English Class – Buddhist Practice Workshop
Part 1- Cultivating Wisdom
The practice of cultivating wisdom begins at 2:30pm, (it is advisable to arrive 5-10 minutes early) and it concludes at 3:50pm. Registration is optional, so if you feel like doing a drop-in that’s fine. The only requirements are that you remove your shoes prior to entering the Buddha Hall and it is generally requested that you wear modest clothing (no shorts, skirts, or revealing clothing).
The entrance to the Buddha Recitation Hall is at the back of the Temple. Go up the stairs to the second floor and you will see the entrance. If you are facing the Buddha, the entrance is the door to your right-hand side. Take off your shoes and place them on the rack. Once inside you can place your coat or bag into any available drawer inside the bench along the back wall. Participants line up in separate rows of men and women, all facing the center of the hall. Keep your hands rested palms up, right over left, in front of your stomach and wait for the ceremony to begin.
There will be a series of gongs and you will be asked to face the front, bow, and return to facing the center. Then we face front once again and prostrate three times, before returning to facing the center. You will then be provided with a small book, which is The Shorter Amitabha Sutra. We recite this Sutra while standing. After it is completed then the books get passed from the front of the row to the back, the person at the back returns them to the ledge by the window. This takes about 25 minutes
The walking meditation is next. With your hands pressed palms together in front of your chest, we chant “Namo Amitabha” and slowly pace around the Buddha Hall. The Master leads the line, followed by brown-robed men and women, then black-robed men and women, followed by men and women in street clothes. Three full laps are completed before returning to our original positions in the rows. This takes about 15 minutes.
After being instructed by the Master leading the ceremony to sit down, we place the narrow cushion atop the wider cushion and sit cross-legged with our hand resting in our laps, palms up in the same right-over-left fashion as before. We then chant “Amitabha” continuously for 25 minutes.
Transference of Merits
To conclude the ceremony after the sitting meditation, we kneel and recite a short “Transference of Merit” that dedicates the merit of our practice to the liberation of all sentient beings. We then face the center again, palms together and chanting “Namo Amitabha”. The Master then walks in front of the rows, who then follow towards the door and that is the end of the practice.
You don’t need to know any of this! The information is merely being presented for people who are curious about what to expect. Many people attend and just follow along without any prior knowledge of what to do. You are not expected to get it perfect and it is okay to make mistakes. If you cannot sit cross-legged, feel free to sit on the bench at the back of the hall during the Sitting Meditation. If you cannot prostrate due to age or joint-issues, then a half-bow is perfectly acceptable. If you feel uncomfortable with chanting, then it is okay to stay silent and just experience the ceremony on your own terms. As long as you come with an open-mind and respectful attitude you cannot go wrong. There is a second Master who assists with the Ceremony specifically to help you if you are confused or uncertain about what to do.
Part 2 – Study Session
The class starts at 4:00pm and runs for one hour. You are free to ask any questions you may have during this time. The class format is usually a guided reading of a book written by past Masters or a Sutra (text of the Buddha’s teachings), with commentary by the instructor. Many people choose to attend the class without attending the ceremony and this is perfectly acceptable.
Our instructor takes us book by book through the library of Buddhist Sutras and commentaries by Venerable Master’s from the past. All classes are conducted in English and are one hour long. Topics range from history, to cosmology. We discuss fundamental truths like impermanence and the fundamental nature of cyclical existence and suffering. Also covered are the Sanskrit phrases which are still peppered throughout modern translations of great texts.
The Current Reading Schedule
We are currently reading The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva.