Frequently Asked Questions
What is the meaning of Choeizan Enkyoji?
Traditionally temples in Japan were built on mountains and the name of the mountain was included in the temple name. Nowadays temples can be built anywhere, but the the name of the temple still usually includes the name of a “spirtual mountain.” Choeizan is the name of our spiritual mountain. “Cho” means “long,” “ei” means “prosperous,” and “zan” means “mountain.” Enkyoji is the name of the temple itself. “En” means “circle” and “kyo” means “sutra.” Thus “enkyo” gives the idea that our meeting is not by chance, but rather that we have come together because of some sort of karmic link with the (Lotus) Sutra. “Ji” merely means “temple.”
What is Gassho?
Gassho means to put the hands together. The hands are placed palm to palm, with the fingers and thumbs aligned. The hands are held at about a 45 degree angle just below the chin, and both elbows should be held fairly close to the body.
The gassho is a prayer position, but it can also be used to express a greeting, a request, thankfulness, or reverence. When greeting someone with a gassho, people frequently also bow.
How Do I Offer Incense?
During a service, incense is offered to the Buddha by members and guests . At Enkyoji, this is usually done during chanting of the Daimoku, but sometimes on special occasions when there are a lot of people, it will start earlier in the service.
To offer incense, walk to the front where the incense burner is. Bow once toward the altar with hands in gassho, take a pinch of powdered incense and offer it to the Buddha, sprinkle the incense on the hot coal in the incense burner, bow once more with hands in gassho, then walk away.
Everyone is encouraged to offer incense, but it is not mandatory
What Should I Wear to a Service?
There is no dress code at Enkyoji. Some people dress up when they come to Sunday services, but other people wear casual clothing. You should wear whatever makes you comfortable.
What Are Juzu?
Juzu are prayer beads that are used by Buddhists to remind us that we are striving to follow the teachings of the Buddha. Typical juzu have 108 beads representing the 108 evil desires of man. The style of juzu used by Nichiren Shu members has 2 tassles on one side and 3 on the other.
Juzu are usually worn looped twice over the left wrist. During prayers when the hands are in gassho, you twist the juzu to make a figure 8 that hangs from the middle finger of each hand. The beads hang between the hands, and the tassels hang on the outside of the hands with two tassels on the right and three tassels on the left.
What Is Dana?
Dana is a Sanskrit and Pali term meaning generosity or giving. In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections (paramitas): the Perfection of Giving (dana-paramita). This can be characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.
Dana basically means giving from the heart and should not be considered as paying bills or dues. It comes directly from a feeling inside of giving without expecting anything in return. This giving can take many forms from monetary to your time, your ear, your help or a teaching. If you feel that you have benefitted from the service or teaching, please consider giving dana to the temple.
If you wish to make a monetary donation, please place it in a white envelope and present it when you offer incense during the service. There is, however, no requirement that you make an offering every time you come to a service.
What Is a Butsudan?
A butsudan is a family altar that many Nichiren Shu members have in their homes. The Mandala Gohonzon is the primary object that is enshrined in the butsudan. The butsudan also often has a statue of Nichiren Shonin and/or Shakyamuni Buddha in front of the Mandala Gohonzon. Oihai are also frequently enshrined. Other common items include an incense burner, candles, flowers, and offerings such as water and rice. Nichiren Shu members typically pray before their butsudan twice each day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
How Do I Become a Member of Nichiren Shu?
There are no standard requirements for becoming a member of Nichiren Shu. Each minister has the authority to make a decision as to whether an individual should become a member. Generally speaking you should have been practicing with Nichiren Shu for at least 6 months and have a basic understanding of Buddhism in general and Nichiren Shu Buddhism in particular.
When you and the minister together decide that it is the right time for you to become a member, the minister will perform a ceremony called “jukai,” the taking of the precepts. At that time you will receive a Nichiren Shu Mandala Gohonzon. There is a small charge to cover the cost of the Mandala Gohonzon, and it is also customary to make a donation to the minister and the temple.
How Do I Become a Member of Enkyoji?
