Each Sunday Family Service typically follows the same sequence.

Service starts at 9:00 am.  Members begin to gather in the main temple at 8:45 am.  There is a buzz of conversations as members greet each other and settle in for the service.

At 9:00 am, the KANSHO (the ringing of the temple bell) is sounded.  The sound of the bell calls to everyone to prepare for the service.  The bell is struck 7 times, then followed by a series of soft fast beats that slows down into a crescendo and then returns from slow to soft fast beats.  This series is followed by 5 strokes and again the lead up to a crescendo and back down again.  The sound of the calling bell then ends with 3 strikes.  The numbers 7, 5, and 3 are significant numbers in Japanese Buddhist culture.  They are of such ancient origin that their exact meaning has been lost.

After the KANSHO has sounded, the MASTER OF CEREMONIES opens the service with INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

scan of words and music for the Vandana and Ti-Sarana
Click image to enlarge music sheet for the Vandana and Ti-Sarana.

Following the opening, the minister leads the Sangha in the VANDANA AND TISARANA.  The VANDANA is ancient chant that praises the Buddha.  In the chant of the TISARANA, we take refuge in the THREE TREASUES (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha).  The VANDANA and TISARANA are both sung Pali (the language of the ancient Buddhist scriptures) and in English.

The CHANTING OF ONE OF SUTRAS follows the VANDANA and TISARANA. The SUTRAS are poetic discourses that teach us the Dharma.  The SUTRAS may be chanted in Japanese or in English.

Benefits of Chanting
Besides reciting the praises of the Buddha and the teachings, the experience of chanting has many personal benefits.

  1. Helps Improve Concentration
    When you chant, you detach yourself from the world putting aside all your worries and tensions. You become more attentive in whatever you do, and your level of concentration improves.
  2. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
    Chanting has been associated with stress reduction. It provides relief from anxiety and tension by promoting a feeling of peace from within. When you disconnect and put aside your worries, your breathing and heartbeat normalizes. Anxiety and stress produce toxins in the body that may lead to harmful physical and mental issues. Chanting reduces toxin production which in turn reduces stress and promotes a feeling of rejuvenation. It helps in controlling blood pressure and symptoms of hypertension.
  3. Ensures Sound Sleep
    Chanting improves your sleep and wakeup pattern. It also helps you to fall asleep quickly and get a sound and restful sleep.
  4. Improves Reasoning Ability
    It helps you to stay positive and your reasoning ability improves. You are able to make good decisions in difficult situations.

When chanting, put your hands together in the gesture of Gassho Sit up straight, both feet on the floor (no slouching) and breathe deeply.

The Sangha’s offering of OSHOKO is an important part of a Jikoen Sunday Service.  This is the part of the service in which each member attending the service offers incense at the altar.  Oshoko is a personal and a community affair.  It is a community affair in that members greet each other as they line up to offer incense. This act of congeniality reflects the Okinawan saying: ICHARIBA CHOODEE (Once we meet and talk, we are brothers and sisters). Oshoko is personal in that when each member places the incense in the burner and puts his/her hands together in gashho, recites NAMO AMIDA BUTSU, he/she spends a precious moment alone with Amida Buddha.

More About Oshoko
The traditional act of offering incense before the altar signifies that one is preparing to hear the Dharma or the teachings of the Buddha. When Shakymune Buddha preached his message, the homes prepared to receive him by burning incense to freshen the room in which he would preach. This act of burning incense has now come to symbolize one’s personal preparation to hear the teachings of the Buddha.

Other meanings derived from the offering of incense have arisen over time. Some see the smoke rising above the incense burner to symbolize the impermanence and fragility of life. Others see the fragrance of the incense that fills a room coming from a mere pinch of incense as a symbol of the importance of small acts of kindness. Even a small act of kindness fills the universe.

At this point, we sing a GATHA (a Buddhist “hymn”).

Then comes the highlight of the Service, the DHARMA MESSAGE delivered by Rev. Shindo Nishiyma.  Jikoen is fortunate to have such wonderful speaker in Rev. Nishiyama.  His messages can be humorous or serious but they are always on point and listener-friendly.

A second GATHA usually follows the Dharma Message.

As we close the Service, we do a group recitation of THE GOLDEN CHAIN OF LOVE or THE SHINSHU PLEDGE.

Shinshu Pledge - I

I take my refuge in the Vow of the Buddha. Reciting the Name, I will live through life with strength and serenity.

I revere the Light of the Buddha. I will put my effort in my work with self-reflection and gratitude.

I follow the Teachings of the Buddha. Discerning the Right Path, I will spread the True Dharma.

I rejoice in the Compassion of the Buddha. I will respect and help others and do my best for the welfare of humankind.

Golden Chain of Love

I am a link in Amida Buddha’s Golden Chain of Love that stretches around the world. I must keep my link bright and strong.

I will try to be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all who are weaker than myself. I will try to think pure and beautiful thoughts, to say pure and beautiful words, and to do pure and beautiful deeds, knowing that on what I do now depends not only my happiness or unhappiness, but also that of others.

May every link in Amida’s Golden Chain of Love become bright and strong, and may we all attain Perfect Peace.

Namo Amida Butsu

The Sangha then closes the service by singing the NEMBUTSU. The singing of NAMO AMIDA BUTSU is the opportunity for all present to experience the sweep and enormity of the great compassion that surrounds and embraces them.

After announcements are completed, all members head to Social Hall for refreshments.

At each seat there is a copy of the JODO SHINSHU SERVICE BOOK and a book of gathas, PRAISES OF THE BUDDHA.   Laminated sheets of information and THE GOLD CHAIN OF LOVE are also available.

See Also

Weekly Family Service
The Jodo Shinshu Service on the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii website