Jodo Shinshu Practices

Entering and Leaving the Temple: The temple grounds should be treated with respect because this is where people gather to hear the dharma. When entering or leaving the temple or any room in which there is an altar, a slight bow of approximately fifteen degrees is customary.

Gassho and Raihai:Literally meaning “joined-palms”, gassho is considered one of the most beautiful of gestures and is the Indian way of expressing greetings, farewell, thanks, and reverence. The palms of both hands are placed together with the fingers and thumbs extended and with a nenju encircling the hands, held lightly between the thumbs and fingers. Elbows should be fairly close to the body and hands should be held at mid-chest level, at a forty-five degree angle.

For Jodo Shinshu practioners, this gassho is performed with a forty-five degree bow from the waist, called raihai in Japanese. To bow during the gassho, the hands should be held steady, while the body is bent forward from the hips and then back to the upright position.

While performing gassho and raihai, Shin Buddhists intone the Buddha’s name, Namo Amida Butsu, as an act of reverence and gratitude for the Buddha.

Nenju:The nenju is the string of beads used in Buddhist rituals and meditation. It is also called a juju, or “bead counter”. The single strand of beads is an abbreviation of the 108-bead nenju used by monks and priests. Lay members generally carry a single strand nenju.

The nenju is held in the left hand, since the left hand represents the world of samsara --- the world we live in (the world of suffering). The right hand represents the world of awakening, the world of nirvana. It is through the use of the nenju that the two different worlds of samsara and nirvana are seen in their essential Oneness --- that is to say, the bringing together of the left hand of samsara and the right hand of nirvana into the Oneness of gassho.

Incense Burning (Oshoko): Oshoko is performed in conjunction with the gassho and raihai. Simply proceed toward the altar and bow slightly at a distance of about two paces in front of the table holding the incense burner. Step up to the table, left foot leading. If the container for the incense is covered, remove the lid and prop it on the edge of the container. With the right hand, take a pinch of the ground incense and drop it into the burner over the burning incense (or charcoal). This need be done once only, and it is not necessary to first bring the incense to your forehead. Gassho, say the nembutsu, raihai, take two or three steps back, bow slightly in homage to Amida Buddha, and be seated.

Mealtimes: The practice of giving thanks and expressing gratitude for food received should be encouraged. Traditionally, the Japanese term itadakimasu (respectfully receive) is used before partaking of a meal. Gochisosama is used after the meal. You may also use an English equivalent, such as, “We are truly grateful for the meal. We wish to share it with all beings. As we partake of this food, let us remember Amida Buddha’s Compassion, which surrounds all forms of life.”

Jodo Shinshu Practices

Infant Presentation (Shosanshiki): Parents formally present their child to the Buddha and Sangha for the first time on this occasion. The ceremony may be done privately, or as a group service.

Marriage: Marriage vows are taken from words spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha at a wedding he officiated. Before the altar of the Buddha, the ceremony consists of simple chanting, the reading of vows, and the offering of incense.

Last Rites (Rinju Gongyo): Traditionally, this was a service conducted at the deathbed as a dying person’s last opportunity to express gratitude to the Buddha. It also affirms the family’s and friends’ appreciation of the person and each other. It should be done before the person passes away. If it is not possible before the person’s passing, then a Makuragyo is held after the person passes away. There should be no anxiety associated with when or if this service is held, as the most important thing is the appreciation for the Buddha’s Great Compassion and our love for each other.