While not a ‘devotional’ sorta guy, I can connect with the object of devotion for Buddhist fire rituals: Fudō Myōō. Also known from the sanscrit name, Acala Vidyaraja, Fudō is considered one of the more “wrathful” deities. Usually portrayed as wielding a sword in his right and a coil of rope in his left, Fudō is considered somewhat of a Dharma protector. With the sword, Fudō cuts through delusion and ignorance while with the rope he binds uncontrolled and wild emotions. Fudō is surrounded by flames which, when combined with his indominable (and slightly frightening) visage, makes him a shoe-in for Goma (Fire) ceremonies. He is also seated on an immovable rock which represents the state of eguinimity that arises with devotees (much more manly than the typical lotus although I prefer to be seated upon an Elephant). Definitely an appropriate deity for a fire ceremony, especially if Fudō brings the beer and brauts…
The Goma begins with preparatory practices to purify and protect the area and the practitioner. After special prayers are said, the altar is prepared for the fire ritual. The hearth is purified and the wood is placed over it. After the fire is ignited, the deities are requested to enter the fire, the fire is purified, offerings and thanksgiving are made, and the deities are invited to return to their realm. Finally, the protections are removed and the merit generated is dedicated to the benefit of all sentient beings.
The symbolic naika, or inner fire, burns away obstacles to enlightenment and negative karma, allowing us to purify our karma, transform negative emotions and energies, and sow the seeds of light, compassion, and wisdom.
The wood that is offered in the sacred fire, known as Goma-ki or literally “wood/energy for the Goma,” is inscribed with the wishes and desires of others. Through the mystical weaving of offerings and mantras and mudras, through the physical energy of the fire, and through the assistance of the deities, the wishes are manifested. [link]
This is hardly a Buddhist invention. I think almost every major religion tried to make some excuse to start a fire, bun some shit and drink some beer. It could be the common thread that ties us all together…
In ancient times the fire sacrifice was an elaborate ceremony that could involve the sacrifice of horses, cows and goats, as well as gold, gems and other precious items into the fire. Today, a havan is a simplified ritual that rarely involves animal sacrifice or the placing of precious items into the fire. Instead, rice or a kind of popery is commonly substituted for these items, but still the basic meaning of the ritual remains. This may sound odd or glib, but an easy way to think of the havan is as a symbolic “postal system.” The fire container is the postbox, fire is the postman, the items placed into the fire are the message and mantra is the means of address. Generally, wood and clarified butter (ghee) are used as the fuel. The fire container, which may be brick or metal, is called a kunda, and when made of brick it is built to specific dimensions and shapes according to the purposes of the ceremony. For home use, generally a small metal havan kunda is used instead of a brick one because of its ease of setup and portability. In a formal situation, a brick kunda will be used. Kundas have different shapes: square, rectangular, round and triangular, but in most cases the square kunda is used. [link]
Well, again I’m not much for sending smoke signals to the gods but it’s no secret that I like fire. I also like drinking in front of fire…alot. So it seems like an natural and simple progression to incorporating fire into my practice in some way [full disclosure: I would incorporate bonfires and beer into any practice or any religion as long as delightful beer was included] My personal thought is that much of the layered stuff can be stripped away and we can build a good ol’ dharma-fire in our back yard. Not that the layered stuff is bad but, well, I’m hardly a high priest and I sure as f*ck don’t wish to play make-believe so I stick to the adage: Keep it simple, stupid.
So the process basically involves the constuction of a sacred space. What deems that space sacred and unique isn’t age, design or locale; it is deemed sacred by the practitioners themselves and the community that uses it. It has little to do with the religion or the organization or wether something has historical or geological significance. Whether Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, Buddhist or Christian; we create our space of practice and build our own sacred fire. I like to think of my deck as a sacred space and my fire used to burn meaningless offerings while symbolically it destroys defilements and any obstacles to my practice.
So chop wood, tend fire, make offering, invite the pagans over, be humble and aware, build your practice and have a beer (or some mead).
[Editor’s Note: If you invite Pagans to your Buddhist Bonfire, make certain to state that no curses are allowed…also nothing that uses menstrual blood or herrings. Take my word on that.]
[Editor’s Note 2: Don’t invite Cthulhu cultists to a Buddhist Bonfire. They still use animal sacrifices but they do bring the best beer…it’s a coin-toss]