The history of Buddhism religion dates back to the year 580 BC, which started with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Born in the Lumbini, Southern Nepal, Siddhartha left his home at a young age of 29 years, in search of enlightenment. After going through a life of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained enlightenment, which resulted in the alleviation of all his pain and suffering. He then set on a journey of teaching people the path to enlightenment that would liberate them from the cycle of life and death. Gradually, Buddhism spread to numerous countries of the world, which resulted in development of the religion. The original Indian foundation was expanded by the inclusion of Hellenistic as well as Central Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultural elements. The history of Buddhism also witnessed the development of numerous movements and divisions, such as Theravada, Mahayana, etc.However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.
THINGS TO DO
PRAYER OR PUJA
Buddhism rituals and practices comprise of very intricate and detailed prayers which are supposed to be performed from the time of birth to death. Puja is a Pali word which means honour, worship and devotional attention'. It can describe a variety of forms but in the monastery where it generally refers the twice daily gathering of the community in the main meditation hall. Prayer or Puja in Buddhism is mainly a way of expressing dedication towards God and making offerings to Him. Following of the rituals moves a person forward, on the path to enlightenment. The prayers are initiated with the evoking of a sangha. After the Sangha has been evoked, sadhaka or dharma student performs three prostrations, also known as three gates or three aggregates.
Meditation also forms a part of the rituals & practices in Buddhism. Buddhism is known throughout the world for promoting the technique of meditation. Infact, meditation is considered to be one of the basic elements that make up Buddhism. It is deemed to be one of the essential practices in the path to enlightenment where each one has to reach before death. In Buddhist tradition, each and every meditation technique is explained in detail. Meditation was adopted even by Lord Buddha Himself and the records of His own experience serve as the guidelines for those wishing to follow in His footsteps.
Buddhist marriages have been considered as secular matters and a duty of an individual to get performed to do his duty to his family before his or her death in Buddhist countries. In front of the shrine of Lord Buddha all set up with candles and flowers, the to-be married couple, the family and the guests would collect. The Boy and the girl and others would recite the Tisarana, Pancasila and the Vandana in either English or Pali.The boy and the girl are asked to light the candles and incense sticks. Then they offer flowers to the image of Buddha and around it. After this the bride and the groom must recite in turn, the vows that are prescribed for each of them in the Sigilovdda Sutta As for the Vidaai (girl's leaving maiden house for husband's house) ceremony, it is quite common for the newly wed couple to opt to stay at the girl's house. They could also decide to stay separately from either family. The girl's departure from her paternal house is also selected from the kika. This day could be any day between the first day after marriage till the tenth day.
The practice of chanting goes back to the days of the Buddha, when writing was not common. His teachings were memorised by monks in chant form and passed on. This was how the Buddha’s words were transmitted for several centuries. Chanting is done today as a form of veneration, to help purify the mind, and as a means of protection against undesirable events and to attain a spiritual death.
The ritual of taking the Five Precepts is almost always accompanied by taking the Three Refuges and this is considered to be an important ritual before ones death in Buddhism. These two factors form the foundation of being a lay Buddhist. The Precepts and Refuges ceremony is probably the most common ritual seen in a Buddhist situation and will often precede most other rituals, ceremonies or celebrations. Perhaps for this reason it is relatively simple. Although brief and to the point the implications and scope for contemplating the principles involved in the refuges and precepts are considerable. The ceremony is conducted by a member of the sangha at the request of the laity. It begins by one of the lay people bowing three times (to the sangha) and then with hands in anjali reciting the traditional Pali request. There is then a series of chanted lines in Pali with responses. The ceremony can sometimes be preceded by the offering of a tray; usually of flowers, candles and incense. Occasionally a Buddha image might be offered and sometimes a length of robe material.
