New to the temple?
This visitor guide describes some of the basic activities and protocols you may encounter or have questions about as you participate in our services and events.
Our standard service on Sunday mornings is conducted through the directions provided by the Service Chair. As you participate you may notice some differences from other religious and spiritual practices, including the burning of the incense, sutra chanting, gassho (gah-sho), and the recitation of the nembutsu.
Prior to the starting of the service, the congregation will burn incense in front of the altar, or onaijin (oh-nye-jeen). Oshoko (oh-sho-ko), or burning of the incense, is symbolic of cleansing or opening of the mind and preparing oneself to listen to the teachings, or dharma. Along with this ritual, people will often offer a monetary donation called osaisen (oh-sigh-sen).
During the sutra chanting the congregation will chant the sutras using the Service Book. The sutras are chanted to praise the virtues of the Buddha and can be chanted by anyone who reads English or Japanese. Although it is written in classical Chinese as well as in English characters, the Chinese pronunciation is not the same as in the Japanese language.
Gassho, what the congregation does as they come before the onaijin as well as when they recite the nembutsu, is done by placing your palms together comfortably in front of yourself with an onenju (oh-nen-joo) encircling your hands. The onenju is a string of beads that holds a number of symbolic meanings. When encircling the hands in gassho it represents the joining of the Amida Buddha with oneself. When this occurs, people usually simultaneously recite the nembutsu.
The nembutsu is “Namo Amida Butsu.” The congregation recites this phrase throughout the service as an expression of appreciation. Literally translated, it means to take refuge in the Amida Buddha.
Donations to the Temple are always welcome and should be offered as an expression of selfless giving or dana (dah-nah). It is standard protocol to donate for any occasion that instills a feeling of gratitude for the family or individual.
Members usually offer a donation during special services (Ho-onko, Nirvana Day/Nehane, Ohigan - spring & fall, Hanamatsuri, Gotane, Obon and Bodhi Day). It is also the custom to give for funerals, memorials including Shotsuki Hoyo, weddings, birth of a child and whenever the Temple provides a service or good to the member.
Generally, members offer donations via a check or cash enclosed in a small plain white envelope with the occasion noted on the front and their name and address in the lower right corner. An address label may be used. Donations are often left in the offering bowl or near the incense burner, or they can be mailed to the Temple (211 W 100 S, Salt Lake City UT 84101).
These contributions are automatically recognized in Buddhist Thoughts, the Temple newsletter. If donors do not wish to have their donations publicized, a message accompanying the donation is recommended.
Our temple is similar to many of the temples within the BCA. Since Jodoshinshu is a layman centered, non monastic sect of Buddhism, the buildings are designed to serve a lay community of Buddhists rather than a separate order of monks. The Jodo Shinshu clergy is a married clergy by tradition, and its temples are committed not to cities and towns rather than to mountain seclusion. Unlike other Buddhist traditions, the Sangha in Jodo Shinshu refers to all Buddhists and not just to the order of monks or priests. Thus the building of this temple serves three basic purposes:
A ceremonial or ritual purpose: This takes place in the Hondo or main hall of the complex. The Hondo houses the altar (naijin) and is considered the center of the temple.
An instructional purpose: These are the classrooms for holding our Dharma school or Sunday school classes for the children. These rooms are also used for various other teaching and meeting purposes.
A social cultural purpose: The social hall is the gymnasium, kitchen area.
Traditionally the temples were not only religious centers but social, cultural, and educational centers as well. Before World War II, almost the whole of Japanese life outside the home took place at the temple. This was in keeping with the tradition of village temples in Japan as the center of village life.
The hondo is divided into two main parts; the Naijin (inner area) and Gejin (outer area) or seating area. Within the teachings of Jodo Shinshu with its emphasis on Ondogyo, Ondobo (Fellow travelers or fellow brothers and sister) on the same path. A path for all seekers rather than only the priestly class. The Hondo changed to accommodate this difference. Prior to the 13th century in Japan, the Naijin took up the major portion of the floor space of a temple. This was to accommodate the large number of monks who lived in monastic surroundings. Rituals were conducted by the monks alone. Laymen did not participate in the rituals but only attended as observers in a small area called the Gejin. With the Jodo Shinshu emphasis on a communal gathering of priests and laymen, this led to a shrinkage of the Naijin and the enlarging of the Gejin area.
