So this is part two of my post about sponsoring Buddhist rituals. While I covered a lot of this simply in the last post I wanted to expand it more now, as some people grasp it, and others find it unusual.
In the Western world, or perhaps more properly with Western Buddhists there is a change in how Buddhism is understood and performed, by the laity and clergy and everything in between. Part of that is the lack of sponsored rituals. In Buddhist countries, and with people from Buddhist cultures (whether they themselves are Buddhist doesn’t matter) the act of sponsoring rituals is very common. People may sponsor them altruistically or purposefully. Meaning someone may just go to a temple, a hermitage, or contact a local lama, ngakpa, priest, or authorized practitioner and give them a donation to support their ability to do rituals. (I include priest because as this is about the cultures rather than religion there is a lot of overlap with Buddhism and non-Buddhist traditions)
In fact there are many stories about practitioners living off in the wildness, locked in a cave or something like that, and people would come by and just leave them food so they could practice. No communication, no request, they merely did it to help themselves, and to accumulate merit.
Or people can go and give a donation and ask that a ritual for a specific broad goal is done for them, maybe they have a wedding coming up so they sponsor a Medicine Buddha ritual in order to help assure they’ll be healthy for the wedding. Even more direct they may go and sponsor rituals for a specific goal, maybe they’re ill with something and would like Medicine Buddha rituals performed for and on them. It’s so much a part of the system that sometimes in the mo dice divinations the advice people are given is to sponsor certain rituals. There are lots of ways and reasons that people sponsor rituals, and the recitation of sutras (holy texts), but in the West, we don’t see that.
Why? There is no clear answer but I have ideas, my lama has ideas, I’ve seen it discussed before. Part of it is the ideal of being self-sufficient: you are you, you don’t need handouts, you don’t need support, and you don’t need monks doing rituals for you, you can handle it.
The latter point I see playing out more with occultists today, overall it looks like more people want to be generalists than specialists, and there are advantages both ways, but I see a lot of people who don’t want help, assistance, or training in a certain area cause they believe they can (or should be able to) handle it. “I don’t need someone to read my future, I have a tarot deck.” “I don’t need help contacting this spirit, I’m my own priest/ess.” While I advocate being well rounded magickally (and in generally) assuming that you’re just as good at healing, divination, banishing, wealth magick, house cleansing, love magick, and whatever is probably a folly. For various reasons, personality, magickal tradition, training, karma, dumb luck, we all seem to have areas we are better at, and others where we’re not so hot. How many famous/competent mages through history used some form of seer? There is nothing wrong with admitting you’re good at one thing, but need help at another, but for some reason the modern Western world wants use to think we can be, or are, experts at everything.
Another potential cause is the demystification of Buddhism in the west, the idea that meditation is all about training the mind and there isn’t really anything spiritual/magickal going on, which maybe makes sense with Theravada, but falls apart with Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. So if Buddhism is all psychological there is no point in sponsoring rituals cause it won’t help you. Of course if you don’t believe there is anything magickal going on in Buddhism you haven’t looked deep enough.
Part of it is just the unfamiliarity of it in a Christian-heritage culture. Sure if you have a minister officiate a wedding or funeral you are expected to pay them or donate to the Church, but most Christian faiths don’t offer specific services/rituals around healing, or dying, or wealth, or whatever. So people might just be unused to the idea of being able to ask for spiritual/magickal help in these regards. Who knows, there are lots of reasons why it isn’t done, and there are lots of reasons why it should be done.
First off a reason why it should be done is that from a Buddhist perspective community is central “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).” The sponsorship is a way of building and supporting that community, keeping the clergy aware of what is going on with the people, it ties everyone together.
It also helps with the development of those performing the rituals. Instead of vague “for the benefit of all sentient beings” they can put a face/name/identity to someone they’re helping, especially when performing rituals with specific focuses. It also helps in the sense that by performing rituals the monks are working towards their goal of enlightenment and developing compassion. A major, and early, purpose of the donations and sponsorships was to free up the time of the monk by providing them with a meal so they could focus on their dharma practice.
It also benefits the person sponsoring in several ways. First off the ritual is done on their behalf, they sponsored it, so the merit accumulated is their merit. To oversimplify matters, the “good karma” created from the ritual is theirs. This can help generally, or specifically, it can “grease the wheels” for them or be targeted to deal with an issue. When a ritual is sponsored in a general sense it isn’t performed on/for the person, but their behalf, but none the less the merit is connected to the purpose of the ritual. So if you sponsor a healing ritual the merit and blessing you receive is connected to health. Obviously then when a ritual is performed on/for a person, then it deals with their issue specifically, so not just the blessing/merit, but a focused magickal working on helping out. Those are just the major reasons I can think of.
That ramble being done, I’ve been authorized to perform rituals in this manner for a while now and I decided to open it up beyond the local community. Now traditionally a sponsorship was in the form of meals, clothing, religious items (e.g. incense), or money for the temple. Now my local sangha tends to support me in this way via meals, I perform rituals, they buy me delicious Greek fries (cause my lama always goes to a Greek restaurant after our early morning meditation sessions). The internet makes it more complicated, so we settled on $5 as the rough cost of meal when eating out somewhere simple. I might expand this later with rituals involving substitutes, but that’s a lot more awkward to handle online, involves mailing stuff, but who knows, if people find the service useful (and so far I’ve had two people make use of the sponsorships, and two who I’m just finishing up some discussion with around it before starting) I might include that.
I list on the etsy page what I’m authorized to do. (Actually, I’m authorized to perform other rituals, but they’re more abstract and harder to explain and not likely to be requested.) So if you’re curious go check that out.