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Thread: Use of Ojuzu?

  1. #1

    Use of Ojuzu?

    Hi all and thanks for this nice place. Since this is my first post: I'm German, in my early forties, started taking Zen serious about half a year ago, try to sit every day, just took up additional sitting with a fairly devoted lay sangha twice a week. Wonderful!

    Since Buddhism is a very natural almost inevitable matter to me, all gadgets and outward statements entirely miss the point. I have been thinking though of some aid off the cushion, during the day, some unobtrusive reminder of what my way is in case mindfulness is weak.



    That's where the Ojuzu (aka wrist mala) comes into play. My initial research on the web only revealed that its shape and use seem to vary greatly depending on tradition. Some more detailed resources focus on its use in a monastic environment. Explanations on buddhist forums seemed somewhat vague and incosistent.

    It may be great help or just literal attachment. But apparently even the most down to earth dharma blog celebrities are wearing one, so I really want to learn please:

    What (if any) is the purpose
    and maybe the correct handling
    of the O-Juzu
    preferably for lay people
    in the Soto-Zen tradition?

    Big thanks!

    Mensch

  2. #2

    Re: Use of Ojuzu?

    Hi Mensch,

    You are welcome around here.

    My grandfather used to say to me all the time, "Be a Mensch!" ("Be a Man!"). Seems hard not to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mensch

    Since Buddhism is a very natural almost inevitable matter to me, all gadgets and outward statements entirely miss the point. I have been thinking though of some aid off the cushion, during the day, some unobtrusive reminder of what my way is in case mindfulness is weak.
    I guess that we would say you do not need any particular beads or such for that. Any breeze, lightbulb, email message, baby crying, ambulance siren, rock, paper, scissors, coffee cup, trash can or mosquito might do the same for you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mensch
    That's where the Ojuzu (aka wrist mala) comes into play. My initial research on the web only revealed that its shape and use seem to vary greatly depending on tradition. Some more detailed resources focus on its use in a monastic environment. Explanations on buddhist forums seemed somewhat vague and incosistent.

    It may be great help or just literal attachment. But apparently even the most down to earth dharma blog celebrities are wearing one, so I really want to learn please:

    What (if any) is the purpose
    and maybe the correct handling
    of the O-Juzu
    preferably for lay people
    in the Soto-Zen tradition?
    Oh, don't get me started! But, since I'm started ... Let me give you a short (as possible for me), personal answer. Again, Buddhists will differ (so just take it as one perspective ... although the correct one :-) ) ...

    As Buddhism moved from country to country, and culture to culture, bits of Hindu and Tantric elements were mixed into the teachings. The Juzu is one such item. Traditionally, it is an aid in chanting (another whole topic I will chat about in a talk on the blog this week or so) serving as a counter, although a whole mess of mystical 'meanings' and powers came to be associated with the Mala beads themselves and the usual number of beads: 108 (or a divisor thereof). For just some of the many meanings of '108'. have a gander at this. It is wonderful:

    http://www.salagram.net/108meaning.html

    It is an item that traveled up and down the Silk Road, and is not different from a Catholic rosary (in my understanding). One reason the beads are much loved is that there are more nerve endings on tips of the fingers than in any part of the body (if I recall), and thus the twirling of the beads is, well, sensual and most soothing. Combined with the hypnotic rhythms of the chant, and you have an experience that one could lose oneself in ... literally.

    If you are in Japan today, you would see Juzu worn by many Soto priests, and used in ceremonies. Basically, over the centuries, many Tantric elements crept into the Zen schools too ... especially after the time of Dogen (Although, if I may say, the beads probably remain less the focus of attention in Japanese Soto than in any of the other Japanese schools such as Jodo, Nichiren, Tendai and Shingon ... not sure about Rinzai practice. Soto priests may wear them but, as far as I know, they are not used very much during chanting as a counter or anything). In China (and Vietnam), with the melding of Jodo and Chan into a single tradition, you will find beads and chanting much more prominent. (I am not sure about Korea, but my impression is that they are big chanters and bead twirlers). Some Soto priests may develop a special feeling for the Juzu, but that is there own personal feeling and philosophy. Most lay followers in all traditions and all countries would have beads and wear them for funerals and such, but most would just do so as a custom without any particular idea why or what they stand for.

    All that being said, Dogen was never much for beads or chanting. He really thought that 'Zazen is all, all is Zazen'. It is a complete act, nothing to add or take away. He once compared chanting to "the croaking of frogs". Dogen was not likely to find any special significance in the number "108," and he might say something in the Shobogenzo to emphasize such point such as "108 is just Zazen, if you wish to chant 108, just sit Zazen". That being said, it is not that Dogen thought the beads and "108" not sacred ... it is that he thought EVERYTHING in the universe both mundane AND sacred at the same time ...rock, paper, scissors, coffee cup, trash can or mosquitos, etc.

