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The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 9:58 am
by dharmafootsteps
I have this little doubt, that I recognize is my own limitation, but it still nags at me, so I'd like to hear others thoughts.

Something I don't get is why many masters have non-Tibetans sit through very long elaborate rituals. It's one thing if a Westerner decides to go to Nepal to receive teachings in their own cultural context, he/she must expect to engage with that, but why do lamas include these sorts of rituals as part of the program when they travel to the West.

For example say a teacher is giving a week long teaching, but dedicates one of the days to some massive, elaborate day long puja. Most of the participants have only the most limited idea what is going on for most of it. Especially as these same masters emphasis that the real blessing is not being touched on the head by a statue, or drinking a little nectar, it is realizing the teachings in ones own mindstream.

I don't mean empowerment, if lamas want to do empowerments in traditional and elaborate ways I can understand that, I'm just talking about extensive practice. When there is such limited time for contact between students and teacher in these contexts, these rituals seem to take up precious time. I could more understand doing a day of purification practice in preparation for receiving high teachings for example, if it was done in a manner the masses could understand and engage more actively with, more essential versions for example, rather than simply trying to keep up with the recitation of the pecha.

This doubt is confounded by the fact that one of my teachers, ChNN, specifically avoided this stuff. Instead emphasizing going to the essence of practices in a form that those he was teaching to could understand. However some of my other teachers, who I recognise to be excellent teachers, will frequently spend a day or even two of a short retreat on elaborate ritual, with huge amounts of recitation in Tibetan only, very precise mandalas, tormas, shrine preparation etc. Thanks to the teachings I've received from ChNN I can at least recognize the different sections and understand why they are there. But having spoken to some dedicated students of other teachers, many know very little about the basic structure, principles and purpose of the different aspects of these pujas.

As I say, I recognize this is my personal obscuration. It's not meant as a criticism of any teachers. So if anyone can help me resolve why this approach is used it would be much appreciated.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 1:33 pm
by Danny
Those long day pujas will ripen into something. Might not be obvious right away, but if you view it as something in between the two truths of birth and death as a intermediate blessing, and maintain a provisional intention that it is something positive, then a confidence in time will grow in the ritual and confidence will ripen about the teacher and therefore the teaching as well.

Regards

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 2:43 pm
by Grigoris
Personally I don't like to take part in rituals where I do not know what is happening.

Even if I have transliteration I want to see the translation because I need to know what I am saying and why (especially if it is describing a visualisation).

What is even worse is when people speed through the practices because they just want to get through the formality of doing them and you have to pronounce every fourth syllable since you cannot keep up.

In these cases it is best to just do shine meditation and hope that this will all ripen into something positive in the future and you haven't just watsed you time, money and energy. From my experience, it is not a waste of...

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 3:16 pm
by Toenail
I think there is benefit even if one does not understand a lot. Often it is explained what purpose the ritual has. I think as long as someone knows: Sitatapatra, against obstacles etc. and can generate some faith, then one can receive blessings. Even if one can't, I think there may be some benefit of attending pujas like that. At the end most people have some kind of faith to attend a dharma teaching, so I think that's definetly a good ground to receive a blessing. I never intended a puja etc without having some rough idea what is going on, I think this actually is more of an eastern thing. I have attended lots of pujas with Nepali, Indians, Tibetan and Bhutanese people, which often cannot read and don't know anything. They just sit along and do the mani mantra. I think westerners who attend pujas or empowerments in the west always have enough of an idea of what is going on for it to be productive. Unless they are complete newbies. And the aforementioned eastern people I believe they have much faith. They may not know philosophically etc what is going on but they have faith in the Lama and a general veneration for the Dharma. So I think also there is benefit.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:46 pm
by Ayu
There is even benefit if one doesn't understand anything at all. I say this from own experience.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 9:09 pm
by javier.espinoza.t
i don't have much time, just as anyone in modern society. i have to do this kind of practice early in the morning or more often after everyone has gone to bed.

