In it for the long haul

So, I’ve been reading a little more about Jodo Shu Buddhism, of which I have become curious about. Then I came upon this nice website about how to practice Jodo Shu. The site is pretty thorough, and covers pretty much all the basics. I enjoyed reading the part about counting the rosary or o-juzu in Japanese (お数珠), because it just so happened I bought one of these rosaries during my last trip to Japan. I bought the rosary at the Kōtoku-in temple where the Great Buddha statue of Kamakura sits. At the time I didn’t know much about it; I just added it to ol’ rosary collection at home.

Anyways, here’s what the rosary looks like on my kitchen counter:

Jodo Shu Buddhist Rosary 2

Buddhist rosaries in Jodo Shu Buddhism are unusual because of the double-ring, plus extra tassels for additional counting. Most of my experience has been with the related, though somewhat different, Jodo Shinshu sect, where the emphasis is not on counting recitations.* So, the rosaries I have in Jodo Shinshu style are used more in services where you drape them over the hands, and the number of beads varies quite a bit.

Like the diagram in the website above this rosary has two rings, and two tassels with 10 small and 6 large beads. You can also see the tiny extra bead where the two tassels meet. So, having read how to properly tell the rosary in Jodo Shu tradition, I decided to give it a try tonight. Here’s how it looks when holding the rosary:

Jodo Shu Buddhist Rosary

Like the website says, the first ring goes between the thumb and forefinger, with each bead counting a single recitation of the nembutsu (namu amida bu), while the second ring counts a full revolution. Apparently, according to the website, I bought a “woman’s style” rosary (tee-hee!) which when using all beads, can count up to 60,000 recitations. Without doing the extra tassel beads, the basic two-ring recitation is exactly 1080 recitations.

So anyways, I sat my chair in front of the Amida altar I have (which is Jodo Shinshu style, not Jodo Shu, oh well) and recited the nembutsu 1080 times, give or take any screw-ups.** At first moving the beads between my fingers was pretty clumsy, but I noticed that if I held the beads right at the tip of my fingers, which are more sensitive, I had better control. Later, as the motions became more fluid, my chanting got much better.

I’ve never chanted anything that long in my life, but it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and was actually a very interesting experience. In a way, I definitely like it over meditation, but that’s my style I guess.

Anyways, if you ever get a hold of one of these double-ringed rosaries, definitely try the chanting suggestions above. Or if you have a regular rosary, try some creative ways of chanting there too. Chanting 1000 times vs. 100 times doesn’t make you a better Buddhist, but once you get into it, it is a challenging, but peaceful experience. Master Yin-Shun, the Chinese Buddhist monk, writes how the chanting of the nembutsu is an excellent approach to single-practice leading to samadhi or “concentration”, not counting the obvious benefit of being reborn in the Pure Land.


* – I’ve confirmed from a few sources that Jodo Shu doesn’t insist that you have to recite the nembutsu X number of times, but simply stresses it as a practice, where one’s mind is gradually transformed and reaches a point of anjin or “peaceful mind” similar to the notion of shinjin, or “entrusting or clear mind” in Jodo Shinshu.

** – If you’re not careful, your speech starts to slur badly, and the recitations run together. It’s a good exercise in mindfulness. :)

P.S. Speaking of all things girly, my wife points out that I have girly hands. :D

My hands for some reason are pretty soft and have no scars. Considering I worked for years in a restaurant chopping veggies, doing dishes in caustic chemicals, and such, it’s amazing my hands look as soft as they do. It doesn’t help that they are chubby too. ;)

P.P.S. The actual design of the double-ringed rosary is credited to Honen’s follower, Awanosuke. Awanosuke was a sincere follower of Honen, but due to his past as a fortune-teller, other disciples tended to pick on him sometimes, or see him as foolish. Apparently, he deserves lots of credit for such a clever design.

