Collection of Buddhist Etiquette articles from the WLA Bulletin
Receiving with Gratitude
Receiving with gratitude is as important as giving with pure heart. In this land of abundance, it is not difficult for a child to think little of a small gift. The teacher must somehow convey to his students the feeling of special appreciation for gifts from the temple. If our children can understand this feeling, they will treat the gifts with appreciation. Then, in the case of the candy bars, they will not tear off wrappings in the temple, but rather, they will take the candy home and enjoy it later.
At the Dinner Table
Let us encourage the practice of giving thanks at the dinner table. “Itadakimasu” and “Gochisosama” are two expressions of receiving with gratitude. Even for those who do not understand Japanese, the utterance of “Itadakimasu” before the meal and “Gochisosama” after the meal could have real meaning if expressed with thanksgiving in gassho.
BUDDHIST SERVICE ETIQUETTE
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. Although Buddhist service etiquette takes into consideration this concept, it is more concerned with the refinement of our behavior in relationship to the Buddha, the Teachings, and the Sangha.
Reverence and gratitude for the Wisdom and Compassion of the Buddha are integral aspects of Buddhist etiquette. Learning and practice of outward gestures alone are empty and meaningless. gassho is meaningful only when it is the Nembutsu (Namu Amida Butsu) in action—when it is the expression of our gratitude and reverence.
Gassho means to put the hands together. Both hands are placed palm to palm, with the fingers and thumbs aligned. The o-nenju encircles the hands and is held lightly under the thumbs. Both elbows should be fairly close to the body and the hands should be at mid-chest level. When bowing during gassho, the arms should be held steady against the body, while the torso is bent forward from the hips and then back to an upright position.
The o-nenju encircles the hands during gassho, symbolizing our Oneness with Amida Buddha. The o-nenju should be treated with utmost respect at all times. At home it should be kept in a special place, such as in a drawer near the family Butsudan (Buddha altar). At other times, the o-nenju should be carried in a purse or coat pocket so that it will always be available. During service, when not in use, the o-nenju should be held in the left hand.
(From Shin Buddhist Service Book, BCA, 1994, pp. 153-154)
c. 0-Shoko (Burning of Incense)
Originally incense was burned as a symbolic gesture of “cleansing,” or preparation, before approaching a person or object of reverence. The burning symbolizes the extinction of impure thoughts and the transiency of all existence. The fragrance of the incense is another form of “cleansing,” as it drives away unfavorable odors.
0-shoko is performed in the following manner:
Walk toward the incense burner. Stop two or three steps before the table; bow lightly.
Step up to the incense burner. With your right hand, take a tiny pinch of the ground incense 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 first bring the incense to your forehead).
Repeat the Nembutsu as you bow in homage to Amida Buddha in gassho.
Take two or three steps back, bow lightly, and return to your seat.
d. Use of the Seiten (and Gatha Books)
The Seiten contains sacred words and should be handled with proper respect and care. As a gesture of gratitude, some people while repeating the Nembutsu hold the book with both hands and lift it to their forehead before and after using it. This gesture is called itadaku.
e. Entering and Leaving the Hondo
The hondo (main temple hall) should be entered quietly and reverently. Upon entering, gassho, facing the shrine area. Take your seat and wait quietly for the service to begin.
Avoid being late to service, but when you must enter the hondo after the service has started, be especially careful not to disturb others. Try to find a seat in the back rows. If you enter during a period of meditation, wait until it is over before moving toward the pews.
At the doorway, before leaving the hondo, turn to face the shrine and gassho.
f. Reciting the Nembutsu
Jodo Shinsho is based on the realization of the Nembutsu, therefore, the importance of reciting it correctly cannot be overemphasized. “Namo Amida Butsu” should be recited clearly and accurately.
Buddhist Service Etiquette – Chanting of Sutra
“Sutra” is a Sanskrit term that means “words of Sakyamuni Buddha”, who founded Buddhism over 2,500 years ago in India. In essence, the intent of his numerous sermons and discourses was to teach that universal compassion of Amida Buddha embraces and sustains all beings with infinite light and immeasurable life and leads them to enlightenment.
The sutras which are contained in Jodo Shinshu Service Books are all meant to lead us to awaken to these virtues of Amida Buddha. Sutra chanting is a distinct practice in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, in which the words of the Buddha are to be read aloud with one’s innermost heart in praising the virtues of Amida Buddha. The harmonious sound of chanting lead many followers to awaken to the wisdom and compassion of Amida Buddha and to listen to the teachings. Their gratitude to Amida Buddha was expressed through chanting.
All of the services in our Hongwanji tradition begin with the chanting of sutra. In chanting sutra, we must bear in mind the following points:
Before the chanting begins, the Nembutsu is recited a number of times together with the minister and the congregation.
The sutra book is raised to the forehead before it is opened in order to pay respect to the words of the Buddha.
The ministers and the congregation chant in harmony. Each individual should listen to the voices of others so that he/she can be in tune with them.
The chanting must be done with a grateful heart to the Buddha. The chanting brings about a harmonious and religious atmosphere.
When the chanting is finished, the service book is closed and placed again to the forehead as a gesture of reverence.
Listening to the Reading of Sacred Writings
The minister often reads excerpts from the “Epistles of Rennyo Shonin” (Gobunsho) or other writings before or after delivering his/her sermon. The congregation should sit with heads bowed and listen to the words. When the speaker bows in greeting the congregation, or bows after the talk, the congregation should return the bow.
Leading the Congregation in Reading
Leading the congregation in reading, whether it is the Golden Chain or excerpts from the Dhammapada, is an honor and therefore should be performed in that spirit. Before beginning the reading, gassho and bow toward the altar. Hold the book with both hands. Read slowly and distinctly so that the congregation can follow together.
As the first of the Six Paramitas and a major virtue in the Buddhist Teachings, the practice and understanding of Dana (giving selflessly) should be constantly taught to the Dharma School students. The Dharma School and other temple activities afford various opportunities in which Dana, along with other Paramitas, may be practiced.
It has been the practice of Dharma School children to make small contributions to the temple. The teachers may help their students grasp the importance of their acts of Dana through stories showing the merits of this act. Money given boastfully is not true Osaisen. Teach the difference so that they may appreciate the true meaning of giving.
The method of accepting contributions varies with different temples. The majority of temples have their Offertory Box near the entrance of the Hondo (main hall). The children and members drop their Osaisen in this box as they enter the temple. Some temples have the system of collecting the Osaisen during the service or in the separate classes.
Flowers for the Altar
Those with abundant flowers in their gardens should be encouraged to bring them to the temple so they may be arranged for services. For Hanamatsuri (Buddha Day Service), every child should be encouraged to bring at least a few blossoms to offer to the Hanamido (miniature flower altar).
Giving of One’s Service
Along with the giving of material goods and giving of labor, love for the temple must be taught to the children. The unselfish concern for the welfare of the temple, which is necessary for all Buddhists, young and old, must be taught from an early age. Cleaning the temple and temple yard, helping with The Bulletin, volunteering for child care, and lining up chairs or distributing Gatha books can help the children acquire this unselfish concern.