Formalities of practice

Collapse
X
 
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts
  • Tainin
    Member
    • Dec 2010
    • 27

    Formalities of practice

    Happy weekend everyone,

    A question I've often wrestled with in the past, and continue to do so regarding zen practice, relates to the formalities of zen. I'm wondering if others have wrestled with this, and how they've resolved it.

    I'm not sure how to relate to the formalities of zen - the bowing, the chanting, the ceremony. From my zen past, I realize these elements of zen may have some positive influence on mindfulness or on helping one to get into the mindframe of practice. But, are these formalities - anything beyond just sitting - essential to practice? I've been to a number of traditional zen centers over years past where these forms of zen take up a significant part of the weekly group practice - and seem to my perhaps overly analytic mind to become robotic - and not off-cushion-time, real-life applicable for me. I've also been to one particular center in which all forms of zen were stripped away (no chanting, no incense, no formalities, etc.) with only the sitting remaining. Does this "just sitting" with nothing else take away too much? I'm not intending to critique others' forms of practice, just trying to find what would work best to get me back to the cushion with consistency. I'd enjoy hearing others' takes on this.

    Thanks,
    T.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39419

    #2
    Hi Tainin,

    Here is my reply when this comes up from time to time. There has never, by the way, been an old Teacher of Zen who emphasized "Just Sitting" (i.e., nothing else in life but sitting) ... even though our Shikantaza Practice is called "Just Sitting" (i.e., when sitting there is only sitting). There are few modern examples too (Toni Packard is about the only person who comes to mind, and she wasn't only about sitting).

    At Treeleaf, we have a time for being free in Ritual & Tradition and and a time for being free without. I am as apt to be found in the Zendo in a t-shirt as in funky Chinese robes. We do not insist that every ritual must speak to everyone. Some of my other "practical reasons" (one does not always need a "practical reason" however) for honoring Rituals and Traditions are stated here ... It's something I have posted several times, and most folks may have read:


    This practice is not limited to any place or time ... we drop all thought of place and time. It certainly is not Indian, Chinese, Japanese, French or American. But, of course, we live in place and time, so as Buddhism traveled over the centuries from India to China, Japan, Korea and other places, it naturally became very Indian/Chinese/Japanese/Korean etc.

    But what of the cultural trappings?

    Must we bow, ring bells, chant (in Japanese, no less), wear traditional robes, have Buddha Statues, burn incense? ... All that stuff besides Zazen. Are they necessary to our Practice?


    No, not at all!


    We don't need anything other than Zazen, any of those trappings. In fact, they are no big deal, of no importance, when we drop all viewpoints in sitting Zazen.

    On the other hand, we have to do something, to greet each other somehow, read some words, dress some way. Why not do such things? As I often say, for example, we have to do something with our hands when practicing walking Zazen ... why not hold them in Shashu (I mean, better than sticking 'em in your pockets)?

    As well, there are parts of our practice which we do BECAUSE we resist (for example, when visiting a temple for Retreat, I usually put my heart fully into ceremonies and arcane rituals BECAUSE I resist and think some of it silly or old fashioned). Ask yourself where that kind of resistance is to be found (here's a clue, and it is right behind your own eyes).

    What is more, there is method to the madness, and many (not all) customs have centuries of time tested benefits ... embody subtle perspectives ... that support and nurture Zazen Practice at the core. Many parts of our Practice, though "exotic", are worth keeping, even if they strike someone as strange at first. Bowing, statues, rigid decorum in the Zen Hall and, yes, weird talks about Koans and arcane ceremonies all fit in that category. They may seem like unnecessary "Japanese" or "Esoteric" elements at first, until you understand the role they serve. I have given talks on all these things recently, for example ... the humility and wholeness of Bowing.

    Many aspects of tradition can be seen in new ways when the barriers of the mind are knocked down. Thus, for example, the Kesa, the Buddha's Robes ... though just cloth ... can be seen to cover and enfold the whole universe, laughter, cries of pain, old age, becoming and fading away ... life ...

    On the other hand again, it is okay to abandon or reject many practices. However, KNOW very well what you are rejecting before you reject it.

    Absorb what is useful and discard the rest. For example, I think Oryoki [formal meal ritual] is a great practice, and worth keeping.. Same for bowing.

    When tasted as such ... every action and gesture in this life is Sacred and Magical when experienced as such, from changing a baby diaper to cooking dinner to chanting the Heart Sutra. So, why not Chant as well as the rest?