    So, why do I wear beads sometimes? Good question!

    Well, why do I wear a Grateful Dead t-shirt sometimes?

    In all seriousness, it may be more a symbol for being a Buddhist in my mind than anything else, much as a Star of David for Judaism or a Cross on a chain for Christians. I do not consider them much more than that in my mind.

    I could just as easily wear a coffee cup or pair of scissors from a chain on my wrist. Have to be careful with those scissors though.


    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3
    Hi Again,

    I'd like to point you to one particular sitting on the Blog, which was on a not unrelated topic. It is about trash cans.


    http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/05 ... gi-iv.html


    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Use of Ojuzu?

    Hi Mensch!

    I'm currently attending a Chinese temple, and can vouch for Jundo's statement about Ch'an and Pureland being practised together. Lotsa chanting and bead-twirling.

    One of the most common (and cheapest) materials for juzu (shu-zhu in Chinese) is sandalwood. The other common materials I've seen are seed malas (bodhi, lotus or buri). Also semi-precious stones: jade is very popular (and expensive), most of the others are some type of quartz - onyx, carnelian, aventurine, amethyst and clear quartz crystals seem popular. I currently have a white shell one and a brown one that I think is goldstone (I like it cuz it's shiny), plus a 108 bead seed mala that I keep at home. Men's are usually 27 beads, women's 21 or 18 (not counting the large "meru" bead). The full-length malas typically have smaller "pause" beads at regular intervals to help with keeping count - they should be skipped over when chanting.

    General mala rules I've been told include: metal isn't a good material, they should not be stepped on/over, worn into the washroom, or carried in a pocket below the waist. Recommended wear is the bracelet on the left wrist and to use the right hand for counting. When used for counting chants or prostrations, not to count over the meru bead but to turn the mala around and count back the other way. Broken or irredeemably soiled malas should be "disposed of respectfully." I'm not sure what is meant by that - I guess just don't throw them in the garbage. If just the string or elastic breaks, you can re-string them - red elastic seems popular, and makes the juzu easy to take on/off. Wood and seed ones have to be kept dry or they might get stained.

    In visiting Jodo Shinshu temples, one should loop the mala over the hands to bow to the Buddha. I don't see this in Chinese temples, probably because of their fondness for prostrations over bowing. A Jodo priest told us that it's considered kind of pretentious for a layperson to wear the 108 bead mala, but I've seen some laypeople wear one not around the neck but wrapped several times over the upper or lower arm. I think that would irritate me, they look to slip down a lot.

    I've heard differing opinions on whether laypeople should wear their juzu all the time or only while visiting a temple or while doing chants/prostrations. My Chinese teacher suggested wearing one pretty much all day, because you never know when you might want to chant. For example, to pass the time while waiting for a bus, or for saying Guan Yin prayers if you get nervous walking home at night. I think I'd get funny looks if I did that. :shock:

    Tibetans seem very fond of malas, and I think they have some tradition that different colours and materials are more conducive to different practices. I don't know details on that though. I think Tibetans are the only ones to use bone for mala beads.

  5. #5

    Re: Use of Ojuzu?

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    Hi Mensch!

    General mala rules I've been told include: metal isn't a good material, they should not be stepped on/over, worn into the washroom, or carried in a pocket below the waist. Recommended wear is the bracelet on the left wrist and to use the right hand for counting. When used for counting chants or prostrations, not to count over the meru bead but to turn the mala around and count back the other way. Broken or irredeemably soiled malas should be "disposed of respectfully." I'm not sure what is meant by that - I guess just don't throw them in the garbage. If just the string or elastic breaks, you can re-string them - red elastic seems popular, and makes the juzu easy to take on/off. Wood and seed ones have to be kept dry or they might get stained.

    In visiting Jodo Shinshu temples, one should loop the mala over the hands to bow to the Buddha. I don't see this in Chinese temples, probably because of their fondness for prostrations over bowing. A Jodo priest told us that it's considered kind of pretentious for a layperson to wear the 108 bead mala, but I've seen some laypeople wear one not around the neck but wrapped several times over the upper or lower arm. I think that would irritate me, they look to slip down a lot.

    I've heard differing opinions on whether laypeople should wear their juzu all the time or only while visiting a temple or while doing chants/prostrations. My Chinese teacher suggested wearing one pretty much all day, because you never know when you might want to chant. For example, to pass the time while waiting for a bus, or for saying Guan Yin prayers if you get nervous walking home at night. I think I'd get funny looks if I did that. :shock:

    Tibetans seem very fond of malas, and I think they have some tradition that different colours and materials are more conducive to different practices. I don't know details on that though. I think Tibetans are the only ones to use bone for mala beads.
    Isn't this all the very types of superstition and ritual that the Buddha actually forbade? It sounds like some people have reverted back to the very superstitious beliefs that the Buddha was against.

