This information is based on our Shin Buddhist Service Book which was written by Orange County Buddhist Church.
There are several customary practices we follow at the Temple. These practices are based on the loyalty and respect we have for the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We use these practices to help guide us towards a life of awakening, inner peace and harmony.
Entering the Hondo (Main Hall) of the Temple:
When entering or exiting, face the onaijin (altar) and make a slight bow of respect. We are entering the realm of Amida Buddha, the representation of Immeasurable Wisdom and Compassion.
Onenju And Gasshō:
The onenju is a circle of beads carried in the left hand or worn on the wrist to remind us of our blind passions. The onenju is treated with respect at all times.
Gasshō means to put our palms together with the onenju encircling them.
Before Service Begins:
After being seated in the hondo, it is customary to bow in gasshō and say “Namo Amida Butsu.” It’s a good opportunity for quiet reflection and meditation.
Nembutsu – saying “Namo Amida Butsu” – is our Buddhist life manifested verbally and is also an expression of gratitude for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. It is said before and after chanting and after Dharma talks, but it can also be said informally at any time. Other ways of saying the nembutsu are “Namo Amida Butsu,” “Namandabutsu,” “Namandabu” and “Namandab,” which all carry the same meaning. “Namo Amida Butsu” is most often translated as “I take refuge in Amida Buddha.”
The “calling bell” or Kanshō is struck at the beginning of the service. We can think of it as Amida Buddha, Ultimate Reality, calling us to come and hear the Dharma. Listening to each sound of the bell as it disappears helps us to become reflective and ready to listen.
An incense offering is made in front of the onaijin.
Stand before a burner, a few paces away. Bow slightly, and with your left foot first, approach the burner. Take some ground incense with your right hand, and drop it onto the coal. Bow in gasshō (with your palms together in front of your chest), saying the nembutsu, then step back with your right foot, and bow slightly again. Oshōko may be performed before, during, or at the end of service, depending on temple customs. In Shin Buddhism, offering incense is an expression of reverence and gratitude. It is not done for self-purification or to bring material benefits.
The monto-shikishō is an embroidered cloth draped around the neck that symbolizes membership in a Buddhist Sangha. It is an emblem of the robes worn by Sakyamuni Buddha and his disciples. Wearing it at service is encouraged and indicates readiness to hear the Dharma.
The onaijin is the altar area and represents the Pure Land of Amida Buddha or nirvana. There are typically five altars on the onaijin, but some temples have three. The central altar in a Shin temple always houses Amida Buddha, in the form of a statue, a painting, or a scroll of Namo Amida Butsu written in Chinese characters. When facing the onaijin, the altar on the right honors the founder of our Shin tradition, Shinran Shōnin. Additional altars will honor notable historical Buddhist figures. Every item on the onaijin is symbolic and represents an aspect of the Dharma.
Monetary offerings are made by donations into osaisen containers either at the back or front of the hondō and reflect the aspect of Dana or giving.
The service book contains words of wisdom, and we thus show our reverence by raising the closed book toward our forehead before and after opening and closing it. Out of respect, never lay a service book on the floor.