The Teaching and Practices of
Honmon Butsuryu Shu
_Home | Contents > Part II How to Practice - 3. How to O-Kyuji (to adorn the altar, Gohonzon)

3. How to O-Kyuji (to adorn the altar, Gohonzon):

Why are incense Sticks Offred?

What is the meaning and significance of burning incense sticks at the altar to Gohonzon?

Incense sticks are offered at the altar to provide a pleasant aroma for Buddha. The burning of incense sticks is one form of ritual used during memorial services for the deceased. From ancient times, Buddhist regarded the offering of incense and flowers as an important task for memorial services. The number of incense sticks, offered during service, varies among Buddhist sects. Some sects require that more than one incense stick be used during their services.

The practitioners of HBS are required to offer only one incense stick while conducting prayer services at their altar every morning and night, keeping in mind to offer a stick with a fragrant aromas.

Why are floweres offered?:

In his late years, Buddha Shakyamuni silently twisted a flower in the presence of his disciples and smiled. Priest Kasho, the 1st disciple of Buddha Shakyamuni noticed Buddha's action and immediately understood the message which was being conveyed to him and to the other disciples. Buddha, by the twisting of a flower, was warning his disciples of his impending death. He also wished his teachings be spread by his disciples after his death.

As you can infer from this story, the flower is a symbol of life for Buddha. Flowers offered to the altar must be fresh. Do not leave withered flowers on the altar. Leaving withered flowers is blasphemous to Buddha and the Scripture (Mandala). It is important to offer fresh flowers.

What is the signifficance of candles? Why is a lamplight lit at all times?

Flowers symbolizes Buddha's life and mercy. The lamplight symbolizes Buddha's wisdom of enlightenment. We offer flowers to express our gratitude for Buddha's benevolence.

In Chapeter One of the Lotus Sutra, it is said that Buddha emitted a bright light beam from his brow which shined eighteen hundred territories to the east.

The light from his brow indicates that all things, happenings and realities contained in the fundamental truth (the true form of existence in this world) have been clarified by Buddha's wisdom of enlightenment. As the light is a symbol of Buddha's “Chie" (working of the mind so as to capture the true nature of reality, and then to realize the truth, or wisdom of enlightenment) We should recall the significance of the light and pray that Buddha's “Chie" be passed on to us. When we light the candles, the incense sticks, or during the cleaning of the altar.

The lamplight should always be kept on because the world of Buddha is a bright, shining place. Therefore, it is inappropriate to keep the altar in darkness.

Nissen Shonin said, “To keep the altar clean at all times and to offer incense sticks, flowers and rice (in the case of Japan) are ultimately for your own benefit because you will in return recieve the merits of the Lotus Sutra and good fortunes."

Why is the flint used?:

From ancient times in Japan, showering a person or things with sparks from a flint and steel is a symbolism of purification. HBS, as a form of etiquette, customarily uses the flint and steel to shower things offered to the altar with sparks for purification purpose. To use it, hold the flint in your right hand and strike it against the steel held in your left hand. There is no need to use the fiint toward the Mandala or the statue of Nichiren Shonin, because they are pure in themselves.

The flint is used for the following situations.

l. When incense sticks and candles are being lit.

2.When flowers are offerd or exchanged.

3.When rice, water, and other things are offered.

4.When cleaning the altar. In this case let the sparks fly from the flint all around the altar.

From it's origin, HBS considers that the following routine service is an important functron. It is the fundamental basis of our religion. It is presumed that you are aware of how it should be done, but, often, the following things are ignored or neglected.

l. Are necessary utensils, such as, duster, wiping cloth, mask, fiint and, matches readily available?

2. Water should be offered first thing in the morning.

3. It is improper to wear casual clothes, such as shorts or T shirts, during dusting/wiping of the altar.

4. Do not keep shriveled flowers or offensive smelling water in the flower vase.

5. Be sure to clean the top of the altar, the back and, periodically, the drawers of the altar.

6. Be sure that all of the designs on the equipment of the altar is facing you and are neatly arranged.

Why is the sound of a metal bell necessary?

The sound of the bell is to signal the beginning and ending of the praying session.

In short, with so many people praying at once, the ringing of the bell is to signify the start and ending of the praying. The ringing of the bell is not used for that purpose only. The vibration from the sound of the bell has the effect of guiding the souls of the people into a better and more respectful world. Not only is the sound of the bell heard by the practitioners gathered at the service, but also the Buddha, the future buddhas and other divinities embodied in the Mandala.

The bell is used to draw their attention to listen to your request. The bell is rung with the purpose of requesting the “taste of the Darhma" be accepted (the Buddhist law is so called because it delights anyone who recieves it).

In the old sutra, it is explained that, “The voice, penetrating to hell, to a hungry spirit, to the creatures belonging to the sub-human species, will remove the suffering of the unseen beings and, ringing of the bell, at the time of death will create a better soul." It is said that the sounding of the bell during services will reach the departed souls, and will arouse the soul of enlightenment in the person who is facing death. Therfore, while praying at home, the bell should be rung courteously, keeping in mind the aforementioned reasons.

Why is Water Offered?

Water is the symbol of mercy.

What is the meaning of taking water every morning from the faucet and offering it at the alta to the Gohonzon?

