Emotion and the Spiritual Life

There is a common misconception that Buddhism is a purely intellectual affair, a thing of philosophical discussion. Another common misunderstanding is that  because Buddhism is concerned with overcoming the suffering caused by attachment that it must be concerned with "overcoming" the emotions.

It may be true that an over-identification with our emotional responses may be unhelpful - particularly if those emotions are quite negative. However, it is difficult to achieve anything in life without a degree of emotional commitment. This is also true of the Buddhist path.

An engagement with Buddhism that did not involve the emotions would be a purely intellectual affair. While this would be OK for a scholar of Buddhism; an actual practitioner of Buddhism, seeking a path of transformation, needs to engage the whole of their being - the head and the heart. Ritual helps us to do this.

Buddhist rituals are usually called Puja, meaning "worship". It is important to remember that Buddhists do not regard the Buddha as a God, so "worship" here has a different flavour to worship in the Christian context.

There are many different Pujas and new ones are being written all the time.  Writing your own Pujas can be a very powerful way of engaging with the Buddhist vision.

Pujas can be very simple or very long and colourful. They generally involve a number of stages, each building on the previous one in order to cultivate particular positive emotions such as faith, gratitude and compassion.

During the chanting of a puja there are often spaces for making offerings,  for the reading of Buddhist teachings, for quiet reflection and for the chanting of mantras.

Here is a simple Puja, one of many used in the FWBO. 

The Threefold Puja

Opening Reverence

We reverence the Buddha, 
the Perfectly Enlightened One,
the Shower of the Way.

We reverence the Dharma, 
the Teaching of the Buddha,
which leads from darkness to Light.

We reverence the Sangha,
the fellowship of the Buddha's disciples,
that inspires and guides.

Reverence to the Three Jewels

We reverence the Buddha, and aspire to follow Him.
The Buddha was born as we are born.          
What the Buddha overcame, we too can overcome;  
What the Buddha attained, we too can attain.

We reverence the Dharma, and aspire to follow it  
With body, speech and mind, until the end.      
The Truth in all its aspects, the Path in all its stages,
We aspire to study, practise, realize.

We reverence the Sangha, and aspire to follow it:  
The fellowship of those who tread the Way.        
As, one by one, we make our own commitment,   
An ever-widening circle, the Sangha grows.

Offerings to the Buddha

Reverencing the Buddha, we offer flowers:   
Flowers that today are fresh and sweetly blooming, 
Flowers that tomorrow are faded and fallen.      
Our bodies too, like flowers, will pass away.

Reverencing the Buddha, we offer candles: 
To Him, who is the Light, we offer light.  
From His Greater lamp a lesser lamp we light within us: 
The lamp of Bodhi shining within our hearts.

Reverencing the Buddha, we offer incense: 
Incense whose fragrance pervades the air.    
The fragrance of the perfect life, sweeter than incense, 
Spreads in all directions throughout the world.