The Courtyard and the Third Ascent

The Path of Cultivation
The Last of Three Ascents toward Buddhahood:
From the Courtyard to the Hall of the Buddhas

Look closely at the Courtyard and you'll see what the designers had in mind: It's meant to resemble the pattern of rice fields often seen in the Asian countryside. The common, everyday term for growing a crop is "cultivation." This is also the term Buddhists use for learning the Dharma and developing virtues. So the Courtyard is a place for gradual developing and nurturing of one's Buddha Nature.

This is often done through walking meditation. One could simply walk mindfully from the bottom of the Courtyard to the base of the steps of the Buddha Hall. But a better way is to picture the Courtyard as a kind of labyrinth: start in one corner, and walk across the courtyard, as on a sidewalk. At the end, turn and walk back the other way on the next row. And so forth to the top. Some people like to "power walk" their way up. Another way is to walk slowly, hands folded in front of the belly, eyes downcast, at a Tai-Chi-like pace, placing the feet carefully and concentrating on every part of the body. This is true mindfulness; this is true walking meditation. Be warned, however: depending on your pace it can take upwards of an hour!

Along the way you will see several figures off to the side: turtles and dragons, and lions at the steps. These are not necessarily "Buddhist"; they are more like elements of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, they have their meaning: turtles for longevity, lions for strength, and dragons for the dynamism described above.

The Third Ascent is short, being only thirty steps including the landing. Because of this, I strongly recommend the technique of stopping to recite a mantra on each step. This is "The Buddha Path," so I have suggested either "Taking Refuge" or three Buddha Mantras. (Note that these are both three lines each, allowing ten repetitions on the way up the steps.)

"Taking Refuge" is one of the earliest and most basic of all Buddhist "prayers." In Mahayana Buddhism, these words may use in a ceremony of initiation. In Southern Buddhism, Zen, and many traditions (including the Mahayana Schools), they are recited daily. They are known as "The Triple Gem," each element being important.

The Buddha, of course, is our Great Teacher. The Buddha Hall at Hsi Lai Temple is called "The Precious Hall of the Great Hero," because the Buddha, like any hero, went out, attained something, and brought it back as a gift to his community. The gift he brought was the Second Gem, "The Dharma," meaning his teachings. Although the Teacher is gone, the Teachings remain here to guide us. Finally, "The Sangha" is the community of Buddhists, and more especially the monastic community that has maintained and promulgated the Buddha's teachings through the centuries.

The other approach I suggest is a simple homage to the Three Buddhas who await you inside. You are encouraged to offer them incense on the Front Porch of the Buddha Hall. Even if you recited the "Taking Refuge" on the way up the steps, it would be a good idea to recite the three mantras as you present your incense. 


Walk up the Courtyard mindfully. You may choose to clear your mind, concentrating only on your breathing and your movement; or you may choose to recite something: The Universal Vows, the Six Paramitas, or one of the other Mantras or Intentions.

Climb the stairs to the front porch of the Buddha Hall; you are on the Buddha Path.

As you climb, recite this:

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dharma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

or this:

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.
Namo Amitabha Buddha.
Namo Bhaishajyaguru Buddha.

or this:

Namo Shijiamouni Fo.
Namo Amito Fo.
Namo Yaoshi Fo.

Return to the Four Kings ||| INDEX ||| Continue to the Buddha Hall

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