The rituals and traditions of Jodo Shinshu

The younger generations and “newbies” have either forgotten or have never
been taught the rituals and traditions of Jodo Shinshu. Yes, Jodo Shinshu has
many forms of respect for the Buddha and temple. We have taken for granted the
respect, gratitude and appreciation of the teachings but most importantly, we
have lost our sense of honor. This may sound harsh, however without the
teachings and practices we become just any gathering place.

I bring this to the front page because I see our traditions fading away. How many
of us remember to bow when entering and exiting the temple? The steps are very
simple. Before entering the Honda, we take a slight bow of respect, then we step
in with the left foot. This small gesture represents the realm of Amida Buddha of
Immeasurable Wisdom and Compassion. We enter to hear the Buddha Dharma,
leaving the outside world of our ignorance and entering the realm of Amida

When exiting, we bow and step back with the right foot. We have gained and
hopefully leave with a bit of enlightenment of the teachings, so we can begin
living our lives with reverence, gratitude and appreciation. Hopefully, also a little
wiser and to find our path of seeing our true self.

After finding our “regular space” of seating, it is customary to bow slightly in
Gassho and recite Nembutsu/Namu Amida Butsu. It is this time we focus on our
own voice of Nembutsu. As we hear our Gassho, it is our call to Buddha and our
expression of gratitude for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Gassho is done
before and after chanting. Generally, Gassho is also offered after a Dharma
message, but Nembutsu can be said anytime, anyplace and anywhere.

At the beginning of service, a Kansho or “calling bell” is rung. It is the Buddha
“calling us” to come and hear the Dharma. Listening to the vibration and tone of
the Kansho prepares us to listen and can be a meditative as well as reflective
time. It is a time to settle our minds to hear and listen. It is a time to stop idle chit

The tone of the ringing of the bell can also be a reflection on how the ringer is
feeling that day. If the ringer is feeling good or has a hangover or their mind is
elsewhere, it is heard in their ring.

We offer incense in front of the Buddha or scroll, whichever the temple has. This
is called Oshoko. It is usually done before the service, end of a service or even
during a service. During a service if a chairperson or someone is performing a
certain task. This Oshoko is an expression of our gratitude and respect to
another time to Oshoko to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

When we Oshoko, we tend to take for granted our rituals. However, there are
certain rituals that never change. When we offer incense, we stand a few feet
away from the burner, we bow slightly, then approach the incense burner with the
left foot. We take a pinch of incense using the right hand only, to drop the incense
onto the charcoal. We put our palms together in gassho and recite Nembutsu.
We step back with the right foot and slightly bow again. The right hand is used
only to offer incense, because in historical times, the left hand was used for
wiping the derrière.

When we cross in front of a person, we generally say, “excuse me”. Well, it is the
same for the Buddha on the shrine (onaijin). When we cross in front of Buddha,
there is always a slight bow. There is no need to say anything, but a slight bow
can mean so much more. It is our sign of respect, courtesy and show of

There is respect and gratitude for the teachings, yet we have been forgetful of
the rituals and traditions. We can begin anew and begin to use these customs
and rituals. We just have to remember and use the wisdom and compassion of
the Buddha and the teachings.

Rev. Seijo Naomi Nakano

Share on: FacebookTwitterPinterest