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Water and Buddhism?

To: talk.religion.buddhism
From: (Bill)
Subject: Re: Water and Buddhism?
Date: Wed, 07 May 1997 10:56:30 -0400

In article <>, sandyc  wrote:

> I have a simple query I'm hoping someone out there can satisfy.  And
> that query is this: What is the Buddhist relation to water?  I ask this
> in the same sense that Christians baptize; and, similarly, that ancient
> Romans had to cross a body of water before they could enter the
> underworld.  Are there potent symbols of water in Buddhism?  These are
> not well phrased questions but I am not yet sure of exactly what I seek.
> Sandy Campbell.

"Stream entry" is a phrase used in Buddhism to decsribe that point in
spiritual progress when a person is definitley on the way to liberation. 
Attainment of liberation is pictured as the crossing of a stream, using
the teachings of the Buddha as a raft.  The Buddha is know as the
Tathagata ("Thus Gone").  This is partially connected with this image of
crossing over.

I have also seen samsara (the cycle of birth and death in which we are all
trapped) described as a sea, where the image here of something in which we
are drowning.

I imagine there is more.  As for initiation rituals with water, there are
none that are basic to Buddhism as a whole.  However, some Theravada
(southern Buddhist) schools use water in rituals.  Pots of water are
connected with a thread, which is tied to a Buddha image.  The group
celebrating the ritual sits within the circle of string and monks offer
chants and blessings.  The water is supposed to "conduct" the positive
energy.  I imagine you could find more information in an anthropologically
oriented book on Asian Buddhism.  I have also seen Cambodian Buddhists
chant while pouring water from one vessel into another.  They then took
the water and poured it out on the ground.  I was told that the water was
for "the angels".  My guess is that the explanation was designed for a
westerner.  I imagine it has something to do with providing drink for
spirits that protect the Dharma, but this is just a guess.  Finally, when
I visited a Thai temple I was blessed by the abbot, who sprinkled me with
water.  He also offered to sprinkle my car (I didn't have one).  I imagine
this had something to do with transferring spiritual power as a means of
protection.  I suspect much of this ritual activity (not well-know by
western Buddhists and often looked down upon by those who do hear about
it) is rooted in ancient pre-Buddhist ideas about the power of water to
absorb and communicate unseen energies.  This is just a guess.

Finally, water is usually offered to Buddha images as part of a puja
(devotional ceremony).  Both water for drinking and water for washing is
offered, along with flowers, incense, perfume, and food.  The water is the
same as what would eb offered to the Buddha if he were to be present in
the flesh.  The image receives by proxy the devotion we would show to the
Buddha in real life.

I hope this information gives you some help.

Be well,

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