Thread: Why do Zen centers have so many rituals?

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    Why do Zen centers have so many rituals?

    While watching a youtube dharma talk this morning, someone asked me "Why do they wear those robes?" I started telling her about how the different robes designate the different lineages by their colour, how the robes and shaved heads indicate that they have made their vows, etc. But that wasn't their question. Why DO they wear them? Isn't Zen about everyday mind and nothing special?

    I have often looked around the various Zen meditation halls that I have visited and wondered why there was such attachment to form and ritual? The statue of the Buddha, the altar, the bells, the robes, the incense, the same black cushions.....it sure looks like a Catholic church or something. Which is neither good nor bad, but is very peculiar to me. For a supposedly stripped-down-to-the-bone version of Buddhism, there are sure a lot of fixed ideas and forms. I understand that the incense and bells have utilitarian uses, but an altar? A statue on it? That sure looks religious to me. Why not put a TV up there, or an orange?

    Does anyone else wonder about this?

    My best guess is that this is attachment to previous ways of doing things. I'm going to ask my teacher tonight. I'd lay wages that he is going to answer, "I don't know. Why Do we do this?"
    Last edited by steve marino; 20 Sep 18 at 18:02.

  2. #2
    I've never been to a Zen Centre so I can't answer that question!

    Here's an article by Soto Zen teacher Brad Warner:

    "What's the deal with Zen Ceremonies?"

    http://hardcorezen.info/whats-the-de...eremonies/3620



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    I would have to say it's not just Zen centers that are this way!

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    Thank you for the feedback. I see from the link that Aloka pasted that Brad Warner was wondering about this too. Our teacher got long winded at the after-sit discussion, so I didn't get to ask him tonight. One of the other members said that the Buddha statue was there simply to remind us that we are the Buddha. It is us. And I guess the little altar deal is there just to hold the statue up. The so called altar is no more than a small wooden table with the statue in the center, and two incense holders on either side.

    It was sort of a serendipity type question, as people had been out in the back moving a 3' tall Buddha head (can't remember what it's called, but this one is more Asian looking, w/ the short cropped curly hair) from it's old spot in the backyard to under the outdoor meditation area that we're slowly building. That one I like, as it's outdoor sculpture, but for some reason I feel differently about the small Buddha inside the meditation hall.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by lisehull View Post
    I would have to say it's not just Zen centers that are this way!
    Yes indeed, I doubt Zen shrine rooms and rituals are as complex as in Tibetan Buddhism!






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    Forums Member Dharma Dave's Avatar
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    Hi

    I always remember the first Zen (Chan) retreat I went to, and the teacher said in the meditation hall that the statue of the Buddha is a symbol, and the hall was a laboratory of the mind. (Interestingly -oratory being a place of spiritual practice). Some people may or may not agree with that, but it certainly resonated with me. BTW the hall was very basic and very little in terms of elaboration.


    Why do rituals? I think there's a lot answers to that question. There's always going to be potential attachment to rituals, but then so can any human activity. I'm not big on rituals myself but I can see value in them and do participate. I personal think that it can focus the mind, there's the sharing and bonding of the group (Sangha), relating and connection with the Dharma lineage that provides roots to the practice, communication/transmission beyond words, and probably many other things that I haven't thought about or considered. And bowing to the Buddha is pretty symbolic, not as Buddha being a superior being, but letting go of our false sense of self/ego, and as mentioned bowing to your own Buddha nature.
    Last edited by Dharma Dave; 22 Sep 18 at 14:24.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dharma Dave View Post
    Hi

    I always remember the first Zen (Chan) retreat I went to, and the teacher said in the meditation hall that the statue of the Buddha is a symbol, and the hall was a laboratory of the mind. (Interestingly -oratory being a place of spiritual practice). Some people may or may not agree with that, but it certainly resonated with me. BTW the hall was very basic and very little in terms of elaboration.


    Why do rituals? I think there's a lot answers to that question. There's always going to be potential attachment to rituals, but then so can any human activity. I'm not big on rituals myself but I can see value in them and do participate. I personal think that it can focus the mind, there's the sharing and bonding of the group (Sangha), relating and connection with the Dharma lineage that provides roots to the practice, communication/transmission beyond words, and probably many other things that I haven't thought about or considered. And bowing to the Buddha is pretty symbolic, not as Buddha being a superior being, but letting go of our false sense of self/ego, and as mentioned bowing to your own Buddha nature.
    An interesting answer. I no longer go to the Buddhist Centre I went to for fifteen years or so, but have fond memories of the rituals there, which helped me connect with the Dharma and to bond with the group. When it is done without excessive attachment it is a positive thing.There is a story about burning the Buddha, where a monk burned a wooden statue to keep warm and stay alive through the night. Being told off for doing this he said that not burning the statue at need would have been the height of folly and an insult to Buddhism.

    My thought is that so many people in the West are removed from the positive experiences of ritual that they could usefully go through such practice at least once in their lives. We maybe need to 'unburn' the Buddha sometimes.

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    Forums Member KathyLauren's Avatar
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    The robes are similarly functional. Military forces wear uniforms, in part to distinguish friend from foe, but mostly to deprive the members of their individuality. If you cannot choose your hairstyle or your clothes, you are forced to abandon any attachment to those choices. It is similar for monks, and, I presume, for Zen priests. The robes are their uniform.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

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