Benefits of Rituals
In Nichiren Shu, as well as in possibly all religions there are certain rituals that are performed as a part of the practice of that religion. Form some people these rituals can seem to be limiting. There may come times when we think to ourselves, why do we do the same thing over and over; nothing seems to change, or it is boring why don’t we do something differently.
In Buddhism we have a destination in mind as a reason for our practice. That destination is enlightenment. The Buddha revealed the destination through his own personal practice.
First he became aware of a reason for practice, that is to seek out a way to eliminate the sufferings of life. Next he realized that the answer was not to be found by continuing to lead a life of comfort and ease in the palace with his father. He abandoned his former life as a prince and set out to practice austerities in the forests. After several years of enduring harsh deprivations he sat beneath the Bodhi tree and became the awakened one we call the Buddha.
If we think of our Buddhist practice, the practice of attaining enlightenment, in terms of a guide and a traveler we can see that as a traveler we need to have a destination or goal in mind. Today when we wish to travel some place many people frequently reach for their GPS device and program in their destination then follow the directions provided. We think noting of doing this, it is ordinary, it is reasonable.
We do the same thing in our religious practice. We decide upon a destination, whether it is heaven or enlightenment. Then we find an appropriate GPS device and follow the directions provided.
In religious practice we replace our electronic GPS device with the instructions provided by previous travelers, such as teachers who have laid out a map for us to use as travel instructions.
“I once was attached to wrong views, and became a teacher of the aspirants for the teaching of Brahman. You expounded to me the teaching of Nirvana, and removed my wrong views because you understood me.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter III)
In Nichiren Buddhism our guides, our teachers are such people as Nichiren and others before him from which he drew upon when he studied. In other words they are teachers who have made a deep spiritual journey. Since the time of the Buddha they serve as our guide by outlining a way to practice a formula or ritual.
The ritual serves as an initial structure upon which we can build our own spiritual experience. We use ritual as a starting place, given to us so we do not have to start from scratch as we begin our practice. As time goes on we learn more and we can then expand upon the basic foundation that was given to us by our teachers.
It is much the same in many of life’s endeavors. We might think of our practice as being in the world of action that helps us enter into the world of spirit. There is safety as we enter the world of spirit from action because there is a guide. When we lift weights, in order to do so we have a spotter someone who can assist us if we were to get into trouble. If it is scuba diving, sky diving, rock climbing, the list could be endless but in order to be safe, in order to gain the necessary expertise we seek out good teachers who will guide us as we learn our way.
Rituals can serve to open the window of opportunity, which is different from taking advantage of a window of opportunity already opened – the trick is that they open the window but they are not the window in itself. Rituals should and can serve to expand ones experience and transcendence – not limit them.
In our lives we rely on faith for many things. We have faith that the bridge we drive across will not collapse, we have faith in the buildings we inhabit or work in. We have faith in our cars. Faith is to some degree a relinquishing of control to those who have mastered the fine arts of the things we wish to participate in. The same goes for religion. We have faith in the teachers and the teachings and we realize that we may not have mastered all there is to know and we trust in teachers to instruct us.
Because you know all of the facts of something doesn’t mean you have significantly changed your inner core of life. Having accumulated information does not equate to having made a significant advance in actualizing change. Ritual can help us transform information into actualization. Rituals can facilitate a transcendence from knowledge about something to actually manifesting the benefit of that knowledge.
“These people manifested by my supernatural powers will hear the Dharma from him, receive it by faith, follow it, and not oppose it.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter X)
As we chant the sutra and the Odaimoku we, even briefly, suspend our intellect to make space for the spirit to emerge and connect with the knowledge.