Buddhist etiquette is concerned with the refinement of our behavior in its relationship with the Buddha, his teachings and his community of followers. Here are guidelines as to how Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is practiced both at the temple and at home.
Gassho is the natural expression of reverence and gratitude. It means to put the hands together. The palms of both hands are placed together with the fingers and thumbs extended and with the onenju (beads, also called the ojuzu) encircling both hands, symbolizing Oneness. The beads should be held lightly between the thumbs and the fingers. Both elbows should be fairly close to the body and the hands should be at mid-chest level. When in this posture, the Nembutsu—“Namu Amida Butsu”—is quietly repeated to demonstrate gratitude for the compassion of Amida Buddha.
Raihai, the act of bowing reverently, is a gesture associated with gassho (see above). In the Jodo Shinshu tradition, the angle of the bow is approximately 45 degrees. The reason for this bowing is to lower your eyes and use your other senses; the act of bowing also quiets our voices and allows us to hear more of our surroundings.
Onenju (religious beads)
The onenju (religious beads that are often referred to as the ojuzu) should be treated with respect at all times. During Buddhist services, the onenju should be held in the left hand when being carried.
A full strand of onenju beads has 108 beads (the one shown here is a smaller, more common strand of beads). Of all the strung beads, there are three that are different in size and color.
When the onenju encircles both hands in gassho, one of these different beads sits at the midpoint of one hand; this is the “father” bead. At the midpoint of the other hand is the “mother” bead. These two beads are reminders to us that each of us has parents. The third bead that is different than the rest is found where the tassel is formed; it is the “Amida” bead and ties everything together.
Why does the onenju have 108 beads?
- We have 5 senses—sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Those 5 senses plus consciousness equals 6 senses.
- Each of those 6 senses can be perceived as: good, bad or neutral. (6 x 3=18).
- Each of those 18 good, bad and neutral senses can, in turn, be designated positive or negative. (18 x 2 =36).
- And each of those 36 positive or negative good, bad and neutral senses could occur in: the past, present or future (36 x 3=108).
The number 108 therefore represents 108 human passions. And the onenju reminds us that we, as humans, are often roiling in these 108 passions. In Buddhist tradition, we call upon the Buddha’s teachings and our community to help us to overcome these 108 human passions.
Oshoko (burning of incense)
Oshoko, or the offering of incense, represents the acceptance of transiency and fulfillment in life.
To do oshoko, walk up to the front of the altar and, when about two steps in front of the incense table, stop and bow.
Then, starting with your left foot, step up to the table and, with your right hand, take a pinch of powdered incense. Drop the incense into the incense burner, on top of the lit sticks of incense or charcoal. Put your hands together in gassho and bow.
Then, beginning with your right foot, take a step backward. Bow and return to your seat.
Use of the Service Book (Seiten) and Gatha Books
Since the Service Book contains the teachings of the Buddha, it should be handled with proper care. Before opening, reverently hold the Seiten with both hands and raise it to your forehead while slightly bowing your head in a gesture of gratitude. This attitude of reverence for what we receive is known as itadakimasu.
The Service Book should never be placed directly on the seat cushion or floor. To show proper respect for the teachings contained within the Seiten, always return it to its proper bookshelf or rack when it is not in use.
Entering and leaving the hondo (temple hall)
The hondo should be entered quietly and with due respect. Upon entering, while facing the altar, bow and put your hands together in gassho.
Before leaving the hondo, turn to face the altar, bow and gassho.
Recitation of the Nembutsu
Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is based on the realization of the Nembutsu, the dynamic movement of Amida Buddha’s Wisdom and Compassion as it is manifested in our daily lives. The Nembutsu, “Namu Amida Butsu,” is not a meditation or practice that leads to Enlightenment but, rather, an expression of gratitude for having received the True Entrusting Mind of Buddha. The Nembutsu is quietly recited while performing gassho (see above) and oshoko (also see above) .
Listening to the reading of Buddhist passages
The minister often reads excerpts from the Letters of Rennyo Shonin (Gobunsho) or other Buddhist texts before or after delivering a Dharma talk. The Sangha should sit quietly and listen respectfully to the words.
Responding to the speaker’s bow
When the speaker bows in greeting or upon conclusion of the Dharma talk, the Sangha should return the bow in mutual gratitude and respect.
General behavior in the hondo (temple hall)
While in the hondo during a service, emphasis is placed on the need to do everything quietly and reverently: Turn the pages of the Service Book quietly, close the book quietly upon completion, etc.
Osonaye (honorific offerings)
The reason why we offer food, flowers, incense, etc., on or in front of the Buddhist altar, is to express our gratitude to the many causes and conditions that ripened to allow us the opportunity to meet with the teachings of the Buddha. Through the ages, Buddhists have made offerings to the Buddha in this spirit of thanksgiving.
Rice has become the traditional main offering. As it was the staple food in China and Japan, it became the practice to offer the first portion of each day’s rice to the Buddha.
Giving of one’s service
Along with the giving of material goods, giving of labor and love for the temple also is encouraged. The unselfish concern for the welfare of the temple, which is necessary for all Buddhists, young and old, is taught from an early age.
Cleaning the temple building and grounds, setting up or putting away chairs, distributing Service Books, helping with bulletins or volunteering for the Legacy Garden, among other tasks, can help us acquire this unselfish concern.
Daily expressions of gratitude
Morning and Evening Gassho: Morning and evening services should be observed, however short or simple, in one’s home. This may take the form of gassho alone or the recitation of some words of thanksgiving in gassho. The words one may choose to recite before the home altar is of personal preference. They are usually determined by the guidance one receives from their minister and temple leaders. The important point is that the morning and evening expression of gratitude to the Buddha becomes a regular and important part of one’s daily life.
At the Dinner Table: We encourage the practice of reflecting, before and after meals, on the inter-connectedness and inter-dependency of all life. It is through this inter-connectedness that we receive nourishment and are able to continue to listen to the Dharma.
“Itadakimasu” means to receive gratefully with appreciation. “Gochiso sama deshita” expresses acknowledgment and gratitude for all the effort expended for one’s own benefit. The utterance of Itadakimasu before the meal and Gochiso sama deshita after the meal has real meaning when expressed in gassho with thanksgiving and humility .