Sunday, August 03, 2014


This week celebrates one of the greatest of the mediaeval Catholic figures, Saint Dominic. It was he who founded the Dominican Order in the early 113th century. They were famous for extreme self-denial and hardship, as well as their dedication to serving their community. For the Latin scholars out there, their name lead to a pun, The Dogs of God (domini canis). Dominican practice promoted the use of the rosary, such as reciting and counting the Hail Mary.

We can observe two parallels with our own tradition - the use of the rosary and the reliance a devotional and salvational practice form. In Buddhism, recitation, accompanied by use of a nenju or mala (rosary),  has been part of practice since the earliest times.

 In most print-limited cultures, people relied on repetitive formulaic recitation to hold the memory and precise detail of important religious teaching. Since the introduction of sutras, we have used sutra recitation, usually in a mono-chant form, to learn practice and share teachings such as our familiar Heart Sutra reminder “form is emptiness, emptiness is form”. Although Christianity was devotional from the beginning, the prominence of Mary, or what we call Marianism, emerged later.
In Buddhism, we also saw the early Dharma switch from a stark quasi-atheism to inclusion of an emphasis on a  personal relationship with Shakyamuni within a few hundred years of his death.

Tendai nenju or mala
Shakyamuni, as an object of devotion, and gradually devotion to the countless bodhisattvas, like the pseudo-Mary figure of Kwan-Yin, became one of the characteristics of later Buddhadharma. Only slightly later we see the emergence of a strongly devotional tradition around Amitabha Buddha, who, like Mary is seen as capable of intervening in time to assist our salvation. Like Marianism in Christianity, this Amidism or devotion to Amitabha has become the most practiced form of Buddhism in the world.

Yours in the Dharma,                          
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu   

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