Category Archives: Buddhist Chanting

Namo Earth Store Bodhisattva


 

Sutra of the Past Vows of EARTH STORE BODHISATTVA

with commentary on Sutra by Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua < click for entire Sutra

 

Namo Earth Store Bodhisattva

The Buddha told Empty Space Store Bodhisattva, “Listen attentively, listen attentively, I shall enumerate and describe them to you. If there are good men and women in the future who see Earth Store’s image, or who hear this sutra or read or recite it; who use incense, flowers, food and drink, clothing, or gems as offerings; or if they praise, behold, and worship him, they shall attain twenty-eight kinds of advantages:

“If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? … if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi.” -Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha

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Only One Heart -Master Hsu Yun


Only One Heart -Master Hsu Yun

Gaze into the Emptiness, the illusory changings of this world.
Enter the Emptiness. Others have. It’s not so hard.
Is there any place that’s unreachable when you make the effort?
Don’t be left behind because you’ve confused yourself over this.

Here! Let me rap you on the head with my stick!
Shut up, foolish face! Stop talking a minute!
Don’t be so quick to argue!
The mystery is so exquisite! It can’t be discussed!

Yes, I recite the Buddha’s name… or is the Buddha reciting mine?
What’s the recitation for anyway?
There’s only One Heart and It’s in the Pure Land.
The Buddha is my own True Nature.

The Buddha and me! We’re one, not two. So are you!
You’re chanting to this? You are this!
Come, hold on to this reality! Don’t be swept away into illusion.
History is an endless lie.

Let today be the day that the clouds and fog lift.
Don’t let a wisp of them remain.
Let your body live here, but keep your spirit evanescent.
See that when it’s free,
It can’t be bogged down into those old familiar ruts

Sutra Chanting by Han-shan


I see people chanting a sutra
Who depend on its words for their ability to speak
Their mouths move but their hearts do not
Their hearts and mouths oppose each other
Yet the heart’s true nature is without conflict
So don’t get all tangled up in the words
Learn to know your own bodily self
Don’t look for something else to take its place
Then you’ll become the boss of your mouth
Knowing full well there’s no inside or out.

– Han Shan (730)

The Rituals and Festivals of the Buddhist Life by Robert C. Lester


The Rituals and Festivals of the Buddhist Life
by Robert C. Lester

Daily and Periodic Rituals

Merit is made and shared through daily, periodic, and special rituals and yearly festivals. Morning and evening services of chanting or worship take place in every monastery, temple, and home. With the placing of flowers and the lighting of candles and incense before a Buddha-image or some other symbol of the presence of the Buddha, monks chant together and the lay family offers a prayer. The flowers, beautiful one moment and wilted the next, remind the offerers of the impermanence of life; the odor of the incense calls to their mind the sweet scent of moral virtue that emanates from those who are devout; the candle-flame symbolizes enlightenment.

 

The central daily rite of lay Buddhism is the offering of food. Theravada laity make this offering to the monks. Mahayana laity make it to the Buddha as part of the morning or evening worship. In both settings merit is shared.

The weekly Observance Day rituals at the Theravada monastery are opportunities for both laity and monks to quicken faith, discipline, and understanding, and make and share merit. On these days, twice each month, the monks change and reaffirm the code of discipline. On all of these days, they administer the Eight Precepts to the gathered laity, the laity repeating them after the monks and offer a sermon on the Dharma. The monks our water to transfer merit to the laity; the laity pour water to share this merit with their ancestors.

Zen monks twice each month gather in the Buddha-hall of their head temple and chant for the welfare of the Japanese people. Pure Land Buddhist congregate at the temple once each week to praise Amida.

Rites of Passage

There are special rituals to mark, protect, and bless the occasions of major life transitions. They publicly mark and protect times of passage from one status to another times of unusual vulnerability such as birth, birthdays, coming of age, marriage, the entering into a new house, and death. Monks preside over ordinations, funerals, and death commemoration rites. In the Theravada tradition, ordination is a puberty or coming-of-age rite. Theravada monks also preside over birthday and new-house blessing rites. Ex-monks elders in the lay community perform the rituals for childbirth and marriage.

In Japanese Pure Land, the lay priest presides over rituals of the first presentation of a child at the temple, confirmation of boys and girls at the age of puberty, and death. Japanese Buddhists undertake marriage at the Shinto shrine, presided over by Shinto priests.