    Some things I keep out of respect for TRADITION [the robes, the ways of doing some ceremonies]. It is important to keep ties to where we come from. Some things also have a special symbolic meaning if you look into them, so worth keeping [for example, a Rakusu]

    But other stuff, no need to keep: For example, I usually avoid to chant in Japanese or Chinese [except once in awhile, out of respect for tradition]. Tatami mats and Paper screens have nothing to do with Zen practice particularly [but I happen to live in an old Japanese building, so ... well, tatami and paper screens!} Some things I think are just dumb (except symbolically), like the Kyosaku stick. Incense is great, until it was recently shown to cause cancer. Many beliefs of Buddhism are rather superstitious things that were picked up here and there. I abandon many of those.
    The outer wrap of Zen Buddhism is changing greatly as it moves West. The greater emphasis on lay practice over monastics, the greater democracy in what was a feudal institution (arising in societies where the teacher's word was law ... oh, those were the days! ), giving the boot to a lot of magico-supersticio hocus-pocus bunkum, the equal place of women ... heck, the use of the internet to bring teachings that were once the preserve of an elite few into everyone's living room.Those are good and great changes to the outer wrapping (you can read about them in books like this one (author interview here: http://atheism.about.com/library/boo...olemanChat.htm). The coreless core, however, remains unchanged.

    Do not throw out the Baby Buddha with the bath water. Many completely "Japanese" practices which seem silly at first are worth keeping. ...

    ... other things, like some of the arcane incense, bell & drum filled rituals, take them or leave them.

    Daido Loori has a lovely book on how to live, and be lived through, rituals in his book mentioned in our "Recommended 'At Home' Liturgy" thread ...

    Hi, 'Liturgy' means the many acts and rituals by which we manifest (and are manifested by) the beliefs and teachings at the heart of Buddhist Practice. Some we practice as a group together, some at private times (not two, by the way). These various practices can bring the teachings more visibly to life, and our lives into the


    So, as Taigu so wisely has said sometimes ... a person who hates rituals should be told to drop the hate and engage in a ritual ... and a person too attached to ritual might be told to stop ritualizing and attaching. I throw myself into some "silly" rituals precisely because I resist and find them "silly" ... all in order to drop the resistance and judgment.

    Gassho (an Asian custom), Jundo (a Dharma name)
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-02-2012, 03:11 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • santosh
      Member
      • Nov 2012
      • 54

      #3
      Originally posted by Tainin
      I've been to a number of traditional zen centers over years past where these forms of zen take up a significant part of the weekly group practice - and seem to my perhaps overly analytic mind to become robotic - and not off-cushion-time, real-life applicable for me.
      Hi Tainin,

      I have similar questions. I do try to get behind the principle of the ritual before attempting to simply practice it. For instance, signing off forum posts with Gassho (or Namaste as is the norm where I live, not exactly the same idea)? I've attended one weekly Zazenkai (last weekend of November) and I did watch the rituals. For instance, I noticed some bowing to each of the four directions. I enjoy the act of bowing as I identify with the need to be humble and I'm guessing that bowing to each direction pushes us to acknowledge that going in either direction is really just the same thing?

      Thank you for bringing this up!

      Gassho,
      Santosh.

      Comment

      • ZenHarmony
        Member
        • Feb 2012
        • 315

        #4
        Originally posted by Tainin
        ...I'm not sure how to relate to the formalities of zen - the bowing, the chanting, the ceremony.
        Just consider them a sincere show of respect to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and then don't consider them any longer.

        Gassho,

        Lisa

        Comment

        • Kyotai

          #5
          Hi Tainin,

          Getting back to the cushion with some consistancy to me is whats most important. Don't let your questions on ceremony or tradition effect your sitting.

          Gassho,

          Shawn

          Comment

          • Dosho
            Member
            • Jun 2008
            • 5784

            #6
            Originally posted by Tainin
            But, are these formalities - anything beyond just sitting - essential to practice?
            Tainin,

            That's a great question! Now stop asking it and go sit!

            Eventually you may come back to the question and that's fine.

            But throw yourself into the ritual, but don't cling to it either.

            Things like this can get us stuck as we look for an intellectual answer.

            Don't wait for one and the answer may be forthcoming.

            In any case, just sit. Trust me...it works. And you just might find yourself sitting more without even trying!

            Gassho,
            Dosho

            Comment

            • Kyotai

              #7
              Thank you Dosho, I often have similar questions to what Trainin put fourth, and I identify with where he is at. But a good question at that, one that needed clarification.

