Reciting The Nembutsu in 3 Easy Steps!

The nembutsu (念仏),1 whose origins and doctrinal place within Buddhism I’ve written about here, is the central practice for Pure Land Buddhists across all of East Asia. However, today I am focusing on the Jodo Shu sect’s practice specifically. I decided to write this post after I discovered recently that an old English language site for Jodo Shu Buddhism had been archived and will not be supported anymore. I loved that site when I first explored Buddhism back in 2005, and before Youtube, I loved to listen to the chanting of the nembutsu there. This site was a direct inspiration for me.

The site explains that there are three styles for reciting the nembutsu in Jodo Shu Buddhism, and these are (with Japanese added):2

  1. Jūnen (十念) – this just means to recite the nembutsu ten times consecutively, and is insipred by the 18th vow of Amida Buddha from the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (alternate link here). There’s a particular style that Jodo Buddhists use to recite this, which we’ll get into shortly.
  2. Nembutsu Ichi-é (念仏一会) – this just means to recite the nembutsu over and over without a particular number in mind.
  3. Sanshōrai (三唱礼) – this means the “three prostrations”. It’s a particular style of nembutsu recitation used in some services where you recite the nembutsu three times slowly, drawn out (e.g. naaaamuuuu aaaamiiidaaa buuuuu), then bow at the end of the third recitation. Then repeat the cycle two more times (3 x 3 = 9 times total).
A couple examples of nembutsu recitations (highlighted with blue arrows) from a Jodo Shu service book I got in Japan years ago.

By far the most common is the jūnen style of recitation, and this is the default practice when someone mentions the nembutsu. It basically just goes like this:

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu-tsu

na-mu-a-mi-da-bu

Notice that the 9th recitation adds the extra “tsu” at the end. Typically, the jūnen is recited within the span of one breath, but if you can’t quite make that work, please don’t kill yourself over it. You can see a nice, clear example of this in the morning liturgy at Zojoji temple in Tokyo (my wife and I have been there many times, one of our favorite). The jūnen is recited starting at 0:48:

You can hear the junen recited starting at 0:48 in the morning service video of Zojoji Temple.

For completeness, you can also hear it in the evening service, starting at 23:00:

The evening service at Zojoji Temple. You can hear the junen recited at 23:00.

Also, when doing this, you should put your hands together in gasshō (合掌). You can see an example of this on the official Japanese page. Notice that your hands do not go through the rosary (o-juzu) if you have one. Instead, the rosary is sort of draped over the thumbs and hangs behind them.

Anyhow, happy nembutsu-ing !

P.S. How often should you recite the nembutsu? My opinion on the subject here.

P.P.S. Sometimes people ask if they can recite the nembutsu in another language: their own language, Sanskrit language (namo’mitābhāya buddhāya), whatever. In my humble opinion as a lay person, “yes”. But within Jodo Shu tradition, the nembutsu is always recited as namu amida butsu, so for consistency’s sake I use that here, and in my own practice.

1 Technically, in modern Japanese-romanization, it’s nenbutsu (“n”, not “m”), and that’s how it is spelled in Japanese hiragana: ねんぶつ. However, romanization of Japanese into English has a long and messy history, and it’s a pain to get people to adopt the correct spelling now. So, for convenience and consistency with other sources, I am spelling it as nembutsu. Since this is a free, volunteer blog don’t expect quality work. 🤪

2 The Japanese language site, which is more actively maintained, also explains this here. No English, sorry, but I did review it before writing this post.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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