maybe monks have enough time for long rituals.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Thu Apr 30, 2020 10:44 pm
by PSM
You can read about the purpose of one of these types of pujas in Great Accomplishment by Tulku Urgyen. The abbreviated form of this puja is the one Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche will often do before giving teachings on the nature of mind. It really helps clear the way for things to sink in successful IMHO.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 12:31 am
by conebeckham
I find long ritual pujas very beneficial. To assume monks know the meanings, etc., is understandable, but mistaken. The younger ones may have memorized the liturgies, but don't know much of the Migpa (visualization) or the theoretical framework behind the various stages of such practices as Drupchens, Drupchos, longer retreats or Nyung Nes, even.

Repeated exposure, and good instruction, will gradually reveal the beauty and meaning of these practices. But people are different, and I get that some folks find this sort of thing not worthwhile. I follow a very traditional teacher, and being able to read Tibetan is pretty essential if you want to engage in these sorts of things, or used to be, so that also keeps people away. In the last 10 years some efforts have been made to translate, or at least to phoneticize, some of these longer texts, and I think that is helpful.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 2:29 am
by n8pee
Grigoris wrote: Thu Apr 30, 2020 2:43 pm Personally I don't like to take part in rituals where I do not know what is happening.
This is my strong opinion as well. I am incredibly lucky in that my guru also has a Ph.D as well as his Geshe Lharampa degree. He serves as a conduit for me between Tibet and western culture and is able to translate and put everything in terms I understand. This facilitates understanding, practice and progression. This is a primary reason why I view him as the Vajradhara, as he is the door to all the blessings I have received.
conebeckham wrote: Fri May 01, 2020 12:31 am I follow a very traditional teacher, and being able to read Tibetan is pretty essential if you want to engage in these sorts of things, or used to be, so that also keeps people away.
I don't believe westerners should be forced to practice outside of their native language. Occasional rituals that maintain their traditional Tibetan chanting is one thing (and I admit can be quite powerful provided their translation is provided to facilitate understanding), but to ask people to practice in a foreign language is not conducive to the flourishing of the dharma.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 2:33 am
by n8pee
I don't believe westerners should be forced to practice outside of their native language.
To add to this... there is a sub-section of westerners that seem to want to be Tibetan, dress Tibetan, speak Tibetan, etc., versus being a dharma practitioner. One doesn't need to don a ngakpa shawl to be an authentic practitioner. This is the very spiritual materialism that prompted Chogyam Trungpa to 'become' a westerner to ensure he was meeting people on their level.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 3:13 am
by 明安 Myoan
You can develop qualities like patience, sincerity, and receptivity to non-conceptual benefits, as well as blessings which are recognized later, but nonetheless received.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 7:38 am
by PeterC
There's various possible answers for this.

There are various different ways of conducting rituals - elaborate, unelaborate, etc. - because people have different capacities and inclinations. Just because you personally don't like it, that doesn't mean there isn't value in doing it. Moreover if you don't like it because you don't understand it - which is understandable - have you tried to understand it? Have you sought out someone who can explain it to you? Do you really not have the patience to sit for a few hours to receive something that in previous decades people journeyed for days or offered all their belongings for? If you can't sit for a few hours in something that you don't understand, how serious are you about doing years of practice? If you think you know better than the lama how a ritual ought to be performed, do you really have trust in the guru? If you think a ritual that has been performed a certain way for centuries should be changed for your benefit, how much respect do you really have for the lineage? In some cases these rituals aren't just for the human participants present at the ritual, but also interact with non-human beings, humans not present, dead beings, etc. - do they get consideration in this too?

I personally find long rituals that I don't understand intensely boring. So I generally try to make sure I understand what's going on. I appreciate lamas who take the time during the ritual to explain what's happening. I've been in day-long empowerments where every single part of the ceremony is explained in excessive detail, and I've found that extremely helpful. I incline more to the unelaborate versions of things in my personal practice, but even if I don't have a full explanation of what's going on, I can still just sit for a few hours as it happens.

