Saturday, May 25, 2013

DIARY 113 ~ A Ritual Happening

After months of meetings, developing and planning, the day of Windhorse's Celebration of the Buddha's Enlightenment arrived on Friday 24th May. At the beginning there's the discovering of the theme and the exploration of how that could be expressed, and at the end there's the carrying out and leading of the celebration day itself. Both of these things I find I enjoy and am engaged with.. In between there is all the making, refining and organising which, though very important to the success of any ritual, I don't get that much enjoyment or satisfaction from. That said I have been very relaxed about this years ritual and not stressing about it. It is my fourth year of organising and leading and I guess I've got the measure of how to do them now.

Each year I'm endeavouring to open this event up to involve more and more people in the making of it. This might be through people doing readings in the ritual, or encouraging the making of shrines for the event, devising practices for the period leading up to the event, or leading mantras etc. Leaving it up to individuals and teams to come up for themselves how they want to prepare for this highlight of the Buddhist festival calendar. At Windhorse, there has always been a tendency for practice periods to become warehouse focused, and the office teams can either be left out, or roped into things that don't work with the differing demands of office based schedules. This tends to encourage office teams to be passive recipients of other peoples devotion and practice, rather than tapping into and being able to find expression for their own.

As organisers we have attempted this year to encourage the office teams to devise their own collective practices. As a first attempt at doing this I think it went as well as could be expected for any new initiative, and shows promise for future events. Perhaps it would never have quite reached our initial expectations, which as ever proved unrealistic. This was a good first try which needs following up on. What happens next depends on whether a group of folk in the offices emerges to take this initiative forward, and plan collective practice sessions for the office teams etc etc. It would be counterproductive if every initiative were to come only from me  There have been some really heartening and inspiring ideas developed this year by both individuals and teams, who gave talks, created special shrines, schedules of practice and readings to lead them up to Buddha day. One warehouse team held an entire weeks urban retreat within their team.  

The theme of A Lotus in an Ocean of Fire is a rich one. With many ways in which the imagery and metaphors surrounding Fire could be explored. The focus for my own creativity went into the creation of the huge shrine backdrop for the Shrine Room, pictures of which you'll find elsewhere on this blog. This has transformed the appearance and sense of it as a sacred space. Turning up the gas from 3 to 9. I'm hoping that the shrine room will in future be used more frequently and enthusiastically.  The same words of the Buddha's Fire Sermon that are punched into the panels on this backdrop, were used in a video that Pedro Vidal and myself collaborated on as an opening for the mornings ritual.

The Buddha after his Enlightenment turned around to face the Bodhi Tree and felt gratitude arise towards it for sheltering him whilst his awakening came into being. In some respects he was also feeling reverence and gratitude towards all his past teachers, life and lives that had led him to this point. One of the themes of the morning was gratitude that the fire which his Enlightenment lit, has been passed on through two and a half thousand years of devoted practitioners. Devotion arising out of sraddha, and sraddha arising in part from reverence and gratitude as an essential part of its DNA. The mornings ritual evoked that lineage of fire through a sequence of readings, each containing practical advice from past teachers on how to practice effectively. Beginning with our own teacher Sangharakshita and moving backwards through the centuries until we reach the Buddha's own first teaching, his decision to teach, until we heard how he described his own Enlightenment.

My own favourite reading from the morning was from Hakuin where he describes the way our meditation and our daily life must become one and the same. Through the metaphor of the lotus and the fire, he described how the fires of practice and of Samsara are intimately interconnected. The fire of our practice has to blossom to such a high degree of intensity before it can match, replace or extinguish the Fire of Samsara. Only then would we realise that that perceived incompatibility of a lotus with a fire, is an entirely false one. 

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