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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
ONE SUMMER IN THE EARLY SEVENTIES, I spent a week as a guest trainee at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. The experience was the focal point of an extension course offered by the University of California, Santa Cruz. In the classes leading up to the main event, our instructor, Jack Weller, stressed the progressive character of Zen training. By this he hadn’t meant some romantic notion of spiritual progress into increasingly ethereal states of consciousness, but rather the way that the training moved progressively off the cushion and out into one’s activities in the world. One key element in fostering that progression from seated meditation to ordinary activities was ritual. Everything from the formal procedure for entering the medi- tation hall to the specific way one practices walking meditation to more elaborate rituals and ceremonies, such as the master ascending the altar to give teachings, is a part of that progressive training. In the decades since, I’ve studied a wide variety of meditation practices, spanning from Insight to Dzogchen. Understanding that meditation is not, in fact, disconnected from either ritual or ordinary activity, but instead part of a spectrum, provided a constant and valuable frame for understanding the variety of Buddhist practices I encountered. Most important for my own practice and academic studies, it provided a way of understanding the ritual practice of Shingon, a tantric tradition of Japan. About a decade after my week at Tassajara, I entered training for the Shingon Buddhist priesthood In Defense of Ritual Richard Payne BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 77 photo | David Gabriel Fischer