THE BUDDHIST SHRINE (Butsudan)
1. SHRINE SYMBOLS
The figure of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Wisdom and Compassion, occupies the central position in the Butsudan. In some temples and home butsudans, instead of the statue, a scroll bearing the Chinese characters, "Namo Amida Butsu," meaning "I take refuge in Amida Buddha," or a picture representing Amida, occupies the central position.
The adherence of Buddhism do not worship the image of Amida Buddha, but bow their heads in reverence before the Wisdom and Compassion of Amida, which the figure represents.
In many of the lager temples, the Butsudan is more elaborate. On the right side, facing the Buddha image, is hung a scroll bearing the image of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), the founder of the Jodo Shin (True Pure Land) sect. On the left hangs a picture of one of the Chief Abbots, Rennyo Shonin (1415-1499), 8th descendent of Shinran Shonin. In addition to these, there may be others, such as a scroll on the far left depicting the images of seven masters who contributed the most to the development of the Jodo Shin teachings of enlightenment through the power of Amida's Wisdom and Compassion. These figures are placed in the Butsudan as a sign of respect and gratitude.
2. ADORNMENTS (SHOGON)
The Butsudan contain many adornments. From the elaborate and fine "sumi yoraku" (hanging corner-ornaments) reminiscent of the jewelry worn by Indian aristocrats, to the "kiku rinto" (chrysanthemum-circular-lamp), each of these has its own origin and meaning. Many of the articles used in the Butsudan have their origin in the sermons of the Shakyamuni Buddha.
Light symbolizes the Wisdom of the Buddha which drives away the darkness of the human mind and shines without discrimination on all. In Jodo Shin sect, this is directly related to the Name of Amida Buddha.
b. Incense Burning
The practice of burning incense is a symbolic act of spiritual "cleansing," or preparation, for approaching the Buddha and listening to the Dharma. At the same time, the smoke rising from the burning incense represents the transiency of all existence. In Jodo Shin sect, for everyday services, the incense sticks are laid horizontally in the incense burner.
Flowers are offered on the Butsudan. They are symbolic of the impermanence of this life. Flowers should be kept fresh at all times.
Offerings of food are made as an expression of thankfulness and gratitude. Rice is traditionally offered in Japan. Sweet cakes, vegetables and fruits are also offered, on special occasions. Fish or any form of animal flesh is never offered.
e. Monetary Offerings
Monetary offerings are made to the temples as well as to the ministers. Offerings are made not with the intention of paying for or compensating the services of the minister, but with the feelings of gratitude as "Offertory" or "Dana."
3. BUDDHIST ETIQUETTE
Etiquette, in general, is concerned with the refinement of human behavior in relation to other human beings. Common courtesy, cordially, grace and beauty, along with tradition, are all involved.
Although Buddhist etiquette takes into consideration this concept, it is more concerned with the refinement of our behavior in relationship to the Buddha, the Teachings, and the Sangha*.
*Sangha: Buddhist Brotherhood. Ordained men, ordained women, lay men followers, lay women followers, are included. One of the most important objects of reliance for all Buddhists.
Thus, while it is necessary for the Buddhist to observe ordinary rules of good conduct towards others, it is even more important to move with reverence and gratitude in all things regarding the Buddha.
Reverence and gratitude for the Wisdom and Compassion of the Buddha are integral aspects of Buddhist etiquette. Learning and practice of outward gestures alone are empty and meaningless. "Gassho" is meaningful only when it is the Nembutsu in action -- when it is the expression of our gratitude and reverence.
When Shinran spoke of "Shomyo Nembutsu" -- the actual utterance of the Nembutsu -- he meant that it is not enough for one to merely have noble thought; the expression of words and action is essential.
With this in mind, the purpose of etiquette in the lives of Buddhists becomes clear. We are inspired to put into action the reverence and gratitude which we feel toward the Buddha.
While it is true that Buddhists in America cannot adopt all of the rules of etiquette as practiced in Japan, there is still much to be said for the perpetuation of some common traditions.
Gassho means to put the hands together. Both hands are placed palm to palm, with the fingers and thumbs aligned. The "o-nenju" encircles the hands and is held lightly under the thumbs. Both elbows should be fairly close to the body and the hands should be at mid-chest level. When bowing during gassho, the arms should be held steady against the body, while the torso is bent forward from the hips and then back to an upright position.
B. THE O-NENJU (o-juzu)
The o-nenju encircles the hands during gassho, symbolizing our Oneness with Amida Buddha.
The o-nenju should be treated with utmost respect at all times. At home it should be kept in a special place, such as in a drawer near the family Butsudan. At other times, the o-nenju should be carried in the purse or coat pocket so that it will always be available. During the service, when not in use, the o-nenju should be held in the left hand.
C. O-SHOKO (BURNING OF INCENSE)
Originally incense was burned as a symbolic gesture of "cleansing," or preparation, before approaching a person or object of reverence. The burning symbolizes the extinction of impure thought and the transiency of all existence. The fragrance of the incense is another form of "cleansing," as it drives away unfavorable odors.
O-shoko is performed in the following manner: (1) Walk toward the incense burner. Stop two or three steps before the table; bow lightly.
(2) Step up to the incense burner. With your right hand, take a tiny pinch of the ground incense and drop it into the incense burner, over the burning sticks or charcoal. (This need be done once only, and it is not necessary to first bring the incense to your forehead).
(3) Bow in homage to Amida Buddha in gassho.
(4) Take two or three steps back, bow lightly, and return to your seat.
D. USE OF THE SEITEN (AND GATHA BOOKS)
The Seiten contains sacred words and should be handled with proper respect and care. As a gesture of gratitude, some people hold the book with hands and lift it to their forehead before and after using it. This gesture is called "itadaku."
E. ENTERING AND LEAVING THE "HONDO"
The hondo (main temple hall) should be entered quietly and reverently. Upon entering, gassho, facing the shrine-area. Take your seat and wait quietly for the service to begin.
Avoid being late to service, but when you must enter the hondo after the service has started, be especially careful not to disturb the others. Try to find the seat in the back rows. If you enter during a period of meditation, wait until it is over before moving toward the pews.
At the doorway, before leaving the hondo, turn to face the shrine and gassho.
F. RECITING OF THE NEMBUTSU
Jodo Shin sect is based on the realization of the Nembutsu, therefore, the importance of reciting it correctly cannot be overemphasized. "Namo Amida Butsu" should be recited clearly and accurately.