Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Chaps' Dharma Talk - Buddhist Worship Materials
Recently I added a list of "Where to Find Buddhist Materials" to this blog. Often, as solitary Buddhists in the military, we have to look for and purchase our own Buddhist worship materials, versus using materials that are available at a temple. It is a fair bet that your base chapel or chaplain may not have any Buddhist materials available (hopefully this may change in the future, and it doesn't hurt to ask). This talk is to help give guidance for Buddhists interested in performing lay services where they are stationed, or doing solitary practice or meditation.
Most Buddhists utilize some type of worship items during a formal service. Chaplain Somya Malasri and I agree on these basic items:
1) Buddha Statue or Picture
2) Offering Set (plates and cups)
3) Meditation Bell
4) Incense & Burner
5) Fruit and Flower Offerings (or other suitable items but no meats)
7) Meditation Cushion
8) Books (for chanting and or reading)
These items may vary in size and design depending on the form of Buddhism practiced, and obviously some items may not be practical or available in every place and situation. For example, during my shipboard meditation service, I can use the bell, cushions, and incense, but I leave out the rest as I treat meditation as something everyone can participate in, whether they are Buddhist or not. The bell and the smell of the incense provides a calming and relaxing environment in which to have "quiet time" even though it can get quite noisy (as Navy ships are)!
However, for a formal Buddhist worship service, it would be best to have at the minimum a Buddha image and books from which a lay person could read from or chant aloud. If it is possible to have all of the above, then the items should be arranged according to the above picture, with the devotional image at the center. These items should be handled with respect and care; sutra books should not be placed on the floor or on a chair (this is considered disrepectful of the Buddha's words). Not only is this proper etiquette, but also these items are not inexpensive!
In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, many lay Buddhists have their own home altar (o-butsudan or gohonzon), in which these and other items, such as family pictures, are placed in. They come in many different sizes, so it is also possible to find a suitable sized one for your room or home. This provides a "sacred space" in which to sit and practice. It is also possible for you to be creative and design your own altar space.
Of course, there are some places where you may have none of these items, which is also OK: having no worship materials is not a barrier to practicing Buddha-dharma. All that you are required to bring is you yourself!
If anyone has any suggestions on Buddhist materials or stories on how they can be utilized in the field or on base, please share them here!
Namo Amida Butsu