Buddhist Wedding Ceremony: An Alternative Approach

Buddhist wedding

Some time ago I was asked by a couple to conduct a “Buddhist” ceremony. Inverted commas because I am not a monk. So this is less a theme wedding than an alternative approach – which is the hallmark of civil celebrancy. It also demonstrates again the eclectic nature of the ceremonies that I do. As I make selections from this Buddhist Wedding Address I wonder where same-sex love fits. It’s on my mind. I suppose that when this issue is resolved, for us all, it will come down to what an individual couple will want to express as their definition of marriage – within the new guidelines.

Buddhist Wedding Address

Marriage is perhaps the most important ceremony of life, because … upon the success of this partnership depends the ability of both husband and wife to give to this world their full creative value as human beings. Through their united resolve before the Gohonzon to create a wonderfully harmonious, yet essentially progressive unit of society … they draw out from each other the Three Poisons of Anger, Greed, and Stupidity, which might otherwise afflict their family life with misery…they are able to send out waves of peace and friendship, not only to the community which immediately surrounds them, but the whole country and the whole world.

In the Gosho “Letter to the Brothers”, Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “When a husband is happy, his wife will be fulfilled. If a husband is a thief, his wife will become one too… if grass withers; orchids grieve, if pine trees flourish, oaks rejoice.”

The relationship between husband and wife is the foundation of society because not only do they have it in their power to bring fresh new lives into this world, but also their home and family should be, in the words of our Buddhist teacher, “an open fortress of faith”, which is invincible to attack from the outside, yet is open to all who approach in friendship or with seeking minds, a firm base of faith anchored in the great Middle Way of the Gohonzon  founded upon trust, from which the family can go forth daily into society, shining with the vital energy, wisdom and compassion which arises from the universal life – force flowing through their lives.

I wish you happiness and fulfilment throughout your lives together and ask you both, before the Gohonzon, never to neglect your daily practice and joyful activities for the future peace and happiness of your family, your friends, and the whole world, basing your lives always on the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the true cause.

In the words of the Gosho called “ Earthly Desires and Enlightenment”, “ … work together like the sun and the moon, a pair of eyes, or the two wings of a bird. With the sun and the moon, how can you fall into the paths of darkness? With a pair of eyes, how can you fail to behold the faces of Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas of the universe? With a pair of wings, you will surely be able to fly in an instant to the Buddha land of eternal happiness.”

Charming Jane Austen-Inspired Winter Wedding in Mt Victoria

Jane Austen Ceremony

A wedding ceremony isn't supposed to be a piece of theatre (although stage management is very important!) so “theme” weddings is a term I use advisedly: the theme is really just an alternative slant that you might want to give to your wedding. Usually the theme is expressed through dress (you might want your friends to dress a certain way) and the type of language you choose.

In this “Jane Austen” wedding, dress, language and symbols were used to create a theme. Not to mention the location and venue! The ceremony took place at the Victoria and Albert Guest house - circa 1914 – perfect! This wonderful property is in Mt Victoria in the upper mountains and the season was winter … so cold, and yes, the ceremony was outside and finished just before it started to snow lightly. You couldn't really imagine a ceremony like this anywhere but in the mountains.

Here are some excerpts of this unique ceremony:

We began with a blessing:

“Today you begin your journey of life shared, bound together by the vows of this ceremony. Your marriage is a partnership founded on the strong bonds of friendship and love. Many are the years you will share and countless the moons you will watch together. This wedding is a symbol, a celebration, a public recognition of what already exists in the silent places of your hearts. If you keep your vows, your sacred trust, happy will be many of your days.”

And some stage directions:

Both mothers walk forward as representatives of each family, and light a single candle each, then return to their places.

“In this ceremony today we celebrate love, and I begin by offering homage to the eternal flame of sacred love that burns within every loving heart. May the love you have received from your families guide you as you make this commitment to bind your hearts together as one forever.”

Celebrant lights incense.

“Let your love be as incense to the breeze, let it create an ever-growing circle that spreads love and may your union be a thing of beauty to all who behold it. May the fires of love kindle in your passion for each other throughout the years.”

Celebrant rings a bell three times.

“Above are the stars, below are the stones. Remember, like a star should your love be constant, like the earth should your love be firm. Possess one another, yet be understanding. Have patience, for storms may come and go. Be free always in giving of affection and warmth.”

The Asking, Vows and rings continued in this style:

“Do you desire to have this man/woman as your husband/wife, forsaking all others?”

“…, you are the awakener of my spirit, my joy, my love. Today I take you as my wife/husband and promise to dedicate my life to you, to live with you and share my happiness with you. I promise to love you and support you in times of plenty and times of pain for all the years to come. When you need me, I will be there, and when your strength fails you, may mine always be there for you. By the witness of our friends and family, I give my heart to you and only you, from this day forth.”

“Accept and wear this ring as a pledge of my love, and as a symbol of all we share. Gra dilseacht cairdeas. (Love, Loyalty, Friendship – pronounced
“graw deal-shocked car-dass”).

