Ceremonies: The Heartbeat of the Monastery
1. Ceremonies satisfy the human spirit’s need to find an anchor, a refuge with a higher and purer vision beyond human imperfection.
2. Ceremonies put us in touch with our roots, as we take part in a ritual observance that has been handed down for generations, spanning many successive cultures, languages, and musical patterns.
They put us where we belong between heaven and earth. Bowing, in particular, sets the mind in balance and subdues the body.
3. Ceremonies can open one’s inherent wisdom, and can lead to an elevated state of clear seeing and keen insight.
Ceremonies are a way to transform our body, mind, and spirit, and the best way to find out how this transformation occurs is to participate in one and experience it for yourself. Here are some basic tips on how to participate in the ceremony.
(Another way is just to observe or follow people who look like they know what they are doing.)
First, the ceremony begins with three and a half bows.
You begin with your palms together, and as you bend down, put your right hand in the center of the cushion (or directly in front of you on the ground), and then as your body rocks forward, your left hand goes to the upper left corner of the cushion along with your knees at the bottom of the cushion.
With your weight now primarily on your knees, you move your right hand to the upper-right corner of the cushion and place your head in between your two hands.
As your head touches the cushion, you turn your hands palm up.
Coming up from the bow is the same process in reverse.
You turn your hands palm down, while lifting your head from the cushion, then place your right hand in the center of the cushion.
To get a full experience of chanting, it is important to be single-minded and concentrated. You’ll find that if you chant in a concentrated way, then at the end, you will feel recharged and energized in body and mind.
Don’t be discouraged if the first few times you get lost or don’t know where you are because it is actually quite difficult the first few times.
Fortunately, there are some things that can help to orient you in the Handbook.
Just as many different kinds of medicines are needed to heal different types of illnesses, the ceremonies include many distinct practices to give each person something that they find meaningful and transformative.
We will describe some of these different practices in the next section.