Japanese Juzu (数珠), Nenju (念珠), and Prayer Beads are all different terms used to refer to the traditional Buddhist prayer beads that are commonly used in Japan. These beads are typically made up of 108, 54, 27, 23 or 21 beads, which are strung together on a cord or thread, with a larger bead, tassel(s) or specially crafted knot at one end.
There are 12 Japanese Buddhist Sects, The three major umbrella sects are Tendai, Zen and Shingon. In Zen Buddhism, the largest and most well known in the west, the beads are called “juzu,” and they are used to count repetitions of the mantra or the name of a particular Buddha during meditation. The juzu is often used during zazen (seated meditation) to count mantras to help the practitioner focus their mind and deepen their concentration. Here are a few introductions to the different sects.
Tendai-shu is a Japanese Buddhist school that was founded by Saicho (767-822) during the Heian period (794-1185). The school’s name “Tendai” is derived from the Tiantai school of Chinese Buddhism, which was founded by Zhiyi (538-597).
Tendai-shu emphasizes the Lotus Sutra as the ultimate teaching of Buddhism, which teaches that all beings possess the Buddha nature and can attain enlightenment. The school also incorporates elements of Esoteric Buddhism, which is also known as Vajrayana or Tantra.
One of the distinctive practices of Tendai-shu is the chanting of the Lotus Sutra, which is believed to bring about spiritual awakening and transformation. Another important practice is the cultivation of the Fourfold Practice, which includes meditation, study of Buddhist scriptures, performing good deeds, and devotion to the Lotus Sutra.
Tendai-shu has had a significant influence on Japanese culture and history, particularly in the areas of art, literature, and philosophy. The school has also played a role in the development of other Japanese Buddhist schools, such as Pure Land Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism.
Jodo Shu is a Buddhist sect in Japan that was founded by Honen in the 12th century. The sect is focused on the Pure Land teachings of Buddhism, which emphasize the importance of Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land, a realm of enlightenment where Amitabha resides. Jodo Shu’s teachings are based on the belief that through chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha, one can be reborn in the Pure Land and achieve enlightenment.
The Jodo Shu sect places a strong emphasis on the concept of “Other Power” (tariki), which refers to the power of Amitabha Buddha to save sentient beings. Jodo Shu teaches that enlightenment cannot be achieved through one’s own efforts alone, but can only be attained through the grace and compassion of Amitabha Buddha. The Jodo Shu sect has had a significant impact on Japanese Buddhism and has influenced many other Buddhist sects in Japan. Today, it is one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan and has temples throughout the country.
In Nichiren Buddhism, the beads are called “nenju,” and they are used to recite the chant “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” which is the central practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Regardless of the specific tradition, the use of these prayer beads is believed to help practitioners focus their minds and develop greater mindfulness and concentration during meditation. The repetitive motion of moving the beads through one’s fingers can also have a calming and centering effect on the mind and body, and are an excellent, beautiful and sacred grounding tool.
In the Nichiren tradition, the nenju is used during recitation of the Lotus Sutra and other sacred texts. They are often carried by practitioners as a symbol of their faith and dedication to their practice, and are given as gifts at specials occasions like weddings, births, graduation and funerals.
Nichiren Buddhism is a branch of Buddhism that originated in Japan in the 13th century. It is based on the teachings of the Japanese Buddhist monk Nichiren, who lived from 1222 to 1282. Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes the Lotus Sutra, which is considered to be the highest teaching of the Buddha. The key teachings of Nichiren Buddhism include the importance of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is considered to be the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and the belief that all people possess an innate Buddha nature. Nichiren Buddhism also stresses the idea of karma, or cause and effect, and the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s own actions.
Nichiren Buddhism is divided into several different schools, including Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu, and Soka Gakkai. Each of these schools has its own particular emphasis and interpretation of Nichiren’s teachings. Soka Gakkai, which is the largest of the Nichiren Buddhist organizations, has gained a significant following around the world. Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a global network of Nichiren Buddhist practitioners who seek to promote peace, culture, and education based on the principles of Nichiren Buddhism.
Soto Zen is the largest and most well known school of Zen Buddhism that originated in China and was later transmitted to Japan by the monk Dogen in the 13th century. It is one of the two main Zen schools in Japan, the other being Rinzai Zen. Soto Zen emphasizes the practice of zazen, or seated meditation, as the primary means of realizing enlightenment. The goal of Soto Zen practice is to cultivate mindfulness and awareness in everyday life, leading to a deep understanding of the nature of existence.
In Soto Zen, there is a strong emphasis on the idea of shikantaza, or “just sitting,” which involves sitting in meditation without any particular goal or expectation. This practice is considered to be the essence of Soto Zen and is believed to lead to a deepening of one’s understanding of the nature of reality. Soto Zen also places a great emphasis on community and the importance of practicing together with others. Monastic practice is an important aspect of Soto Zen, and many practitioners choose to live in monasteries for extended periods of time to deepen their practice. Overall, Soto Zen is a form of Buddhism that emphasizes the importance of meditation and mindfulness in everyday life, and is known for its simple, direct approach to practice.
Linji Rinzai Zen
Rinzai Zen is a school of Zen Buddhism that emphasizes the use of koans (paradoxical statements or questions) as a tool for meditation and self-realization. It is one of the three main schools of Zen, the others being Soto Zen and Obaku Zen.
The Rinzai school originated in China and was introduced to Japan in the 13th century. It was founded by the Chinese Zen master Linji Yixuan, known as Rinzai in Japanese.
Rinzai Zen also emphasizes the practice of zazen (sitting meditation) and the study of koans to cultivate insight and enlightenment. The practice involves working with a teacher, who assigns a koan to the student and then guides them in their practice. The goal of Rinzai Zen practice is to achieve satori, a sudden realization of one’s true nature, which is often described as a state of profound clarity and liberation. Rinzai Zen is known for its rigorous and disciplined approach to practice, which includes a focus on posture, breath control, and mental concentration. It has had a significant influence on Japanese culture and has spread to other parts of the world, including the United States, where it has become popular among many practitioners of Buddhism.
Shingon Buddhism is a form of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism that dates back to the 9th century. It was founded by the Japanese monk Kukai (774-835), also known as Kobo Daishi, who traveled to China and studied Esoteric Buddhism there before returning to Japan to establish the Shingon sect. Shingon Buddhism emphasizes the use of magical mantras, mandalas, and mudras as a means of achieving enlightenment. It also places great importance on the role of the guru-disciple relationship and the transmission of teachings through an unbroken lineage. This is considered the Japanese version of the third-turning, Vajrayana Buddhism, as widely practiced in Tibet.
Shingon Buddhism has a complex system of deity and spiritual practices, which are divided into two main categories: the Kongo-kai (Diamond Realm) and the Taizokai (Womb Realm). The Kongo-kai focuses on the use of mantras and mudras to transform the practitioner’s body, speech, and mind, while the Taizokai focuses on the visualization and meditation on a variety of deities. The main temple of Shingon Buddhism is the Mount Koya (Koyasan) in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, which was established by Kukai himself. Today, Shingon Buddhism has a significant following in Japan and is also practiced in other countries such as the United States and Europe.
We are honored to help to support these ancient and powerful traditions here at Sakura Designs, by offering well crafted and economical Japanese Juzu for western Buddhists.
Photo Creative Commons:
Kokuzo Bosatsu, Todaiji