Understanding and Using Elements of Buddhism in Your Wedding
I received some nice feedback about my recent piece on Sikhs – their beliefs and wedding traditions. Thank you. It is not a very well-known in America, so it was especially worthwhile sharing a bit about Sikhism. Buddhism however, is very well known – if only in name. Many Americans and westerners in general, are attracted to the philosophy it teaches, even if they are not necessarily practicing.
I believe the reason people not born into this religion are drawn to Buddhism is its focus on wisdom, ethical conduct, and the goals of happiness and freedom from suffering. The Dalai Lama is perhaps the best-known Buddhist in our time.
There is much to draw from in a tradition that encompasses such a wide variety of expression. If there is one idea that connects all of Buddhist thought, it that of compassion. Buddhism differs from most other religions in that there is no requirement to believe in a deity. Buddha is not considered a god.
Buddhism is based on the teaching of a man whose name was Siddhartha Gautama, a rich and privileged prince who discovered there was suffering in the world and wanted to understand why. His awakening or enlightenment, and the teachings and insights that resulted, have been inspiring humans ever since. Buddha means ‘enlightened one,’ and thus this name is given to him as the original teacher of this philosophy. Buddha lived in India, probably between 563 BC to 483 BC. Today it is estimated that there are about 350 million (6% of the world’s population) who practice Buddhism.
Using some inspiration from this religion in a wedding ceremony can be beautiful. You may be Christian, Jewish, secular or spiritual, whatever your background or tradition, there is no reason you can’t use such a beautiful source of wisdom. At least that’s my opinion. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will object! People love to make rigid guidelines.
The works of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist Monk, author, poet and peace activist, are very appropriate in weddings, as well as the Buddhist Scriptures themselves, where you will find writing like this:
Like the energy from within the sun, a great marriage is a sum more than its parts: it shines like rays of goodness from the fusion of souls in harmony.
And like the sun, its brilliance knows the relationship to time, a brilliance that will light your path, and warm your hearts, and guide you safely forward into the journey of your life.
Let this marriage be that fusion of inspiration for those to follow.
For ritualistic ideas consider lighting incense, hanging prayer flags or using special flowers such as lotus, orchids and peonies.
The Tibetan ceremonial scarf, called a ‘khata’ that is placed around the neck, is lovely. It should be white and can be incorporated by draping around the necks of the bride and groom as a blessing, or a welcoming or leaving ‘thank you’ gesture.
There is a ribbon knotting ceremony – so similar to the Celtic handfasting – in which the couple’s wrists are bound together with a yellow ribbon. And the use of bells or gongs adds a particular beauty to open and close the ceremony.
There are symbolic colors, different in various countries and cultures. Red and gold in China, saffron and brown in Thailand, Burma, India, Sri Lanka Laos, and Vietnam, black and gray in Japan and Korea and red, blue, green, white and yellow in Tibet.
It is interesting to note that for the Buddhist, marriage is basically a secular affair, not a sacrament, and falls under civil laws. Still any symbols, readings or rituals are perfectly acceptable.
It is always important to remember that ‘cultural appropriation’ - taking traditions and identity and misusing them in insensitive ways, such as using sacred objects for fun or to sell things – is not cool. However, drawing lovingly from traditions with respect is honoring them. Perhaps you will find something inspiring.