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8 Comments on “In it for the long haul”

  1. Kyōshin says:

    Interesting – thanks. One minor point; we use the term ‘anjin’ in Shin too. It is common in Zendo (Shan-tao’s writings) and was popularised in Shin by Rennyo (who was influenced by the Jodo Shu to some extent). It refers to the *same* condition as ‘shinjin’ but simply emphasizes a different aspect; the ‘peaceful/settledness’ of the mind rather than the ‘clarified’ aspect.

    p.s. keep me up to date on your Ireland move and do drop me a note with your address / phone number when you get there.

  2. michael says:

    You mention using your Jodo Shinshu style alter for a Jodo Shu practice. They are similar in that both have Amida in the middle. Some Jodo Shu alters may have Zendo Daishi(Shan-tao) on the right and Enko Daishi (Honnen) on the left. Or may have Kannon Bosatsu and Seishi Bosatsu. The latter is similar to the Chinese version. I came across an interesting website a while back. They have a folding honzon. I bought and use the Jodo Shinshu one, but I think item #4700 is a Jodo Shu version. Here is the wesite:

  3. Gerald Ford says:

    Kyoushin: That’s interesting. I’ve honestly never heard that here at the Betsuin temple, so that’s new to me. :) In any case, I will definitely let you when we move over, and plan a date to visit the UK. My wife’s excited to visit your temple as am I.

    Michael: Good point. Personally, I see no glaring difference, but I was worried someone might call me on it. In any case, the link you provided is really cool. These folding honzon are really cool. I noticed what appears to be altars from a few diferent traditions, so there’s quite a bit to offer. How much did your’s cost by the way? I don’t know if I will buy one, but I am certain that the folks at our Betsuin will go nuts for them. Most are Japanese-Americans who inherited huge butsudan from the first-generation, but the younger generations (3rd, 4th generation) can’t carry these things to college and stuff. When I brought back my little altar from Japan, people were coming up to me asking where to buy one themselves.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for the post and for the link. I especially appreciated the Morning and Evening Devotions listed on the site.

    Long haul, eh? I am glad to hear it! Please try not to worry so much now. Just practice with a sincere heart, like you always do, and rest in the fact that it is enough.

  5. michael says:

    I don’t recall exactly what it cost, but I think it was under $40 with shipping. Also, the BCA bookstore has a couple even smaller for $10. One is with Nembutsu scroll and the other with Amida scroll. These come with a carrying case and are only 2 1/8″H x 3 1/2″W. I personally like the one from Kaiundo. It’s the perfect size for me since I live in a very small apartment and it folds up to put in a small box for travel. Speaking of travel, I will be away tomorrow until the end of the month.

  6. michael says:

    Personally, I see no glaring difference,

    As far as that goes, I have been considering as part of my morning and evening devotion to substitue sutra chanting on occasion with nembutsu chanting. I have a standard 108 bead mala and thought about using it for chanting either Na Man Da Bu or now maybe using the one you listed, Namu Amida Bu. Just something I’ve been considering for a while. I sometimes use Na Man Da Bu while walking.

  7. Gerald Ford says:

    Michael: Funny, I never noticed the gomyogo (the $10 scroll) at the BCA bookstore. That’s pretty cool actually, and I like the nembutsu one myself. The one I got from Tsukiji was quite expensive ($200), but I think that’s largely due to overall cost of living in Japan vs. US (in general everything’s 3x more expensive there). It’s nice and small too for our super-tiny apartment, but because it was costly I am a little nervous to touch or hold it. Baby likes the altar too, and actually waves to Amida sometimes. It’s super cute. Still, a simple $10 one with a nembutsu design is a good choice too as a secondary altar somewhere else in the house.

    Have a safe trip by the way.

    Jeannie: Like I said before, I actually feel much better lately and a lot less stressed out doctrinal issues. The flurry of writing since yesterday seems to reflect a newfound enthusiasm I haven’t felt in a long while, which is long overdue. :)

  8. Kyōshin says:

    Gerald, re: ‘anjin’ check out Minor Roger’s translation of Rennyo’s letters.

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