There’s little of Buddhist liturgy or ritual these days that I find indispensable. Still, I follow a daily pattern of chanting the Heart Sutra, a praise for Avalokiteshvara, the Three Refuges, and the Bodhisattva Vows, along with the traditional bowing and ringing of the gong. I couldn’t tell you why I continue to do so. I think I once had reasons but if so I’ve forgotten what the reasons were. I no longer ask why I’m doing any of this or feel any need to know. I just do what I was once taught to do—and none of it feels essential.
It’s ironic that the one element of Buddhist liturgy that I do find indispensable is not among those I observe daily. I entered the path of Zen because I was weary of the hurt and pain I somehow managed to cause myself and others, and I thought that Zen might help me to cease from it. The truth is I felt guilty. Old wrongs of mine would rise up in memory, prior events of sometimes forty or fifty years earlier, and I would cringe at the recollection. It’s puzzling to me what sorts of memories come to haunt me in this way, seemingly minor lapses in kindness that might seem insignificant to others but somehow loom large among the things I wish I hadn’t done.