At the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple we go to, there is a ritual called oshōkō (お焼香), where families go up to the temple before service and offer a little incense, as well as a small donation, usually a dollar or so. I’ve seen similar rituals at other temples too: Shingon Buddhist, etc. The word oshōkō simply means the burning of incense.
So, for those new to Japanese Buddhism, or if you are visiting a temple for the first time, I wanted to provide a quick overview. There is a helpful guide in Japanese on how to do this, but I haven’t found a helpful guide in English. So, here is a rough translation:
- Holding your rosary in your left hand, if any, take 2-3 steps toward main altar, then bow at the waist.
- If the incense brazier is closed, take the lid off and place it to the right.
- Take a pinch of powdered incense using the pointer finger and middle finger.1
- Drop the incense into the brazier. Some people will put the incense before their forehead in respect, but this is not really necessary.
- Put one’s hands together, with the rosary draped over both hands and recite the nembutsu.2
- Bow while reciting, hands still together.
- Take a few steps back, bow again, and then take your seat.
This is of course only a suggestion, but if you are new to a Japanese-Buddhist temple, this is a good start. Make sure to look at the photos linked above. If unsure though, just watch everyone else. 😉
1 Actually I usually see people pinch incense with the thumb and finger, so this is probably not a strict rule.
2 Or whatever prayer/chant is appropriate for that temple, of course.