Reflections: Ceremonies and Events

Memorial Ceremony At Buddha Gate
by Tony Khoury

I would like to thank the Abbess of Buddha Gate for allowing me this opportunity to address you as a neophyte of the Mahayana Buddhism. I have been a student of Buddhism since September 2003 and in March 2004 I received the Three Refugees.

Today we are gathered here to remember the events that took place on September 11, 2001. those violent events have created much suffering among the people of this nation. They have also created confusion, anger and fear.

It is also worth mentioning that people everywhere are suffering from the same feelings of dread and uncertainty. It is universal. Suffering is not alien to human existence. As a student of Buddhism I have learned the causes of suffering and ways to instill peace in one’s mind.

We the practioners of the faith must not waiver form the teachings of the Dharma. We should always stand fast against anger, fear and hate. We should extend our feelings of compassion to all sentient beings. And when the dark storms blow wild and deadly we should always seek refuge: in the Buddha, in the Dharma, and in the Sangha.

The Gratitude, Blessings and Memorial Ceremony
by Bob Clark (Chuan Bo)

I have been a student in the Meditation classes at Buddha Gate Monastery for some time. I have enjoyed my classes immensely, but recently decided to begin exploring the actual ceremonies and hopefully use that experience to further deepen my awareness of Buddhism.

There are several steps, or phases to the Gratitude, Blessings and Memorial Ceremony. I would like to focus on one aspect of the Ceremony wherein I felt that the process, as well as the concept of gratitude, moved front and center, then out into the assembly.
Those people with children or parents who were celebrating a birthday that month were asked to come to the front of the room to express their gratitude to their parent(s). Their comments were all heartfelt, spontaneous, and deeply meaningful—not only to those expressing their gratitude, but also for us in the audience. I’d like to give you a few examples.

Grace

Grace, from the Beginning Meditation Class, expressed her gratitude and appreciation for the loving kindness of her parents, who have passed away. She wanted the audience to know she regretted that when she was a young woman raising her family, she felt that she had perhaps been too preoccupied with her own duties, had assumed that her parents would be around forever, and that there would be time to express her gratitude to them. She likened her life at that time to a tree being blown about by the wind and “though the trunk of the tree wishes to be calm and steady, the wind of life moves the branches, unsettles the tree trunk and opportunities to express gratitude are sometimes lost through distraction.” Her story served as a thoughtful warning to me not to take the living for granted.

Lily

Lily is a student at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. Her adoptive parents were not in attendance but she wished to express her gratitude for their loving care of her as a child. Her gratitude expanded to include her biological parents and then expanded still further to include the Triple Gem of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Grace, Betty and Hsi-Hsien Chen

Grace is the daughter of Betty and His-Hsien and she wanted to thank them for the sacrifices they made to give her a stable, loving upbringing. She said that she knows they could have had other careers, greater material benefits and more for themselves, but they took less for themselves so she (Grace) could have more stability in her life. She remembers seeing other students in High School and college who did not have that solid and loving structure in their lives and knew even then how fortunate she was to have these parents.

Then her mother, Betty, took the microphone and in turn thanked Grace for making room in her busy life for her mother and father. She said that once she told Grace, “I don’t know how you make time in your busy schedule to help us the way you do.” Grace had replied, “Mom, I have my priorities in order and you and Dad are at the top.” Betty felt so happy to know that she and her husband mattered so much to their daughter.

Finally, Grace’s father, Hsi-Hsien, spoke from his wheelchair. He wanted to express his great appreciation to his daughter and son-in-law Louis (Lou) for finding Buddha Gate Monastery (yes, they “Googled” it) and bringing him there to the Ceremonies.

One thing I did know was that as each of these people spoke, it became more and more difficult for me to keep from crying. It was not out of sadness, but appreciation for the greatness of these people, how much they cared for one another and the essential goodness that shone out of each of them. I kept shifting my gaze to others in the audience to help hold back the tears, but then more and more people were wiping away tears. I finally ran out of “options” and let them flow freely down my cheeks.

After everyone had spoken, the Ceremony shifted to each Birthday person receiving pieces of a large cake that had been brought into the Hall. As each person came forward to take a piece, we sang “Happy Birthday” to them in English.

At the completion of the Ceremony, as I stepped outside, I felt a light sprinkling of rain drops. A kindly man near the door handed me an umbrella. “Are you going up for lunch?” he asked. “Yes” I nodded. “In case it starts raining again,” he said as he extended the umbrella. I took it from his hand and thanked him. I suddenly felt an unusually strong upwelling of gratitude toward this man and smiled from the top of my head to my toes.

SUGGESTIONS IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING ATTENDING A CEREMONY

  • If you have questions, please speak to any of the Shifus and ask for a short meeting with them before attending a ceremony. They sincerely want to encourage understanding and participation.
  • If possible, provide some volunteer service in preparation for the Ceremony and/or after the Ceremony. It not only builds merits, but builds friendships and generates a deeper sense of being a part of the Ceremony and the Sangha. There is much preparation that goes into a ceremony and the members of Buddha Gate are so grateful for any extra help. It truly can be the first step in generating gratitude.
  • Come early for ease of parking. Also, it can be very reassuring to bring a classmate or friend. Not only is this helpful in terms of mutual support during the Ceremony, but can also be an opportunity for discussion after the Ceremony.
  • When attending the Ceremony, dress in appropriate, comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. There are bows and prostrations during the service, as well as some sitting and kneeling on the meditation pads. Along these same lines, if it is too difficult or uncomfortable for you to participate in prostrations and kneeling, then there are chairs and reading stands set up at the back of the room. Please take good care of yourself. This is not a test of endurance, but rather a further cultivation of character and practice.
  • It is natural to be a bit lost or confused when first attending the ceremonies. Be willing to forgive yourself for not knowing, feel free to ask for direction and guidance, and when in doubt, follow the lead of those nearest you. This is a situation where mistakes can be embraced and made part of our practice.
  • If you generate questions or concerns during the ceremony, write them down and present them to one of the Shifus at an appropriate moment. You will get answers and they will gain a better understanding of the attendee’s needs.
  • There are many “forms” present during a ceremony (besides our bodies). There are many intricate and beautiful decorations, statues, lights, flowers, etc., as well as movement (Ceremony); sounds (Music); and smells (Incense). It’s easy to become distracted and even a bit overwhelmed. It important to remind ourselves that though the forms, etc. remain a necessary part of this process, they are not the end we seek. Make an effort to see all of this as a mirror to redirect us back inward towards our own Buddha Nature.
  • Give yourself the treat of attending the lunch. The food is delicious and the company is sacred.