Although the idea of a communal gathering of laymen and priests in the temple greatly changed the course of Japanese Buddhism, certain distinctions between priests and laymen continued. One such rule is the tradition that only a priest may enter the Naijin, and this only when he or she is in full vestments. There are no sociological reasons for this rule, but the religious reason is fairly clear. The Naijin is a representation of the Buddhist concept of the universe, and more importantly, of the realm of Enlightenment. As a result, only one who has trained and is well versed in the meaning of the symbols found in the Naijin was prepared enough to enter it. One who enters the Naijin has to know what they are entering into, and what is required of him or her in thought, speech and action. Although the symbolism of who enters the naijin is important to remember, at our temple, those who are learning about the rituals and those who are expressing their dana, by cleaning the naijin may also enter.
In Japan, there are usually no pews in the gejin (outer area). Most temples in Japan, still have tatami mats for the seating area. At the front of the gejin are two dark metal objects called Koro (incense burners) on lacquered wood. One of the first things the members do when they come for a service, is to burn incense. This burning of incense is a way that we acknowledge our existence and our gratitude for the various causes and conditions in our lives. The incense is representative of who we are. As the incense burns away, so does our lives. However, as the smoke from the incense moves beyond the koro to touch everyone in the room. Our lives also move beyond our body to touch all other beings. Therefore, we are acknowledging our interdependence with the world.
The two large pictures represent what are called Bodhisattvas. These are beings on the path to enlightenment. Their play is in helping all other beings move towards enlightenment. Although, they have the ability to move completely into enlightenment. As a result of their great compassion for the sake of all sentient beings, they give up their full enlightenment to help all of us. Becoming Bodhisattvas may be considered our goal as Mahayana Buddhists.
The naijin or inner area is made up of three altars: a center altar which is the main object of reverence, and an altar on both the left and right of the center altar. The altar on the left or right when facing the altar, contains a picture scroll of Shinran Shonin (1173-1262), the founder of our sect, and one of the truly great religious thinkers in Japanese Buddhism. The altar to the right of the center altar or left when facing the altar, is a picture scroll of Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499). Rennyo is considered the second founder or restorer of Jodo Shinshu. He is the eighth abbot of our sect. He restored and organized the sect from a small group to become one of the largest religious institution in Japan. He can be described as the Brigham Young of our sect.
Above the najin is the gaku or tablet: The gaku is a framed plaque with the words Dai Jihi in Chinese characters. This means Great Compassion which signifies Amida Buddha. The Buddha of infinite wisdom and compassion.
Gohonzon (Principle object of reverence): This is the center altar, which can take three forms:
A scroll with the words Namo Amida Butsu written upon it, meaning I take refuge in Amida Buddha.
A scroll with a picture of Amida Buddha.
A statue of Amida Buddha.
As Rennyo Shonin has stated in the Goichidai Kikigaki : "In other traditions preference is given to painted images of the Buddha over a scroll bearing the Name, to wooden images over the painted images; in our tradition preference is given to painted images over wooden images and the Name over painted images." There are some who prefer the scroll with the words Namo Amida Butsu because this allows us to realize that Buddha is not a god or idol. Amida Buddha is one of countless Buddhas. Buddha is a person who is enlightened.
There are historically three forms for Buddha.
Dharmakaya: This is ultimate reality. This form is beyond human conception for the human mind cannot comprehend this ultimate form of Wisdom and Compassion.
Amida Buddha: To understand this concept of Dharmakaya, we have Amida Buddha, who in someway allows us to understand great wisdom and compassion in the universe.
Shakyamuni Buddha: This is the historical personage, such as the Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived in India some 2500 years ago. He spoke and taught about this truth we know as Buddhism.
Our altar has the gold statue of Amida Buddha. This statue reminds us of the nature of Great Compassion. There is great symbolism in the statue.
Amida Buddha leans slightly forward, representing the dynamic nature of wisdom compassion.
The hands are in a mudra (hand gesture) called the "Gesture of Tranquillity and Protection," signifying the entry of Amida Buddha into the realm of sentient beings for the purpose of teaching and effecting their enlightenment.
