A Look At Jodo Shu Home Services

Recently I posted about how Rinzai Zen services at home might look like, so, this time, I wanted to post an example Jodo Shu service as well. Compared to Rinzai Zen there are, not surprisingly, a lot more things to chant.  More on Jodo Shu Buddhism in general can be found on their English-language website.

Further, there is an English-translated version with pronunciation of this service below courtesy of the Jodo Shu Mission in North-American.

In the most formal setting (more on shorter examples below), the format of a home service is often:¹

  • Verse for offering incense (kōge 香偈) – If you happen to have a small Buddhist bell too, the service books say strike it 8 times before you recite this verse. This signifies the start of the service too.
  • Taking refuge in the Three Treasures (sanbōrai 三宝礼) – Similar to other verses recited in other Buddhist sects, this acknowledges that one goes to the Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teaching) and Sangha (the community) for refuge.  This is pretty much universal in Buddhism in some form or another.
  • Invitation for all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to attend (shibujō 四奉請) – Sometimes also called Sanbujō (三奉請), this is a common invocation in some Buddhist sects to invite various Buddhist divinities to attend and witness, and share in the good joy.  The inspiration of this verse comes from the 10 vows of Samanthabadhra Bodhisattva among other sources.
  • Verse for confessing one’s transgressions (sangege 懺悔偈) – This is a verse very commonly found in Buddhist services and is part of the general Buddhist practice of self-reflection, and acknowledging one’s faults and striving not to commit again.  A more elaborated example is the 4th chapter of the Golden Light Sutra.
  • Recite the nembutsu 10 times (jūnen 十念) – As explained in a recent post, the tradition is to recite the nembutsu 10 times in a single breath. The first 8 sounds like “na-mu-a-mi-da-bu”, the 9th sounds like “na-mu-a-mi-da-bu-tsu” and the tenth sounds again like “na-mu-a-mi-da-bu”.
  • 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.  More details here.
  • Recite part of the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (a.k.a the Larger Sutra, Larger Sukhavati Sutra, etc) – This is a common liturgy in both Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu, where it is called the shiseige (四誓偈) and juseige (重誓偈) respectively. The full text is posted here. The gist of this section is where Amitabha Buddha-to-be is making a series of great vows to help all beings, vows that he will fulfill upon reaching enlightenment.  For the curious, the full, translated sutra can be found here among other places.
  • Verse for transferring merit (honzeige 本誓偈) – The practice of dedicating merit is very common in Buddhism, but this particular verse relates in the good merit accumulated through reciting the sutra.
  • Recite the nembutsu 10 times again (jūnen 十念)
  • Verse on the importance of the nembutsu (shōyakumon 摂益文) – This is a quick verse that reaffirms the basics of Pure Land teachings: anyone who recites the nembutsu (the name of Amitabha Buddha)is guaranteed to be reborn in the Pure Land through that Buddha’s compassion.  The one-sheet document written by Honen, founder of Jodo-Shu Buddhism, also reiterates this point.
  • Recite the nembutsu as much as you like (nembutsu ichi-e 念仏一会) – I am a bit fuzzy on this one, but it seems to just simply mean you recite the nembutsu continuously as a continuous stream, unlike the junen above, for as long as you like.
  • Another verse for transference of merit (sōekōge 総回向偈) – I am unclear why there are two separate verses for dedicating merit, but verse seems to be more broad in that it dedicates all the merit from this service, and not just specifically for reciting the sutra.
  • Recite the nembutsu 10 times again (jūnen 十念)
  • The Four Bodhisattva Vows (sōgange 総願偈) – The Four Bodhisattva Vows are another very common verse recited in Mahayana Buddhist services across all of east Asia, and express the general sentiment of one undertaking the Bodhisattva Path. Even if one is not now dedicated to the path, it’s still a good thing to recite because you might become inspired someday when the conditions are right. A full explanation of the Four Bodhisattva Vows, and the verse to recite can be found here.
  • Three Prostrations to Amitabha Buddha (sanshōrai 三唱礼) – this is another variation on reciting the nembutsu. Here, it is said three times slowly, drawn-out, follow by a bow. Repeat two more times for a total of nine recitations.
  • A final verse to ask the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to return (sōbutsuge 送仏偈) – basically the opposite of the shibujō/sanbujō above.

Out of all this, the essential practice is to:

  • Recite the sutra excerpt from the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Sutra
  • Recite the nembutsu at least 10 times.

There are also slight variations I’ve seen from the format above, particularly toward the second-half, but the differences are not significant.  One site I read suggested that Jodo Shu services be done in the morning where possible.

At the end of the day though, from the Jodo Shu school’s perspective, the most crucial thing is the nembutsu.  If these extra chants hinder your efforts to recite the nembutsu, stop doing them, but on the other hand, if they bolster your efforts, then definitely keep doing them.

Good luck, and happy chanting!

P.S.  I’ll post more “example service” posts soon.  Hoping to post Nichiren-shu Buddhism home services next.

¹ I consulted a few different source both in English and Japanese,

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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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