View Full Version : About the Verse of Homage to Buddha's Relics (Shariraimon) & Parinirvana Memorial

09-02-2022, 07:46 AM
Dear All,

A few years back, some of our Treeleaf Sangha members requested a day to recall those who had passed from this world among family and friends. One reason that we did not have such a memorial here during the early days of Treeleaf is because my teacher, Nishijima Roshi, did not believe in funerals and memorials other than Zazen. (In fact, Nishijima Roshi's daughter held a traditional Japanese Buddhist funeral for him when he died, which I attended ... and I am sure that it went against everything that he ever told me about funerals. Of course, his daughter made it, and Nishijima Roshi had little input at the time.)


Personally, I think that funerals and memorials have some purpose, but mostly for the living survivors (like his daughter). So, I am not completely against funerals and memorials. However, I refuse to set any fixed, orthodox form for Treeleaf funerals. Each may depend on circumstances, much as wedding ceremonies are today of all variety ... in a church, on a beach, more or less traditional, with self composed Vows and such. Funerals and memorials can be just the same. (For me, by the way, I ask my students to have some kind of Buddhist "Irish Wake," Chant the Heart Sutra once, maybe the Sandokai ... and sit Zazen ... that is enough. [happy])

However, several of our members asked for a day to recall friends and loved ones who have passed from this visible world, so we made one. It is also a bit unorthodox: The standard days for the remembering of deceased loved ones in Japanese Buddhism happen according to a set calendar, beginning with the funeral, as the "spirit" of the deceased transitions through the "Bardo" into a next life ("next life" not so emphasized in Japanese Buddhism, surprisingly) or somehow fades into the universe or is reborn in the Pure Land. (One reason that many Japanese Buddhists do not like the concept of rebirth is because they do not want "their family's grandpa" to be reborn in some family of strangers. Also, grandpa is supposed to stay somehow close to his family, even though in the "other world," so it is not clear how that would happen if grandpa is also reborn as somebody else in this world!


Soto-shu describes this process here, using some very strange (for traditional Buddhism) terms like "soul." Note also that a Japanese funeral is actually an Ordination of the dead person as a Priest ... with the idea that everybody should go into the next life with the merit of being a priest. (Don't ask how the deceased is administered, and agrees to abide by, the Precepts during the Ordination, except that the priest performing the funeral claims to "hear" the deceased agree to them) [indifferent] :

Hoji, literally translated as "dharma event" [法事], is an important Buddhist practice to commemorate a deceased person and to pray sincerely for the repose of his or her soul. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for surviving family and friends to reconfirm human ties which the departed brought about, to realize that they owe much to the deceased, to renew their gratitude to him or her and to deeply reflect upon themselves in connection with him or her.

It is believed that these hoji services will increase the merit of the deceased person so that he/she will be reborn in the pure land. Therefore these hoji are sometimes called tsuizen-kuyo (later-practice of offering goodness). In Jucchikyo (Daśabhūmika-sūtra, "The Sutra of Ten Grounds") three kinds of offering are taught: (a) offerings of incense, flowers, food, candlelight, etc.; (b) offerings of praise and reverence (by chanting sutras and worshipping the Buddha and his teaching); (c) offerings of right conduct (by practicing the Buddha’s way and living a wholesome life).

After the Buddha entered into the nirvana, Buddhist monks did a ceremony of doing gassho and making prostrations in front of the stupa where his relics were placed. This commemorative ritual of reverence is the origin of hoji.

Nowadays in Japan after a funeral is held, hoji is performed every seven days after the day of death, seven times altogether. These memorial services are called kinichihoyo. This is based on the ancient Indian idea that the soul of the deceased would stay in an intermediary realm (chuin, or chuu in Japanese [the Bardo]) for 49 days after death, wandering between this world and the next. Each period of seven days marks a gradual loosening of the connection with this world and on the 49th day the deceased is reborn according to his/her karmic retribution.

Dogen Zenji wrote in Shobogenzo Doshin (Heart of the Way),
"…When you leave this life, and before you enter the next life, there is a place called an intermediary realm. You stay there for seven days. You should resolve to keep chanting the names of the three treasures without ceasing while you are there. After seven days, you die into another intermediary realm and remain there for no more than seven by seven days (49 days)...."

Through a funeral ceremony, a deceased person is made to take refuge in the Budhha, Dharma and the Sangha and to become an ordained Buddhist. And then while being in an intermediary realm, the deceased one devotes oneself to Buddhist practices under the protection of many buddhas. Family members and friends also support and encourage the deceased to diligently practice the Dharma by observing hoji every seven days. This is also a period of time for the bereaved family to mourn the loss, gradually coming to terms with it, and to regain a sense of peace.

There are also further memorial services after the 49th day, such as the service on the 100th day, the 1st year, 3rd year, 7th, 13th, 17th, 23rd, 27th, and 33rd year. These anniversary memorial services are called nenkihoyo. They are performed in order to support the deceased who have already gone to the pure land to continue walking on the path of the Buddha. Normally the 33rd year (sometimes 37th, or 50th year) is the last (tomuraiage, "end of mourning"), marking the time when the individual deceased is thought to have become absorbed into the general ancestral spirit. It means that the spirit is gradually purified by the power of tsuizen-kuyo, eventually loses its individuality and becomes a full blown bodhisattava (in Buddhism) or a guardian god (in Shinto).

When we pray for the happiness of a deceased person even after the death and accumulate the goodness by performing hoji (tsuizen-kuyo), it will eventually bring happiness to ourselves and our family members who are still alive in this world. Thus through observing hoji, the living and the dead can influence and help each other. Of course it is possible only when we do it for real. We must not make light of the power of these rituals.

Nishijima did not believe in such things, and I do not indulge such beliefs in our Sangha. Sorry.

Other memorial days traditional in Japanese Buddhism are the O-bon holiday, and the Spring and Fall Equinoxes, when the "other world" is said to be particularly close to our world, so grandpa comes back home for a brief visit (except, Grandpa actually is also always home, residing in part in the family Butsudan, the small home Buddhist Altar, where family members are always welcome to light some incense and chat with grandpa ... although maybe that is like a telephone to the other world?? [confused] ) In any case, for various reasons, we do not emphasize those holidays, or the ancestral "Butsudan," around our Sangha either. (You can read more about O-bon etc. in the accompanying thread: "About the rituals we DO NOT celebrate in our Sangha") [gassholook]

However, I did begin to mark the annual ritual in February for Pari-Nirvana (Buddha's death day, or passing into his "Final Nirvana," although nobody knows his actual death day, and some teachings of Buddhism emphasize that the never really "died") as a combined ritual to remember our family and friends who have left this world. This is also not a traditional way to mark Pari-Nirvana day in Japan, where it is primarly just about the Buddha's death.

You can see here an example of our Parinirvana Ceremony below, held each year in February. I also made it a memorial for Nishijima Roshi, his teacher Niwa Zenji, and former mentors whom I have had:

ANNOUNCEMENT & DETAILS of PARINIRVANA CEREMONY (LINK) (https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showthread.php?19518-Announcement-Parinirvana-Memorial-Zazenkai-2022)

Example of PARINIRVANA CEREMONY (LINK) (https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showthread.php?19531-February-18th-19th-2021-Our-SPECIAL-NEHAN-E-ZAZENKAI%21)

Our version of the Verse and Eko states:

With/ whole/heart/ed/ gra/ti/tude/ we/ bow/
to/ the/ re/lics/ still/ pre/sent of/ the/ True/ Bo/dy/
of/ the/ Ta/tha/ga/ta/ Sha/kya/mu/ni,/
who/ is/ ful/ly/ en/dowed/ with/ my/ri/ad/ vir/tues;/
to/ the/ Dhar/ma/ Bo/dy/ which/ is/ Truth/ it/self;/
and/ to/ the/ whole/ u/ni/verse/ which/ is/ his/ Stu/pa./
With/ deep/ res/pect/ we/ ve/ner/ate/ the/ One/
who /lived/ his/ life/ for/ the/ sake/ of/ all/ be/ings./
Though/ the/ sus/ten/ance/ of/ Bud/dha,/ the/ Truth/
en/ters/ us/ and/ we/ en/ter/ Truth./
Let/ us/ strive/ to/ be/ne/fit/ all/ li/ving/ be/ings,/
a/rouse/ the/ thought/ of/ A/wa/ken/ing,/
cul/ti/vate/ Bod/hi/sat/tva/ Prac/tice,/
and/ to/ge/ther/ en/ter/ Per/fect/ Peace,/
the/ pen/e/tra/tion/ of/ the/ e/qua/li/ty/ of/ all/ things./
Now/ let/ us/ re/ver/ent/ly/ bow.


Buddha Nature pervades the whole universe, Reality, existing right here now: We recall this day when some 2500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha, our historical Teacher, entered into Parinirvana. In reciting THE VERSE OF HOMAGE TO THE BUDDHA’S RELICS and THE HEART OF THE PERFECTION OF GREAT WISDOM SUTRA we offer our reverence, and dedicate this gathering, to our great original source teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha. On this day of his entry into Parinirvana, mindful of his Teachings, we go forward with boundless gratitude and joy and vow to practice endlessly…

The Pure Dharma Body of the Buddha is always clear, beyond birth and death and expressed by all things, yet cannot be seen so long as one is lost in duality. The Buddha lived within coming and going, birth and death, a man of great compassion for all living beings. For this we bow in gratitude, and aspire that we may illuminate our minds in the midst of delusion.

On this day we have gathered to commemorate our Great Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha’s entry into Parinirvana, and we offer incense, flowers, light, fruit and sweet water, all symbols of reverence, life and the satisfaction of all desires. We further dedicate the merit of this Zazen gathering in gratitude for his great Compassionate acts in leaving us these Timeless Teachings.

The moon over Mount Ryoju, the Vulture Peak, shines wonderously in all directions.

The sala trees bloom and their petals convey the fragrance of the Dharma down through time.

The Buddha transcended desire and his understanding has helped all who are deluded until this present moment. The merits of suchness will extend from the beginningless past to the endless future.

All the myriad forms of existence join in recognizing the profound importance of this day and wholeheartedly recite with us, some in words and some in silence. We are filled with awe at the countless voices which thus proclaim the Dharma, and we vow to embrace and sustain it endlessly. We also remember and dedicate this day and these efforts to all our parents, grand-parents, siblings, our relatives near and distant, all our ancestors reaching back through the generations, and our dear friends and other cherished ones who have passed from this seen world.

And for those children we recall, born or unborn, now departed, we open our hearts to grief, to the bonds which will always remain, and proclaim our vow to care for the children of this world today.

I confess as well that, in the wording of the "Verse of Homage to Buddha's Relics" (Shariraimon) and the accompanying Eko (Dedication of Merit), I also softened the wording a bit for some of the more fantastic, other-worldly and magical references. I try to keep poetry and feeling in the words, but not the "hocus-pocus." For example, the Soto-shu version says, "we venerate the one who manifested a body for our sake," while the Treeleaf version says, "With deep respect we venerate the One who lived his life for the sake of all beings."

That's just what I do. Sue me.

You can put the "hocus-pocus" back and celebrate what you want when I am dead, I suppose. gassho2

Gassho, J


PS - A picture of the Altar for Nishijima Roshi's Wake, in a commercial funeral home, presided over by a priest that his daughter retained. This is the kind of funeral that Roshi did not care for, except I suppose, as it would make his daughter happier.