Rituals in Buddhism

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In Buddhism, rites and rituals expressed by human condition, including our relationships to others and to our spiritual life. As ways of being mindful, rites and rituals can bring a heightened awareness of the interpretation of life and humanity. Through both mental and physical trainings, rites and rituals set followers onto the passage toward their personal goals.

Spreading world-wide in all directions and into numerous languages since around 2,500 years ago, Buddhism teachings have developed into many brunches. Among all the different practices of Buddhism practiced in different parts of the world, there are three main brunches of modern Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism (popular in Southeast Asia), Vajrayana Buddhism (popular in Tibet and India), and Mahayana Buddhism (popular in Northeast Asia). Each of these contains slight variety in rites and rituals while shares the same central believes of promoting harmony and reducing suffering by consolidating compassion (karuna) and loving kindness (metta).

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Unlike many other modern religions, there is no special ceremony needed to become a Buddhist, although one is often held only the sincere repetition of the sacred formula: the Three Jewels (also known as Three Refuges) and the Five Precepts. In Dalai Lama’s view, this is especially important in the twenty-first century. If younger generation finds the explanations of older Buddhists superficial or superstitious because of the access to literature form nay religions, they will not be convinced. Thus to benefit future generations, “we must learn and practice the Dharma well and then teach it to others, showing the benefit that Buddha’s doctrine brings through the example of how we live” (Dalai Lama 17).

Three Jewels include, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. By taking refuge in the Buddha, believers align themselves with the ability to become a Buddha and to seek the capacity to be awakened to what the Buddha experienced. The Dharma teaches the wisdom and compassion of the bodhisattva way of life that is enlightened with altruistic practices. The Sangha comprises a group of people who gather together in the purpose of practicing meditation, studying and discussing sacred texts, and encouraging each other.

According to Buddha101, in the original teaching and in current Theravada communities, the Sangha only refers to the monks, nuns and other ordained teachers. The concept of Sangha is more broadly interpreted in many Mahayana and Western groups to include all those who embrace the Dharma as a community. Just as the Three Jewels forms the simple framework for the transmission of the Buddhist philosophy, the Five Precepts are the basic ethical guidelines for the followers of the philosophy which are refraining from:

  • harming living things
  • taking what is not given
  • sexual misconduct
  • lying or gossip
  • taking intoxicating substances eg drugs or drink (BBC)

To become a Bhikkhu (Buddhist monk), however, there is a long process of disciplinary training and education ceremony involving the novice (the name given to a person seeking to become a monk), the abbot (head of the monastery) and the Sangha (the community of monks). Before initiation one must shave off all hair on the head and answer questions from the elder monks. If the answers are satisfactory, and none of the monks object, the naag (the candidate) is admitted to the Sangha and his religious training begins. The new the new bhikkh also must admit to the Ten Precepts. The first five are also applicable to all Buddhists, and are known as the ‘Five Precepts’. The next key five apply only to monks.

In most Buddhist countries marriages are considered as secular, which means that whoever wants to get married has to renounce their vows of being ascetic. Marriages in Buddhism is controversial although there are no direct regulations that discourage or encourage the marriage. As the third of the Five Precepts, “refrain from sexual misconduct” has many interpretations.

The definition that is being most supportive is also explained by Lama Palden, “The cornerstone is that our actions be based on a loving, compassionate heart and that any repercussions that arise from one’s sexual activities are supposed to be looked into deeply”. This interpretation marriage is base on the major tenets of Buddhism: compassion and loving kindness. Although there isn’t any religious regulation in remaining as a bachelor or to leading a life of total chastity, many monks and nuns do not choose to marry because they voluntarily avoid various worldly commitments in order to maintain peace of mind and to dedicate their lives solely to serve others in the attainment of spiritual emancipation.

A regular Buddhism wedding is always simple and takes place at home. The date is usually picked by a astrologer who invited by the new couple’s parents. Although Buddhist monks do not solemnize a marriage ceremony, they do perform religious services in order to bless the couples. Only relatives of the new couple are invited because Buddhists believe this would make their wedding more pure and concentrated.

Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera noted, “In Buddhism, marriage is regarded entirely as personal and individual concern, and not as a religious duty” (What Buddhists Believe 36). During the wedding the couple’s hands or waists are tied together with a white silk, which symbolizes the connection as husband and wife. The new couple will also go to the temple together to bless their marriage to be happy and pure.

In buddhism, death does not mean the ending; instead, it means the new start of another life. “All life is in a cycle of death and rebirth called samsara. This cycle is something to escape from. When someone dies their energy passes into another form (BBC)” Death is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek the need of attachment to a new body and new life. Where they will be born is a result of the past and the accumulation of positive and negative action, and the resultant karma (cause and effect) is a result of ones past actions.Buddhists may be buried or cremated.

The meaning of Buddhism funeral is to send the sprit onto the journey toward the next life. There are different kinds of funeral traditions in different brunches of Buddhism. In Mahayana tradition, when Buddhists are dying, someone whispers the name of the Buddha into their ear so that this is the last thing the person hears before they die. After death, relatives wash the body. They then place the body in a coffin surrounded by wreaths and candles. The funeral often takes place a few days after the death to allow the first bardo state to happen.

This is the time when the dead person becomes conscious of being dead and the next form of rebirth is decided. It is believed that it takes 49 days for consciousness to travel to the next life. In Tibet, where people practice a kind of Mahayana Buddhism, it is not easy to bury a corpse because of mountainous geographical environment. As a result, there is a special kind of burial called “sky burial.” The peers put the deceased’s body on top of the cliff or stone platform as the food for vultures. Though this ceremony, people would learn that everything is momentary, including life and time. Letting the body ate by vultures also means giving themselves back to nature, and thus demonstrates the generosity of the deceased.

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Rituals in Buddhism. (2019, Jul 31). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/rituals-in-buddhism/