A short or long string of beads is used to count mantras or bows in sets of 108 repetitions.
Hold your beads in your hand and use your thumb to “count” each mantra by touching the bead during the recitation and then lightly pushing the bead away on completion and moving to the next bead. The large header bead should not be counted by the thumb and is used as a starting and ending point of the recitation. Continue by pulling the ordinary beads until you again end at the large header bead, and repeat this until you have done 108 recitations, or any multiples of 108.
A moktak is a hollow, wooden percussion instrument used to mark the rhythm of chanting. It is shaped like a fish or pumpkin, it is round and used in Buddhist ceremonies or daily practice of chanting.
It is the most representative among the ceremonial instruments used by Mahayana Buddhist practitioners. To make a moktak, they carve wood into a large bell, drill a hole through the center, and cut out a substantial part of the interior with a lathe. There is a nice oil finish applied to the surface in the end. It is played by hitting with a wooden stick.
The best material for making moktak is the jujube tree, yet wood from birch, ginkgo, zelkova or any hard wood is popularly used as well. There are two types of moktak: one is the large moktak, which is placed upon a cushion and usually used in Chinese or Japanese ceremonies. In Korea as well as our school, we use only the smaller handheld ones during chanting inside the Buddha halls.
Traditional Korean bells take after the classic Chinese design, a bronze dome with patterned metal knots in the upper part. The bell is usually hit with a wooden stick, and the patterned knots give a second tone over the basic tone. Most Korean bells have a pleasant, multi-tonal, warm sound, easy to connect with, inspiring chanting. When you chant at the same tone as the bell, this is a wonderful experience of becoming one.
When there is no traditional Korean bell, we can use a Chinese bell or a gong (not displayed here). There are many types and the best is to choose the sound that we connect with the most. The best bells have a clear, rich, sonorous vibration, full of harmonious overtones and undertones, emphasized usually by two or three main tones. The main tones help the person chanting the morning or evening bell chant find the correct pitch. The ideal result is when the person and the bell make a harmonious, unified sound.
BACKGROUND: Altar Painting
Most paintings serve as a background image to the statues, depicting the embodiment of the statue (any Buddha or Bodhisattva) as the main figure, and various companions and historical scenes to surround and emphasize the main figure.
TOP LEVEL: Buddha Statue
A Buddha statue can be of many materials – wooden with golden gilding (traditional Korean style), or simply plain wood (usually finished with oil or some natural paint) or from stone. When the statue is newly placed on the altar, we always do a Buddha’s Eye Opening Ceremony. Usually, before this ceremony, the statue is filled with precious objects such as scrolls, jewels, relics, usually with some specific mantras added, relevant to the kind of Buddha statue at hand. All the precious objects are sealed in. Then the statue goes through the ceremony and from that point in time it can be used for practice.
MID-LEVEL: Offerings (food, gifts and flowers)
There are always three bowls on the altar – one with water (middle), one with rice (left) and if possible – one more with other, durable food (lentils or beans, for example).
We always offer the food that we eat. Such offerings are not restricted only to rice. In order not to waste the food, we always share the food among ourselves after the food has been offered. Also, we make sure to make an offering whenever we receive a gift.
Sweets and fruit are arranged in piles on trays with high bases and placed to the left of the container with rice and to the right of the container with other durable food. The large fruit and/or sweets should be odd in kind and in number.
You may learn more about the meaning and significance of offering ceremonies in the ‘Rice Offering’ section.
LOW LEVEL: Candles, Incense, Moktak & Chugpi
On the lower shelf of the altar we place incense burner and candlesticks. We also place here moktak, chugpi, walking stick and candle extinguisher.
We use recycled foam mats with cotton cover and cushions filled with buckwheat husk. The filling can vary depending on the use of the cushions and mats, in all they are supposed to serve your practice by providing a heat-proof, soft but not too soft underpinning. The mats should be hard enough to bow on and soft enough to sit on, either extreme makes practice difficult on them. The cushions are never filled fully, the extra space is used to shape the cushion suitably for sitting and chanting.
The wake-up stick is approximately 120 cm long. It has a rounded handle at one end that tapers into a flat 9 cm wide surface after about a foot from the handle end. The feel of the stick should be flexible and light.
This stick is being used during sitting meditation to give a relief to stiff muscles. There are two places where you can receive a hit – your back or your shoulders. You receive this hit only if you wish to. The whole procedure has a specific form. The Head Monk / Nun / Dharma Teacher or any senior student will help you through this for the first time, and as many times as you need afterwards.
Chugpi is a partially split wooden or bamboo stick used to indicate the beginning and the end of sitting and walking meditation.
It is also used during the formal meal to separate the various phases, as well as to synchronize bows during a ceremony.