Tag Archives: Shingon Buddhism

2017-02 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Introductory Podcast – Prayer Beads

2017-02 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Introductory Podcast – Prayer Beads

  • Beads, Beads, and More Beads
  • The Shingon 108-bead Version
  • Symbolic Meaning
  • Practical Use
  • A Circle of Life


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Bing Search - prayer beads
Various kinds of prayer beads

Prayer beads – in some cultures called “worry beads” as having something in the hand to hold, whether another person’s hand, or a string of objects, has always brought a psychological comfort to the holder.

In buddhism, you tend to see them all over the place – people holding them in their hands, a bracelet on the wrist, a string of beads hanging from their forearm, a pile of beads on an altar, someone holding up the beads in front of the altar doing something with them in mid-air. You won’t see them worn around the neck as jewelry, nor tossed around like Mardi Gras bangles. They seem to have another purpose. What could that be?

Bing Search - Shingon prayer beads
Shingon Buddhist prayer beads – different styles.

For further purposes of simplicity, the kinds of prayer beads I’ll be referring in this introduction will be the basic bead sets used by the Shingon esoteric sects.  The strand has 108 beads in the circle, divided in two semi-circles by a set of tassels at either end of the loop.  One tassel has an extra bead (often referred to as the Mother bead) on it.  Counting in from that extra beaded tassle, there are 7 beads, followed by a different kind of bead, followed by 14 more beads, and a different bead, then 33 more beads until the other tassel. Each tassel also has 5 beads (not counting the Mother bead) on it, with a single different bead before the fluffy or ball end of the tassel.  They can be made of many different materials, though natural ones are the most preferred (glass, wood, stone, marble, etc.)

There are two basic explanations beyond the “comforting thing to hold” idea for the purpose of the beads. One is symbolic or esoteric, representing the many different things affecting humans. In this version, the 108 beads represent human life problems and struggles.  Zen buddhism has an interesting specificity in their definition by multiplying the six senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and mind) by the six physical sources of sense (eyes, ears, body, tongue, nose, and brain.) This results in 36 combinations, half of which are positive, and half negative impressions. Multiplying these 36 by the past, present and future positions in time in which they may occur, leads us to the 108 delusions of attachment (or things we should be apologetic for during our path to enlightenment.)

The other is a more functional or technical explanation – counting. There are many basic actions requiring repeating 3 times (bows, chants, prostrations, etc.) which are easy enough to count by yourself. But getting to 5, 7, 21, 33 or 100 times of anything, can find you spending more energy or thought trying to remember how many you just did, rather than being immersed in the action of what you’re supposed to be doing. That’s when holding the beads in one hand while incrementing one bead each time you do something, makes it easy to physically keep track of how many actions you just performed.  Simple, practical and something that won’t break your concentration or focus.

A final more psychological use is that of representation. The beads represent a reminder to be mindful of the many ways in which we as humans stray from our own paths of peace. We take care to remember that not only do we individually have all of these perceptions that lead us towards polarized emotions, but so does everyone else around us. To remember that each of us has an innate need for peace and tranquility, is to also find ways to cultivate that same awareness in others.
/* That’s it for this session. Thank you for listening. For more information feel free to e-mail me at jlui at jlui dot net, or twitter @jhlui1 With Gassho, James*/

2013-05 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Introductory Podcast – A Short History of Buddhism

2013-05 Shinnyo-en Buddhism Introductory Podcast – A Short History of Buddhism

  • A Little Mahayana and Theravada Background
  • About Walking Along the Buddhist Path
  • HH Keishu Shinso’s Successor Announced – Rev. Torikai Takashi

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In the centuries after Shakyamuni entered final nirvana, Buddhism developed into various movements, some emphasizing strict adherence to precepts (laws) and orthodox doctrines, and others that reinterpreted those precepts and doctrines to widen the Buddhist path and expand the possibilities for more people to find liberation.

A simple way of explaining how these movements grew would be to say that the former led to the development of what became Theravada Buddhism— which took hold in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia—while the latter led to the spread of what is broadly categorized today as “Great Vehicle” (Mahayana Buddhism and which later developed further in Tibet and East Asia. The Shinnyo Path and teachings developed by our masters Shinjo and Shojushinin originated out of the dharma lineage of Shingon Buddhism.

The difference between the two streams is that the Shinnyo Path—unlike its parent, Shingon—places priority on contemporary, lay expressions of traditional (Shingon) philosophy and practice. The merits of the Shingon tradition are therefore brought out all the more thanks to Shinjo’s interpretation of corresponding themes he noticed in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra when he was looking for ways to adapt what he had learned in the Shingon stream.

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra is a collection of teachings which summarizes all the important points of the Buddha’s ministry, and since Shingon Buddhism also traces its own origins to the historical Buddha, in Master Shinjo’s eyes the Shinnyo Path shares with older traditions like Theravada Buddhism what is most basic in the Buddhist path. He believed that fundamentally there was no difference between the two, and that what we had in common transcended any sectarian differences that people so often pointed to. However, we do have differences in the forms of our practice. Master Shinjo wanted to transcend the monastic-lay divide and create a path that valued tradition but was open to anyone, in contrast to the monastic emphasis in Theravada.

The way Shojushinin (our dharma mother) walked the path was to devote herself sincerely and be the first to put things into practice. This formed the basis of her efforts.

She extended her self unsparingly, always kind and loving to all. She dedicated body and soul, and her actions conveyed what the Shinnyo Path is all about. What she demonstrated through her daily life is fundamental in the understanding the goals during practice of one’s faith.

Shojushinin said, “If you really want to help people understand, you can’t just go through the motions of being nice to people. You’ll reach them when your actions and sincerity are one — when you are truly someone who cares about others.”

She also said to people, “Anyone can dictate what to do. But when you’re the first to put something into practice and demonstrate what it means, then people will gladly follow through.”

This is how Shojushinin advised people to endeavor. When you take her guidance to heart and confirm it for yourself by applying it in your actions, it will then sink in and become part of you.

Our Sesshin Training (refer to last month’s podcast for details) is a resource for providing guidance and clarity on different outcomes or destinies. It is not meant to predict the future. It points to a path of dharma on which one still has to endeavor in order to achieve happiness.  The guidance given during this training is meant to aid a person in making the best possible choice when it comes to facing a potentially life-altering decision. The reason this kind of resource is available is to provide insight that can help a person to keep walking the bodhisattva path and not get too distracted by the unavoidable decisions that one faces as an emotional human being.

Guidance given in sesshin should never be taken as contradicting common sense or sound decision making. For example, a precipitous slope or mountain path may be indicated in the guidance during sesshin rather than an easier route. This should be taken as pointing to insight that we can cultivate — such as when we have the determination to climb uphill, and our efforts are grounded in the wish to do so for the sake of the happiness of others, then no matter how steep the incline, we can carry through unafraid and with confidence. That is because when our motivations are outwardly centered, then we’re dharma centered, and we follow the natural flow of nature’s own path.

Similarly, the “dharma” in “dharma protectors” also refers to a path that truly brings us happiness because we’re walking it for the sake of others.

Finally, we close with some organizational news: Based on the governing laws of Shinnyo-en, on the second day of the Festival of Ever Present (March 29, 2013), HH Keishu Shinso appointed the Venerable Reverend Torikai Takashi, the Assistant Executive Director of the Shinnyo en Office, to become the next head of Shinnyo-en. As her appointed successor, Mr. Torikai will enter the final training stage in the transmission of the Shinnyo dharma lineage: the rites associated with the Ever Present Tathagata. But in terms of being entrusted with succeeding and upholding everything that the Shinnyo Dharma stands for, each member of the sangha shares in that responsibility. It is her sincere wish that we endeavor in this pursuit — in one heart with the ever present source of liberation, and one with the world we all live in.