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Baby Naming Ceremony

May 5, 2013

by Stephen Damon

A couple of weeks ago, our sangha held a baby naming ceremony for the daughter of two of our members. The ceremony, which was based on a couple of ceremonies given by Katagiri Roshi, the founder of our lineage, started with the chanting of the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra. Both of the grandmothers had strong accents, one French and one Central American, and it was wonderful to hear them chant the well-known lines of the sutra. The accents were different, but the voice was the same. celesteBLOG

As I listened to everyone chant “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” I felt that the whole earth was reciting this ancient Mahayana Sutra as a way of invoking the wisdom and compassion of not only the Buddha and his teachings but of the universe itself. The Episcopal church in which we hold our meetings was filled with great love and compassion. It may sound strange to say, but it felt like the whole universe was celebrating with us.

After the chanting of the Heart Sutra, I read a statement to the Buddha which ends with an injunction to arouse the way-seeking mind, the mind that instinctively turns to the dharma and back to oneself: How can we enter the Buddha’s world without arousing the Bodhi-mind or the Way-Seeking Mind. Shakyamuni Buddha said, “The Bodhi-mind is the one thing that a Bodhisattva should protect.” Way Seeking Mind is the part of oneself that motivates our search for that “something more” that many of us are looking for. In Japanese, Way Seeking Mind is doshin do, which literally means being aware of, or turning towards, the Tao. Often it appears in the earliest stages of our lives, long before we’ve heard of Buddhism or Zen. If it becomes strengthened by the causes and conditions in our lives, it becomes our “true north” that allows our inner compass to find truth and meaning amidst the chaos of our lives. Without way-seeking mind we would never find our way, and, most important, we would never find ourselves.

Then we chanted the repentance verse:

All my ancient twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.

After awakening our way-seeking mind, we were asked to “avow” our lives, as we have lived them according to ordinary, reactive emotions and thoughts. Zen repentance is not so much an act of confession to an “other power” as it is a self-reflective activity. Acknowledging the way we have lived our lives, we are able to see them a little more objectively in the fullness of time, and let them go. The process of looking at ourselves in this way begins an opening process. Katagiri Roshi said: “Repentance is the perfect openness of our hearts that allows us to hear the voice of the universe beyond the irritation of our consciousness.”

Now we were able to take a step back from where we have been going and turn towards something less obvious, more subtle and often hidden: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. We chanted the complete refuge vows:

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha.

I have taken refuge in the Buddha as the perfect teacher.
I have taken refuge in the Dharma as the perfect teaching.
I have taken refuge in the Sangha as the perfect life.

I have completely taken refuge in the Buddha.
I have completely taken refuge in the Dharma.
I have completely taken refuge in the Sangha.

Having gone through the three necessary elements of our practice—way-seeking mind, repentance, and refuge—we were better able to protect and guide the new- born as she tries to find her way in life. And now the ceremony turned to her. It concluded with a short statement that I had written, along with a quote from Dogen and finally the Four Great vows:

What better time to be born than in the first days of spring, the season of joy, birth and renewal. Together, with the birds and flowers of the season we welcome you, Celeste, to Buddha’s world of boundless hope and limitless possibilities. Today, we join all the Buddhas and ancestors of our lineage in blessing your birth. In the days ahead, when the chants of our service have faded into silence may you find a way to hear their melodies and receive their blessings.

Dogen Zenji says, “It is difficult to be born as a human being; it is very rare to come into contact with the greatness of life mentioned by Buddha. By virtue of our good deeds in the past, however, we have been able not only to be born as human beings, but to encounter Buddha’s teaching as well. Within the realm of birth and death, thus, our present life should be considered to be the best and the most excellent of all.”

We congratulate you on your joining us with all beings. May the flower of your life-force bloom. May your heart always be filled with the joy that each of us now holds. I now would like to give you a Buddhist name, Shizu-ka, Calm Abiding.

Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma Gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.

This morning, while going through the main points of the baby naming ceremony, I am again filled with deep gratitude for the life of boundless hope and limitless possibilities that has been given to us. I am filled with the hope that Shizu-ka will know all this, not by reading what others have said, but by her own experience.


From → Zen Buddhism

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