Traditionally, monks and nuns immersed themselves in the Buddha’s discourses. They set to memory, for example, the Dhammapada. At one time all of the Buddhist canon was set to memory; certain monks memorizing certain sections of the canon, for example. Commentaries were also memorized. Commentaries provided important details about each discourse or Sutra; moreover, how certain words should be defined.
For the average Buddhist monk or nun there was a lot to learn. But these days in Japan, for example, it is possible to go to the toughest Rinzai training temple, graduate, become an abbot with a temple, but know very little or almost nothing about Zen or Buddhism. This is due in part to what I shall term the accessorizing of Buddhism in which the subordinate elements of Buddhism such as architecture, religious objects, robes, and rituals have become more dominant than the Buddha’s Dharma.
To accessorize means according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “To provide or furnish with an accessory or accessories.” In the process of furnishing, the accessory is anything of secondary or subordinate value. The accessory, although it is not essential can, nonetheless, add to the beauty of something as does a handkerchief in the breast pocket of a man’s blazer. On this track, the late Hardy Amies, the Buddha of men’s fashion, had this to say about “accessories” (the italics are mine).
“In principle your accessories, such as ties and shoes, should be more expensive than your basic suit which, in this way, can achieve some reflected glory from them” (ABC of Men’s Fashion, 10).
At least for me, it is quite astonishing to learn from Hardy that the accessory, in principle, should overshadow the thing to which it is supposed to be subordinate, so the thing might receive its glory from the subordinate, expensive accessory! But alas, Hardy’s words have proven to be not only true in men’s haute fashion but in Buddhism as well in which its accessories in the example of robes, ritual objects, and rituals, all overshadow the very essence and foundation of Buddhism, itself.
I would even argue that “just sitting” or zazen is an accessory which was originally one of several positions the adept could take which made it comfortable to engage in meditation which according to Zen master Tsung-mi is “contemplation of mind.” We shouldn’t forget that the whole foundation or essence of Zen is to realize Buddha Mind, not sit on a pillow with our back ramrod straight.
Buddhism has been accessorized to such an extent that it is almost lost its real significance. I really don’t see what purpose all the chanting and ceremonies accomplish except to dull the mind and make it unfit for direct contemplation of the Buddha Mind. It is more likely that someone will awaken to the Buddha Mind if they leave the accessories of Buddhism behind and engage with the Sutras, commentaries and treatises. At least they might come to the understanding that all of Buddhism revolves around Mind—nothing else is of importance.