ABSTAIN FROM INTOXICATING DRINKS AND MEAT
The Buddha did not advise his followers to abstain from eating meat. He was aware that prohibition would make it difficult for people in certain cultures to survive as Buddhists. For example, for an Eskimo the only food available might be meat or fish. On such matters, Buddha left the choice up to the individual but he insisted on atleast before death a person should try to abstain intoxicating drinks and meat. One should be aware that killing an animal, even for food, has its kammic consequences. Buddhist monks will refrain from eating meat if they are aware that an animal has been specially killed for the offering. Alcohol or other forms of intoxicating drugs taken even in moderate quantities affect the mind. Keeping the mind clear and pure at all times is most important in Buddhist practise. Those who are following the path of purification should avoid them altogether.
ABSTAIN FROM DESTROYING OR HARMING LIVING BEINGS
Not killing or causing harm to other living beings which should be followed till the time of death. This is the fundamental ethical principle for Buddhism, and all the other precepts are elaborations of this. The precept implies acting non-violently wherever possible, and many Buddhists are vegetarian for this reason. The positive counterpart of this precept is love.
ABSTAIN FROM STEALING
Not taking the not-given should be followed in a person’s lifetime till death. Stealing is an obvious way in which one can harm others. One can also take advantage of people, exploit them or manipulate them - all these can be seen as ways of taking the not-given. The positive counterpart of this precept is generosity.
ABSTAIN FROM SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
Avoiding sexual misconduct is an essential thing to be followed in Buddhism. This precept has been interpreted in many ways over time, but essentially it means not causing harm to oneself or others in the area of sexual activity. The positive counterpart of this precept is contentment a person reaches before death.
ABSTAIN FROM LIES AND UNSKILLFUL SPEECH
Avoiding false speech which helps a human getting refined before death. Speech is the crucial element in our relations with others, and yet language is a slippery medium, and we often deceive ourselves or others without even realizing that this is what we are doing. Truthfulness, the positive counterpart of this precept, is therefore essential in an ethical life. But truthfulness is not enough, and in another list of precepts (the ten precepts or the ten kusala dharmas) no fewer than four speech precepts are mentioned, the others enjoining that our speech should be kindly, helpful, and harmonious.
Buddhist monks observe a strict code of conduct (vinaya) in order to discipline the body and mind. Food is regarded simply as a means of keeping the body alive so that the spiritual path may be followed till a person dies. Food is not taken in order to beautify the body or because it has a pleasant taste. A meal in the evening may cause drowsiness and make the practice of meditation difficult. Monks discipline themselves to be satisfied with very few material things, including food. Also by eating only one meal a day, they reduce the burden on the lay community which supports them. An exception to the rule of not eating after noon is made during an illness. According to the vinaya rules, a monk should only eat what is offered to him and he should accept any item without showing pleasure or displeasure. The offering (dana) of food to the monks has been the tradition from the days of the Buddha.
Death rituals are considered to be the most important of all rituals in Buddhist culture. Buddhists believe that unless a person attains Nirvana, death is followed by rebirth. It is also commonly held that, after death, it may be possible to help in some way the person who has died. This has inspired a great number of Buddhist rituals, many of which are still practised today. For example, in some rituals, merit for the deceased can be obtained by the dead person’s family and friends making offerings of food and other items to monks.
CHARITY - OFFERNG ALMS FOOD
Offering alms daily till death is one of the cherished practices followed by pious Buddhists. The purpose of daily offering of alms-food is to uphold the bhikkhus residing in the community, to learn and practise meditation without any anxiety and tiredness about their subsistence. Understanding this fact, the lay people organize themselves into groups to keep up the practice of offering alms-food to bhikkhus. Some groups, or teams offer alms-food every day, some on a day which they can afford, some on every Sabbath day during the Buddhist Lent and some throughout the whole Buddhist Lent.
