Ten Righteous Practices – Part 1

What follows does not include the singing of traditional hymns, or shomyo.  If you know how to properly perform the hymns, or shomyo, then of course you may include them in you practice.  If you are unfamiliar, or have not been instructed in how to properly perform the hymns then it is best to omit them until later.  It is important to perform the hymns correctly so when you are in community you contribute to the harmony rather than disharmony.  Each of the hymns has specific movements associated with them, and some of the melodies can be tricky especially for the Western ear used to a different tonal scale.

  1. Invocation – Kanjo

    The invocation is the first spoken portion of the ceremony or service following the ringing of your bell three times.  The Invocation provided in service books usually is a generic version and you may find your temple uses different words.  The words to the invocation for the most part are personalized for each temple and may include the names of founders, or special protective deities who the temple revers or which are enshrined at the temple.  Speak to your minister to see if there is a special Invocation.  Also in some temples only the minister reads the Invocation and in others it may be done in unison, again follow the practice as your minister instructs.  For your personal practice however when doing a complete service do offer the Invocation.  Our Invocation, just as the meaning of the word implies is a request.  Think of when you ask someone for something, generally if requesting, you do so with sincerity and humility.  There is in fact both a request and a thank you taking place at the same time.  You are making your request to the Buddha, the founder, important persons, and deities while at the same time thanking them for their past actions and support and thanking them for hearing your current request.  While not spoken there is also the understanding that you will uphold the teachings of the Buddha, follow their examples, model their behaviors, and in all ways represent them favorably.  You may not have realized all of that was going on, now you do so you can expand your entry into the formalities of the service.

  2. Worship – Raihai

    There are many ways of bowing before the Buddha, and depending upon where the bowing takes place will determine the correct manner of performing the bow.  We are exhorted to do this bowing with reverence in the proper manner in sincerity.  It is important to master this correctly and I encourage you to get full instruction from your teacher or priest.  For the purposes of this publication I will only describe in general terms how to do gassho and kikorai, or what is commonly called simply raihai. 

    You can think of these bows as the physical practice of namaste or even namu.  There is the verbal and or mental namaste which we do with our heart and thoughts.  Then there is the physical practice of namaste which we perform by doing gassho and raihai.

    Gassho is the placing of the palms of the hand together in front of yourself.  If you hold your hand together and hold it perpendicular to your body with the tips of the fingers touching right at the neck line of for guys at your adams apple and then slightly tilt the hands forward with the arms still pressed against the sides of your body then you will perform this hand gesture properly.  The arms should not be like wings extended away from your body nor should the palms of your hands be any further from your body than by pressing the arms against your sides causes.  The palms are not extended, the arms are not extended.  The head can if appropriate be tilted slightly forward, or a more deeper head tilt may be appropriate to express more reverential deference.

    We perform gassho in many instance beyond that which may be done in a service.  You may see people doing gassho in greeting or in parting.  It can be done in both formal and informal settings.  Some examples of when you might see me doing it are in greetings or partings with peers in the hospital or if appropriate to patients and families, in professional settings especially if I am in robes or acting in an official priest capacity.  Those instances when I am in robes I do gassho even to non-Buddhist, except in the hospital where I may be wearing my robes yet acting in a non-denominational, or multi-faith capacity. 

    I do not believe there is any time when doing gassho would be wrong.

    For kikorai, or as it is sometimes simply called raihai, you are performing a deep prostration taking you all the way to the floor.  I will do this when I meet other Buddhists especially monastics of the Therevadan tradition.  I think it is impossible for me to completely describe this bow so please go over it with your teacher, and I will provide a general idea.

    After placing your hands in gassho, you bend your knees and smoothly lower your body to the floor with the knees touching the floor and your fanny resting on your heels.  Then bend forward at the waist all the way until your forehead is touching the floor.  Place your outstretched hand palm side up on either side of your head right next to your ears.  Then with the hands properly placed slowly lift them up to just above or right at the top edge of your ear.  Envision if you will lifting the Buddhas feet so they are above your head.

