FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is the Nembutsu and what does it mean?
The Nembutsu is the phrase “Namo Amida Butsu,” which is the primal expression of a Shin Buddhist’s gratitude to the Buddha for the boundless Wisdom and Compassion that has been given to us. The phrase basically means, “I gratefully entrust myself to and rely solely upon the Amida Buddha.” Throughout today’s service and throughout the life of a Shin Buddhist, the recitation and coming to a realization of the true meaning of “Namo Amida Butsu” is just as important as breathing or the continuing flow of blood throughout one’s body. During our services, we formally recite the Nembutsu three times, but this is as a matter of convenience and has no religious significance.
What is the difference between Namo Amida Butsu and Namu Amida Butsu?
The term “Namo Amida Butsu” originally came from the Sanskrit phrase “Namos Amita Buddha” and as the teachings spread to China and Japan, the pronunciation remained as close as possible to the Sanskrit original, taking into consideration “national” linguistics and pronunciation for each society. In Japan, the term “Namos” eventually was pronounced “namu,” however the pronunciation of that term as “Namo” in Japanese is closer to the Sanskrit original than Namu. Therefore, in the Hongwanji tradition, we have chosen to use the pronunciation “Namo” while the Higashi Honganji and other Pure Land Buddhists use the “Namu” pronunciation. Either pronunciation is perfectly acceptable.
How do I become a Shin Buddhist?
Anyone can become a member of our Shin Buddhist sangha. There are no restrictions or social barriers prohibiting a person from becoming a follower of the Nembutsu Path. Just come as you are. Many members choose to receive a “Buddhist Name” or Homyo (Hoe-myoe) as a way of showing their commitment to live their lives as Shin Buddhists, however, this is not mandatory. If one does not receive a Buddhist name during their lifetime, they may receive a Buddhist name at their funeral or memorial rites if it is done according to the Shin tradition. But the Buddhist name itself is not mandatory for a person to receive and follow the Nembutsu teaching.
How would I receive a Buddhist name or “Homyo”?
In the Hongwanji tradition, the Monshu (the head of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha sect of Buddhism) confers Buddhist names on all members, however since it is not possible for him to confer names on all followers throughout Japan and the world, he may designate representatives to act on his behalf in the presentation of Buddhist names. In the BCA, the Bishop is designated as the official representative of the Monshu to present Buddhist names, and in some cases, the Bishop may appoint a BCA minister as his/her representative to present Buddhist names to members.
Why do some people call the beads “nenju” and others call them “juzu” – are they the same?
In some Buddhist traditions and other religious traditions, the “nenju” or “juzu” is used for counting how many times a person recites something. “Ju” means “bead” and “zu” means “counter.” However, in our Shin tradition, since we do not use the “juzu” as an aid for meditation or chanting, we should refer to it as a “nen-ju” – “nen” means “mindful/thinking” and “ju” means beads = beads to keep us mindful of the Buddha.
The traditional strand of the nenju has 108 beads, but today, most lay members carry an abbreviated version with fewer beads for easier carrying. The number of beads is insignificant; however, traditionally, the number of beads on the shorter strands have been in numbers evenly divisible by 108 (usually 54 or 27). Different denominations and traditions have different styles and tassels. When carrying the nenju in your hand, traditionally, you should carry it in your left hand. If you’re wearing a wrist-style nenju, you should also wear this on your left hand.
Why should we wear or carry the nenju or wrist nenju on our left hand?
In the Asian tradition, almost every action and aspect of anything has a special meaning. If you look at the traditional Shin altar, the flowers are placed to the left and the candle is placed on the right side. The left side represents the world of samsara, the world we live in. The flowers, as beautiful as they are on the altar, are dying at that very moment (just as we are). The candle light represents the light of Buddha’s wisdom (teaching).
In the same manner, the left hand represents the world of samsara and the right hand represents the world of Amida Buddha. When we place our hands together in Gassho with the nenju beads surrounding our hands, our two hands (representing the world of samsara and the world of enlightenment) come together as one within the realm of Namo Amida Butsu. Therefore, the nenju (modified or in its original form with 108 beads representing the 108 egotistical desires of humans), should be worn on the left hand as a reminder of the world of samsara we all exist within. Of course, if a person has no left arm or hand or the hand or arm is broken and you cannot carry anything, then it is perfectly acceptable to wear or carry the nenju on the right hand.