29 December 2011

Home is Where the Temple Shows Up (Once in a While)

"What's this about you coming over to clean the house?" a relatively newish member asked.   I had sent out an email to the sangha offering to do home purification ceremonies during these weeks around New Year's, and she thought it had something to do with washing floors and dusting!  "No cleaning involved," I told her, "at least on my part," and we both had a good laugh when I explained what was involved.

The custom of doing home purifications had lapsed for quite some time in our sangha.  I don't know if it was teacher fatigue, undersubscription by the sangha or a combination of both.  This year I made the offer to do them again.  One member took up the offer.

So last night a visiting Dharma brother and I packed up a few ceremonial things and headed over to the home.  We started off with a short period of sitting.  I then said a few words to the effect that home is where it all stops and starts, and it is at home where we are most ourselves, warts and all.  When we do such a ceremony, I continued, it's not about performing some kind of magic on the woodwork but about renewing the commitment of those in the home to living more skillfully and to practicing with greater effort.  We then did a short chanting ceremony and then proceeded room by room chanting and gently ringing bells and shaking the shakujo, stopping at each altar to light incense and do a water purification, then continuing for a total of three circumambulations around the place.  We closed with a special return of merit and then chanted the Four Vows together.  Afterwards we had some food and spent a couple of hours socializing before the Dharma brother and I packed it up and headed back to the center.

I had never done such a ceremony before, and it hadn't worked out to have one done at my home back in the day (we were then living 70 miles from the center), so I had no idea what to expect. 

The thing that impressed me most was the sense of bringing something of temple life to the home.  All at once, ceremonial forms and chants and objects that belong under the temple roof came before the familial hearth.  Things said only in zendos and Buddha Halls were now being said in the living room and bedroom and outside the bathroom.

The home isn't the temple, the householder is not the homeleaver, the business of the workaday world is not the structured atmosphere of practice.  It's good that each has its own place, and that each does what it needs to do at its own pace and according to its own rules.

But that is precisely why it's a good thing to have each side make its presence known in each other's space, to infuse the other with an aspect of life that is not its own.  I don't follow those who would have children at regular sittings, but I do believe there have to be days when kids can run amok at the center, and parents can schlepp the diaper bag in and change the baby.  In the same way, the home should not be a mini-monastery, but I do believe there have to be days when the temple folk show up with  different objects and different clothing and different things to say. 

I found out that in Orthodoxy, the priests will do similar home purifications.  Rabbis visit and bless Jewish homes as well.  This clearly isn't exclusive to one form of religious practice; in fact, it's probably at the heart of all religious practice, such thin lines that connect home and temple.  I hope we can encourage it more in our sangha and that more folks will avail themselves of such an opportunity.

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