The thumb and index fingers of both hands are joined to form the circle or wheel of perfection.
The right hand is raised to shoulder level with palm facing outward symbolizing Wisdom, the attainment of perfect enlightenment. The left hand hangs pendant with palm facing outward, symbolizing Compassion, the world of Samsara, this world of birth and death. The raised hand also represents Light and the pendant hand Life, Amida being the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life.
Between and slightly above the eyes is a spot called the Byakugowhich originally was said to be a tuft of white hair which curled to the right and was one of the 32 physical marks of the Buddha. The Byakugo is said to emit rays of light and is symbolic of the third or spiritual eye.
The Nikkei or protuberance at the top of the head is another of the 32 physical marks of the Buddha. It is the bump of Spiritual wisdom.
The statue stands on a throne or dais in the shape of a lotus. The symbolism of the lotus is highly developed in Buddhism. The lotus grows in muddy water but rises above the water to bloom, pure, beautiful and unaffected by the defilement which surrounds it. This represents the possibility of enlightenment in a world of birth and death.
Kohai: This is the background of light behind the statue and attached to the throne is. The western symbolism of the halo is said to come from this. The rays of light represent the vows of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who perfected them to become Amida Buddha.
Tocho: This is the curtain of brocade which outline the body of the statue. Originally the curtain completely hid the statue and was raised when ceremonies took place.
Keman: This is the piece of metal with the attached threads that partially block the face of Amida Buddha. This altar piece is important in teaching us a fundamental aspect of the teachings. Amida Buddha represents Truth, but the keman blocks the face of truth. To see the face it is necessary for us to bow. To truly understand the nature of truth, one must be humble. In addition, each person must move in the way that is best for them to see the truth. They must find their own vision.
Gokuden: This is the structure in which the Gohonzon is placed. It is called the palace hall. The pillars and ornaments are all gold in color. Embellishing the roofbeams are carved figures of elephants, lions and dragons, all guardian animals of the Buddha and symbolic of the Buddha's spiritual power. The front four pillars represent Buddhism's basic teachings of the Four Noble Truths. The gold throughout the altar area represents the ideal that the truth does not tarnish over time.
Shumidan: This is the Sumeru throne. The Gokuden sits upon a rectangular throne. The throne is widest at the top and bottom and narrowest in the middle resembling a flattened spool. This is said to be the shape of the cosmic mountain called Sumeru in Sanskrit. In Indian cosmology, Mt. Sumeru is the highest mountain in the center of our world system.
Sumi Yoraku: These are front corner ornaments. Yoraku are suspended from a canopy shaped like a lotus leaf. They are derived from ornaments worn around the neck of body of aristocratic men in ancient India. The idea of nobility being the result of birth was denied by Shakyamuni Buddha who stated that nobility was the result of one's deeds and not the result of one's birth. This pair of Yoraku represent the attainment of nobility through noble deeds.
Kiku Rinto: These are the chrysanthemum circular lamps. This is an open oil lamp with a circular band over it. This circle of light represents Enlightenment, that is perfect, without beginning or end. The metal bands are decorated with a chrysanthemum pattern. The kiku rinto is particular to our sect of Buddhism.
The area directly in front of the Gohonzon (Central Altar) has various offerings and a smaller table (Uajoku).
Kasha: This is a special incense burner placed upon the table. The kasha, meaning fire house, is a double tiered incense burner of dark metal with a lid.
Kebyo: There are also two flower vases in front of the Gohonzon. The Kebyo is a bulb-shaped vase of dark metal. Although called a flower vase, it is a vessel used for the offering of water, the sustainer of all life. The branch of an evergreen or other green leafed branch is placed in the kebyo to symbolize flowing water. It is only flowing water that remains pure and is the symbol of the Dharma, ever flowing and pure.
Danmori: This is a simple stand of four circular tiers held in place by three wooden dowels. The danmori is used when two or more varieties of fruit, vegetables, mochi or manju are offered. These offerings of food, represent are gratitude for the various causes and conditions which help to sustain our lives.
Each of the altars has a small table with the candles, flowers and incense burners set up with the symbolism of left representing this world of birth and death and the right representing the truth of enlightenment. Therefore the candles are always on the right. The flowers, which are beautiful but will wither are on the left.
Daikin: The Daikin is a large inverted bell which is struck on the outside lip with a leather-covered clapper made of lacquered wood. Of Chinese origin, the Daikin is said to be in the shape of the Buddha Shakyamuni's begging bowl. The deep, resonant tone of the Daikin symbolizes the impermanence of all things.
The Obutsudan (Buddha Altar)
Whenever Buddhism has moved to a new culture, it has adapted to and evolved to meet the specific character of that particular culture and lifestyle. While Buddhism has been in America for many years, it will probably take quite sometime until a definitive American form of Buddhism develops. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, particular as practiced by our B.C.A. temples, has changed in two very significant ways. The first is that one's Buddhist education takes place primarily in the temple. Thus, the necessity of our temples are self evident. The second is that this education, takes place primarily on Sundays, when most of the services are held.
This particular practice, while necessary, has in some ways constricted and limited the full impact of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, in our everyday lives. To find joy in the Nembutsu teachings, is to live everyday to its fullest, with a deep appreciation for all the causes and conditions, which allow us this wondrous gift. Therefore, limiting the development of our religious consciousness to one day and place during the week, is contrary to the intention of the Buddhist teachings.
Our Issei pioneers struggled under incredible odds and forces, to build many beautiful temples, throughout the United States. This was a labor of love from their deep religious devotion, for the benefit of future generations. The temples are extremely important as the centers for the development of our spirituality and religious consciousness. The prosperity of the temples are a reflection of the validity of the Nembutsu teachings in our American way of life. However, in so doing, it is just as important that we not abandon the rich spiritual traditions that have formed the essence of our Nembutsu way of life. One important way of instilling this sense of everyday devotion, is by having an Obutsudan in our homes. By doing so, we are bringing the very profound and compassionate teachings of Buddha into the daily lives of ourselves and our children.
The Obutsudan will have a deep spiritual meaning for each member of your household. The Obutsudan and the practice of maintaining it, serves as a mirror for each individual to see their true self and to fully awaken one's spirituality. Thus by placing the Obutsudan in a central location within our homes, it serves as a constant reminder of the various causes and conditions which sustain us.
The Obutsudan is basically a small version of the naijin found at the center of all temples. The symbolism is the same pertaining to the central object of reverence, the candles and incense. Just as with the naijin, some families have three altars within them. However, within most Obutsudan, you will find one altar with one of the three common type of Gohonzon (see naijin).
Arrangement of Obutsudan Articles
In its simplest form, the components comprising the Obutsudan are the Gohonzon, flower vase, candleholder and incense burner. The arrangement of the three articles that adorn the Gohonzon is referred to as "mitsu gusoku" (three element arrangement). This is also the most common form of arrangement for the naijin. As you face the Obutsudan, the Gohonzon is in the center, with the flower vase to the left, the incense burner in the front and the candle to the right.
During special occasions, such as Hoonko, Nehan-E, Hanamatsuri, Gotan-E, Obon and Bodhi Day, we change the arrangement to the "go gusoku" (five element arrangement).
An offering of food and a rin (small bell) are added to the Obutsudan. Any food offering is always placed on a special plate or vessel situated directly in front of the Gohonzon or on each side. The bell is placed towards the right side of the arrangement.
In many family altars, there is a brightly colored triangular brocade cloth called an Uchishiki. The Uchishiki represents the triangular straw mat or cloth that the historical Buddha Shakyamuni sat upon while lecturing. In the event of the death of a family member, the Uchishiki is often turned over exposing a plain white material. White is traditionally the color associated with death, and the Uchishiki is kept with the white side exposed until after the 49th Day Memorial Service. During this time, brightly colored flowers, especially red, are avoided.
Many families may also have a small wooden memorial tablet, called an Ihai, which contains the Buddhist names and dates of deceased family members. Traditionally this is not used in Jodo Shinshu. However, this is a common practice within many families. If this is the case, it should not be placed within the Obutsudan. This is the same for photographs of the deceased or any similar items. They should be placed within a drawer within the Obutsudan or displayed in front or to the side.
Daily Practice and Etiquette
Traditionally, all family members should hold both morning and evening observances at the Obutsudan. The manner of practice is secondary to the act of coming before the Obutsudan to express gratitude for the causes and conditions that have allowed each family member to live. Whether it is a simple gassho and recitation of "Namo Amida Butsu", or a more involved ritual of lighting the candles, chanting, and oshoko(incense burning), the purpose of this practice is to continually be aware of one's spiritual life and to express gratitude for the benevolence of Amida Buddha.
Since the Obutsudan represents the spiritual heart of the home, it should always be kept as clean and beautiful as possible. It should also be placed where the family often gathers, such as the living room or family room. Fresh flowers should be placed before the Obutsudan whenever possible. The food offerings upon the Obutsudan have traditionally been rice. Since rice was considered the staple of life in the Asian countries where Jodo Shinshu developed. However, any offering from the daily menu will suffice as a gesture of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Suggestions for families with children
For families with children, it is important that the children experience daily family Obutsudan services. This will help them cultivate an appreciation and understanding that Buddhism is about their everyday life, not just something they do on Sunday mornings. A designated time, such as early morning, before going to bed or possibly upon returning home from the day's activities, should be established for the children. One suggested practice may be for the children to conduct their own service. They may strike the bellonce, gassho and recite "Namo Amida Butsu." This will encourage the child in developing their own spiritual consciousness, while avoiding the fire dangers associated with the lighting of candles and incense.
In addition to the family Obutsudan, you may also want to set up a small Obutsudan in the child's room. This will help him or her to realize that Amida Buddha is always there for them and that the Nembutsu teachings are a personal way of life, not just something the family does.
Etiquette in general, is concerned with the refinement of human behavior in relation to other human beings. Common courtesy, cordiality, grace and beauty, along with tradition, are all involved. In addition, service etiquette involves the refinement of one's behavior in relation to the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Reverence and gratitude for the Wisdom and Compassion of Amida Buddha is of central importance in the cultivation of Buddhist ritual and etiquette. The outward gestures of reverence are secondary to the cultivation of one's spiritual life. The following are explanations and examples of Buddhist etiquette and rituals.
This is the joining of the palms, in Sanskrit it is called Anjali. It is an Indian gesture of greeting, farewell, thanks, and reverence. In ancient India, there were twelve forms of Gassho. In Jodo Shinshu we use the first of these twelve forms. It is formed by placing the palms and ten fingers together at chest level and at a 45 degree angle upwards. We often explain Gassho as the coming together of human (left) with Buddha (right), as a gesture of oneness. Among Buddhists throughout the world, this gesture is used to express hello, goodbye, and thank you. As a gesture of reverence for the Buddha, this Gassho is performed with a deep bow from the waist called Raihai.
The Promise and The Golden Chain
In our Dharma School services there are two short passages that we recite each week. One is "tThe Promise" and the other is "The Golden Chain." Although they are intended to teach our children they have a deeper message for both children and adults. In "The Golden Chain", we hope to remind the participants in the interdependence we share with all sentient beings. We do not live alone and our lives are sustained through the give and take we have with the world around us. Ecology in a Buddhist sense. In "The Promise" we express appreciation to the Buddha who has provided us with these wonderful teachings.
The Golden Chain
I am a link in Amida Buddha's golden chain of love that stretches around the world. I will keep my link bright and strong.
I will be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all who are weaker than myself.
I will think pure and beautiful thoughts, say pure and beautiful words and do pure and beautiful deeds.
May every link in Amida Buddha's golden chain of love be bright and strong and may we all attain perfect peace.
We thank the Buddha for showing us the way of freedom.
We will endeavor to walk in his noble path, everyday of our lives.
Raihai - Postures
There are many physical postures of revering the Buddha. In India there were nine forms in ascending degrees of formality. In China there were eighteen and Japan three forms. For the purpose of this handbook, we will only describe the three used in Japan.
Gotaitochi Raihai (five body parts to the ground Raihai)
This form of Raihai is used in most Buddhist countries. It is considered the most formal type. It is performed by touching the ground with both knees, both elbows and the forehead. In some traditions, this is done by lying completely flat on the ground, face down.
Chokigassho Raihai (tall kneeling Gassho Raihai)
This is is performed by kneeling with the knees and toes touching the ground and the thighs and body erect. A slightly different form of this Raihai is performed by Jodo Shinshu priests in very formal ceremonies.
