probably now thinking something along the lines of, “Well, duh! This guy is a Buddhist blogger. Of course he loves Buddhist ritual!”
Those who know me, however – especially those who knew me back when I was a Christian – may be surprised to hear that I love Buddhist ritual, because when I was a Christian I (like many other Pentecostals) regarded ritual with a degree of suspicion. Back then, ritual seemed to be just an empty and pointless set of actions that had nothing to do with reality.
No-one was more surprised than me when my views on that changed. I even remember the specific time it happened. I was at a Full Moon Puja at Cardiff Buddhist Centre (the Triratna centre I attend). I had been to pujas before, but that particular evening was the first time I decided to throw myself into it wholeheartedly.
I prostrated before the Buddha image. I made offerings of light and incense to the shrine. I participated in the chants and mantras, something I had done before, but this time I didn’t feel self-conscious about it. The surprising thing, the thing that I really didn’t expect, was the effect it had on me.
Prostrating before the shrine had a profound effect on me straight away. It gave me a deep sense of both gratitude and humility. I reflected that I was prostrating not just to a statue, but to the ideal that statue represented. And the biggest surprise was that I realised that it was certainly not just an empty, meaningless action. Rather, it was an action that engaged the emotional side of my nature as well as my physical body. It was something that engaged my body, speech and mind, as Buddhists like to say. That single realisation changed my whole attitude towards ritual.
Masking the offerings after that was an even more profound experience. It wasn’t just about the physical things that I was offering (light and incense); it was about the internal attitude of wanting to show my appreciation and gratitude, and at the same time of expressing that with my physical actions as well as internally.
From that point onwards, I have loved ritual. I find it very meaningful.
Every time I prostrate before the shrine, whether at one of the two Buddhist centres I attend or at home, I feel that same sense of humility and gratitude. Every time I make offerings, it has the same effect on me as did the first offerings I made, at that full moon puja in Cardiff.
Speaking of offerings, this is a picture of my home shrine. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)
This is in the spare bedroom of my home, where I can close the door and be in a peaceful environment that is conducive to meditation, puja and reading Dharma texts. You will notice that there are seven brass bowls on the shrine.
Those bowls are offering bowls, and every morning I use them to make water offerings to the shrine. To me, this is a way of honouring the Buddha and all he stands for in a way that combines the physical, emotional and mental aspects of my being.
(Incidentally, if you are wondering what the objects on the shrine are for, or want to set up your own Tibetan-style Buddhist shrine at home, this video may help.)
I only started making water offerings a few weeks ago, but I’m so glad that I did. It may not sound like much, but when it’s done regularly it, like so many other aspects of Buddhist practice, can have an often surprising internal effect on you.
If you’re a Buddhist yourself, why not give it a try? The results may surprise you.
In closing, if you’re looking for a good explanation of the importance and relevance of ritual and devotion, particularly from the Triratna Buddhist perspective, you could do worse than to read Ritual and Devotion in Buddhism by Sangharakshita.