Home » Letters » How Did Dharma Ceremonies Originate?

Question: Were there Dharma ceremonies (法会) in the Buddha’s time? If not, how did they arise?

Answer: The original meaning of Dharma ceremonies is more accurately ‘Dharma assemblies’ – where people assemble to learn the Dharma. It simply refers to any occasion where there is a Buddha giving his teachings, giving sermons that are later recorded as sutras (Buddhist scriptures).

In the absence of the historical Sakyamuni Buddha, beyond Dharma talks and classes today, which are also variations of Dharma assemblies, there are also more formalised Dharma assemblies which are ceremonious in nature, with the same term describing chanting ceremonies. In them, sutras taught by the Buddha are recited, to learn, remember and share their teachings. Merits are also created by sharing the Dharma in this way, with all beings, including the deceased and alive.

Question: Is it such that Pure Land practice is more about practising mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha (Amituofo) by sincere mindfulness of his name (Nianfo: 念佛), and not so much about practice through sutra-chanting (念经) in Dharma ceremonies?

Answer: The Main Practice in (正行) Pure Land practice is indeed as mentioned. However, there are also Pure Land sutras that can be chanted during specifically Pure Land Dharma ceremonies. Most other Dharma ceremonies in Chinese Buddhist practices have strong and clear links to the Pure Land teachings too, with conclusive chanting at the end to express aspiration to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land by dedicating merits for this purpose. In this sense, any practices beyond Nianfo, that likewise clearly expresses this goal is considered a Supportive Practice (助行).

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