|Four Bodhisattva Vows by Nonin Chowaney|
Rev. Nonin Chowaney explains the ceremony:
"Ryaku Fusatsu is indeed ancient. Its roots go back to Pre-Buddhist India, to ancient Vedic lunar sacrifices performed on the nights of the new and full moon. By Shakyamuni Buddha's time 2600 years ago, these sacrifices were no longer performed, but the new and full moon occurrences were still observed by Hindus as holy days of purification and fasting, days when the Gods came to dwell in the house. They became known as Upavastha (from the Sanskrit upa, near and vas, dwell).
Legend has it that Shakyamuni Buddha's followers also gathered on those days, perhaps because they didn't want to be left out. They would sit down and meditate together. Later, lay disciples – in whose homes the monks and nuns would sometimes gather – wanted some teaching, so the monks began to recite the 227 rules of the Patimokkha discipline, the rules governing everyday conduct for monks and nuns (257 for nuns). This recitation developed into a confession and repentance ceremony, during which the monks and nuns would speak up if they had violated any of the rules and vow to do better in the future.
"This ceremony is still performed today, at the same time and in the ancient way, by Theravadin monks and is called Uposatha in the Pali language, a variation of the old Upavastha, the, "near-dwelling" of the Gods on the ancient Hindu holy days. In Mahayana Buddhism, the spirit of the ceremony is preserved, but the 227 rules are not recited, because Mahayana sects have abandoned them. Instead of the confession being made to other monks, it is made directly to Buddha.
The ceremony was transmitted, with lots of changes and developments, from India through China to Japan and now has been transmitted to America as Ryaku Fusatsu, as it is known in Soto Zen Buddhism.
"Ryaku" means, "abbreviated," or "simple." This distinguishes the ceremony from a "full fusatsu," a complicated, elaborate event still performed in Japan once or twice a year in some large temples. It takes two to three hours to complete. The simple ceremony we do here takes about forty-five minutes. "Fusatsu" means, "to continue good practice," or, "to stop unwholesome action (karma)." The name conveys the spirit of repentance and confession present in the Theravadin Uposatha Ceremony. Ryaku Fusatsu today, as performed in Soto Zen temples, includes the reading/transmission of Buddha's precepts, lots of bowing, and some of the elaborate, beautiful chanting common to Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan but rarely heard in America."
As Rev. Nonin says, the ceremony is about 40-50 minutes long, and involves a lot of bowing and recitation. Anyone who is interested is welcome to come. If you would like to see the text of the vows and precepts, click here.
We will be performing this ceremony on the night of the full moon from now on.