What to expect when you attend a Jodo Shinshu service
BACKGROUND: JODO SHINSHU TRADITIONS
The traditions of the temple refine our behavior in relation to Amida Buddha. The purpose these traditions in the lives of Buddhists is to put into action the reverence and gratitude which we feel for Amida Buddha.
ENTERING THE HONDO (MAIN HALL)
The Hondo should be entered quietly and with reverence. Upon entering, gassho facing the shrine. Take your seat and quietly wait for the service to begin. Avoid being late and try not to enter the Hondo during meditation.
Gassho means to put your hands together. It signifies the oneness of Buddha and all beings. It also expresses reverence and gratitude. The palms of both hands are placed together with the fingers and thumbs extended and with the nenju or ojuzu encircling both hands and 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. 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. Gassho is the natural expression of reverence and gratitude.
NENJU OR OJUZU
The Nenju or Ojuzu should be treated with the utmost respect at all times. It is a collection of beads with three main beads strung together and is used when in gassho at the time of worship. Three main beads represent the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, with the other beads representing Buddha’s teachings to overcome each suffering of beings. At home it should be kept in a special place, such as in a drawer near the family shrine. At other times, the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist should carry the Ojuzu in the purse or in the coat pocket so that it will always be available. During the service, the Ojuzu should be held in the left hand. The Ojuzu encircles the hand during gassho symbolizing Oneness.
Image courtesy: The Iowa Shinshu Dojo
USE OF THE SEITEN BOOKS
The Seiten books should be handled with proper care. Before and after chanting, the Seiten book should be raised to the forehead as a gesture of appreciation and reverence to the words of the Buddha.
LEADING THE CONGREGATION IN READING
Leading the congregation in reading, whether it be sacred writings or excerpts from the sutras, is an honour and therefore should be performed in that spirit. Gassho and bow towards the shrine before beginning the reading. Hold the book with both hands and read slowly and distinctly so that the congregation can follow together.
BURNING OF INCENSE (OSHOKO)
When burning incense, walk up to the front of the shrine and bow at a distance of about two steps in front of the incense table. Step up to the table and with the right hand, take a pinch of powdered incense and drop it into the incense-burner. gassho and bow. Take two steps backward, bow and return to your seat. The burning of incense should be done with reverence because it prepares us to receive the Dharma. It means to pay homage to the Buddha and remind ourselves of the law of impermanence of all things including ourselves.
Here is a video demonstrating Oshoko.
LEAVING THE HONDO (MAIN HALL)
Before leaving the Hondo, when the service is over, turn to face the shrine and gassho before leaving.