Keeping Sacred Space

practicing with a home altar

While having a home altar is not necessary for your practice, many people do enjoy having a dedicated space in their home for meditation, chanting, and other Buddhist practices. Or you may just want to have a place where you can consciously engage with the moment, doing something as simple as mindfully lighting incense. Either way, having a place at home for dedicated practice can deepen your awareness and growth.

The short articles below were written by by Shea Ikusei Settimi and are taken from the webpage of The Monastery Store, associated with Zen Mountain Monastery in New York state. Here, Settimi writes of creating and using sacred space in practice.

Buddhist Chanting

Chanting in Buddhism is as old as practice itself.

The writer Sarah Shaw tells us that "chants introduce meaning and purpose into one’s life... Anyone, anywhere, can sense connectedness with the Buddhist path." Chanting, she tells us, can be used to settle the mind before meditation practice, to feel part of practice in sangha, or simply in moments of daily life to finding a simple recollection of the Buddha.

Writing in the magazine Lion's Roar, Mark Unno reflected that, "Chanting is neither active nor passive — it’s receptive. We chant so we can receive the spontaneous power of ... oneness." Seen from this perspective, chanting brings us to a point of received awakening. Through chanting, Unno tells us, we "are the receptive vessel of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion."

The Three Treasures

The Three Treasures date back to the very roots of Buddhism.

John Daido Loori Roshi, founder of the Zen Mountain Monastery in New York, spoke of taking refuge as "abiding in complete trust." He said that the Japanese word for “taking refuge,” comes from the term ki-e, where ki, means “to unreservedly throw oneself into,” and e is “to rely upon.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, “The essence of taking refuge is to have complete confidence in the Three Treasures, regardless of life’s circumstances, good or bad.” In taking refuge, Vanessa Zuisei Goddard wrote, "We don’t wait for better times, a clearer head, a calmer heart. We don’t anticipate life getting back to “normal.” We practice, not in spite of the circumstances, but with them.

The Buddha refers both to the historical Buddha and to the ideal of Buddhahood itself. Taking refuge in the Buddha is to see him as your spiritual example, and committing to become someone who sees the nature of reality clearly, living fully and naturally in accordance with that understanding.

The Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha, beginning when the Buddha first put his realization into words in Northern India, 2600 years ago. Taking refuge in dharma is to seek the wisdom of the Buddha's teaching and to develop it in your own life.

The Sangha refers to the people with whom we share our spiritual lives. Buddhism is not simply an abstract philosophy. It is a way of approaching life and finds its deepest meaning when it is shared among people. Taking refuge in sangha is to freely work in support others along the path, and to receive that same support with an open heart.

Chant: The Three Treasures

I take refuge in Buddha,

and resolve that with all beings

I will understand the Great Way

whereby the Buddha seed may forever thrive.

I take refuge in Dharma,

and resolve that with all beings

I will enter deeply into the sutra-treasure

whereby my wisdom may grow as vast as the ocean.

I take refuge in Sangha,

and in its wisdom, example,

and never-failing help,

and resolve to live in harmony with all sentient beings.