A Look At Rinzai Zen Home Services

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been looking recently at Japanese home services for various Buddhist sects.  In the case of some sects, these aren’t clearly explained in English, or differ somewhat between English and Japanese versions.

One example I wanted to share was for Rinzai Zen Buddhism, which admittedly I have been exploring more actively lately.¹  Japanese language sites so far seem to be pretty consistent about what a home service would look like in the Rinzai sect, though each of the lineages differs slightly.  The example here is from the Myoshin-ji lineage, which is one of the larger and most well-known.

The format is often:

  1. Verse for opening the sutra (kaikyōge 開経偈) – this short verse helps to set the right frame of mind when starting a home service, so it’s pretty helpful, and can be found almost universally in Buddhist home services.  The text may vary a bit, but they basically all say the same thing.
  2. The Heart Sutra (hannya shingyō 般若心経) – a sutra frequently associated with Zen teachings, but has almost universal popularity.
    • Another popular option is to recite a certain part of the Kannon Sutra (kannon gyō 観音経), which is the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In particular the last verse-section of that chapter, called either the kannon sesongé (観音経世尊偈) or just sesongé (世尊偈) for short, is recited.
    • Or recite both.
  3. Recite one of a couple different dharanis:
    • The Dharani of Kannon Bodhisattva with 1000-arms and 1000-eyes. In Japanese this is called the daihishu (大悲咒) for short.
    • The Dharani Against Calamities.  I’ve personally seen this recited 3 times due to its brevity.
    • In both cases, the aim of the dharani is general protection of the Buddhist practitioner so they can be protected from obstructions and hassles, and thus be able to focus on the Buddhist path more easily.  Also, dharani are typically not translated, so they may sound like nonsensical syllables.  This is due to their origin in esoteric Buddhism.
  4. The Hymn of Zen by Zen master Hakuin (hakuin zenji zazen wasan 白隠禅師坐禅和讃).  Since all existing Rinzai lineages originate from Hakuin (1686 – 1768), it makes sense.  Plus the hymn does a nice job of summarizing Rinzai Zen teaching in a series simple verses.
  5. The Four Bodhisattva Vows (shigusei ganmon 四弘誓願文).  Since the practice of Buddhism is not just for one’s own benefit, but also for that of all sentient beings, this popular Buddhist verse is recited to reaffirm one’s commitment.

All of this is pretty optional, and you can add/remove things as needed.  Unlike some other sects, there is no required sutra that you must recite, but these are often the most common.

In some Rinzai Zen websites I’ve seen, the recommended service is as simple as:

Now, you might be asking yourself “hey, why is there no mention of meditation?”.  This is because meditation is separate from chanting and reciting.  Both serve an important purpose in Rinzai Zen (and any Zen), but they’re treated as different aspects.  Zen, above all else, is all about zazen-meditation.  As the Hymn above states, all other Buddhist practices come back to the practice of meditation, but in addition to meditation, Zen practitioners will often do services like this either for devotional reasons, or maybe to help foster wholesome karmic conditions that will help keep them on the path.²

Anyway, hope this helps.  Happy Zen’ning!

P.S.  If you’re feeling ambitious, and can read some Japanese, you can also get yourself a home Rinzai Zen service kit on Amazon JP.

P.P.S.  I am probably going to make similar posts for other Japanese Buddhist sects as well.  My next goal is Jodo Shu Buddhism.  Stay tuned.

¹ For whatever reason, I found that I have never really resonated with Soto Zen.  I know Soto Zen has more resources in the West, but I find I can’t maintain any interest in it, and so far my experiences with Soto have been less than positive.  Although Rinzai resources in the West are fewer, I have generally had more positive experiences.

² Really, both reasons go hand in hand anyway.  It’s not worth splitting hairs over.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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