  6. #6
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    I have a 108-bead mala I bought back in the days when I hung out with Tibetans. When you meditate with the beads, reciting a mantra or not, it's a crutch. It is a good way to get into meditation, and perhaps to start a sitting to calm your mind by focusing on something repetitive, but I think we're better off not using something like that and learning to focus on the breath, then on emptiness. Just my two cents...

    OTOH, having something like that on your body can be, as someone pointed out, a good reminder of mindfulness. Having an object whose only purpose is, essentially, to remind you of that is probably good. As Jundo said, though, that could be a coffee cup or pretty much anything.

    Kirk

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    I have a 108-bead mala I bought back in the days when I hung out with Tibetans. When you meditate with the beads, reciting a mantra or not, it's a crutch. It is a good way to get into meditation, and perhaps to start a sitting to calm your mind by focusing on something repetitive, but I think we're better off not using something like that and learning to focus on the breath, then on emptiness.
    That's what we're taught in the Ch'an temple. That reciting mantras (not necessarily aloud) is a good way to prepare for meditation, but not to repeat incessantly during meditation.

    Some people in my class (not me) were told that thinking the sound "OM" and/or visualising the character "OM" ( or ) could help in "cutting off wandering thoughts."

    I wonder if even focusing on the breath can become a crutch if you let it.

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    OTOH, having something like that on your body can be, as someone pointed out, a good reminder of mindfulness. Having an object whose only purpose is, essentially, to remind you of that is probably good. As Jundo said, though, that could be a coffee cup or pretty much anything.
    Yes, I like my wrist mala as a reminder of mindfulness. Also, I keep one handy in my knapsack because I'm usually at the temple a few times a week, and (I think) it's respectful to wear one inside the temple.

  8. #8
    Wow! Thanks for all the elaborate response.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I guess that we would say you do not need any particular beads or such for that. Any breeze, lightbulb, email message, baby crying, ambulance siren, rock, paper, scissors, coffee cup, trash can or mosquito might do the same for you.
    You are of course right. And I originally considered including in my statement that e. g. gazing at a tree or watching children play hardly ever fails to return me to the moment and to the vastness of existence. Everything is practice. Long before I started bothering with Zazen I sometimes practiced "replacing blown lightbulbs on my car". I don't know why, but using the screwdriver I seem to reach levels of concentration hardly attainable on the cushion. (Of course you have to do it as if you were disarming a bomb. :wink: )

    But there is also "unpleasant" practice, "misfortunes", meaning resistance, avoidance. That's where mere form routines, standards, rituals may be useful. Like "Even though I cannot forget my aching right knee and my concentration is completely down the drain I'll finish my 30 minutes sitting." I'm merely looking for a little help in overcoming preferences or sometimes even fears. Even though it may just mean replacing one fantasized identity with another.

    So concerning the O-Juzu I conclude, I might simply give it a try when I feel like it and only because I feel like it.

  9. #9

    use of ojuzu

    Hellos to everyone:
    I have learned so much from the comments on this topic. Thank you all.
    I was given a large-ish wrist mala as a practice (in addition to zazen) by a teacher who instructed me to keep it on at all times. I would lose it at odd times--(for example like when I was doing the laundry putting wet clothes into the dryer, it slipped off and by the time I noticed it was missing, I had no idea where it had gone.)
    I finally lost it for good, and later purchased another one which I still have and which I continue to use as a mindfulness practice at night when I sleep (rather than 24/7). I hold it in my left hand. It is interesting. Sometimes 'I' lose track of it, but my hand knows just where to find it--by the pillow, at my side... my hand immediately knows where it had it last!

    When I had my son, a dear friend gave me a little elastic wrist mala and when I went into the hospital it was very steady-ing for me.
    When I have had to undergo surgeries on other occasions I have worn it--they don't allow any jewelry, of course, but it appears they just leave it alone if its on the same wrist as the hospital wristband is on.
    Paige, if you don't have a small elastic wrist mala, you might also find one helpful to have with you. It made me realize, unconscious and completely naked, anesthetised and 'preped' even then, even then,
    even then....

  10. #10

    Re: use of ojuzu

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    It made me realize, unconscious and completely naked, anesthetised and 'preped' even then, even then,
    even then....
    Very well said as always, Keishin!

