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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
summer 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 43 the dharma must be danced John daido loori says that for ritual to function, we must engage it wholeheartedly. RITUAL IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF ALL LIFE—not only the life of human beings but every kind of life, from bees, wolves, cats, birds, insects, and worms right down to bacteria. Ritualistic behavior is an inherent aspect of social interaction. But many Americans come from religious traditions in which the experience of liturgy has become little more than a collection of meaningless gestures and rituals. Because it does not fit into our scientific reference system, our tendency may be to reject it outright. We seem, in fact, to be a culture with distinctly polarized reactions to liturgy. While on one end there are those who become very attached to the forms, at the other extreme are those who adamantly reject everything even remotely resembling religious ritual. Yet in actuality, whether we realize it or not, we are immersed in secular ritual all the time. From the United States Senate to the Marine Corps to baseball fans enjoying a game at the stadium, there is a liturgical identification between the people and the events in which they are involved. Generally defined, liturgy can be considered an affirmation or restatement of the common experience of a community. In theistic religions, liturgy reaffirms one’s relationship with God. In Christianity this is expressed through an emphasis on one’s relationship with Jesus, while in Judaism there is a focus on reconnecting the individual with the teachings of the Old Testament. In Zen, the question of a divine being is not central; instead, the emphasis is on the ground of being, buddhanature, which is not separate from the nature of the self. All of Zen’s rites and rituals are constantly pointing to the same place, to the realization of no separation between the self and the ten thousand things. Zen liturgy is upaya, skillful means. Like zazen and all the other areas of our training, it functions as a way of uncovering the truth that is the life of each one of us. Skillful means are necessary because each one of us, just as we are, is already perfect and complete. We lack nothing. What we seek is exactly where we stand. But knowing this doesn’t do anything. It is not a matter of knowing; it has to be realized as the functioning of our lives. For practice to function, for liturgy to function, it must first be engaged wholeheartedly. Practice is whole body and mind. Just imitating the honchos, aping the form—this is not Zen. Zen training is neither rebelling nor conforming. What is it, then? All of this upaya, all of the teaching, every aspect of the liturgy, is a secret. It is the secret to world peace being revealed in the eighty-four-thousand subtle gestures that comprise our practice. It is the secret to social transformation, ecological harmony, marriage, and relationships; the secret to raising children, dancing, chopping wood, and carrying water. The secret is this incredible dharma dance called life. But it must be danced to be realized. It is not the words that describe it. It is not the ideas we have about it. It is the thing itself. The dance, the bow, the voice. This is not an empty exhibition of form. It is the actualization of the buddhas and ancestors of the past, present, and future. Adapted from “liturgy: Making Visible the Invisible” in the Zen Mountain Monastery Liturgy Manual from Dharma Communications, 1998. If we demean or abandon ritualized traditions and stylized forms of practice, we make ourselves susceptible to seeing only our own views. —Thanissara PHOTO | roland schmid