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Religion

종교 탐방

VIII. Popular religious practices

 세속의 종교 관행

 

Like other great religious traditions, Buddhism has generated a wide range of popular practices. Among these, there are two simple practices that are deeply rooted in the experience of the earliest Buddhist community and that have remained basic to all Buddhist traditions.

The first of these is the practice of venerating the Buddha or other buddhas, bodhisattvas, or saints who manifest the same reality. This sometimes takes the form of showing respect, meditating on the qualities of the Buddha, or giving gifts. These gifts are often given to the relics of the Buddha, to images made to represent him, and to other traces of his presence (such as, for example, places where his footprint can supposedly be seen). After the Buddha's death the first foci for this sort of veneration seem to have been his relics and the stupas that were built to hold them. About the beginning of the Common era, anthropomorphic images of the Buddha were produced, and they took their place alongside relics and stupas as focal points for venerating the Buddha. Still later, in the context of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, the veneration of other buddhas and bodhisattvas came to supplement or replace the veneration of the Buddha Gautama. In the course of Buddhist history, the forms have become diverse, but the practice of honouring and even worshiping the Buddha or Buddha-figure has remained a central component in all Buddhist traditions.

The second basic practice is the reciprocal exchange that takes place between Buddhist monks and Buddhist laypersons. Like the Buddha himself, the monks embody or represent the higher levels of spiritual achievement, which they make available in various ways to the laity. The laity make merit and improve their soteriological condition by giving the monks material gifts that function as sacrificial offerings. Though the exchange is structured differently in different Buddhist traditions, it has remained until recently a component in virtually all forms of Buddhist community life. (see also Index: monasticism)

Both of these fundamental forms of Buddhist practice appear independently within the tradition. The veneration of the Buddha or Buddha figure is a common ritual often practiced independently of other rituals. So, too, the practice of exchange between monks and laypersons often structures rituals such as the dana (gift-giving) in the Theravada tradition, which are performed independently of other rituals. Both of these forms of practice, however, are embedded in one way or another in virtually all other Buddhist rituals, including calendric rituals, pilgrimage rituals, rites of passage, and protective rites.

1. CALENDRIC RITES AND PILGRIMAGE

 

1) Uposatha.

The four monthly holy days of ancient Buddhism continue to be observed in the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia. These uposathadays--the new moon and full moon days of each lunar month and the eighth day following the new and full moons--have their origin, according to some scholars, in the fast days that preceded the Vedic soma sacrifices. In the Buddhist context laypersons and monks are expected to perform religious duties during the uposatha days. (see also Index: sacred calendar)

The uposatha service typically includes the repetition of the precepts, the offering of flowers to the Buddha image, the recitation of Pali sutras, meditation practices, and a sermon by one of the monks for the benefit of the visitors. The more pious laymen may vow to observe the eight precepts for the duration of the uposatha. These are the five precepts normally observed by all Buddhists--not to kill, steal, lie, take intoxicants, or commit sexual offenses--upgraded to include complete sexual continence, plus injunctions against eating food after noon, attending entertainments or wearing bodily adornments, and sleeping on a luxurious bed. The monks observe the uposatha days by listening to the recitation by one of their members of the Patimokkha, or rules of conduct, contained in the Vinaya Pitaka and by confessing any infractions of the rules they have committed.

i) Anniversaries.

The three major events of the Buddha's life--his birth, Enlightenment, and entrance into final nirvana--are commemorated in all Buddhist countries but not everywhere on the same day. In the Theravada countries the three events are all observed together on Vesak, the full moon day of the sixth lunar month (Vesakha), which usually occurs in May. (The Magha Puja takes place three months earlier--on the full moon of February--and celebrates the Buddha's first exposition of the Patimokkha.)

