By Ben Matlock, True Equanimity of the Sangha
Editor’s Note: The Boston Old Path Sangha created a ceremony to welcome children to this life and to the Sangha. You might consider offering this ceremony to the children in your Sangha, especially to newborns. You can change and add to this format with your own creativity. For instance, it is lovely to chant the child’s name to her or him as part of a welcoming ceremony.
A three-tiered altar was created; on the top level was a statue of Avalokiteshvara, candles and flowers. On the second level was an empty vase; on the lowest level a bowl of consecrated water with a willow branch. Everyone sat in a circle, with the parents and the children being celebrated nearest the altar. In front of each family was a bud vase with a special flower and a branch, and gifts offered by the Sangha. Across from the altar was a basket filled with one kind of flower.
Before the ceremony began, it was explained that the children were to be the focal point of the event, and were invited to remain through the entire ceremony, even if the traditional periods of silence were interrupted.
Opening the Ceremony Three Bells Sitting Meditation, five minutes Incense Offering (Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, page 315) Introductory Words “Children are the flowers of the Sangha. Today the community has gathered to recognize two new flowers. We begin by expressing gratitude to our ancestors so that we can recognize that these dear children are the continuation of our spiritual and blood relations. Please open your hearts to these children and to the teaching they can provide us. They will also need our guidance and support along the paths they follow as they live their lives.”
Naming the Children
“Dear parents, please state clearly the name of the child you present this day.” (Each name followed by a bell). Each child is sprinkled with water.
“May your name lead you and us to realize the beauty of your suchness and may it be a continual bell calling you to an understanding of your true nature.
“The water on this branch is the clear fresh balm of compassion. May these children be treated with compassion in their lives and thus learn to have compassion for themselves and others.
“Parents, please tell how the child you present today has come to be known by his or her name.” (Parents tell us why they chose the names they did.)
The Five Awarenesses
“Dear parents, you have become the special guardians of these precious children. If you choose, you can be supported greatly by the Three Gems. The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha will provide you spiritual support. The Five Awarenesses provide the context of your understanding of your special role. Know that this community will continue to support you in this practice. Consider reciting these awarenesses on the full moon each month. Hearing the sound of the bell, please say the five awarenesses in the presence of this community that wishes to support you.”
We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us. (bell)
We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us. (bell)
We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are the joy peace, freedom, and harmony of our ancestors, our children, and their children. (bell)
We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love. (bell)
We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow. (two bells)
Welcoming the Children into the Sangha
(Said by all) “Dear Children, we welcome you into our family and promise to allow you to flourish in our midst. We honor you for the gift you are. May you always experience the true refuge of compassion when you are with us. To help manifest the energy of compassion, we now invoke the name of Avalokiteshvara twenty-one times. While we chant, please enjoy assembling a community of flowers in the empty vase as a symbol of our own community’s flowering. One at a time, take a flower from the basket and place it in the vase.”
Each Sangha member bowed first to the altar and then to each of the children. At the end, the parents added the children’s flowers to the vase.
(Sing Recitation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara’s Name from PV Chanting and Recitation Book, page 343, second variation.)
“Participants are invited to turn to each other and practice hugging meditation as a form of Beginning Anew to close the ceremony and demonstrate that we are welcoming these new flowers with open hearts and harmony between each other.”
The ceremony unfolded in a lovely mix of formality and informality. At one point one of the children helped invite the bell. He did this several times, each time listening to the results of his actions. The other baby found the written program quite tasty and chomped down with great enthusiasm. Laughter came with great ease when something tickled our funny bones. A festive potluck lunch marked the end of the day’s events.
Note: The water was consecrated by a few of us before the ceremony using the form in the Blessing Ceremony found in the PV Chanting and Recitation Book, page152.
The Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book is available through Parallax Press, parallax.org.