This Sunday, my baby-boy “Little Guy” took part in a Japanese-Buddhist ceremony called ohatsumairi (お初参り) or more formally, shosanshiki (初参式). The word ohatsumairi literally means “first visit” where “mairi” is from the humble verb mairu (参る). This is somewhat similar to the Christian rite of infant baptism, because you are welcoming a young baby into a religious community. In the case of ohatsumairi, you’re sort of presenting the child before the Buddha, and making a pledge to raise him or her with good Buddhist values. Our minister here at the local Jodo Shinshu temple explained that this is not a binding agreement (your child doesn’t have to grow up Buddhist), but instead a commitment to raise them well and teach them good values like kindness, wisdom, tolerance, etc.
Anyhow, the ceremony was pretty simple. As a family, we came up to the Buddhist altar, offered a pinch of powdered incense to the brazier, and then the minister touch Little Guy’s head three times gently with a sutra. I think it was the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀経). Little Guy didn’t like this and pushed the sutra way, so I had to hold his arm for a moment. During this time, the minister said in Japanese:
南無帰依仏 Namu Kie Butsu
南無帰依法 Namu Kie Hō
南無帰依僧 Namu kie Sō
In English, this means “I got to the Buddha for refuge, I go to the Dharma for refuge, I go to the Sangha for refuge”. In other words, the Three Treasures of Buddhism. Little Guy received a tiny rosary (お念珠, o-nenju) as well and a certificate. The minister gave a speech to all the families, we took a photo and that was it. My daugther, Princess, did the same ceremony when she was about 3 years old (almost 5 years ago), so I don’t remember it too well, but I think it had been similar.
My daughter seems actively interested in Buddhism,1 but I don’t know about Little Guy yet. He’s much too young. But, I do believe it’s important to let kids explore their own religious beliefs, so if Little Guy doesn’t want to be Buddhist, that’s fine with us. We just want him to be a good, kind person.
Still, I am happy that this temple offers such ceremonies. I have been frustrated by other Buddhist temples in Seattle that focus so much on meditation or study, they seem to offer no family or children’s services. It’s hard to develop a real community if you don’t grow up in it. So, I think some of these temples will eventually fade after a couple generations if they don’t expand and adapt. Many people have work and families to take care of. They can’t spend all their time doing lengthy Zen practice, or doing advanced Tantra under a guru.
Anyhow, Little Guy is now “Buddhist”. He had a good time playing in the children’s room and slept for a long time on the way home. I guess he had fun. 🙂
1 She admires Daddy a lot, so she tries to act like me. Plus, I think she gets teased about being a different religion sometimes, so she wants to learn more about Buddhism. That’s my guess. Also, she’s starting to sing really pretty now (that comes from my sister, I think). So, I heard her singing a Buddhist hymn recently which surprised because a) her voice sounded really nice and b) the song she sang was in Pali, the original language of Buddhism. She’s such a nerd like her father. ;p