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.