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January 27, 2013

by Stephen Damon

Last week, my teacher visited our group to lead us in a relinquishment ceremony in which we each formally relinquished one habit or activity that interfered with our practice. It’s a wonderful ceremony in which each person writes down something he or she feels that they need to give up and places it in a fire. It’s a very short ceremony but its effects create a new context for a person’s ongoing Zen practice.

Our practice is a path of relinquishing or letting go of all things, especially our sense of an independent, substantial self. Ultimately, we need to see that there is really nothing that we can hold onto, not in the world around us and not in ourselves. In Shoji, Dogen says that relinquishment means to set aside your body and mind, forget about them and throw them into the house of Buddha. First we study the self and then we forget the self and then we are enlightened by the myriad things.

So, relinquishment is an ongoing practice. If we notice we are holding on to anything, we need to let go of it. Sometimes it can be a big thing such as pride in accomplishing something on which we have worked very hard and sometimes it is as small as our ingoing breath. I would emphasize that every time I look into myself I see that there are attachments and identifications to be let go of. These serve as the fuel for the ego’s attempt to make things permanent and real. Sometimes these attachments are as subtle as the very practice of looking for things to let go of. Like everything else in our Zen practice if you look carefully enough you see that all distinctions and classifications have infinitely subtle dimensions.

In my experience, the most subtle dimension of relinquishment is to see that it is not really a matter of doing anything with our attachments as it is a matter of seeing them. Yes, we need to let go of things, but if we pay careful attention we observe that just the seeing is a letting go. We notice that when we see something, that “thing” vaporizes into thin air. And then we are left with empty awareness. So it’s not so much a matter of what we see as it is a matter of that we see.

Since participating in the ceremony I have tried to start each day with the intention to give up one thing for that day. At the end of the day I have tried to review my efforts not as a way of judging my success or failure but as a way of studying how I have lived. And then I finish the day’s exercise by letting go of “my non-attachment.” This has proved to be a very helpful way of returning to my original wish to practice. But I would not have been able to engage in this practice had not been for the ceremony that our sangha practiced together. Watching each person placing their handwritten attachments into the flames I was able to get beyond “my” practice to see the practice of countless Buddhas and ancestors.
Relinquishment & Renewal Ceremony
1. As the Sangha assembles around the fire, the Doan rings the inkin until all are assembled. (Inkin is struck every 7 seconds.)
2. Accelerated Drum roll (Han signals)
1. 2. 3. 4..rolldown 1 big hit; 1 medium hit, 1 soft hit
3. (All) Reading: “Protecting & Transforming”*
4. Doshi announces, “It is time to relinquish our attachments”
5. As each person tosses their relinquishment scroll into the fire, the Sangha chants:
6. Closing Chants: Three Refuges Verse & Four Vows
7. Doshi bows and exits the ceremony
8. Begin 2 drum beats; alternate with 1 strike on Inkin
9. Doan rings the Inkin 2x to signal the ceremony conclusion once all are assembled back by their cushions.
* Chant for Protecting and Transforming
We, who from beginningless time
have made ourselves unhappy out of confusion and ignorance,
being born and dying with no direction,
have now found confidence in the highest awakening.

However much we may drifted on the ocean of suffering,
today we see clearly that there is a beautiful path.
We turn toward the light of loving kindness to direct us.
We bow deeply to the Awakened One and to our spiritual ancestors
who light up the path before us, guiding every step.
The wrongdoings and sufferings that imprison us
are brought about by craving, hatred, ignorance and pride.
Today we begin anew to purify and free our hearts.
With awakened wisdom, bright as the sun and the full moon,
and immeasurable compassion to help humankind,
we resolve to live beautifully.
With all of our heart, we go for refuge to the Three Precious Jewels.
With the boat of loving kindness,
we cross over the ocean of suffering.
With the light of wisdom, we leave behind the forest of confusion.
With determination, we learn, reflect and practice.
Right View is the ground of our actions, in body, speech, and mind.
Right Mindfulness embraces us,
walking, standing, lying down, and sitting,
speaking, smiling, coming in, and going out.
Whenever anger or anxiety enter our heart,
we are determined to breathe mindfully and come back to ourselves.
With every step, we will walk within the Pure Land.
With every look, the Dharmakaya is revealed.
We are careful and attentive as sense organs touch sense objects
so all habit energies can be observed and easily transformed.
May our heart’s garden of awakening
bloom with hundreds of flowers.
May we bring the feelings of peace and joy into every household.
May w plant wholesome seeds on the ten thousand paths.
May we never have the need to leave the Sangha body.
May we never attempt to escape the suffering of the world,
always being present wherever beings need our help.
May mountains and rivers be our witness in this moment
as we bow our heads and request the Lord of Compassion to embrace us all.

From → Zen Buddhism

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