There is a conundrum in spiritual practice. “I” practice meditation or Dharma to find peace of mind and that “me” must do something to get there. And yet, the very idea of me doing it, for myself, for my suffering, and the notion of “getting there” are all causes of the suffering I seek to alleviate.
One way to work with this paradox is through devotional practice. One can take a humble gesture like praying position, use the vibrational power of chanting to clear somatic energetic obstructions, and bow the head towards or even touching the ground, with the sense of surrendering all agitation, grief, and other afflictive energies back to the Earth. The act of bowing and the beauty of chanting naturally tenderize the heart.
In the bow, one might recall an archetypical image such as that of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, pictured above, with her thousand arms reaching out to tend to the suffering of the world and her boundless wisdom and compassion that enable her to listen to sounds of the world with ease.
Just as one does not dance to get to some part of the dance floor, one does not chant or bow to get anywhere. One chants just for the sake of it and the joy of it and learns that the devotional heart generates joy, compassion, faith, and many other wholesome states of heart that can carry us in practice. Some of the chants involve memorizing important teachings from the suttas which become internalized. In my experience, those words often spontaneously appear in the mind in times of need.
The Great Compassion Ceremony, as crafted by Master Hwa, reminds us that “the worshiper and the worshiped are empty and still in nature.” This is to say that in the bow, one can recognize that the bodhisattva that can listen to the sounds of the world at ease is within. When we realize that our heart and the great heart of the awakened beings are as one, we have taken refuge in something vast and infinitely larger than ourselves.
May we all know the beauty of a peaceful heart.
If you are moved to devotional practice, please join us at the InsightLA retreat led by Thanissara and Kittisaro which melds the teachings of Ajahn Chah of the Thai forest monastic tradition with the more mystical devotional Kuan Yin Dharmas of the Chan tradition as taught by Master Hwa.
The retreat takes place from December 20, 2022 to December 26, 2022 and is being offered in person at Big Bear Retreat Center. Of course chanting is best in person, but in consideration of the climate crisis and for maximum accessibility we are also simultaneously offering the retreat online.