In Japan and other Mahayana countries, the three anniversaries of the Buddha are observed on separate days (in some countries the birth date is April 8, the Enlightenment date is December 8, and the death date is February 15). Festival days honouring other buddhas and bodhisattvas of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions are also observed, and considerable emphasis is placed on anniversaries connected with the patriarchs of certain sects. Padmasambhava's anniversary, for example, is especially observed by the Rnying-ma-pa sect in Tibet, and the birthday of Nichiren is celebrated by his followers in Japan. (see also Index: Lanterns, Feast of)

2) Vassa.

The beginning of vassa, the three-month rainy-season retreat from July to October, and its conclusion are two of the major festivals of the year among Theravada Buddhists, particularly in Myanmar, Kampuchea, Thailand, and Laos. The retreat has largely been given up by Mahayana Buddhists. It is an accepted practice in countries such as Thailand for a layman to take monastic vows for the vassa period and then to return to lay life. Commonly, the number of years a monk has spent in monastic life is expressed by counting up the number of vassas he has observed.

The end of vassa is marked by joyous celebration. The following month is a major occasion for presenting gifts to monks and acquiring the consequent merit. The kathinaor robe-offering ceremony, is a public event during this period and usually involves a collective effort by a village, a group of villages, or a company to bestow gifts on an entire monastery. A public feast and display of the robes and other presents on a "wishing-tree" are the usual components of the ceremony. The kathina season is climaxed by the making and presentation of the mahakathina ("great robe"), a particularly meritorious gift that requires the cooperation of a number of people who, theoretically at least, must produce it--from spinning the thread to stitching the cloth--in a single day and night. The robe commemorates the act of the Buddha's mother, who on hearing that he was about to renounce worldly life, wove his first mendicant robes in one night.

3) All Souls festival.

The importance of the virtues of filial piety and the reverence of ancestors in China and Japan have established Ullambana, or All Souls Day, as one of the major Buddhist festivals in those countries. In China, worshipers in Buddhist temples make "boats of the law" ( fa-ch'uan) out of paper, some very large, which are then burned in the evening. The purpose of the celebration is twofold: to remember the dead and to free and let ascend to heaven the pretas. The pretas are the spirits of those who died as a result of an accident or a drowning and as a consequence were never buried; their presence among men is thought to be dangerous. Under the guidance of Buddhist temples, societies (hui, Yu-lan-hui) are formed to carry out ceremonies for the pretas--lanterns are lit, monks are invited to recite sacred verses, and offerings of fruit are presented. An 8th-century Indian monk, Amoghavajra, is said to have introduced the ceremony into China, from where it was transmitted to Japan. During the Japanese festival of Bon, two altars are constructed, one to make offerings to the spirits of dead ancestors and the other to the souls of those dead who have no peace. Odorinembutsu (the chanting of invocations accompanied by dancing and singing) and invocations to Amida are features of the Bon celebrations.

4) New Year's and harvest festivals.

New Year's festivals and harvest festivals are examples of Buddhism's involvement in preexisting local traditions. On the occasion of the New Year, images of the Buddha are in some countries taken in procession through the streets. Worshipers visit Buddhist sanctuaries and circumambulate the stupa, or sacred image, and monks are fed and presented with gifts. One of the most remarkable examples of the absorption of local custom was the Smonlam festival in Tibet, celebrated on a large scale in Lhasa until the beginning of Chinese communist rule in the 1950s. The festival was instituted in 1408 by Tsong-kha-pa, the founder of the predominant Dge-lugs-pa sect, who transformed an old custom into a Buddhist festivity. Smonlam took place at the beginning of the winter thaw, when caravans began to set out once again and the hunting season was resumed. The observances included exorcistic ceremonies, performed privately within each family to remove evil forces lying in wait for individuals as well as for the community as a whole, and propitiatory rites, performed to ward off evil such as droughts, epidemics, or hail, during the coming year. During the more public propitiatory rites, the sangha cooperated with the laity by invoking the merciful forces that watch over good order, and processions, fireworks, and various amusements created an atmosphere of hopefulness. Through the collaboration of the monastic community and the laity, a general reserve of good karma was accumulated to see everyone through the dangerous moment of passage from the old year to the new. (see also Index: Smon-lam chen-mo, exorcism )

The harvest festival celebrated in the Tibetan villages during the eighth lunar month was quite different in nature from the New Year ceremonies. Most commonly, offerings of thanks were made to local deities in rites that were only externally Buddhist. The same interplay between Buddhism and folk tradition is observable elsewhere. In Sri Lanka at harvest time, for example, there is a "first fruits" ceremony that entails offering the Buddha a large bowl of milk and rice. (see also Index: folk religion)

An integral part of the harvest celebrations in many Buddhist countries is the sacred performance of an episode in the life of a buddha or a bodhisattva. In Tibet, troupes of actors specialize in performances of Buddhist legends. In Thailand, the recitation of the story of Phra Wes (Pali: Vessantara) constitutes one of the most important festival events of the agricultural calendar.

5) Buddhist pilgrimage.

Within the first two centuries following the Buddha's death, pilgrimage had already become an important component in the life of the Buddhist community. During these early centuries of Buddhist history there were at least four major pilgrimage centres--the place of the Buddha's birth at Lumbini, the place of his Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, the Deer Park in Varanasi (Benares) where he supposedly preached his first sermon, and the village of Kusinara, which was recognized as the place of his Parinirvana. During this period, the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya was the most important pilgrimage centre; it continued to hold a preeminent position through much of Buddhist history, and it is the major pilgrimage site of world Buddhism today.

In addition to these four primary sites, major pilgrimage centres have emerged in every region or country where Buddhism has been established. Many local temples have their own festivals associated with a relic enshrined there or an event in the life of a sacred figure. Some of these, such as the display of the tooth relic at Kandy, Sri Lanka, are occasions for great celebrations attracting many pilgrims. In many Buddhist countries famous mountains have become sacred sites that draw pilgrims from both near and far. In China, for example, four such mountain sites are especially important: O-mei, Wu t'ai, P'u-t'o, and Chiu-hua. Each is devoted to a different bodhisattva whose temples and monasteries are located on the mountainside. In many Buddhist regions there are pilgrimages that include stops at a whole series of sacred places. One of the most interesting of these is the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, which involves visits to 88 temples located along a route that extends for more than 700 miles.

Buddhist pilgrimages, like pilgrimages in other religions, are undertaken for a wide range of reasons. For some Buddhists, pilgrimage is a discipline that fosters spiritual development; for others it is the fulfillment of a vow--as, for example, after recovery from an illness; and for others it is simply an occasion for travel and enjoyment. Whatever the motivations that support it may be, pilgrimage is one of the most important Buddhist practices.

2. RITES OF PASSAGE AND PROTECTIVE RITES

 

1) Initiation.

 

i) Ordination.

Admission to the sangha involves two distinct acts: pabbajja which consists of renunciation of secular life and acceptance of monasticism as a novice, and upasampadathe official consecration as a monk. The evolution of the procedure is not entirely clear; in early times, the two acts probably occurred at the same time. Subsequently, the Vinaya established that upasampada, or full acceptance into the monastic community, should not occur before the age of 20, which, if the pabbajja ceremony took place as early as the age of 8, would mean after 12 years of training. Ordination could not occur without the permission of the aspirant's parents. The initial Pali formula was "Ehi bhikkhu," "Come, O monk!" (see also Index: monasticism)

The rite established in ancient Buddhism remains essentially the same in the Theravada tradition. To be accepted, the postulant shaves his hair and beard and dons the yellow robes of the monk. He bows to the abbot or senior monk, to whom he makes his petition for admittance, and then seats himself with legs crossed and hands folded, pronouncing three times the formula of the Triple Refuge ("I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the dhamma, I take refuge in the sangha.") He repeats after the officiating monk the Ten Precepts and vows to observe them. Thereafter, in the presence of at least 10 monks (fewer in some cases) the postulant is questioned in detail by the abbot--as to the name of the master under whom he studied, whether he is free of faults and defects that would prevent his admission, and whether he has committed any infamous sins, is diseased, mutilated, or in debt. The abbot, when satisfied, thrice proposes acceptance of the petition; the chapter's silence signifies consent. Nuns were once ordained in basically the same way.

ii) Bodhisattva vows.