Yearly Festivals

Buddhists everywhere celebrate the New Year and the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. The beginning of a new year is, generally, a time for “taking stock” of one’s karma, cleansing, and well-wishing. In Theravada communities the New Year is celebrated in mid-April on the lunar calendar and lasts for two or three days. The laity ritually bathe the Buddha-images and sprinkle water on the monks and the elders, showing respect and offering good wishes. The monks chant blessings on the laity, and together they share the merit of the occasion with the dead. The New Year appropriately begins at the end of the dry season and the beginning of new life in nature. The pouring of water is not only an honoring of the Buddha, the monks, the elders, and the dead but also an offering for plentiful rain and prosperity in the days to come. In Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, the laity build sand mounds (stupas) at the monastery or on the bank of the river. Each grain of sand represents a demerit, and placing the grains in the monastery or letting them be washed away by the river symbolizes a cleansing from bad deeds. Bringing sand to the monastery also serves to renew the floor of the compound.

Zen and Pure Land Buddhists celebrate the New Year on the Western calendar. This is an occasion for Zen monks to publicly read large volumes of sacred sutras, thereby sending out cleansing and enlivening sound waves for the benefit of all beings. Pure Land Buddhist hold special services at the temple twice daily in praise of the Buddha Amida.

Theravada Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha on the same day the full moon of May, called Vaisakha. In Sri Lanka, it is a festival of lights, and house, gardens, and streets are decorated with lanterns. It is not a major festival in other Theravada countries, but, occurring on an Observance Day, it is at least an occasion for special food offerings to the monks and more than the usual devotion to keeping the moral precepts.

Japanese Buddhist celebrate the Buddha’s birth, death, and enlightenment on different days of the year: the birth on April 8, the enlightenment on December 8, and the death on February 15. The birth celebration, Hanamatsuri, is a flower festival and time for ritually bathing images of the Buddha. Enlightenment Day (Bodhi) and Death Day (Nehan [Nirvana]), are simply occasions for social worship.

Theravada Buddhists mark the beginning and end of the rain-retreat, which generally coincide with the beginning and end of the rains. They conclude the year with a harvest festival. Theravada monks enter rain-retreat on the full moon of either June or July. The three- or four-month period is a time of relative austerity for both laity and monks.

The monks remain in the monastery, spending more than the usual time in study and meditation. No marriages or public entertainments occur in the lay community and the laity are more devout in their attendance of Observance Day ceremonies and in their daily food offerings. The Observance Day on which rain-retreat commences is generally occasion for the entire lay community to offer food and many more than usual undertake to spend the day at the monastery, keeping the monastic precepts.

The full-moon observance with which the rain-retreat ends is much like that with which it begins, with the exception that the monks gather privately and invite each other to point out infractions of the monastic code during the retreat period. The mood of this observance is a happy one the rains have ended (usually), the monks may again move about, and public celebrations are in order. The month that follows, mid-October to mid-November, is the time for Kathina, the offering of cloth from which the monks prepare new robes. Kathina offerings are typically a group effort of an entire village, a lay association for merit making, a government agency, or the employees of a prominent commercial establishment. Typically, the group approaches the monastery in joyful procession. Upon arrival, the presiding monk administers the Five Precepts to the laity, receives the cloth, and declares the great merit of such offerings. The monks jointly chant a blessing verse and the laity pour water, symbolically transferring apportion of the merit to the ancestors.

Theravada Buddhist honor and transfer merit to their ancestors on every occasion of merit making and sharing. Japanese Buddhist give special honor and merit to their ancestors three times each year: on the spring and autumn equinoxes in March and September and during the month July 15-August 15. The equinox festivals, called Higan, “Other Shore,” mark times of transition in nature and therefore are occasions to reflect on the passage of time and the progress of being toward enlightenment — the other shore.