The origins of the practice of pilgrimage in Buddhism are obscure. Some scholars believe that Buddhist pilgrimage was initially imitative of the practice among Hindus but later became an integral part of the Buddhist tradition, assuming its own distinct features at least once in a lifetime before death. Pilgrimage is first mentioned in the Pali Tipitaka where the Buddha says that one should try to visit at least once in Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Isipatana and Kusinara. He says that if such a journey is undertaken with a 'devout heart' it will be very beneficial to one's spiritual growth. Obviously pilgrimage, like worshipping Buddha statues or performing pujas, is a behaviour growing out of and able to reinforce positive emotions like faith, determination and humility which in turn strengthens one's practice. Over the centuries countless pilgrims journeyed from every part of Asia to the four places mentioned above and other sacred sites in India. In time each Buddhist country developed centres of pilgrimage as well, places associated with the introduction of Buddhism, the lives of great saints etc. Some of the most interesting examples of Asian literature are accounts of pilgrimages - Fa Hien, Hsuan Tsang and Dharmasvarmin's pilgrimages to India (5th, 7th and 13th centuries respectively) and Ennin's account of his pilgrimage from Japan to China in the 9th century being amongst the most famous.
A number of other rituals also, follow these offerings to the deities and the three Jewels. These rituals include Bodhisattva vows, the 100-syllable Vajrasattva mantra, mandala offerings and the seven-line prayer of Guru Rinpoche and mon-lam prayers. After these rituals have been performed, the student practices meditation on shunyata or emptiness. The prayers come to an end with a ritual in which people express joy over the good deed and merit of others. They also request Buddha to teach them and not enter in parinirvana before death.
DAILY AND PERIODIC RITUALS
Merit is made and shared through daily, periodic, and special rituals and yearly festivals. Morning and evening services of chanting or worship take place in every monastery, temple, and home. With the placing of flowers and the lighting of candles and incense before a Buddha-image or some other symbol of the presence of the Buddha, monks chant together and the lay family offers a prayer. The flowers, beautiful one moment and wilted the next, remind the offerers of the impermanence of life; the odour of the incense calls to their mind the sweet scent of moral virtue that emanates from those who are devout; the candle-flame symbolizes enlightenment which a human should attain at the time of death.
SOME STRANGE CUSTOMS
Buddhist marriage is quite a boisterous affair, wherein the boy's family arrives at the girl's place. The custom has it that a pot of water, flowers, bamboo sticks are arranged in a typical way and leaves adorn the entrance for good luck. The girl's sisters welcome the boy and his friends in a rather prickly way. They throw nettle leaves and thorns etc on them. It is done because they want the groom to give them some suitable presents or money. Till then the groom would not be allowed to enter the hall.
The central daily rite of lay Buddhism is the offering of food. Theravada laity make this offering to the monks. Mahayana laity make it to the Buddha as part of the morning or evening worship. In both settings merit is shared.
The weekly Observance Day rituals at the Theravada monastery are opportunities for both laity and monks to quicken faith, discipline, and understanding, and make and share merit. On these days, twice each month, the monks change and reaffirm the code of discipline. On all of these days, they administer the Eight Precepts to the gathered laity, the laity repeating them after the monks and offer a sermon on the Dharma. The monks our water to transfer merit to the laity; the laity pour water to share this merit with their ancestors.
Zen and Pure Land Buddhists celebrate the New Year on the Western calendar. This is an occasion for Zen monks to publicly read large volumes of sacred sutras, thereby sending out cleansing and enlivening sound waves for the benefit of all beings. Pure Land Buddhist hold special services at the temple twice daily in praise of the Buddha Amida.
Theravada Buddhist honor and transfer merit to their ancestors on every occasion of merit making and sharing. Japanese Buddhist gives special honor and merit to their ancestors three times each year: on the spring and autumn equinoxes in March and September and during the month July 15-August 15. The equinox festivals, called Higan, "Other Shore," mark times of transition in nature and therefore are occasions to reflect on the passage of time and the progress of being toward enlightenment — the other shore.
In Japanese Pure Land, the lay priest presides over rituals of the first presentation of a child at the temple, confirmation of boys and girls at the age of puberty, and death. Japanese Buddhists undertake marriage at the Shinto shrine, presided over by Shinto priests.
The above mentioned strange customs are still said to be followed by the followers of this religion for attaining spirituality in their death. There are over 360 million followers of Buddhism in the world. Even though they follow different forms of Buddhism, their traditions are characterized by the same values of non-violence, lack of dogma, tolerance of differences, and usually, by the practice of meditation.