An experience into the religion of Buddhism
On April 21, 2019, I attended a religious ceremony at the Buddhist Association of Pa, in Columbia, Pennsylvania. I could tell that this Buddhist temple follows a certain form of Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is for everyone and not just for the monastic elite. When I entered, I was very welcomed in the gathering they organized. The Bodhisattva welcomed me to eat the vegetarian food that they were serving. They served rice that had a purple tint to it, with sugar and peanuts on top. Tea and coffee were also served in the gathering place. After a half hour, the service was ready to begin, and I followed the followers of Mahayana Buddhism to the shrine. This is where they will begin their ritual and I will learn about the characteristics of the religious activity and what their commitment to Buddhism means
Characteristics of the religious activity
As I was walking up the stairs, I noticed everyone taking off their shoes. This is done because shoes are considered dirty and unworthy of entering such a divine area.
After the shoe’s removal, I encountered two statues that were meant to keep the evil spirits and demons away from the shrine. (Told by member of the community) I witnessed their beautiful ways of worship as hukujin (members) place offering of fruits and flowers. They were detected on the first two statues I examined and other puja settings in the shrine. Next, I entered the shrine and began to sit on the floor with all the other followers. There was nothing but silence and their second major characteristic of the religious activity; meditation. While everyone was meditating, they had their eyes closed and created a Gyan mudras hand symbol. As followers were entering, they would light many incenses and enter them into a flowerpot. (As seen to the left) After an hour of meditation; the third major characteristic of the religious activity was chanting. They began with banging a bell and rub their bodies. Then they all stood up beginning to chant and bang the bells. In the last section of the chanting, we began to walk three times around the shrine and went back to the pews and sat down. They included bows in honor of the Buddha. The bodhisattva ended the service and invited everyone to come to another gathering and mentioned that the Monk will be returning in a month. He reminded everyone that they were welcomed to meet the Monk or to come back.
Ideas, Thoughts, and Belief
After the service, I had a chance to ask the bodhisattva a few questions about what ideas, thoughts, and beliefs they communicate. The bodhisattva told me, “When we pray, we believe in the simple power, beyond the recognition and when you pray you are idealistic of the Buddhist.” He also mentioned that they believe in reincarnation and that he thinks it’s possible to tap into past minds. They believe that buddha can’t do anything but show the right path. The bodhisattva mentioned that they do not practice “life-cycle” rituals; like coming-of-age, marriage, and death. They also do not practice fasting but eat a big feast of vegetarian food after each service.
There is only one major holiday that this temple follows being Buddha’s Birthday also known as Vesak Day. Most of the world Vesak Day is considered “Festival of the Lanterns.” (Matthew Fennell, 2019) Buddha’s birthday is on the eighth day of the fourth month. In other countries that worship this sacred day, the celebrations start from April 25 until May 11. The temple that I visited celebrated Vesak day on April 28 of 2019. Asia celebration is more intense than the Buddhist Association temple, but they all have the same purpose of the celebration which is Buddha’s birthday.
In conclusion, Mahayana Buddhism is what this temple displayed. The bodhisattva was very welcoming and kind to me. They offered me great pre-ritual gathering food. I was accepted to join their ritual and feed my interest in learning about their religion. They gave me a disc with chants from the service with translated English titles. While they were chanting, I did feel meditated and felt something new I’ve never felt before. I felt like I zoned out for a couple minutes and woke up. This was a whole new experience in general and I suggest everyone should at least experience it once.
Fennel, Matthew. “Buddha’s Birthday Celebration in Korea.” Asia Society, asiasociety.org/korea/buddhas-birthday-celebration-korea.