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Showing posts from November, 2012

Universality and Ritual, Part 3 – A Defense of Ritual

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universal: “[I]ncluding or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception… [E]xistent or operative everywhere or under all conditions...” Merriam-Webster
ritual: “[A]ccording to religious law… social custom or normal protocol.” Merriam-Webster

I step into the doorway of my meditation room, press my palms together and bow. Then, cupping my left hand with my right, I walk over to the altar against the opposite wall and bow once again before it. To the right, the candle and the incense burner sit ready to accept my respective offerings. To the left, one ceramic bowl half full of water reflects the dim light of the room, and another cradles a single heart-shaped piece of polished stone. In the middle, the Buddha statue resting on its wooden pedestal serenely oversees its domain. A shelf beneath the altar holds a book of matches, a box of incense, and various other bells and containers. I light the candle and extinguish the match with a quick wave of my ha…

Universality and Ritual, Part 2 – The Universality of Zazen

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universal: “[I]ncluding or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception… [E]xistent or operative everywhere or under all conditions...” Merriam-Webster
ritual: “[A]ccording to religious law… social custom or normal protocol.” Merriam-Webster

My previous post briefly explored the natural dichotomy existing between these two words before moving on to consider what I refer to as the universality of stillness, of which I stated: “the experience of stillness and silence is universal, the truth to be found therein is universal, but just as soon as we begin to put that truth into words we fall into the realm of disagreement and argumentation.” One might hear echoes of the words of William James in such a statement. In one of his lectures transcribed in The Varieties of Religious Experience, James posits that “feeling is the deeper source of religion, and that philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text into anot…

Universality and Ritual, Part 1 – The Universality of Stillness

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universal: “[I]ncluding or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception… [E]xistent or operative everywhere or under all conditions...” Merriam-Webster
ritual: “[A]ccording to religious law… social custom or normal protocol.” Merriam-Webster
It would seem that these two words comprise a natural dichotomy. On the one hand we have something that applies to everyone regardless of position or place or circumstance, and on the other hand we have that which pertains to some initiated subgroup on the basis of mutual agreement, prescription, affiliation, or decree. Perhaps we can think of this dichotomy as another aspect of the dichotomy between ultimate and conventional truth, or between transformation and translation, for that matter. Nonetheless, I think we’re well-served holding loosely in mind our ideas related to this dichotomy. Yes, attachment to ritual can cause us to overlook that which is universal – missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. …