In 2011, Buddhist memorial services to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Shinran Shonin’s death will be held in Kyoto. These ceremonies, called onki in Japanese, are held every fifty years for founders and prominent religious figures.
In preparation for next year's event, the sutras that will be performed, have been made available for free downloading at the official website of the Nishi Hongwanji.
Sorry, but the website is in Japanese. The first list are for the chants that will be performed for the celebration. The lower set on the website page is organ accompaniment for other ritual selections.
Just click on your selection. If you want to download them, right click on your selection and choose to save.
The chanting is a joy to listen to and quality of the recordings are excellent.
At the beginning of December, a group from the Buddhist House in Narborough village, just south of the city of Leicester in England gathered for their annual Bodhi Retreat. One of the rituals on this retreat is the wonderful chanting of the "24 Hour Nembutsu". Starting at noon, the group recites the Nembutsu until noon the following day. This was the third year they have held this marathon event.
Here is one person's recollection from the first time the group did it in 2005:
"Its hard to put into words this experience. There is much joy… as one settles into the nembutsu there are periods when everything else falls away; you become a communal act of worship, a coming together of people who share a similar path. The sound of the nembutsu at times almost shimmers around the hall. It is quite beautiful.Then there are times whem bombu nature kicks in. “Why are we doing this… I’m hungry… so-and-so is chanting flat… our team is struggling - why doesn’t someone from the other team swop and help us…. namo amida bu namo amida bu… i’m tired… namo amida bu… namo amida bu….”There’s a whole soap opera going on in one’s head, in each other’s heads and yet it is all held by the communal nembutsu… just as you are, just as it is. There are times when it may feel like the practice is very goal-oriented, about trying to last the whole 24 hours, or as long as one can, and then there are times when you realise that you have completely missed the point, that no one can do this by their own, unaided. That the whole twenty four hours enacts out our dependence; on Amida, on each other. The whole experience is transformed into a collective thank you! "
One aspect of aging that many Japanese greatly fear is memory loss. To combat this scourge, a number of Buddhist options have appeared. A popular one is pillow covers blessed by Buddhist monks to ward off dementia. These items are purchased at temples and taken home to be put on your bed pillows. As you sleep on them, the power of the Dharma helps ward off senility and other mental problems. Perhaps this is the religious equivalent of students putting their textbooks under their pillows so they'll pass a test the next day.
The Japan Times carried a story about another strategy. Some temples, such as Honjuin, a Tendai temple in Tokyo, offer Sutra copying to visitors in order to prevent memory loss. This is an ancient practice: laypeople have been sponsoring the copying of Sutras or doing it themselves for centuries in an effort to bring about all sorts of results, medical and otherwise. But now there seems to be some science to back the practice up. Dr. Kawashima Ryuta of Tohoku University discovered that copying Sutras promotes brain activity in senior citizens.
Want to try it out yourself? You don't even have to go to temple. Higashi Honganji, one of the largest Buddhist denominations in Japan, offers English-speakers the chance to copy a holy text online. Technically, it's a commentary, not a Sutra, though the text itself (Tannisho) is revered above many Sutras in the Jodo Shinshu tradition. Higashi Honganji doesn't promise memory retention, only that it can help settle your mind.
Jeff Wilson is a contributing editor to Tricycle magazine and the web site, Killing The Buddha. A Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he is dual-trained in Buddhist Studies and American Religious History. Jeff is a certified Lay Teacher in the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition.