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:
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:
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.