"The beauty of the rite ... is the beauty of one's essential nature. By participation in the rite, by uniting the mind with the beauty by walking the way of the 'Eternal', one becomes profoundly composed ... The way of the 'Eternal' is the way to the seat of energy within the soul."
The sash worn during the ceremony is a contemperary representation of the monk's robe. The front says "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo". On the back "We practice the Bodhisattva Way". Wearing the sash during the preparation of the altar and chanting of the sutra is a purification ritual. It puts us in a respectful state, cleanses our hearts and clears our minds.
The string of beads referred to in Japanese as "ojuzu" came into being shortly after Shakyamuni Buddha's passing. At that time the sutras (teachings), were transmitted verbally, and Buddhists recited them over and over to absorb them. They used the beads to count the recitations of sutras, mantras, or darani (protective blessings). This assisted in their concentration while chanting.
There are many different types and materials used to make beads. Different styles of Buddhism use particular shapes and lengths. The beads are symbolic of Buddhism.
The standard number of beads adds up to 108 with some multiples are 54 or 27 beads. These represent the 108 desires or hindrances that need to be extinguished for enlightenment to occur. We have 108 small beads plus 4 smaller ones. The symbolize the four Bodhisattvas from the Lotus Sutra. Their names are: Limitless Practice, Superior Practice, Steadily Established Practice, and Pure Practice.
The two large beads at either end represent Shakyamuni Buddha and Tathagata Abundunt Treasures (Lotus Sutra). They are also called the 'Father Bead' and the 'Mother Bead'. I have read that each bead also represents a Buddha or Bodhisattva. We also see our body with the shortest of the three tassles on one side being our head, the other two our arms, and the two tassels on the other side our legs. The five separate strings of beads can serve as a way of counting the number of rounds of an invocation. They are also used as meditation points, such as the five aggregates: matter, sensation, perception, mental activities, and consciousness.
We wear the beads on our wrist by making two loops and putting them around our left hand. Often, we put the two tassels on the middle finger of our left hand and twist once as we put the middle finger of the right hand in, making the shape of an '8' or infinity. As we can rub the beads together in our hands, we call on the Eternal to be with us. By use of a cutting motion, we purify our minds of all delusion and unnecessary thought. This helps us focus with pure intent and a grateful heart.
Hands are used in love and honor of life - art, music, healing, loving, protecting. Hands held together (palms facing each other), connect us with Universal Energies and are a posture in "peace education". It is a way of showing respect to those who have gone before us and also to the Buddha-nature in each of us.
There are several items you will see in our altar area. Among them are: a picture or statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, a plaque representing those who have gone before us, a plaque blessing the land and place of meditation, candles, flowers, incense, food and water.
It is impossible for finite human beings to comprehend the infinite. For this reason, we need a focus of meditation that we can relate to, something we recognize as being Eternal, yet has been in physical form. Our focus of meditation is Shakyamuni Buddha. We use a picture or statue to remind us of our connection to the Eternal and put our hearts in a state of gratitude. The image is a symbol of the qualities of the Teacher.
The plaque representing those who have gone before enables us to contemplate the source of our existence, develop a sense of gratitude for their support in our present lives and gives us the chance to dedicate our recitations to support them on their way to enlightenment.
Our lives are supported by the blessings of nature. In accordance with nature, there is a plaque to purify our place of meditation and the land on which it stands. This brings about awareness and gives us a sense of gratitude for our natural blessings. We show respect to these spirits.
Candles are also used on the altar. Light symbolizes wisdom as contrasted to darkness which can symbolize ignorance. This reminds us of our goal of enlightenment.
Flowers are arranged with the blossoms facing toward the practitioners. This is to help us open our hearts like the beauty of the flowers we see. The fresh cut flowers are lovely but will soon become withered. It is a reminder of the impermanence of all things and a lesson in appreciating the moment.
Incense is lit during ceremony as an act of purification and as an offering in respect to the Three Treasures (Buddah, Dharma, Sangha)
The food placed on the altar represents "sustenance." The water represents "life."
The bell calls us to awareness and focus on the moment, removes laziness, and stingy mindedness. The ripples of sound extend out into the universe and represent the Dharma spreading into the world. It is also used to designate chapters in the chanting of the sutra.
The wooden block has a strong, sharp sound that is used to elevate our goals. It also represents a strong will to share the teachings.
The drum gives strong encouragement to the sangha. We beat the drum to build a Land of Serene Light - one of complete and perfect peace. It is also known as the heartbeat of the earth or our mother's heartbeat that we experience while still in the womb.
Everything done in Buddhist ceremony including the altar preparation is done with full awareness. It makes us mindful of the significance of what is being offered, it is also a way to create positive potential and develop our minds.
Rissho Kosei-kai of Tampa Bay
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