Anyone who is a member of Nichiren Shu may become a full voting member of the Seattle temple by completing an application and paying membership dues. People who are not members of Nichiren Shu but who would like to support the temple may become associate members. If you would like more detailed information and the application form, please click here.
What Is an Uchiwa Daiko?
An uchiwa daiko, literally “fan drum,” is a bodiless, single skin drum that is used only by Nichiren Buddhists. The skin is frequently inscribed with the Odaimoku in the middle or around the edges.
The uchiwa daiko is held in the left hand and hit with a small stick held in the right hand. It is usually played during the chanting of the Odaimoku.
What Is Shodaigyo?
Shodaigyo is a form of meditation that is practiced in Nichiren Shu temples. It includes silent meditation and chanting of the Odaimoku. A detailed description of a typical shodaigyo session can be seen on Ryuei.net, Rev Ryuei McCormick’s website.
What Are Oihai?
Oihai are memorial tablets for one’s ancestors. The tablets contain the kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist name) given to the deceased by a minister and the date of death. The back often shows the original name of the deceased and the year of birth. Oihai range in height from about six inches to several feet. They may be kept in a butsudan or in a Nichiren Shu temple.
What Is Aragyo?
Aragyo is a special training in Nichiren shu which lasts for 100 days. Its purpose is to challenge and deepen faith. The ministers while in the monastery undergo ascetic practices which include chanting throughout the day starting at 3:30 am to midnight. They also perform suigyo (water purification) seven times a day and copy the Sen Hokke Kyo (verses from the Lotus Sutra). They learn esoteric teachings and special kito prayers.
What Is the Significance of Lotus Flowers?
Lotus flowers are often seen in Buddhist art. The roots of lotus flowers grow in the mud of ponds and lakes, but the the flowers rise out of the mud and water to reach for the sky. This symbolizes people’s ability to grow out of the mud of every day life and reach enlightenment.
Additionally the fact that the lotus has seeds and flowers at the same time symbolizes the principle of the simultaneity of cause and effect.
What Does Shonin Mean?
“Shonin” is a title used by Nichiren Shu priests as an alternative to Reverend (Rev). In Japanese fashion it comes after the priest’s name rather than before it.
Although the word appears to be the same as the “shonin” in Nichiren Shonin, it is different when written in Japanese characters (kanji). The “shonin” following Nichiren is written 聖人 and literally means holy man or saint. When used as substitute for reverend, it is written 上人, literally meaning something like top or up man. (You might not be able to see the kanji if you have not downloaded East Asian fonts to your computer.)
What Is Hoshimatsuri?
Hoshimatsuri (literally Star Festival) is derived from a system in ancient India called Kuyosei that uses nine stars to see the universal effects on one’s life.
Every year we are directly influenced by the position of our Kyusei (Kuyosei) star in the cosmos, which has both positive and negative star positions of varying degrees. A positively positioned star means a prosperous year and good fortune, and a negatively positioned star means possible unfortunate events and troubles. This celestial year starts with the “Kyureiki,” the lunar calendar New Year, which begins at different times in February each year. At this time we pray to Myoken Daibosatsu (the deity of the North Star) and perform the kito blessing to bring balance back to our lives allowing us to be prepared for whatever our fortune may be. Through this ceremony a positive star year can be strengthened and a negative star year can be improved, and protection and guidance is given to the person. At this ceremony we not only pray for the individuals’ safety and peace but for their whole family.
What Is a Higan Service?
The Higan (also called Ohigan) service is a memorial service for our ancestors held during a week of Higan in March and in September. The fourth day of the Higan week is the equinox day. Higan literally means “the other shore,” and the purpose of Higan service is to send the merit of reciting the Lotus Sutra and chanting Odaimoku to the ancestors’ spirits on the other shore of enlightenment. We also practice the Buddha’s teaching in order to cross the river from this shore of illusions to the other shore of enlightenment by holding Higan service.
Typical practice is called six paramitas:
- To give alms
- To keep precepts
- To be patient
- To endeavor
- To meditate
- To see the truth