Ceremonial descriptions and illustrations

If you struggle with some of the aspects of ceremonial here are a few photos with descriptions to hopefully help you.


Understanding bowing is key to going deeper into an appreciation and understanding of Buddhist practice. To fully bow is to truly let go of whatever we are holding on to.

Going clockwise from the top left we a picture of a seated bow. This is mostly used during the evening service ceremony where we recite Rules fo Meditation. Whether we are on a cushion, bench or chair the movement is the same by bending forward at the waist as far as we can and raising our hands, with palms up, after the ting of the signal gong.

Next we have what is called a monjin which is used mostly for the gratitude bows at the end of ceremonies. Turning towards the altar and putting our hands together in gassho bow from the waist as described in the previous picture.

Finally we have the full bow. This is where we kneel on the ground, if we can, bend forward and raise our hands. If we can’t do this it is fine to do a standing bow which is similar to the monjin but we raise the hands rather than stay in gassho.

Candle Offering:

We often offer a candle instead of incense here at the Priory. An offering of light is the offering up of the dharma of enlightenment in much the same way that the incense of the dharma spreads out and infuses all places and things.

You may wish to offer a candle before a meditation period or maybe offer merit privately on an altar. If you are a chaplain you will need to hand over the candle to the celebrant so that he can offer it. If so here is a handy guide to how to do this. To hand the candle to the celebrant have it in the palm of your hand so that it is easy for them to take it. This will help with fumbling, awkward manouvering and less likelihood of dropping it, see top two pictures. The bottom two pictures show how to offer the candle up. The right hand photo shows that when we hold it up it is not advisable to hold it to the forehead as your hair may singe or indeed catch fire. Then hold it out as you quietly say the Three Homages, which are Homage to the Buddha, Homage to the Dharma, Homage to the Sangha. Then place the candle on the altar. Pleaqse make sure that lit candles are placed safely so that that can’t be knocked off or set any materials , like the altar curtains, alight. Please extinguish if the candle is to be left unattended i.e. when leaving the room after the ceremony etc.


The arrows of Mara


I’d like to start with a short quote that I came across recently.

You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.’

I’ve found this quote to be a way into this talk. We can do something about our troubles – they don’t have to take us over. When the Buddha was sitting under the tree, Mara’s armies attacked him quite fiercely, throwing everything at him. A long time ago, I remember, I thought of him sitting there, with almost a force field around him so that everything was deflected, but I was quite wrong- that’s not the way to deal with these things. It’s to let them through, not to push them away, not to hold them off, to not see them as enemies but to let everything just pass through you, and this is what the arrows did – they passed through and turned into flowers. That which we perceive as attacking us is converted.

As the Buddha got up after awakening, the first teaching he gave was the Four Noble Truths, and the first of those as we know, is that suffering exists. So we can’t prevent the birds of suffering, we can’t prevent the birds of sadness from flying over our heads. We, too, are subject to the laws of karma but the wise man isn’t bound by them, and in doing so, we join the birds in the sense that we don’t omit them. So we accept sadness, we acknowledge sadness, so when we sit and things arise for us we just let them arise. There’s no problem in the arising of sadness , this is natural, this is what is natural for us. To do something about it at that stage, to twist it, to turn it around is a false move. The Buddha realised this as he was sitting under the tree. To push back at Mara was a false move. The fact that things arise doesn’t mean that they will always arise. This is also key – how often do we think, ‘Well, nothing’s changed. This is never going to change, this is who I am, I’ve always got this trait,’ It won’t always arise. It continues to arise because we perpetuate it – we don’t even know we’re doing it sometimes. We reinforce behaviours, we believe something’s been banished and yet it still arises. It’s arising because we’re doing something with it, so it gathers strength and comes around again.

So when we sit, when the Buddha sat, he observed the settling of the mind. When we sit, the mind settles, and it’s not separate from the body, so we talk about mind-body. A lot of the trouble comes, a lot of the unsettledness of sitting is when we’re stuck in the mind and we’ve divorced it from the body. So, notice the settling of the body and mind when we sit, and see where the mind places itself, usually further down in the body. Sinking to the floor our thoughts find quiet. This activity then re-aligns itself from the head into the body. This is harmony – body and mind working together as one. When it’s all sinking, we are able to sit still. The Buddha was assailed on all sides; he had to sit very still. He sat, as Dogen said, in the mountain-still state, and when we do this we can see through the perceived reality of life. Those things we perceive to be true, we perceive them as ‘other’. We grasp onto these illusions , we form a character and a personality. We show a face to the world, and it plays out through us. Some of this we need to do, we do need to be active in the world. We do need to be a human being with everything that encompasses. And yet again, a wise man is not enslaved by it; these too, are not fixed things .

So, Mara was the Buddha’s restless mind; Well, Mara attacks us because there’s still something there to be attacked. So, when we sit and we’re troubled, it’s the unresolved karmic residue that comes to the surface. We deal with it by not doing anything with it. This is one of the big apparent paradoxes of practice. We are so attuned to having to do something about something we try to take over and do it. We don’t need to do it. This tempts us to believe that there is a reality in impermanance. We see it as real, tangible and give it permanance and yet like any other thing it just passes. So when we sit and see things or have thoughts about our life as in a mirror we see clearly, it seems. Yet these are images of the drifting wandering world.

