Non-Efficacy of Rites and Rituals

If I am honest, and I’m bound to be, the devotional side of the practice I first encountered in Zen Buddhism was not an aspect I was naturally drawn towards. In the application form for my first retreat I put this plainly, and nearly didn’t get accepted as a consequence! This I was told about much latter, thankfully. As the years have passed I’ve seen, as I said to the former head of our Order, “I’m devotional in spite of myself”! There is something more powerful than my own thoughts and opinions, which has me making bows, offering incense, reciting and singing scriptures and the like, willingly.

The way I see it, each person enters the corridor of practice carrying what they know. Some enter with a meditation cushion while others enter at the other end, so to speak, with incense stick in hand. Later they may meet and leave, hand in hand, carrying a cushion and incense stick. This has been the way it’s been for me, but not necessarily the way for all.

I came across an image of a early Japanese monk, Kuya Shonin, who is depicted with six small figures of Amida Buddha emanating from his mouth representing the six characters of the written Nembutsue chant. Looking at this image it doesn’t make sense, you could say “Wow! that’s really weird”. It’s a disturbing image, in the way that one can be ‘disturbed’ by the Truth. I can’t explain it rationally, however when viewing it there’s the same sense of being brought up into myself when standing before an altar. Or, as I remember it, when walking in the great shrines in Japan and China I visited last spring.

So, sometime, somewhere, in the middle of a corridor I met myself anew. I’m as happy to bow to the stars and the mountains as at an altar, and I’m so very grateful for the forms that have been handed down and which are part of daily practice. Following them causes me to remember why it is that they are not necessary.

I read a bit about Kuya Shonin, the internet is just so amazing for turning up what one is looking for. His life both as a lay devotee and latter as a monk is impressive.

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6 thoughts on “Non-Efficacy of Rites and Rituals”

  1. Thank you for a wonderful post.

    I struggled with the devotional side of practice to begin with, what is the point, I asked?

    Now, despite myself, I find myself prostrating to icons and images.

    At work, there are a few statues of Buddha for sale. To be confronted with this as I rise up the escalator (despite, or perhaps because these are sold most often as mere decoration) is a wonderful reminder of my practice.

    Best Wishes

  2. Thanks for that Gareth. You know, I was in a museum in Birmingham once and came face to face with this huge standing statue in a corridor. Couldn’t help myself, I was on the floor bowing before I knew it!

    Glad you have statues around you, this place is crowded with them!

  3. Ooooooo I know that statue! I’ve been to see it with my Mum a couple of times, and it waves at us. I have NO idea whether it really did or not, but as we were off to see My aunt Jane (Mum’s sister) who was dieing with cancer at the time, it really perked us up. I’ve been back, and I still think it waves – I notice it’s often left little offerings of sweets or flowers. I love seeing that devotion in a public place.

  4. I know the statue as well :)

    Not ound myself fully prostrated in such a public space yet though, perhaps someday..

    Best Wishes

  5. Wehn I had been a Buddhist for a fairly short time, I was on a business trip to Boston. I had some spare time on a weekend so I went to the Boston Fine Arts Museum. They had an extensive display of Buddhist art work of various sorts but the pride of their collection was a room with about half a dozen large altar statues from Japan.

    It was a little sad to see them there instead of in a temple but I have to admit that they did a pretty good job of displaying them. The lighting was subdued and there were seats in the room so you could just sit in front of the statues.

    I sat in there for about 20 minutes in meditation of sorts. A number of things were going on in my life and I felt like I was in turmoil but sitting there was like sitting in the eye of a storm, a place of almost perfect peace in the surrounding maelstrom. Like many, I didn’t start out on the devotional path in Buddhism but I think that moment, and many others, showed me something of that side of my practice.

  6. Oh, lots of good input here. Thanks all.

    I shock myself at what I find myself doing, making a full bow in a public, non Buddhist setting, for example. When the knees buckle one has to go with it I guess!

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