Monthly Archives: January 2017

Use of Ritual

Each morning, the first thing I do is: I step out of bed, put my hands together in a ritual gesture before a statue of Kuan Yin, and I say this gatha:
“These twenty-four brand new hours, may be my last.
I vow – together with all beings – to live them fully,
and look on others with eyes of compassion.”

I am speak this from my body, with awareness in my body, so that I’m not simply mouthing empty words. As the Buddha suggested, in the Mindfulness Sutta, I am knowing the body in the body.
Remember, the meaning of words (and the meaning of our rituals) is what they do in us, how they shift our state of being. I check inwardly, after saying my little verse (which I adapted, if not took, from Thich Nhat Hanh), to see how the ritual has changed my body. Has it brought me home to the greater field in which I have my being, or what is it doing? I am waking up to more than the simple fact of the day: I’m inviting myself, first thing, to acknowledge the primordial quality of Being. Being is my ground. And, ‘together with all beings’ invites the bodily knowledge that this ground is the ground of everyone.

(I’m reminded, as I write this, of the marvellous words of English mystic Thomas Traherne (1636/1637 – 1674):
You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you.)

My wife Joyce suggested an addition to my ritual, using a small glass bowl of water. Joyce shared with our local Year to Live group, that Rachel Naomi Remen, in her book My Grandfather’s Blessings, offers us a daily ritual that comes from Tibetan culture. Remen writes:
As the bowl fills, you reflect on the particulars of your life, whatever they are. The people with whom you share your time, your state of health, whatever problems you face, what skills and strengths you have, your disappointments and successes, your worries, your personal gifts, your personal limitations, your home, all your possessions, your losses, your history as a human being. As the bowl fills, you receive your life open-heartedly and unconditionally as your portion.

So, each morning I empty a small bowl into my plants, and I attentively refill it to the brim with water, reminding myself of Naomi Remen’s words. I also say a gatha of my own:
This water – from high in the sky, deep under the earth,
high in the mountains, deep under the sea –
this water runs through all beings, this water runs through me.
May I completely realise the Tathāgata’s true meaning.

The Tathāgata’s ‘true meaning’ refers to the core meaning that the Nikāya Buddha was pointing to, which is none other than this very life: breathing, pouring the water, saying the gatha, beginning the day; committing to awakening to true nature, endlessly.

I haven’t always seen the wisdom in ritual. But in the late nineties, my relationship to ritual took a powerful turn, after I read David Michael Levin’s wonderful philosophical book,The Body’s Recollection of Being (1985). In it, he conveyed that the purpose of ritual is to put our body into a a felt gesture that invites the felt sense of Being. So, for me, the ‘object’ is never ‘over there’; the statue to which I bow, for example, is in me and in the between. I’m activating interactive awareness. I am bowing to this big Being which we all participate in, to retrieve my connection to it, via the being of my bowing body. This body participates in Being. Human being can be a verb, not a noun phrase.

In the case of this particular ritual, too – with “These twenty-four brand new hours, may be my last” – I am retrieving the true life of death. Where else does death have any reaity, than in my body – on my bowing body, saying my gatha? I am putting myself in the gesture of being “100% for life and death” (as the late Robert Aitken Roshi put it), an inward orientation which I take into my day in all its activities.

Here’s one sentence from Levin’s book – written, of course, in a philosopher’s diction. I start it off, by saying something firstly in my own language, which is: By the gift of com-bodiment,* ancient seeds in our bodies respond to the ritual gestures, sprouting spontaneously:
“from the body’s primordial participation in the wholeness of the field of Being, bearing within them the symbolic power to help us retrieve, from the depth of our own embodiment, the existential meaning of an authentic ontological understanding.”
He means that, as beings, we can dwell in an understanding of our belonging in/to/as Being. Anyhow, it’s a good way to arrive back from the bardo of dreams, into the bardo of waking awareness. May I, upon my waking into any bardo, whenever, be 100% with and for all beings.
____________________
* “The primordial participation in the wholeness of the field of Being,” I think, deserves a better word than ’embody.’ ”To ’em-body’ is to put something into a body. ‘Com-‘ says that something is ‘with’ the body. It’s there to be revealed. You might want to read Akira Ikemi’s Responsive Combodiment paper on this, stored at the Focusing Institute.

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