Teishugassho Raihai (lowering head Gassho Raihai)
This is performed by sitting or standing erect, bowing one's head, forming the Gassho and bowing the body from the waist to a 45 degree angle. This is the form used in Jodo Shinshu for most occasions.
In the past, Oshoko has often been interpreted as incense offering. This is an incorrect translation and usage in our Jodo Shinshu tradition. In the ritual of Oshoko we are not offering the incense to any god or idol. It is not an act of petition. It is a ritual to remind us of the purity of our intentions and the interdependence of all things. The translation should be to "burn incense". This burning of incense is a way that we acknowledge our existence and our gratitude for the various causes and conditions in our lives. The incense is representative of who we are. As the incense burns away, so do our lives. However, as the smoke from the incense moves beyond the koro to touch everyone in the room, our lives also move beyond our body to touch all other beings. Therefore, we acknowledge our interdependence with the world.
Oshoko is performed in the following manner.
Walk toward the incense burner.Stop two or three steps before the table and bow.
Step up to the incense burner. With your right hand, take a tiny pinch of the ground incense (oko) and drop it into the incense burner, over the burning sticks or charcoal. (This need be done once only, and it is not necessary to bring the incense to your forehead.)
Gassho and recite the Nembutsu.
Take two or three steps back, bow and return to your seat.
In some sects of Buddhism, this string of beads is called Ojuzu (counting beads). However, Jodo Shinshu does not use these beads as an aid in meditation or for counting. Therefore it is more properly called Onenju (thought beads). The Catholic rosary and the Muslim worry beads are derived from these Buddhist beads. There are many meanings for the Onenju and its usage. However, for the sake of this handbook we will use the most widely accepted definition of Onenju for Jodo Shinshu Buddhists.
Jodo Shinshu priests often carry an Onenju with 108 beads. This number does not include the 4 small Shitenno (four heavenly kings) beads which represent the four heavenly kings said to dwell on the four sides of Mt. Sumeru. Also not included in the count are the two large beads called Oyadama (parent beads) and the auxiliary beads hanging from the Oyadama. The remaining 108 beads represent the 108 Bonno (afflicting passions of man).
The 108 Bonno can be broken down as follows. Six types of Bonno can arise when the sense organs (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body and mind) perceive an object. The objects perceived may be considered desirable, undesirable, neither desirable nor undesirable, pleasurable, painful, or neither pleasurable nor painful. Six possibilities for each of the six sense objects give 36 possibilities. Each of these 36 possibilities exists in the past, present or future so that a total of 108 possibilities exist. The number 108 is traditionally an ideal number since it is a multiple of the number 9 which has the greatest potential for variation.
The Onenju of 108 beads is divided into two sections of 54 beads each, hence the two Oyadama. Each side is further divided into sections of 7,14 and 33 beads by the Shitenno beads. With this arrangement, the four Shitenno beads form a square representing the four cardinal directions when the Onenju is folded in two.
The laity of Jodo Shinshu usually carry a single strand of beads. This is an abbreviated form of the full set carried by the priests. The single strand usually consists of two Shitenno beads, one Oyadama bead and at least nine beads or a multiple thereof, depending on the size of the beads. Women usually use a single strand Onenju with a tassel and men usually use an Onenju with a simple string arrangement.
The Onenju is always held in the left hand since the left hand represents the world of Samsara (this world) with its 108 Bonno. The right hand represents the world of Nirvana. It is through the use of the Onenju that the two utterly different worlds of Samsara and Nirvana are seen in their essential Oneness. From a Jodo Shinshu point of view, one can say that the left hand of Samsara, of the 108 Bonno and egotism, represents the world of "Namo", of myself. The right hand represents Nirvana the world of Enlightenment, the world of Amida Buddha. The Onenju brings together these two seemingly opposite worlds into the Oneness of Namo Amida Butsu. No Namo or Amida Butsu separately, but only Namo Amida Butsu.
In the Nishi Honganji tradition of Jodo Shinshu, the Onenju encircles the hands in Gassho with the tassel or strings hanging below the two palms and the two thumbs resting lightly on the beads. When not in use, the Onenju is held in the left hand or placed around the left wrist.