This reminds me of one time when Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was asked - if you can rest in the nature of mind, why bother doing all these other yidam/dakini/protector practices? He said - if you can do that, surely saying a few mantras can't hurt? Of course as a lineage holder he had to do these practices anyway, but he has a point. Can sitting for a few hours while your lama conducts a ritual that he considers important in a way of his choosing really be such a bad thing?

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 11:36 am
by Ayu
n8pee wrote: Fri May 01, 2020 2:29 am ...
I don't believe westerners should be forced to practice outside of their native language. Occasional rituals that maintain their traditional Tibetan chanting is one thing (and I admit can be quite powerful provided their translation is provided to facilitate understanding), but to ask people to practice in a foreign language is not conducive to the flourishing of the dharma.
I think, nobody can be forced to anything they don't want to do.
In my experience with myself & practice impatience is a great hindrance.
I realized that I should be be patient with my practice just as I should be patient with a friend who's eager to tell me a long story. Then the practice is able to evolve it's special energy and then trust can evolve in my heart.
Therefore patience is at the beginning of every beneficial process.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 2:45 pm
by n8pee
I think, nobody can be forced to anything they don't want to do.
In my experience with myself & practice impatience is a great hindrance.
I realized that I should be be patient with my practice just as I should be patient with a friend who's eager to tell me a long story. Then the practice is able to evolve it's special energy and then trust can evolve in my heart.
Therefore patience is at the beginning of every beneficial process.
'Forced' was a poor word choice on my part. You're right, there is no forcing the dharma. I also admire your patience. I think the word I was looking for is 'accessible.'

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 7:10 pm
by conebeckham
n8pee wrote: Fri May 01, 2020 2:45 pm
I think, nobody can be forced to anything they don't want to do.
In my experience with myself & practice impatience is a great hindrance.
I realized that I should be be patient with my practice just as I should be patient with a friend who's eager to tell me a long story. Then the practice is able to evolve it's special energy and then trust can evolve in my heart.
Therefore patience is at the beginning of every beneficial process.
'Forced' was a poor word choice on my part. You're right, there is no forcing the dharma. I also admire your patience. I think the word I was looking for is 'accessible.'
No one should be forced, but neither should one be deterred.
Impatience is a teacher.

I understand your points, and even agree with them--living in a Dharma center for a number of years, I encountered the full spectrum of aspiring stduents, including those entranced by the exotica of it all, those looking for a club to join, those interested in playing Dress Up, etc.

But we should also not forget that the Tibetans undertook hardships, including having to adapt to foreign cultures and languages (not to mention weather and environment, as well as serious travel and transportation issues) in order to absorb the Dharma. We're lucky, relatively speaking--they've come to us!

As for "Accessibility," I find that Dharma Centers usually offer a level of introductory practice which is relatively accessible to Westerners. Perhaps the so-called "Advanced practices" may be less so, but there are reasons for that, as well. Hey, it wasn't so long ago that the Roman Catholic Church performed services in Latin. Non-Latin speakers have been faithfully participating for thousands of years.....

Just offering some thoughts, here. I don't quarrel with people's points of view or preferences. And Kudos to translators, in general! THEY are the ones at the center of the transmission.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Fri May 01, 2020 7:47 pm
by n8pee
And Kudos to translators, in general! THEY are the ones at the center of the transmission.
Emphasis on this. To steal some language from our state of affairs today: the translators are truly our 'essential' workers.

Re: The sense in long rituals for non-Tibetans?

Posted: Sat May 02, 2020 1:04 am
by SilenceMonkey
Sometimes through sheer power of faith and things unexplainable, a westerner will have a much deeper experience of a long ritual than many tibetans who understand the words and meaning.