Dharma Rain - Dharma School Manual
Fusatsu — Confession
Fusatsu is a ceremony we do with the adults, and the version we use the
middle school and high school youth does not differ much in form. Fusatsu
was traditionally a time for buddhist monks and nuns to gather as a community
and confess mistakes, particularly instances where they broke the precepts,
or monastic code of behavior. In this culture we suffer as much from low
self-esteem and internal criticism as we do from pride, so we have added
a positive confession to the ceremony. Each person present shares one negative
and one positive thing about their recent life and spiritual practice — one
thing they regret or know they need to work on, and one thing they are doing
well or making progress on.
Participants sit in a circle on the floor, and the ceremony starts with
a recitation of the verse of contrition: “all my past and harmful
karma, born from beginningless greed, anger and ignorance, through body
speech and mind, I now fully avow.” This verse is about acknowledging
one’s habits and past actions and taking responsibility for one’s
life, while remembering that ultimately it is impossible to find where it
all began. Who’s to blame? One person is unkind because they suffered
abuse as a child, but his abusers were abused themselves… and so on.
And yet we have to start where we are and take responsibility for the work
that needs to be done.
After the verse is recited, the leader offers a pinch of powdered incense
over a piece of charcoal (we use a formal incense box, which adds a nice
touch). S/he makes her or his statement, which can be brief or fairly involved
(1-5 minutes), and passes the incense box over to the next person. The incense
and statements continue around the circle. There is no cross-talk or questions,
and people are instructed to use “I” statements when they share.
Ideally, participants speak about their inner process and their own behavior,
avoiding gossip, complaints about others, or veiled efforts at advice or
commentary. After everyone has shared once, the leader places the box in
the center of the group and invites people to speak spontaneously with anything
further they want to share. The group becomes the support and teacher simply
through listening, and sharing a private difficulty during Fusatsu sometimes
makes it easier to bear.
Once everyone is finished, the ceremony is closed with a short dedication
and verse. After the ceremony, something that someone shared during the
ceremony is not discussed again unless the person who shared it brings it
up him or herself. With the teens, we make the exception — clearly
stated to the youth — that we must share with parents anything that
might clearly indicates a minor’s health or safety are being compromised.
Fusatsu for the middle and high schoolers is very effective. It provides
a safe environment for the youth to share sensitive things because they
know the format is, for the most part, confidential. They know they will
not be subjected to lectures or advice, and do not need to share or talk
more than they want to. The ceremonial space created during fusatsu is
also essential. We can turn a raucous and casual overnight or camp hang-out
into a quiet, serious and sacred event with the insertion of a verse,
some incense and a candle. When the ceremony ends, the transition back to
is usually instantaneous, but is subtly grounded.