And a Handfasting Ceremony was incorporated:

Celebrant rings bell 3 times, and binds cloth loosely around the couple’s wrists, tying it 3 times in the centre.

“May this cord, symbol of the coming together of man and woman, bind the feminine powers of creation with the masculine in the fruition of life. Through the warmth of the sun and the magic of the moon, these bonds symbolise the eternal unity of your love.”

Celebrant removes the cloth without untying the knot and rings bell 3 times.

“Before all those gathered here let it be known you are husband and wife, and henceforth shall be as one. “

Polytheistic/Pagan Ceremony: Celebrating Creation and Love

polytheistic ceremony

Polytheistic Ceremony was also presented as a Pagan Ceremony. It focuses on the power and awe of creation, the place of humankind, and the connection of two souls within the universe. In place of religion it contemplates universal laws. So if you want to make a more serious statement in your ceremony, this might be for you. It relies on ideas and words which can be integrated with the legal wording of marriage. So add to this the sections required of the marriage act and your words could be like this:

Introduction

“We have come here in celebration of the joining together of _______________ and ________________ in marriage. There are many things to say about marriage – much wisdom concerning the joining together of two souls has come our way through all paths of belief, and from many cultures. With each union, more knowledge is gained, and more wisdom gathered. Though we are unable to give all this knowledge to these two who stand before us, we can hope to leave them with the knowledge of love and its strengths and the anticipation of the wisdom that come with time. The law of life is love unto all beings. Without love, life is nothing. Love gives birth to life, and goes beyond death. It is the initiator of creation and its exponent on earth. If we learn no more in life, let it be this.

Presentation of Bride

At this point other rites would ask who gives the Bride in Marriage, but as a woman is not property to be bought and sold, given and taken, I ask simply if she comes of her own will and if she has her family’s blessing?
With whom do you come and whose blessings accompany you?
( “She comes with us, her family, and is accompanied by all her family’s blessings”)

Dedication and Exchange of Rings

Please join hands with your betrothed and listen to that which I am about to say. Above you are the stars, below you are the stones, as time doth pass remember, like a stone should your love be firm; like a star should your love be constant. Let the powers of the mind and of the intellect guide you in your marriage, let the strength of your wills bind you together. Let the power of love and desire make you happy, and the strength of your dedication make you inseparable. Be close, but not too close. Possess one another, yet be understanding. Have patience with one another, the storms will come, but they will pass quickly.
Be free in giving of affection and warmth. Have no fear and let not the ways of the unenlightened give you unease, for your partner is with you always.

To groom and bride in turn:
______________, I have not the right to bind you to _____________ : only you have this right. If it be your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in her hand.

Answer : “ It is my wish”

As it is your wish, place the ring on her/his finger.

Vows

I, ________________, in the name of the spirit that resides within us all, by the life that courses within my blood and the love that resides within my heart, take thee ___________ to my hand, my heart and my spirit to be my wife. To desire thee and be desired by thee, to possess thee and be possessed by thee, without sin or shame, for none can exist in the purity of my love for thee. I promise to love thee wholly and completely without restraint, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in poverty, in this life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change thee in any way. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy people, and thy ways, as I respect myself.

Declaration

________________ and ___________________, may your love so endure that its flame remains a guiding light . With pleasure I solemnise your union and pronounce you to be husband and wife.”

Pagan-Inspired Sunrise Wedding Ceremony at Evans Lookout

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Many couples take advantage of the opportunity to author a unique ceremony by adopting a ‘theme’ which better suits their style and beliefs than a conventional ceremony. Almost anything goes as long as the sections of the Marriage Act are adhered to.

When a theme is adopted it too can be changed and moulded to create a unique ritual – themes can be adapted, borrowed, re-constituted : nothing is strict.

I have conducted some “Pagan “ ceremonies. In this one, elements of nature are invoked and friends play a part in addressing the couple. The ceremony was conducted at dawn at Evans Lookout at Blackheath and was really lovely: the first rays of the sun fell across the bride’s face as the vows were exchanged.

This was the way the ceremony was introduced:

“The joining of Man and Woman in the sacred rite of marriage brings together great forces from which may flow the seeds of future generations to be nurtured within the womb of Time.

Within each Masculine nature lies the Feminine, within every Feminine nature lies the Masculine. The interplay of Masculine and Feminine forces, when flowing freely on a union based upon true Love, finds many expressions. This union is truly holy.”

And this was the variation on the conventional “Do you take …?” – the first two questions asked by me and then a number of questions, followed by an invocation, by selected friends:

“Do you __________________come to this sacred place of your own free will to join with _________________in marriage?

You have walked the Circles of the Sun and Moon together, will you now walk the Circle of Time, Travelling through the Elements and the Seasons?

Will your love survive the clear light of day?

Then accept the Blessing of the element of Air in this place of Spring. May your marriage be blessed by the light of every new dawn.

Will your love survive the harsh fires of change?

Then accept the Blessing of the element of Fire in this place of Summer. May your home be filled with warmth.

Will your love survive the ebb and flow of feeling?