SOURCE Copyright © 1987 by Robert C. Lester

 

Merits


Transfer of Merit

By Rev. Jisho Perry
Saturday April 10, 2004

The Body of the Buddha permeates the universe;
it manifests itself in front of all of us;
there is no place where it does not so manifest itself;
it does so for every relationship and in all need
yet it is still in its own true place;
the seas of its merit cannot be counted.1

 

The Buddhist practice of transferring merit comes out of the understanding that there is value or merit in our spiritual practice. The law of karma states simply that our actions, all intentional or volitional actions, have a moral and spiritual effect or result. Sometimes these are discussed as good and bad, but this is misleading in that there is no judgment in the impersonal workings of the law of karma. We frequently discuss the harmful effects because they are so painfully evident as suffering in our daily lives. We want to learn how to deal effectively with this suffering and convert it into understanding so as not to continue the endless cycle of birth and death. Since enlightened action leaves no wake, it frequently goes unnoticed. We do not often see or discuss the actions that cause merit or good karma. It is also important to note that actions that tend to cause good karma, if done for the selfish purpose of getting a spiritual reward may have an effect that will not necessarily appear to the recipient as if it were a reward. I remember a story from India about the various effects of those who removed a banana peel from a path. Of course the one who carelessly left it there or those who ignored it got no reward; the man who carefully removed it for the purpose of receiving a reward was reborn in a less fortunate state, while the playful child who, almost unconsciously, kicked it aside was saved from being struck by a tumbling stone on the very same path in a future birth. The sage, who moved it aside without thought of reward or punishment, just doing what needs to be done, received the highest reward of spiritual blessings.2 From this it is important to see that the physical action is not the chief factor in the workings of the law of karma, but rather the state of mind of the actor at the time of the acting. It is also important that we do not perform spiritual service for the purpose of some selfish reward. The Buddhist act of transferring the merit of services expresses the desire for selfless service. The Tibetan ( * edited by me : all schools teach ,not just Tibetan Buddhism) Buddhist teach that all suffering is created by the desire to seek pleasure for ourselves while all happiness is created in selfless service to others.

We should know that some actions such as our meditation, religious ceremonies or services, rosary recitation, and all actions done with a pure heart and with the intention of keeping the Precepts result in merit, value or reward. The merit does not make us rich or famous; these things need to be forsaken utterly if we are to know the Truth and have real peace in our lives. The merit we gain is in doing the best we can for the benefit of all living things.

Doing the best we can always entails seeing where we can do better. This is what is meant by “always being disturbed by the Truth.” As we view the imperfections of our actions, we are allowed to see with the eyes of the Buddha:  “That which understands error is not itself in error”3 So one of the merits of our training is to be aware of the places where we need to purify our heart, and if we view this with the eyes of compassion, we will also see that what we have done in the past was the best that we could have done for that time. And now in the present moment, we may be able to do a bit better by acting with greater compassion, love and wisdom.

“The four wisdoms, charity, tenderness, benevolence, and sympathy are the means we have of helping others and represent the Bodhisattva’s aspirations” [Italics added.]4 The transferring of merit is a way of expressing all of the four wisdoms simultaneously. After daily meditation and Morning Service we offer the merit of the service to the Buddhas and Ancestors. In the Ceremony honoring the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteshwara, we offer the merit to the Bodhisattva to further her work of hearing the cries of the world. In the Founder’s Ceremony we are doing a memorial, offering the merit to the founder of the monastery, or church. In addition “we pray that the merits thereof shall not only be given to our founder, but light the way of all who have not yet found the Truth.” In the Midday Service we offer the merits of the ceremony to all so that they may be able to realize the Truth. (A common mistake that is made in reciting this offering is that the word “they” is emphasized as if there were some difference between them and us. Anyone who knows the Truth knows that there is a fundamental unity with all life; although we get individually the results of our past karma, the Buddha’s enlightenment was, is and will always be universal. This is expressed as knowing that all is one and all is different.)  In transferring merit to all, we must first be doing the best meditation we can to act in harmony with the four wisdoms. Thus transferring merit is the gift of our daily services and expresses charity. Instead of doing our meditation and services for our own benefit, we are willing to offer up that merit to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Ancestors to use as best they can. Although charity is usually thought of as giving material possessions, wealth or property to others, it can also be seen in giving our time and energy to help others, and also in our spiritual efforts. The lifelong commitment to selfless service is the reason for Buddhist monasticism. Lay Buddhists express this in the taking of the Precepts at Lay Ordination.

Merit can also be transferred to specific individuals. This is done at the funeral and memorials done for a dead friend or relative. Rosary recitation can also be done for specific people or animals who are in spiritual need, suffering from acute trauma, illness or accident, or who are dying or recently dead. The Ceremony of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts is used as a memorial for those who hunger for the Truth as well as specifically named individuals we wish to be remembered at that time. The transfer of merit can be directed individually, collectively, or both simultaneously. Again it is helpful to keep in mind that “All is one and all is different.”