    The image of raising the Buddha above your head from this deep bow position is exactly the correct image as we are imitating what we read in the sutra. 

    When I do this bow I go slowly.  After I have my hands on the floor palm side up I pause briefly.  Then I slowly elevate my hands and pause again.  I then lower them back to the floor and pause.  Then I stand up.  I do the pauses because I wish to be as intentional as I can.  The pause helps me hold in my mind the image of lifting the Buddha up.  Whereas rushing through it tends to cultivate more of a mind of completing the movements and moving on.

    During Shingyo Dojo on the second to last morning I was given the opportunity to read the rules and vows of students before the head teacher.  It is a solemn act and one not everyone gets to perform, there were after all 85 of us and only 35 days.  I was not allowed to read the vows in English and so had to practice doing it in Japanese.  There was little time to practice this extra activity, and getting the pacing of the words correct was challenging.  The leader of my han or group didn’t think I was good enough to do it and wasn’t going to let me at the last moment.  I told him it was important and that regardless of my poor Japanese it was important that a non-Japanese be allowed to do this as Nichiren intended the Lotus Sutra be spread over the entire world.

    All in all I did a terrible job of pronouncing the words, I murdered it.  After the service was concluded the head teacher basically said your Japanese sucked, he didn’t say that exactly, but he did say that he wanted everyone to notice how I did raihai.  He said that he hadn’t seen anyone do it so well and properly.  The fact of my pauses, and doing it slowly and properly as opposed to rushing through it impressed him.  I know it was sort of like him finding something good to say after doing such a poor job, but I felt good and afterwards the other students came to me to demonstrate what I did that they didn’t see.  So, yes, I am a firm believer in doing this with feeling.  It is not some formality with no meaning. 

    In closing this section I urge you to not simply go off my text descriptions of how to perform these movements but seek out your teacher so they can demonstrate to you the correct way to perform gassho and raihai.  They can also see what you are doing and offer corrections and adjustments as needed.

  3. Extolling the Sutra – Sandan

    Extolling, praising the virtues of the sutra is appropriate before reciting the sutra and at the conclusion of our sutra recitation.  We do this when we recite Verses for Opening the Sutra.  This reading praises the sutra, notes it’s virtues, and highlights that it is enough to be near, physically, mentally, and spiritually the sutra to receive its merits.  Our association with the sutra which is profound beyond words is all that is necessary to be cloaked in its virtues.  As the reading says “just as perfume is caught by something put nearby,” so to we absorb the flavor and scent of the Lotus Sutra by our constant association with this ultimate truth of the Buddha. 

    The merits of the Lotus Sutra come to us not because we are special, it is the sutra that is special and we absorb that merit.  The merits do not come to us because we are wise, we are all equally ignorant to the fundamental truth of life without the Lotus Sutra.  Regardless of our faith or lack of faith all the merits contained in the Lotus Sutra come to us because of our practice and association with the teaching of the Buddha.

    Following our recitation of the sutra, which includes Odaimoku chanting we may offer hoto-ge or Nichiren Shonin’s instructions for our exhortation of the virtues of the sutra.  Most temples for regular services offer hoto-ge.  This past year at the international ministers meeting in Japan it was discussed that hoto-ge is not always read after every sutra recitation during services and in some cases it is only used on special occasions.  I think there is no definitive word on this and so my recommendation is to always include the hoto-ge whenever possible.  After all, you really can’t go wrong, though it’s not harmful if you omit it.  There is no punishment waiting for you, only merit or no merit.

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About Ryusho 龍昇

Nichiren Shu Buddhist priest. My home temple is Myosho-ji, Wonderful Voice Temple, in Charlotte, NC. You may visit the temple’s web page by going to http://www.myoshoji.org. I am also training at Carolinas Medical Center as a Chaplain intern. It is my hope that I eventually become a Board Certified Chaplain. Currently I am also taking healing touch classes leading to become a certified Healing Touch Practitioner. I do volunteer work with the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (you may learn more about them by following the link) caring for individuals who are HIV+ or who have AIDS/SIDA.