Buddhism “Nichiren Shoshu”
The place, where I observe the ritual, is called Nichiren Shoshu Myosenji Temple. It is located in Washington. The religion that is preached there is Buddhism. There I found much interesting information about some general traditions and rituals connected with this religion. Moreover, while observing particularly one ritual, I analyzed such issues as the sacred space, sacred objects, sacred times, and sacred persons. These observations help me a lot in general understanding of Buddhism as one of the main religions in the world. If to pay attention to the brochure of this temple, we may find there all organizational material. There is the schedule of lectures, ceremonies, and different rituals. For instance, one of the lectures is called “What is Karma? Lecture by Chief Priest, Rev Murata”. Besides, there are rubrics about traditions, videos, and blogs. Personally I had a chance to attend one of the Head Temples of Nichiren Shoshu. I would like to analyze some particular elements of the ritual, which I observed.
The first and foremost goes the sacred space. There is a huge temple that is made in all traditions of Buddhism. There are many symbols and decors, which correspond to that religion. The territory is filled with beautiful landscapes. Speaking about the ritual of chanting, it takes place outside the territory. The shape of the territory is an oval. It seems that you are in the center of everything. The important fact is that there are many wooden constructions. Besides, we may find many stones, and the fencing also is made of them. No artificial or imitative materials were put in the construction, and visitors may immediately understand and see this. Among the wonderful landscape, we may find small ponds and exotic trees. In other words, there is something in the atmosphere that charms from the very beginning. The open space chanting helps people to relax and feel the connection with nature, feel how close they are to it.
Space encourages interaction between and among the persons present. It does not limit this interaction. During my visit, I realized that in this temple even the atmosphere itself inspires to communication. It makes the visitors realize how close all people on the Earth are. It helps to find some similar points of view and to come to the same understanding.
Actually, it is not hard to understand why space creates such interaction between people. It happens because of the same belief in something or someone. This is what makes us united. There is one scared space that draws more attention. It is the temple, which is located in the center of the territory. I consider this place special because almost all ceremonies and rituals take place there. It is believed that this particular place is fulfilled with holiness.
From the excursus about Buddhism and its sacred spaces I learned that there are boundaries that demarcate the most sacred spaces from the less sacred ones. First of all, to indicate the sacred space, there has to be a stupa, as it marks Buddha’s life. Another type of sacred space is the mountain. It is believed that the mountain is the place, where heaven and earth meet. In order to say that the particular temple is sacred, there also have to be statues of deities and religious paintings. In order to classify one of the temples as a sacred one, there have to be brilliant ceilings, rooftops, and passageways. Besides, important elements are small lakes, rock gardens, and old trees. The sacred space helps to focus attention on sacred times and sacred persons.
The second issue that I would like to depict is sacred objects. During the ritual, there were used several objects. First of all, in “opening of the eyes” ceremony, there were used beads. The prayer beads are the Buddhist implements that help the common mortals advance in their Buddhist practice. Every person can have his or her own beads, and he or she has to use them with respect. Moreover, at the very beginning of the ritual, the monk beats the golden tin. It symbolizes the beginning of the ceremony. However, it is worth mentioning that beads are the most sacred objects. It is believed that they have a huge power. Nevertheless, there is one more sacred object in this ritual, the memorial book at the altar. No one is allowed to take this book, only the priests.
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One more object is a candle, especially white. It is the symbol of wisdom, or even of the truth. During the ritual every person may have candles. However, the main candle should be in the priest’s hands. Incense shows the property of the law, the truth, to which Buddha is enlightened. An evergreen shows physical properties of Buddha’s life. The three together are called ‘mitsu-gusoku’, or three accessories. During the ceremony, where I was present, there was also a memorial tablet, which takes the shape and form of five levels. Every of the levels symbolizes the earth, fire, water, space, and wind. Nichiren Daishonin taught that all phenomena in the universe were constructed of these five elements. This sacred object is available only for priests. All the sacred objects fulfill the whole atmosphere of holiness. They are used during the ritual by the monks.
Sacred time is also considered to be important issue in the ritual. Speaking about the notion of time in Buddhism, I have to mention such thing as samsara. It also took place in the rituals that I observed. Samsara is a cycle of death and birth; this cycle is believed to be endless. However, there is the way out or escape from this endless circle, the so-called nirvana. In other words, in Buddhism, sacred time is very close to the notion of nirvana, and the main similarity between them is that it is beyond the ordinary time, the time, in which people are living.
In the ritual, which was observed by me, there was that sacred time. People were trying to leave the ordinary time and to reach sacred time. For this purpose they used many techniques and sacred objects. For instance, they used three types of candles, about which I have written above. Besides, the beads are also considered to be one of the ways to get the sacred time. The ritual was held on Sunday at two o’clock. There is a special sign when the ritual begins and ends as the priest beat three times in a golden tin. The sound that is made is very loud so that everyone can easily hear it.
The ritual takes approximately two hours. It was agreed with the monks and priests when the schedule had been made up. There is a pattern to the sacred time, and this is a balloon. The form of the balloon is not stable. In a moment we may put some air in it or fill it with helium and it will get a beautiful round form. However, we also may impale it. I understood that if we put emptiness in this imaginary balloon, we change the form and the same is in case we remove it. Obviously, we cannot see this emptiness as well as we cannot see the sacred space. However, the shape and the form of the balloon changes immediately.
There are some sacred actions, which are performed by everyone during the ritual. I must admit that such a performance looks really wonderful. For instance, I saw how all the people, who were present during the ceremony, were sitting in the same position. Their hands and heads were moving simultaneously in the same way. Besides, all these people were repeating the same phrases, which they knew by heart, together. When one observes such a picture, he or she immediately wants to join all the rest, as it seems to be so majestic.
Nevertheless, there are some actions that are performed only by sacred people. For instance, only the priest himself can ignite these three candles in the ritual may. Besides, the process of cleaning the Karma is also the priest’s action. During the ritual, the sacred persons are trying to do everything together with people who came to see the ritual. However, the altar and everything what is going there are secret actions. As for me, it is logically, as the monks cannot show all the holiness of the ritual or the ceremony to everyone. There has to be something spiritual, this is how the priests themselves represent it.
There are actions that focus on an individual, on the particular person. They call it ‘the process of cleaning the Karma’. During this part of the ritual, the main function of which is to release the person from negative thoughts, aura, and fortune, the priests are reading their memorable book standing around this person. This meeting lasts for about an hour. The sacred persons believe that after they conducted the ritual, the person’s mind and thoughts become clean. As a result, the life of this person becomes easier. I watched this ritual, however, did not try it. That is why cannot tell whether it works or not.
Buddhism through its believers helps the community to grow. All the actions Buddhism are made together. During the ritual, people do not only make the same sounds or pronounce the same words. They do not only sit in the same position. However, more than that, many times during the ritual they hold each other’s hands. Besides, the lectures that are conducted there are also closely connected with the community life. There are some actions, in which sacred objects are involved. Actually, one of these objects is beads. Every person has his or her own beads, which he or she holds in hands during the ritual. As far as I understood, this is the only sacred thing that has to be in hands during the whole ritual.
Speaking about sacred persons, there is a central priest. This person plays the main role during the ritual. Actually, even the clothes that he wears differ from those of other priests. It is so to indicate that difference, so that the attention is on him. The sacred persons interact with other members. It may be observed during the ritual.
In order to describe the sacred persons, I have to mention that their community and the principles of life are very clearly classified. For instance, they have groups, in which they are subdivided. Besides, a schedule helps them to organize their work. Sacred people control the use of sacred time and sacred actions. To do this, they create the community, which is subdivided into groups, and make up a schedule.
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After observing the ritual, I received much new information. Now I started to understand better the main principles of Buddhism. This religion has many traditions, ceremonies, and rituals, which have very deep meaning. More than that, I decided to visit this Temple again next year, as there will be some new rituals. All the sacred objects, places, and time also have their own meaning. The religion with its rituals and unknown notions differs from other religions. I realize that from time to time people have to observe such rituals that differ from their religion. Such rituals are something new, interesting, and full of belief in spiritual.