Reflections Regarding Sunday Service and Uposatha

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

Here is a talk that I gave May 13, 2000. "Uposatha" days were held on the full moon, the new moon and the quarter moons. They were days for fasting and hearing the Dharma for the laity. Here in the West, services are held on Sundays instead, so this talk was an attempt to make a connection between the ancient custom of fasting days on the quarter moons and our regular Sunday services.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,
Ryuei

Reflections Regarding Sunday Service

A moment of decision arises when one discovers that Buddhism is more than just an interesting philosophy or a quaint religion that may or may not run in the family and that, in fact, it may be the key to the Great Matter of life and death. In that moment, one may very well come to fully and decisively take refuge in the Buddha as one’s teacher, the Dharma as the teaching and the Sangha as the community that will enable one to follow the teacher and the teachings. Now, this moment is not about switching from one creed to another nor is it about reciting a simple formula in order to gain cosmic reassurance or consolation. No, this is a moment whereby one establishes a whole new way of life, a whole new set of values centered around the Three Jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. For some people, this may lead to a full-time commitment to studying, practicing and teaching the Dharma to others; but for most, a life based on the Buddha Dharma will be lived out as a lay person in the midst of the daily routines of work and family. This means that, for the lay person, the guidance of the Dharma and the example of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion become the basis for one’s daily life. But what about the Sangha, the community, what role does that take in the life of the typical lay follower? Does it have a role?

From the time of Sakyamuni Buddha until this day in Theravadin countries each quarter-moon has been known as the uposatha observance day. The uposatha is a day of fasting, meditation and reflection for both the monastic community and the laymen and laywomen who gather at the temples and monasteries. For those lay people who participate, it is a chance to renew their commitment to the Three Jewels and participate, however briefly, in the monastic life which is the ideal way of life in Theravadin Buddhism. Here in North America, Mahayana Buddhists do not observe the quarter-moons nor do we consider the monastic life as the only authentic Buddhist way of life. We do, however, gather together at regular intervals, usually on Sunday mornings, to renew our commitments, rejoice in our faith and to benefit from the experience, knowledge and deep faith of those who have become full-time disciples of the the Buddha. In this way, we create the Jewel of the Sangha with each other, both lay and ordained. In Theravadin countries, the uposatha day of observance allows the laity to briefly participate in the life of the Sangha. In North America, we Mahayana Buddhists believe that the entire community is the Sangha, and we show our solidarity as a Sangha every time we practice together.

Furthermore, as Nichiren Buddhists we do not see ourselves as merely lay or ordained disciples of the Buddha. If we take our faith in the Lotus Sutra and the guidance of Nichiren Shonin seriously, then we should have the deep conviction that we ourselves are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who are the original bodhisattva disciples of the Original Shakyamuni Buddha who have vowed to uphold the True Dharma which is Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. Whenever we gather together in the presence of the Original Shakyamuni Buddha and recite Odaimoku, as we do during the Sunday service, in that very moment and at that very place we are manifesting the Ceremony in the Air within this Saha world. How could we fail to do this, how could we fail to take joy in such a precious opportunity?

The Lotus Sutra teaches that “Only a Buddha together with a Buddha can know the True Reality of All Existence.” This is because Mahayana Buddhism does not recognize any enlightenment that can be enjoyed alone as authentic. The True Dharma is not about saving “oneself”, it is about discovering that life is actually dynamically relational with no place for the boundaries of self and other. Enlightenment, therefore, is about letting go of the self and opening ourselves up to the empty and marvelous true nature of things. When that happens, even slightly, we begin to realize that the true aim of our lives is an inherently shared experience. It is this which is expressed and celebrated whenever we assert our true natures and reenact the Ceremony in the Air for the benefit of ourselves and all beings during the Sunday service and at all other times when we gather together and uphold Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.

The Three Refuges are like a stool that will inevitably topple if one leg is removed. Unfortunately, too many people try to make do with just the Buddha and the Dharma and neglect the Sangha. They do not realize, perhaps, that the Sangha is not “them,” meaning the priests who are supposed to be there when we need them to help facilitate various ceremonies and observances. The truth is that the Sangha is “us,” all of us who recite Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and therefore qualify as the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Hopefully, all of us who have taken refuge and who strive to wholeheartedly uphold the Lotus Sutra will seriously consider our role and our responsibility as the very Sangha that we take refuge in. Each of us is needed to mutually encourage each other and to pool together our joy and intentions to save all sentient beings. Chanting the Odaimoku may be the Lion’s Roar of the True Dharma; but how much better if the roar is that of a pride of lions on a Sunday morning?

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000, 2002.


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