Roshi used his talk this week to explore the value of adding ritual to our practice. It seems that in today’s world everyone is dropping rituals as fast as possible as they appear to be repetitious, boring, and devoid of any spiritual value. Why would goroshi suddenly start emphasizing this part of our practice?
Roshi noted that when we really consider things, our entire existence is really a story of ritual and repetition. Consider nature. Seasons come in cycles – winter, spring, summer, fall. All biological life occurs in a pattern – birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death. Our own personal lives also follow rituals and cycles. Do you wake up every morning and prepare coffee, tea, and breakfast in the same way? Do you take lunch at the same time? Do you celebrate the same holidays year after year? This is all part of the reoccurring rituals of a life. Rituals and patterns are not devoid of meaning. They have a certain deep power and wisdom as they provide structure and meaning to life.
Roshi also noted that many studies of very successful people clearly show that they use rituals to achieve superhuman feats. An athlete will setup a specific training regimen to ensure that they consistent get stronger and faster. A star student will have set rituals for studying and learning materials to ensure that they get the highest grades possible. We should all consider the areas in which we have achieved the most and try to recognize the patterns of behavior we have established to “set ourselves up for success.”
So why is ritual so important in the spiritual realm. It is for the same reason. Ritual sets us up for success. Ritual has the ability to turn a normal moment into something so much higher. We sometimes forget this in our instant gratification self-centered culture. Tesshin Rosh described some common rituals and cycles in our tradtion and why they are so important. For instance, consider the three bows we do during a service. At one level this is a physical activity and performing it gets us out of our head. We are doing something instead of thinking so much. However, there is deep symbolism in this act. What we are trying to do is embody the sacredness of all buddhas, the dharma of ultimate reality, and the sangha in ourselves. We are bowing to them, but also bowing to ourselves because it is all part of one absolute perfection.
So, in thinking about your practice, you should think about what are the rituals and patterns you have or can add to your day to make you a better person. We believe that everything is change, and this implies that our rituals and patterns can change as well. We are in control of this. If our intention is to improve then we can change our patterns for the better.