One late afternoon in September, my son and I went to the temple. While I was doing temple business, my son entered the Hondo by himself.
After a while, I heard him singing “Ondokusan 2.” He was conducting a late afternoon service (“Oyuji”). Around that time, so many things were happening to me that my mind and heart were unsettled. My son’s voice reminded me of what I needed to do. I entered the Hondo, opened the folding shoji screen, burned incense, sat on the floor facing Amida Buddha directly, and hit the bell twice. Then, I chanted “Shoshinge.”
I hear and read words every day. Sometimes, I hear words I do not want to hear. On that day, some bad words were close to coming out of my mouth. If these ego-centered words stayed inside of me, my heart and mind would be wounded.
Instead, while chanting “Shonshinge,” I became calmer and more settled. “Shoshinge” is the sacred text our founder Shinran Shonin wrote.
While chanting it, Shinran Shonin’s words came out of my mouth. I heard the words through my chanting voice. These words did not contain my ego at all. They were filled with Shinran Shonin’s appreciation to Amida Buddha. The words contain Buddha’s Wisdom and Compassion. The sacred words came into myself and filled my heart and mind.
When I sit in front of Amida Buddha, put my hands together in gassho, recite Nembutsu and chant Sutra, I feel that Namoamidabutsu is set as the central pillar in my heart and mind. I truly appreciate that I am walking the path to the Pure Land. I cannot understand Buddhism if I study it using only my head. The Jōdo Shinshū’s ritual and sutra chanting is the way to learn Buddhism using my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and my entire body. Our Hondo is the precious space to experience it.
The Shin Buddhism Ritual Guidebook says, “At Jōdo Shinshū temples, the Hondō (main worship hall) is the building where the Gohonzon (image of Amida Buddha) is enshrined.”
At your home, where you place the Obutsudan should be treated as the temple’s Hondo. In the Hondo, Amida Buddha must be the center of everything spatially and spiritually. It is the space where Sangha can sincerely face Amida Buddha without any obstructions. Therefore, we do not put any unnecessary things in the naijin (altar), and the adornments and offerings in the naijin must be set properly.
Nowadays, big screens and AV equipment are installed in many temples’ Hondos. Service programs, sutras, and lyrics are shown on the screen. Slideshows and videos are also shown during Dharma talks. These are convenient tools. However, during service, the Sangha face the screen, often separated from Amida Buddha.
When I reflect upon my daily life, I am always facing screens. There are two big TVs in my house. When I work, I sit in front of my computer. I use my cellphone when I eat meals and even when I go to the bathroom.
Right after I wake up and until just before I close my eyes to sleep, I stare at different screens. At least when I go to the Hondo, I face Amida Buddha and can focus on Namoamidabutsu.
In JōdoShinshū, the Hondo is the place where we listen to the Buddha-Dharma, and it is also a precious space for ritual and sutra chanting. It is the place for all Sangha — adults and children — to directly face Amida Buddha and focus on Amida Buddha’s guidance. It is for all Nembutsu followers to be able to spend meaningful time there. It is the true essence and value of the Hondo.