In or near the meditation or ceremony halls of the temples of our Order are usually found boards with transfer of merit cards giving the name, date and, frequently, the circumstances that inspired the request for the transfer of merit for a person in need of help. Usually there is a tragic death, such as suicide, a person with cancer, one recovering from a major accident, someone who is about to undergo surgery, or is recovering from it, or someone experiencing some major upheaval or difficulty in their life. Drawing our attention to the suffering of others and the transience of all life has in and of itself great merit, and benefits those who feel sympathy and send their thoughts of concern and good wishes to those who are experiencing moments of crisis or intense suffering. There is an exchange here. In giving our concern and sympathy we simultaneously receive much benefit. As Great Master Dogen says, “When ever one speaks kindly to another his face brightens and his heart is warmed; if a kind word be spoken in his absence the impression will be a deep one:  tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.”5 To feel sympathy for the suffering of another and to think tenderly or kindly of him or her is of great value.

Thus in giving merit, we are feeling sympathy, expressing it in a tender fashion and performing an act of charity, thus we have found a wise way of helping others. This is the meaning of benevolence. Acting for the benefit of others without thought of reward for ourselves is another way of understanding benevolence and expressing the Bodhisattva mind. Thus the transfer of merit expresses all four of the wisdoms: charity, sympathy, tenderness and benevolence simultaneously.

Usually, perhaps only in the back of our minds, there is a contract in our gift. This can be expressed as: “I’m going to do this nice thing for you, but you should then do something for me in return.” And frequently when we receive a gift there is a sense of obligation to repay it. Transfer of merit is a gift that does not require repayment. It is enlightened action that leaves no wake. (This image is of the wake of a large boat which, at best, only jostles the boats and people it reaches, and, at worst, overwhelms them.) The idea of repayment comes out of a karmic misunderstanding that pervades the entire human condition. Great Master Keizan explores it thoroughly in Chapter XVII of the Transmission of the Light, [Denkoroku]6, the Story of Kanadaiba meeting Ragorata. A monk had died without receiving the Transmission of the Truth and felt guilty about having received the gifts of the faithful, so he returned as a tree fungus in order to repay the people who, with a pure heart, had offered him food. Great Master Keizan points out that there is no need for repayment, and to cling to such a notion simply adds to the karmic cycle of endless rebirths and deaths. “With the illusion of repaying others karma goes on unending.” Kanadaiba advised Ragorata and his father to continue eating the mushrooms until they no longer appeared. The old man offered his son Ragorata to train with Kanadaiba, but felt that he, himself, was too old, not realizing that there are no barriers to training and that waiting for another time, another life, a better place or some other condition in order to commit oneself to training is not going to help. But if we do the best we can right now, the highest enlightenment can be ours. Ragorata found great value as a result of making a pure hearted gift, even to an unworthy monk. If we train for the sake of training, simply because it has merit or value in and of itself, then we can just do what needs to be done irrespective of any desire for reward or fear of punishment. Then there is no repayment; it is just the work of a Buddha. The transfer of merit can be as this, provided we do it with a pure heart.

In Buddhism giving and receiving are simultaneous. We are already whole and complete just as we are. Nothing is gained in birth or lost in death. When someone close to us dies we are not diminished. If we give something away we are not lessened by this act. If we receive something we are not enriched. In the Scripture of Great Wisdom, the prajnaparmita can be translated as “going, going, going on, and always going on, always becoming Buddha”. This way of translating it emphasizes the on-going process of enlightenment rather than something attained or received. Giving is as thus. It the process of giving up the self we can know something far greater. There is merit in acting on this level of understanding.

We need not ask nor hope for a specific result. One of the Universal Laws is that the Law of Karma is not answerable to one’s personal will. In transferring merit, do not get involved in sorcery or pray that some event should happen. This is the wrong use of religion. It is also completely unnecessary, for another Law of the Universe is that evil is vanquished and good prevails. It is unnecessary and harmful to use religious practice to manipulate things or events trying to make the universe to suit our personal wants and fears. It is of much greater benefit to put oneself in harmony with the enlightenment that already permeates the universe. Since suffering is a universal condition inherent in the very nature of existence, no one can enjoy the harmony of body and mind without the complete acceptance of suffering for both oneself and for others. If we can accept suffering, we can transcend it. Or as Great Master Keido Chisan puts it: “The moment the Buddha is transcending us, he is embracing us.”7

“If we can give up something as small as the self, we can know something as great as the Universe.”8Ultimately, we realize that there is no essential difference between the Buddha and ourselves, and this embraces all of the human condition including the moments of birth and death, illness, crisis, accident, and tragedy. Yet we must still individually act. We must see that we live in the world of samsara or illusion, and within that world is the opportunity to do the work of the Buddha. Our efforts to give selflessly reach their spiritual culmination in the monastic Ordination Ceremony: “To whom do we offer this merit?  To where do we offer it?  The offering, the donor and he who receives [it] are completely immaculate. There is nothing to be desired. Let us, together with all living things, offer this common merit to the highest Truth.”9

Source : Edmonton Buddhist Meditation Group

 

Why We Chant by Zen Master Seung Sahn


Why We Chant

– by Zen Master Seung Sahn,excerpted from Dropping Ashes on the Buddha

One Sunday evening, after a Dharma talk at the International Zen Center of New York, a student asked Seung Sahn Soen-sa, “Why do you chant? Isn’t sitting Zen enough?” Soen-sa said, “This is a very important matter. We bow together, chant together, eat together, sit together, and do many other things together here at the Zen Center. Why do we practice together? “Everybody has different karma. So all people have different situations, different conditions, and different opinions. One person is a monk, another is a student, another works in a factory; one person always keeps a clear mind, another is often troubled or dissatisfied; one person likes the women’s movement, another doesn’t. But everybody thinks, ‘My opinion is correct!’ Even Zen Masters are like this. Ten Zen Masters will have ten different ways of teaching, and each Zen Master will think that his way is the best. Americans have an American opinion; Orientals have an Oriental opinion. Different opinions result in different actions, which make different karma. So when you hold on to your own opinions, it is very difficult to control your karma, and your life will remain difficult. Your wrong opinions continue, so your bad karma continues. But at our Zen Centers, we live together and practice together, and all of us abide by the Temple Rules. People come to us with many strong likes and dislikes, and gradually cut them all off. Everybody bows together 108 times at five-thirty in the morning, everybody sits together, everybody eats together, everybody works together. Sometimes you don’t feel like bowing; but this is a temple rule so you bow. Sometimes you don’t want to chant, to sleep; but you chant. Sometimes you are tired and don’t want to but you know that if you don’t come to sitting, people will wonder why; so you sit. “When we eat, we eat in ritual style, with four bowls; and after we finish eating, we wash out the bowls with tea, using our index finger to clean them. The first few times we ate this way, nobody liked it.

One person from the Cambridge Zen Center came to me very upset. ‘I can’t stand this way of eating! The tea gets full of garbage! I can’t drink it!’ I said to him, ‘Do you know the Heart Sutra?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Doesn’t it say that things are neither tainted nor pure?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why can’t you drink the tea?’ ‘Because it’s filthy” ” (Laughter from the audience.) “‘Why is it filthy? These crumbs are from the food that you already ate. If you think the tea is dirty, it is dirty. If you think it is clean, it is clean.’ He said, ‘You’re right. I will drink the tea.”‘ (Laughter.) “

So we live together and act together. Acting together means cutting off my opinions, cutting off my condition, cutting off my situation. Then we become empty mind. We return to white paper. Then our true opinion, our true condition, our true situation will appear. When we bow together and chant together and eat together, our minds become one mind. It is like on the sea. When the wind comes, there are many waves. When the wind dies down, the waves become smaller. When the wind stops, the water becomes a mirror, in which everything is reflected-mountains, trees, clouds. Our mind is the same. When we have many desires and many opinions, there are many big waves. But after we sit Zen and act together for some time, our opinions and desires disappear. The waves become smaller and smaller. Then our mind is like a clear mirror, and everything we see or hear or smell or taste or touch or think is the truth. Then it is very easy to understand other people’s minds. Their minds are reflected in my mind. “So chanting is very important. At first you won’t understand. But after you chant regularly, you will understand.  ‘Ah, chanting-very good feeling!’ It is the same with bowing 108 times. At first people don’t like this. Why do we bow? We are not bowing to Buddha, we are bowing to ourselves. Small I is bowing to Big I. Then Small I disappears and becomes Big I This is true bowing. So come practice with us. You will soon understand.” The student bowed and said, “Thank you very much.”

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