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Buddhism: Ritual and Devotion

Buddhism is a path of transformation. This means that it is not enough to understand it intellectually. Following the Buddhist path means that we must engage the emotions and the imagination. To have that emotional engagement means having devotion or faith, and ritual is a way of directly engaging the emotions.

Buddhist rituals usually consist of three main elements: recitation, chanting and the making of offerings. The verses recited are usually associated with the principal tenets and ideals of Buddhism; and they give expression to the spiritual aspiration which makes someone a Buddhist. Buddhists usually chant in either Pali or Sanskrit and chanting is a way of forging an emotional connection with emotional Buddhist ideals. Sometimes Buddhists chant mantras, Sanskrit phrases which are believed to be the verbal expressions of Enlightenment. Offerings usually consist of flowers, symbolizing both beauty and impermanence; candles, symbolizing the radiance of Enlightenment; and incense which pervades the air in the same way that the truth as experienced by the Buddha pervades the universe.

The Threefold Puja

1. Opening Reverence

We reverence the Buddha,
The Perfectly Enlightened One,
The Shower of the Way,
We reverence the Dharma,
The Teaching of the Buddha,
Which leads from darkness to light,
We reverence the Sangha,
The fellowship of the Buddha's disciples,
That inspires and guides.

2. Offerings to the Buddha

Reverencing the Buddha, we offer flowers:

Flowers that today are fresh and sweetly blooming,
Flowers that tomorrow are faded and fallen.
Our bodies too, like flowers, will pass away.

Reverencing the Buddha, we offer candles:

To him who is the light, we offer light.

From his greater lamp a lesser lamp we light within us:

The lamp of Bodhi shining within our hearts.

Reverencing the Buddha, we offer incense:

incense whose fragrance pervades the air.
The fragrance of the perfect life, sweeter than incense
Spreads in all directions throughout the world

3. Reverence to the Three Jewels

We reverence the Buddha, and aspire to follow him.
The Buddha was born as we are born.
What the Buddha attained we too can attain
What the Buddha overcame we too can overcome.
We reverence the Dharma, and aspire to follow it
With body, speech and mind, until the end.
The truth in all its aspects, the path in all its stages,
We aspire to study, practise, realise.
We reverence the Sangha, and aspire to follow it;
The fellowship of those who tread the way.
As, one by one, we make our own commitment,
An ever-widening circle, the Sangha grows.

Many forms of ritual have developed over the history of Buddhism, ranging from the simple recitation of a few verses to complex and lengthy ceremonies. Such practices are multi-faceted, often involving the simultaneous recitation of verses of worship, physical activity, the conscious development of positive emotional states, and the mental creation of images and sounds. In this way they bring about a harmony of body, speech, and mind.

For these reasons ritual and devotional practices known as puja form a part of the life of the FWBO. These practices include recitation of the verses expressing spiritual commitment known as the Refuges and Precepts. As well as these there are several liturgies taken from traditional sources or, as in the case of the Threefold Puja alongside, composed more recently.

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