              Gassho..

              Shawn

              Comment

              • Kyotai

                #8
                Just to clarify, when I first began learning about zen, I asked questions in order to determine if it was for me, or not.

                Gassho

                Shawn

                Comment

                • Dosho
                  Member
                  • Jun 2008
                  • 5784

                  #9
                  Originally posted by zen_rook
                  Just to clarify, when I first began learning about zen, I asked questions in order to determine if it was for me, or not.
                  A good point Shawn...I had not considered it from that perspective!

                  Deep bows.

                  Gassho,
                  Dosho

                  Comment

                  • Seiryu
                    Member
                    • Sep 2010
                    • 620

                    #10
                    Everything, Soto Zen forms, Rinzai Zen forms, Japanese Zen, Korean Zen Chinese Zen, the broken glass bottle on the side of the road... Everything. Is an expression of this single truth.
                    Yet, it is so easy for our minds to miss it. "how can this be it?" "there most be something more." So we give you more. Some chanting, bowing, whatever you think you need, it all there for you. Its all pointing to the same thing.
                    And it can be immensely helpful.
                    Most forms and rituals have so much details, that it is hard to focus on them if you are lost in thoughts and ideas. Most chanting is done in a language that is not native to you, so if you are lost in thinking you can't follow. It is very hard to be hung up in thinking during bows, especially if one is doing many bows on end. Yet, there comes a time when we can become so familiar with all the forms that we can simply mindlessly go through all of the motions, while being drag to the other end of the universe by our minds. So there is a caution in this...

                    I think why some many traditions, not just Buddhist, have so many rituals, is to help us be more aware in our daily lives. We have so many rituals that we do every day. Wake up at a certain time, eat, work, relax, sleep. Then we do it again and again and again.... If we can learn mindfulness and awareness during "Zen" rituals, then we can bring that awareness with us back into our everyday lives, until we see for ourselves, that what we did in the Zendo and outside were never any different to begin with.
                    Humbly,
                    清竜 Seiryu

                    Comment

                    • George
                      Member
                      • Oct 2012
                      • 25

                      #11
                      Originally posted by zen_rook
                      Just to clarify, when I first began learning about zen, I asked questions in order to determine if it was for me, or not.
                      I have found it a rather difficult balancing act between questioning and accepting. For a long time I think I took scepticism a bit too far and was completely against all the rituals and symbolism involved in Buddhism until they were proven to be helpful.

                      I thought I understood some important words (below) and applied them to my life then I realised (one evening after a chat with a monk about a picture of Avalokiteshvara) that I was missing one very important part - '..what you yourself test...' - I was waiting too much for things to prove themselves before I gave them a chance. I am now trying to give the ritual part a chance, if I find it helpful then fine, if not then fine - I'll probably only stop if it actually interferes with my practice.

                      Even if things do not make sense it is sometimes enough to trust the generations that came before us and see that they found the formalities helpful and the only way to disagree is to try the rituals and then make an informed judgement.


                      “Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”
                      Last edited by George; 12-01-2012, 10:59 PM. Reason: typo correction

                      Comment

                      • Taigu
                        Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
                        • Aug 2008
                        • 2710

                        #12
                        Yes Bro. And I tend to drop rituals because I like them a lot.

                        Gassho

                        Taigu

                        Comment

                        • Mp

                          #13
                          Hey Tainin,

                          I find when I have too many questions, I just sit. Sitting sometimes shows that the question really has no meat to it ... It was just my mind holding onto it for too long.

                          I do however enjoy rituals, but I am a simple guy, so like the simple rituals.

                          Gassho
                          Michael

                          Comment

                          • Myoku
                            Member
                            • Jul 2010
                            • 1487

                            #14
                            Thank you everyone.
                            If I remember right my teacher once told me to 1) do the rituals, completely with all you can give and 2) drop them if you not feel they are essential to practice, but never skip step 1. Personally I'm still in step 1 and I found not much to drop so far. If at all I would drop oryoki .. or at least transform it to something slower
                            Gassho
                            Myoku

                            Comment

                            • Tainin
                              Member
                              • Dec 2010
                              • 27

                              #15
                              Thank you, everyone, for your much valued input on my concerns about the "formalities" of zen practice. I greatly appreciate all the ideas and suggestions that everyone has given me to ponder - hopefully more off the cushion than on!

                              Gassho
                              T

                              Comment

                              Working...