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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
RICHARD PAYNE 79 doing it without losing track of what one is doing and mentally wandering away from the practice means performing a ritual action while at the same time attending both to how that action is being performed—proper pronunciation of the mantra, for example—and the number of times one has performed it, whether twenty-one times for this mantra at this point in the ritual or 108 times for the same mantra at another point. The dichotomy between meditation and ritual is one of the very tenacious dualisms maintained in contemporary Buddhist discourse, going back to the representations of Buddhism promoted around the beginning of the twentieth century. Generally, one finds meditation uncritically treated as positive and beneficial, while ritual is either a waste of time or, even more strongly, condemned as detrimental to true practice. There have been some attempts to resuscitate ritual for contemporary Buddhism, giving it a positive value. But the fact that some teachers feel the need to make efforts to validate Buddhist ritual practice is itself indicative of the dominant preconceptions that the only valid form of practice is silent seated meditation. This notion that because ritual is repetitive it necessarily impedes spontaneity and freedom is not unique to Western Buddhists. It is a widely shared belief in American popular religious culture. The leg- acy of Freud’s equation of ritual with obsessive-compulsive disorder also lingers as a negative value judgment about ritual. But the reality is quite the contrary. The process of systematic training and thor- ough learning of a ritual procedure allows one to be even more fully present in the moment. Like practicing jump shots in basketball or scales on the piano until they are fully present in one’s body, repeti- tive practice of ritual opens up the experience to an awareness of the moment in which one can be free, spontaneous, and fully present. the history In Western culture, the dualism that is assumed to exist between ritual and meditation, and the values placed on each of the two— meditation good, ritual bad—is a very long-standing way of thinking about the nature of religion. The clearest origin of the dichotomy stretches back to the sixteenth century, the era of the Protestant Reformation. Many of the Protestant Reformers argued