In Mahayana Buddhism, new rituals were added onto the ceremony of ordination prescribed by the Pali Vinaya. The declaration of the Triple Refuge is as central an assertion as ever, but special emphasis is placed on the candidate's intention to achieve enlightenment and his undertaking of the vow to become a bodhisattva. Five monks are required for the ordination: the head monk, one who guards the ceremony, a master of secrets (the esoteric teachings, such as mantras), and two assisting officiants.

iii) Abhiseka.

The esoteric content of Vajrayana tradition requires a more complex ceremony of consecration. In addition to the other ordination rites, preparatory study, and training in yoga, the Tantric neophyte receives abhiseka(literally, "sprinkling," of water). This initiation takes several forms, each of which has its own corresponding "wisdom" (vidya), rituals, and esoteric formulas; each form of initiation is associated with one of the Five Buddhas of the supreme pentad. The initiate meditates on the vajra ("thunderbolt") as a symbol of Vajrasattva Buddha (the Adamantine Being), on the bell as a symbol of the void, and on the mudra (ritual gesture) as "seal." The intent of the initiation ceremony is to produce an experience that anticipates the moment of death. The candidate emerges reborn as a new being, a state marked by his receipt of a new name.

2) Funeral rites.

The origin of the Buddhist funeral observances can be traced back to Indian customs. The cremation of the body of the Buddha and the subsequent distribution of his ashes are told in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta ("Sutra on the Great Final Deliverance"). Early Chinese travelers such as Fa-hsien described cremations of venerable monks. After cremation, the ashes and bones of the monk were collected and a stupa built over them. That this custom was widely observed is evident from the large number of stupas found near monasteries.

With less pomp, cremation is also used for ordinary monks and laymen, though not universally. In Sri Lanka, for example, burial is also common. In Tibet also, because of the scarcity of wood, cremation is rare. The bodies of great lamas, such as the Dalai and Panchen lamas, are placed in rich stupas in attitudes of meditation, while lay corpses are exposed in remote places to be devoured by vultures and wild animals.

Buddhists generally agree that the thoughts held by a person at the moment of death are of essential significance. For this reason, sacred texts are sometimes read to the dying person to prepare the mind for the moment of death; similarly, sacred texts may be read to the newly dead, since the conscious principle is thought to remain in the body for about three days following death. In Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese lamaseries, a lama sometimes recites the famous Bardo Thödrol (commonly referred to in English as The Tibetan Book of the Dead).

3) Protective rites.

From a very early period in its development, Buddhism has included within its repertoire of religious practices specific rituals that are intended to protect against various kinds of danger and to exorcise evil influences. In the Theravada tradition protective, exorcistic rituals are closely associated with texts called parittas, many of which are attributed directly to the Buddha. In Sri Lanka and the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia, parittas are traditionally chanted during large public rituals designed to avert collective, public danger. They are also very widely used in private rituals intended to protect the sponsor against illness and various other misfortunes. (see also exorcism )

In the Mahayana and Esoteric traditions, the role taken by protective and exorcistic rituals was even greater. For example, dharanis (short statements of doctrine that supposedly encapsulate its power) and mantras (a further reduction of the dharani, often to a single word) were widely used for this purpose. Protective and exorcistic rituals that used such dharanis and mantras were extremely important in the process through which the populations of Tibet and East Asia were converted to Buddhism. They have remained an integral part of the Buddhist traditions in these areas, reaching what was perhaps their fullest development in Tibet. (see also Vajrayana)

   


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