Rites and Rituals in Chinese Buddhism

Both Theravada and Chinese Mahayana Buddhism recognised that the ten fetters (十纏) stand in the way of enlightenment. The Theravada described fetter as suffering attachments that will permanently trap us in the cycle of death and rebirth (Khuddaka Nikaya's Itivuttaka 1.15; SN 35.232)(Chinese Buddhist Encyclopaedia, 2019) and Chinese Buddhism has similar description as “被此十法缠缚。不能出离生死之苦。证得涅盘之乐” (俱舍論卷二十一、大智度論卷七) (辭義淺釋, 2019). The similarity unfortunately ends at this agreement.

There are differences in the listing of ten fetters between the Theravada and Chinese Mahayana Buddhism. Theravada states the ten fetters as Self-identity view (sakkaya ditthi), Sceptical doubt (vicikicca), Attachment to mere rites and rituals (silabbata paramasa), Sensual desire (kama raga), Ill-will (patigha), Desire to be born in fine material worlds (rupa raga), Desire to be born in formless worlds (arupa raga), Conceit (mana), Restlessness (uddacca) and Ignorance (avijja) (Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, 1995) while the Chinese Mahayana list includes no sense of shame無愧, no sense of dishonour 無慚, jealousy 嫉, stinginess 慳, remorse 悔, sleep 眠, excitement 掉舉, stupor 惛沈, rage 忿, and concealing one's wrongdoings 覆 (品類足論卷一僅立八纏;大毘婆沙論卷四十七至卷五十又加忿、覆二纏,明示十纏)(辭義淺釋, 2019).

The absent of “rites and rituals” as fetters in the Chinese Buddhism thoughts therefore give rise to seemingly more religious duty, observance, rite, practice and custom in Chinese Buddhist temples. Are these Chinese Buddhist “rites and rituals” in line with the Buddha teaching of impermanence of all forms (Norman Fischer, 2019) and equanimity (Narayan Liebenson, 1999) of no curving (non-attachments (Barbara O Brien, 2019)) and dislike (hatreness)?


Barbara O Brien, Why do Buddhists avoid attachment?, https://www.learnreligions.com/why-do-buddhists-avoid-attachment-449714, accessed 3 Oct 2019

Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi, Sabbasava Sutta – the middle length discourses of the Buddha, Wisdom Publications, 1995

Chinese Buddhist Encyclopaedia, 2019

Narayan Liebenson Grady Cultivating Equanimity, Insight, pp. 42-43, Spring 1999

Norman Fischer, Impermanence is Buddha Nature, https://www.lionsroar.com/impermanence-is-buddha-nature-embrace-changema..., accessed 3 Oct 2019

辭義淺釋, 何謂十纏, http://avalokitesvara-temple.blogspot.com/2016/02/blog-post.html, accessed 3 Oct 2019


The morality of a group at a time is the sum of the taboos and prescriptions in the folkways by which right conduct is defined. Therefore morals can never be intuitive. They are historical, institutional, and empirical. World philosophy, life policy, right, rights, and morality are all products of the folkways. (Sumner1 1906:no page).

1 Episcopal Priest and Professor of Political and Social Science.

Buddhist ritual

Buddhism has spread around western countries. This is the first stage, therefore, these countries have incorporated the Buddhism elements in the same form as east countries.
For instance, in the Tibetan gompas of western countries, people recite prayers in Tibetan.
The same happens with rituals. In general, the centers and temples, copy exactly the same rituals that eastern countries.
However, I think that in the next stage, western Buddhism will acquire a particular characteristic. The rituals will acquire a new form too.
But, Buddhism is spreading out of the religious movement. Therefore, it is probably that the ritual will have minor importance in western countries. Because in general, the people that practice Buddhism in these countries, is more related to meditation and not about external ritual.
I am completely sure, that a new type of western Buddhism will focus more on meditation than religious practice, in a similar way of chan Buddhism.


Religion is eminently a cultural byproduct.
Hundreds of people are routinely recognized as tulku -the reincarnation of a gifted sage from the past- in Tibetan Buddhism. As Tibetan Buddhism migrated westwards, even a few Western/non-Asian tulkus have been recognized in both the indigenous Bon and Buddhist tradition: synchronicity, indeed. If Buddhism continues to make progress in the West, reincarnation may also become a hotter commodity than it is today. Reincarnation is in turn a prism that validates core cultural assumptions such as filial piety, serving the motherland etc.

Both Shiva and Poseidon carry a trident. Christianity (Campbell 2018c) converts this into the devil's pitchfork as pagan gods become demons. Kushan coins (Northern India, I-IV century CE) depict Hindu god Shiva, with the bull and the trident, as a majestic, muscular, bearded man much like Poseidon was represented in Graeco-Roman imagery.

A prohibition to represent Gautama Buddha was enforced for centuries. In the Ajanta Caves, early frescoes show devotees worshiping not a man, but the dharmachakra, the wheel of dharma. Buddha could also be represented by a tree, footprints, empty thrones etc. Then, this superhuman sage who is “not there” started to be represented as we know today. Buddhism stewed in the smelting pot of Bactria in contact with Greek culture, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. Some argue that the Japanese Buddhist otaimatsu (Fire ceremony) at Todaiji Temple recalls Zoroastrian influences carried over from Bactria. In Bactria, Buddha was portrayed dressed in Greek style, in the company of Greek gods (possibly Hercules) and kings (possibly Alexander). Campbell (1989:The Way To Enlightenment) links this appearance to the doctrine of Buddha-nature. Art historian B.K. Behl suggests (no date: The Image Of The Buddha) that only under the Kushan Empire (I-IV century CE) in Northern India did kings represent themselves in sculpture. At Dharamsala (India), when the Dalai Lama in exile is not in residence and a great festival such as Losar arrives, his empty throne with his monastic robe is erected and presented with homage as if the real person was there. From a celestial prodigy manifesting in Hebrew scripture and visions only (the Pauline Jesus), Jesus started to be memorialized as an itinerant preacher roaming all across the Holy Land amazing crowds of thousands with miracles and parables.