So these thoughts appear to be just as things are, but they are just thoughts. Nevertheless we believe them because it is what we know and because we already know it we recognise it. So our view of the world is shown back to us and it’s possible to believe it. It’s the way we think so that is what is being shown to us. We therefore have trouble seeing through the images, thoughts and emotions which latch on to us and we act from that place. The trouble is everything is always moving. When the Buddha got up from under the Bodhi tree he picked up his bowl and started to wander forth the first people he came across were the five Rishis who he had practised ascetism with previously. The Rishis practised by pushing their bodies and minds to extreme limits as a way of transcending the limits of this earthly body. The Buddha parted from them as he had realised that this wasn’t the way to seek the end of suffering. Their bodies emaciated, twisted, burnt and skewered they asked him if he had found a better way to encounter the true spirit as they saw in him a change from the person they had last met and wondered what it is that he has seen and experienced. The Buddha having found the middle way just passed on. He knew that to stay in the extremes was only to allow suffering to arise again and again. When we stay in the opposites, in duality we are reinforcing old behaviours.

In 1879 Edwin Arnold published a long poem called the Light of Asia which describes the Buddha’s life. In it there is a section which I would like to quote which speaks on this.

Onward he passed

Exceeding sorrowful, seeing how men

Fear so to die they are afraid to fear,

Lust so to live they dare not love their life,

But plague it with fierce penances, belike

To please the Gods who grudge pleasure to man;”

So if we fear to die we live our lives in fear. If we fear to live we live in fear. If we lust to live we do not love our life. Our mind comes up with fierce penances and we beleaguer ourselves with them. We are constantly in the opposites. Harmony isn’t a case of balance. Finding ourselves falling on one side we don’t have to err on the other side to balance our lives out.

We need to fully live this life the best way we can. Feel the sensations and know the fears and rejoice in the breathing. If we give vent to anger, frustration and other emotions that cause hurt it is released only for it to return. The world is rarely to our liking and the behaviour of others can test our peace of mind and outside influences are readily blamed for our unhappiness and discontent. Karma if left unattended is unlikely to be converted. So when we allow ourselves to be feel threatened see that we are just introducing and continuing behaviours that are unhelpful for ourselves and others.

A recent topic of debate here at the Priory has been that of the use of the will. The question has arisen of me that I say that essentially in zazen we do nothing and that also there is the use of the will. I am asked ‘so how can we use the will if I don’t do anything?’Well if we don’t turn towards that which causes suffering it will continue to ferment and stew creating more suffering. So it bubbles away and stews and just creates more. Suffering arises in the mind, ferments in the mind and develops in the mind. This is all part of the use of the will here. We therefore learn that to turn towards that which appears is to have the chance to see through it and not give it a chance to grow. The mountain still state allows us to let the arrows of Mara’s bowmen to penetrate and go straight through. This is showing us yet again that we are not bound by karma although subject to its laws. As with fear we can allow ourselves to know it and let it pass through. We see it as an arrow and we know it is an arrow but as it has no substance and we are empty what is there to stop it passing through. This is the use of the will which is the turning towards what we need to see. We are willing to look so the will is the willing to look. It goes from being on our shoulder shadowing us and comes to the front. We might not be able to name it and we might not even recognise it yet we need to see it and then it can go. So we acknowledge and embrace the fear by enfolding it. If it stays on our shoulder faceless and threatening we can never turn enough to see it. Bring it to the front. When talking about the Paramitas Dogen commented that while practicing the six virtues and attempting to lose delusion there is the practice of nothing. He says that this is the practicing of the dharma. From this we can see that the turning towards is the practicing of nothing at all. The Buddha saw the Morning Star and the Morning Star was the just doing and in the just doing Mara receded.

Transcribed from a talk given after the Festival of the Buddha’s Enlightenment

Poem extract from The Light Asia Windhorse publications

30th Anniversary

On January 5th I will be holding a ceremony to mark the opening of Reading Buddhist Priory at it’s first premises on Elgar Rd. It won’t be a big affair, that will be in June next year. The usual sitting periods will be followed by a celebration of Rev. Master Jiyu’s birthday which falls close by on the 1st. I appreciate it is close to New Year and Christmas and also going back to work. If you can come along and say hello and maybe stay for lunch you are most welcome. Please let me know in advance.


Study Group

I would like to let you know that from February next year a study group will be beginning here at the Priory. This will be the study of a text, Scripture or other relevant teaching. The hope is to go into the writing in some depth so that it can aid one’s practice. The approach will be practice/faith based rather than intellectual. If you are interested please let me know. I have initially placed it on a Tuesday evening at 7.30 – 9.30. If those interested find that on the whole another time suits then we can discuss this and see where it might fit in the calender. The first text has yet to be decided I will let you know what it will be in good time. Any ideas welcomed.

Newcomers change

If you are reading this as a newcomer to us, then I would like to point out that from next year starting in February the Introductory sessions will be held on Saturday mornings from 9.30 to 12.00.

For the diary

Here are next years dates for the two Alton Abbey retreats I will be running. There is one in the summer running from 16th to 19th July. The Autumn one is planned for 22nd to 25th October. We have just returned from this Autumns retreat which was attended by 8 trainees including myself. Due to travel arrangements I experimented with a stipped back version in terms of altar and accessories. This worked very well and showed how little one needed to still have a good retreat.

As a reminder the Brownshill monastery retreat runs from April 2nd to the 5th next year. This is the one we share with Telford Priory and Rev. Master Saido.

30th Anniversary celebrations

One for the diary. On January 5th which is a Sunday the Priory will be celebrating 30 years. On January 6th 1990  the Priory opened as a temple with Rev. Master Saido as the first Prior. This was at Elgar Rd with the move to the present building about 6 months later. Full details will be announced in good time.