If fire is the symbol of the wisdom of enlightenment of Buddha, water is the symbol of the mercy of Buddha. The reason why fire is considered to be Buddha's wisdom of enlightenment is because fire burns out the souls of illusions (*Bonno) and purifies them. The reason why Buddha's enlightenment of mercy is compared to water is because water moistens and cultivates everything. At the same time, water is compared to Buddha's enlightenment. A clear pool of water mirros images with colors and forms. Because water possesses these characteristics, it has been compared to Buddha's wisdom of mercy. In other words it means that Buddha can understand each individual's state of affairs and can provide help accordingly. The water offered at the altar becomes the water of blessings containing the wisdom of enlightenment and mercy after the chanting of the “Odaimoku" is completed. The water (okozui) should be drunk and not be disposed of. Throwing it away is sinful.

 *Bonno: Evil Passion, Illusions

  Those mental conditions which disturbs the mind.

  They are divided into basic and derivative types.

Basic illusions: Covetousness, anger, ignorance, arrogance, doubt, false views.

Derivative types: Idleness, indolence, disbelieve, Iow-spiritedness, restlessness, shamelessness, non-bashfulness, anger, concealment, stinginess, envy, affliction, injury, enmity, deceit, fraudulence, arrogance and drowsiness.

Why are wooden xylophones and wooden clappers used?

HBS is the originator of wooden xylophones and wooden clappers. Why does HBS strike the wooden xylophones or clappers during their services?

The wooden xylophone is two parallel rectangular pieces of wood on a tray placed on a “Kyozukue" (a table for the altar), which is beaten with a small wooden or plastic hammer. The wooden clappers (Hyoshigi) are two, separete pieces of wood 15cm-20cm long and 2-3cm in diameter, which is loosely held in each hand, grasped around the center and beaten continuously for sound. The hands holding the clappers are placed in front of the chest. Among the parishioners, there are some who place their clappers on their thighs, but that is disrespectful and is not recommended. The wooden xylophone and clappers are simultaneously beaten during the service to maintain rhythm and used to coordinate the “Odaimoku", which is being chanted and also during the recitation of the “Nyosetsu-shugyo-sho" (practices as prescribed) and “Kuonge" (Homage Formula to the Buddha and the saints).

The xylophone is mainly beaten by the presiding priest and sounds louder than the clapper. The sounds from each wooden instrument should be around the same loudness.

Since the xylophone and clapper are to be beaten for the purpose of maintaining rhythm during the chanting. They should not beaten so loudly as to they drown out the voices of the chanting of the “Odaimoku". Also, during the beating of the instruments, body movement should be kept to a minimum. Swaying of the head or body should be avoided. One should strive to chant the “Odaimoku" with a good posture.

Nissen Shonin stated; “The beating of the wooden clapper is to assist the chanting. The beating of the wooden clapper should not be too loud and noisy. The chanting of the Odaimoku should be accomplished earnestly so it vibrates to the outsiders and gives them the feeling of hearing something good and the joys which follow."

Why is cooked rice offered in Japan?

From ancient times in Japan, rice has been the staple food of the Japanese people. In other words, it has been the life provision. So, Ieaving aside the offering of other things, rice is offered every day to express our reverence in form and appearance. The Mandala appreciates our feeling of reverence. Also, raw rice (in bags) is offered at the temple's altar by the parishioners as an expression of kindness to the departed souls.

For parishioners in America or other countries, offering such things as fruits, cakes, beer, boxes of candies would be appropriate.

Why is rosary held?:

Rosary is also referred to as “Nenzyu". From ancient time in India, the rosary was used as a worshipping tool during service for Buddha and future buddhas.

An ordinary rosary has 108 beads, but there are rosaries with 54 and 27 beads.

The number, 108, represents the number of evil passions that human beings possess and wish to eradicate. The 54 beads represents the number of teachings the future buddha must master to advance and 27 represents the number of saints.

Ordinarily, the beads used for a rosary are seeds from the fruit of the Bodhi tree but crystals or corals are used also. The rosary of HBS, shown in the attached diagram, has two large beads, one representing Buddha Shakyamuni and the other, Taho Buddha, and connected between them are two strands of small beads. Connected to the two large beads are two tufts. Most of the rosaries of other Buddhist sects are similar to HBS's, but the most noticeable differnce of HBS's rosary is the two tufts which are a little longer in length. Nichiren Shonin adopted them to differentiate it from other rosaries.


As stated earlier, the small beads represents the 108 evil passions that human beings possess. The four identically colored beads among the strands of small beads represents the four future Buddhas; Jogyo, Muhengyo, Anryugyo, and Jogyo (same pronounciation as the first, but the kanji different). The tear-drop-shape-colored beads in the tufts represents the four guardian kings of the Lotus Sutra, Jikokuten in the east, Zochoten in the south, Komokuten in the west, and Bishamonten in the north. The ten beads in one of the tufts represents the ten main disciples of Buddha.

In this manner, the rosary represents our evil passions and at the same time, represents our desire and need to rely on the Mandala. One should not forget that our evil passions can be eliminated and we can learn to live in the ways of Buddha. At the same time, one should not forget the wisdom of enlightenment of Buddha, the future buddhas and other deities. This is why we hold the rosary. It is like the soul which enables one to practice religion. Consequently, one must handle the rosary with care and respect.