    I had previously purchased a pretty wooden wrist mala on eBay when I was just beginning my practice, but I self-consciously wrote it off as an affectation of a naive Western student. This thread has inspired me to pull it out and put it on as yet another aspect of mindfulness practice. Thanks.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by paige

    Some people in my class (not me) were told that thinking the sound "OM" and/or visualising the character "OM" ( or ) could help in "cutting off wandering thoughts."
    I would like to point out, and propose to all in the Sangha, that the Universe went to a whole lot of trouble to give us the immortal Frank Sinatra, born in the holy land of Hoboken New Jersey in distant ages past. I mean, is he less or more a Sentient Being and Teacher than the Buddha himself? Should we fail to honor Sinatra Buddha as we honor Amida Buddha, Shakymuni Buddha? To mean, he is the "Chairman of the Board of Buddhas". Although some of Maha-Sinatra's teachings seem not so Zen on first impression and more in line with early Buddhism ...


    You've gotta accent-tcu-ate the positive, eli-my-nate the negative,

    Latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister In-between.

    You gotta spread joy up to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum.

    Have faith or pandemonium's li'ble to walk upon the scene.



    ... others carry a clear Zen Buddhist message:


    I got plenty o'nothin' and nothin's plenty for me

    I got no car, got no mule, I got no misery

    Folks with plenty of plenty, they got a lock on the door

    Afraid somebody's gonna rob 'em while they're out a'makin' more

    What for?

    I got no lock on the door, that's no way to be

    They can steal the rug from the floor, that's OK with me

    'cause the things that I prize, like the stars in the skies, are all free



    and, of course ...


    I've loved, I've laughed and cried
    I've had my fill, my share of losing
    And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
    To think I did all that
    And may I say, not in a shy way,
    "Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"


    I mean, that last line is a clear affirmation of our simultaneous "not me/me" ness.

    Thus, I propose to the Sangha that, if someone feels like chanting here at the Treeleaf Zendo, they should focus on this immortal Dharani chant (the meaning of which is lost to its Sanskrit origins) ...

    Scooby Dooby Doo, Scooby Dooby Dooby, Scooby Dooby Doo, Scooby Dooby Dooby ....

    Repeat the cycle 108 times while twirling your coffee cup.

    Gassho, j

  12. #12

    use of ojuzu

    recently sighted bumper sticker:

    What would Scooby Do?



  13. #13

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Thus, I propose to the Sangha that, if someone feels like chanting here at the Treeleaf Zendo, they should focus on this immortal Dharani chant (the meaning of which is lost to its Sanskrit origins) ...

    Scooby Dooby Doo, Scooby Dooby Dooby, Scooby Dooby Doo, Scooby Dooby Dooby ....

    Repeat the cycle 108 times while twirling your coffee cup.
    *snerk* Nice one Jundo, but the whole Soto vs Rinzai vs Jodo rivalry is penny-ante stuff compared to the vi/emacs editor battles I witnessed back in the old Usenet days. :wink:

    I've practised in both the Soto Zen and Linji Ch'an traditions - I switched because there's no zendo where I currently live. I haven't found the transition particularly difficult. I kind of appreciate the way the Ch'an teachers choose different methods depending on the student's strengths and weaknesses. Apparently, picturing the OM symbol is a little mental trick that can help people who get distracted by (real or imagined) visual stimuli. Yes, it is a crutch, and has limited usefulness. But I don't know if it's much different from returning to breath-counting when one becomes distracted or agitated.

    Jun, I don't know the literal translation of shu-zhu/ojuzu but, at the Ch'an temple, they call them "counting beads" in English. They are not seen as having any special powers. And I think it's appropriate to treat ritual objects with a certain degree of respect. Come to think of it, in my Zen practice I've been instructed to treat non-ritual objects (including coffee cups!) with respect as well.

  15. #15
    This discussion is very engaging, and great to read while wearing my wrist malas too!

    Thanks all.

  16. #16
    Today I was using my wrist mala to keep me close to the breath while I walked from one place to another. In-out, pass a bead. Every time I reached the meru bead I would recite a little mindfulness gatha. Though I want to guard against using the beads as a crutch, this is a fresh little practice that works for me in terms of daily mindfulness. I might continue it, unless anyone thinks its an awful idea for some reason.

    Just thought I'd share!

    Gassho.

  17. #17
    Hi Justin,

    Well, while walking, I would just be walking. Don't trip over anything while being mindful! ;-)

    On the other hand, not much different from walking and listening to an iPod I guess.

    Gassho, Jundo

  18. #18

    use of ojuzu

    When it comes right down to it--what isn't there to be mindful of?
    Putting coins in the parking meter, in the laundromat's dryer, in the vending machine, in the beggar's cup.
    Picking up my dirty socks, picking up my newspaper, picking up my coffee cup (the one I've been twirling about 108 times while saying Scooby dooby doo), picking up the mess in the public restroom. Pulling the light string for the light in my closet, pulling up the weeds in the garden, pulling the junk out of the stuck disposal.

    Malas are ok, no mala is ok too.

    When it comes right down to it--what isn't there to be mindful of?

    gassho, Keishin

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