The Language of Ritual

Continuing with Dogen’s commentary phrases for the grave precepts: the fourth precept, ‘I vow to refrain from false speech’.

‘The dharma wheel turns from the beginning. There is neither surplus nor lack. The sweet dew saturates all and harvests the truth.’

The Language of Ritual

The moon is now only half full on this auspicious leap year day, but another phrase from the full moon ceremony, Dogen’s commentary on the sixth grave precept, ‘I vow not to slander’:

‘In the Buddhadharma, go together, appreciate together, realise together and actualise together. Don’t permit fault-finding; don’t permit haphazard talk; do not corrupt the way.’

The Language of Ritual

This is the time of the full moon, and the Ryaku Fusatsu ceremony performed at Zen Center connects us back to the earliest days of Buddhism, when itinerant monks in India would gather together at the full and new moon to renew their vows.
Perhaps the highlight of my whole summer last year at Tassajara was to be doshi for the full moon ceremony, thus being the person who spoke for the assembly the words of Dogen’s commentaries on the precepts. These commentaries are among my favourite lines of Buddhist text.
One that has particularly held my attention over the years is the commentary on the tenth grave precept, ‘I vow not to disparage the Three Treasures’:

‘To expound the dharma with this body is foremost. The virtue returns to the ocean of reality. It is unfathomable; we just accept it with respect and gratitude.’

Soyen Shaku

‘Buddhist ethics is the simplest thing to practice in the world. It has nothing mysterious, nothing superstitious, nothing idolatrous, nothing supernatural. Stop doing anything wrong, which is against the reason of things; do whatever is good, which advances the course of reason in this life; and finally help those who are still behind and weary of life to realize enlightenment: and here is Buddhism in a nutshell. It has nothing to do with prayer and worship and singing and whatnot. Our simple everyday life of love and sympathy is all that is needed to be a good Buddhist.’ (Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot)

These words come from 1905-6, as Soyen Shaku presented Buddhism to America for almost the first time. The translation is by D.T. Suzuki. I would quibble with the use of the word ‘reason’ in this passage, but, as with Nyogen Senzaki, a student of Shaku, they were making their best effort to communicate in language that would be easily absorbed.

Michael Stone

‘The vortex in a stream is a structure that is created out of the swirling gravitational movement of water. All living things are flowing structures like this. Our identity, sexuality, economics, and relations are all temporary and flexible. One of the aspects of practice in the context of community (sangha) that I’ve deeply appreciated is the way people can relate to one another with less competitiveness, less egoic strategizing. With a focus on practice and expressing this practice in everyday situations, we can dismantle the prominence of individual egos pursuing individual ends, replacing it with a more inclusive and community-based understanding. Watch people change over time; it’s interesting to see how elastic our egoic habits  are, and also how spiritual practice on the context of sangha supports and cares for others.’ (Awake in the World)

When we chant the Three Refuges as a part of our morning practice – usually one of the first things we articulate in the day, we ‘take refuge in sangha as the perfect life.’ Of course, while you are a part of the community, it may not always appear so, as the petty aggravations of being around others can unbalance you, but there is so much truth in what Michael says here.

Katagiri Roshi

Katagiri Roshi’s Peaceful Life is a very sweet poem that we occasionally chanted at Zen Center for services; its simplicity almost disguises his deep understanding of how practice can transform our limited mind, and bring out our full heart in the way of compassion.

Being told that is impossible
One believes, in despair, “Is that so?”
Being told it is possible,
One believes, in excitement, “That’s right.”
But, whichever is chosen,
It does not fit one’s heart neatly.
Being asked, What is unfitting?”
I don’t know what it is.
But my heart knows somehow.
I feel an irresistible desire to know.
What a mystery “human” is.
As to this mystery:
Knowing how to live,
Knowing how to walk with people,
Demonstrating and teaching,
This is the Buddha.
From my human eyes,
I feel it’s really impossible to become a Buddha.
But this “I,” regarding what the Buddha does,
Vows to practice,
To aspire,
To be resolute,
And tells myself, “Yes I will.”
Just practice right here now,
And achieve continuity,
Endlessly, forever.
This is living in vow.
Herein is one’s peaceful life found.

The Language of Ritual

Following on from last Monday’s post, another line from the shukke tokudo ceremony that always resonated with me and comforted me is the preceptor’s comment after the recitation of the three refuges (taking refuge in Buddha, dharma and sangha):

‘This is the path of mercy for all existence and things’.

How does the line make you feel?

Pure Precepts

A jukai ceremony, such as we had on Saturday afternoon at City Center, with five people receiving the precepts, usually also counts as a family affair. The ordinands are taking a big step in their practice, and are supported in this ceremony by their friends, family and community. There are a few stages in the ceremony where, instead of just having the ordinands chanting (there was a notable level of enthusiasm when they did, which does not always happen), everyone in the Buddha Hall joins in, and the harmony lifts everybody.

Linda Ruth got me into the practice of reciting the three-fold refuges while doing prostrations during morning service, which also has the practical value, when you are ringing the bells, of helping you keep count up to nine. For the three prostrations at the end, I recited to myself the pure precepts, drawn from the Dhammapada. There are many different translations used at Zen Center; this version is the one we recite during the full moon ceremony where we all renew our vows:

I vow to refrain from all evil;
I vow to make every effort to live in enlightenment;
I vow to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings.

Right now I am not doing prostrations as regularly as before, and I miss them as much as I miss zazen when I am not doing it. Nevertheless I try to keep these in mind as I go about my life.