This guide outlines the typical Jodo-Shinshu service format and provides information on etiquette and the activities you may encounter. The service chair will announce each activity.
- Kansho: Call to Service – Kansho, or literally “screaming bell,” is the traditional call to services.
- Opening Meditation and Nembutsu Recitation: Services begin with a short period of meditation, to help focus one’s thoughts on being ready to reflect on and hear the Dharma.
- Recitation of the Vandana Ti Sarana: This chant is about the universal Buddhist affirmation of the “Three Treasures” of Buddhism: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
- Sutra Chanting: Chanting is typically done in Japanese or Chinese, although English translations are provided. Chanting can be a meditative practice—feel the oneness from the sounds rather than understanding the words.
- Dharma Message: The Dharma Message—known as a sermon or homily in other traditions—provides insights about Buddhism and its relevance to our lives.
- Bodhisattva Vows: A bodhisattva strives to liberate all beings from the cycle of birth and death. The Bodhisattva Vows are vows taken formally by a Buddhist to do exactly that. The vows also are an expression of bodhicitta, the desire to realize enlightenment for the sake of others.
- Singing of a Gatha: As part of most services, we will sing a Gatha (song), as an expression of our spirituality.
- Dana: Monetary Collection for the Service – An expression of gratitude and sharing.
- Closing Meditation and Nembutsu Recitation: A short meditative period to close out the service, reflect on the service, and prepare for your week.
- Oshoko: Burning of Incense – The ritual burning of incense provides an opportunity for personal reflection on the transiency of existence.
- Sangha Announcements: Informal time to share information, news, and announcements about the temple.
- Final Gassho: The service closes out with a final recitation of the Nembutsu.
Etiquette and Explanations
Here’s some quick tips to assist you in understanding what’s going on during the service!
It is customary at Ekoji to remove your street shoes before entering the Hondo (main temple area through the glass doors)—bare or sock feet are fine, or feel free to borrow a pair of slippers in the foyer area.
Gassho (Putting Hands Together)
Gassho means to put the hands together, and is usually accompanied by a bow. It is a natural expression of reverence and gratitude, and is performed several times during the service. It is not a prayer or request for favors.
Onenju (Buddhist Beads)
The onenju are the religious beads you may see carried by members around you. The beads symbolize “Oneness” and are a sacred religious object.
If you would like to participate in the burning of incense, just queue up with the other members. When at the front of the Hondo, stop about two steps from the Oshoko table and bow. Then step forward, place a small pinch of incense on the ember and perform a Gassho with a bow. Then step back, bow, turn to your right and exchange bows with the Sensei, and then return to your seat via the outer aisles.
Nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu)
The Nembutsu is the recitation of Namo Amida Butsu, which means I take refuge in infinite wisdom and compassion. The Amida Buddha (Butsu) is the representation of infinite wisdom and compassion—not an actual person, deity, or being. We don’t worship Amida Buddha, nor petition for intercession, but learn to trust in an interconnected, impermanent world.
Chants are the teachings of the Dharma and can encourage mindfulness. We encourage you to try it out, and focus on “oneness” with the sangha and take it as an opportunity to be in the moment, even though you might not understand the words.