Here’s an excerpt from the book from the chapter of my book: The Practical Buddhist.
What is Practical Buddhism?
It’s Buddhism without the robes, rituals, and ceremonies.
Buddhism is thousands of years old. And, as you can imagine, anything that old is bound to have developed nuances, rituals and other trappings that may have been accepted as part of the process. Often these additions, if repeated often enough, can evolve into unwritten requirements that over time become incorporated into the canon of traditional thought and literature.
New practitioners naturally assume these additions are part of the practice and this leads to misplaced emphasis. If you leave these non-essentials behind, you are left only with meditation, mindfulness, and compassionate kindness.
The Buddha taught many lessons to his followers. He taught the four noble truths and the eight-fold path. But for me, the most important aspects of what the Buddha taught have to do with human activity.
The three areas that demand the most human attention and consistent activity make up the three components of Practical Buddhism:
In my experience, Buddhist practice is actively engaging with life in the present moment. Nothing else really matters…ritual, ceremony, week-long retreats… they all have merit, but they’re largely unnecessary. I don’t need them to actively engage in the present moment.
When I first came to Buddhism, I encountered the same rituals, ceremonies, and complexities that also characterized my experience within Christianity and later, within Kriya Yoga.
For example, in my time spent as a Kriya Yoga initiate, I began taking advanced training in transcendental meditation. Each class seemed to build additional layers of philosophy and prescribed behaviors upon those previously learned. This continued until my practice became a legalistic exercise placing increasing importance on technique and minute adjustments.
The joy I initially felt -when I knew next to nothing about technique- was replaced by ritual and soon disappeared altogether. In my experience, a ritual is fascinating at first but over time leads to disinterest and ultimately boredom.
I untethered from ritual and ceremony a long time ago. I can see no positive result from engaging in repetitive ceremonies. This isn’t to say I’m against all ceremonies and traditions, just that they don’t always serve a primary purpose.
Take singing Happy Birthday. It’s something you and I have done many times and yet it doesn’t accomplish anything. Wouldn’t the person would still turn 6, 16, or 96 if we didn’t sing it?
We can also see this in religious practices. The Christian baptism, the Catholic First Communion, or the Jewish Bar-Mitzvah – are all unnecessary rituals. In my thinking, following Christ or becoming a man isn’t achieved by participating in these observances.
Also on this list would be weddings. If a couple isn’t committed to fidelity and loving one another through hard times already, no ceremony will make a difference in whether or not their union will be a loving, supportive partnership.
But before you hang me out to dry, I do think ceremonies and rituals are often great experiences to witness. Singing Happy Birthday to an excited child is a happy experience; attending a wedding and taking part in the celebration of love between two individuals is heart-warming and wonderful; Attending a graduation ceremony can be an emotional experience and can motivate others to follow their own educational path.
It’s not that Buddhism, with all its ritual and ceremony, is bad, rather, it doesn’t help me have a deeper experience. Buddhism is a way of living, not a religion. Practical Buddhism helps me live authentically.