The Meaning of 108

The number 108 has great significance in Buddhism. There are multiple commentaries the meaning of 108. The following are two common explanations.

Nagarjuna’s explanation of the significance of the number 108 from his Commentary on the Perfection of Great Wisdom:

Human beings have 6 senses 六受:

1) sight 眼→色

2) sound 耳→声

3) smell 鼻→香

4) taste 舌→味

5) touch 身→触

6) thought 意→法

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From The Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, Part II, Section, 31

31 The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Maitreya, the devas, humans, and others, “The virtue and wisdom of sravakas and bodhisattvas in the Land of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life are beyond verbal expression. Thus, that land is exquisite, blissful, and pure. Why do you not strive to practice the good, be mindful of the spontaneous working of the Way, and realize that all beings in that land attain without discrimination the boundless virtue of enlightenment? Each of you should be diligent and make every effort to seek it for yourself.

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Ōjō Raisan (Shoya Raisan) Chanting

The chanting of Ōjō Raisan (Shoya Raisan) is a Pure Land Buddhist tradition established in China by Master Shandao, which was widely embraced among the followers of Hōnen Shōnin.  This beautiful liturgy continues to be chanted in the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji School today. Join us to experience the settling of the mind through focused breathing and meditative listening.

Shoya Raisan Chanting Text

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Coming soon!

Letter on White Ashes

By Rennyo Shonin

 When I deeply contemplate the transient nature of human existence, I realize that, from beginning to end, life is impermanent like an illusion. We have not yet heard of anyone who lived ten thousand years. How fleeting is a lifetime!

 Who in this world today can maintain a human form for even a hundred years? There is no knowing whether I will die first or others, whether death will occur today or tomorrow. We depart one after another more quickly than the dewdrops on the roots or the tips of the blades of grasses. So it is said. Hence, we may have radiant faces in the morning, but by evening we may turn into white ashes.

 Once the winds of impermanence have blown, our eyes are instantly closed and our breath stops forever. Then, our radiant face changes its color, and the attractive countenance like peach and plum blossoms is lost. Family and relatives will gather and grieve, but all to no avail.

 Since there is nothing else that can be done, they carry the deceased out to the fields, and then what is left after the body has been cremated and turned into midnight smoke is just white ashes. Words fail to describe the sadness of it all.

 Thus the ephemeral nature of human existence is such that death comes to young and old alike without discrimination. So we should all quickly take to heart the matter of the greatest importance of the afterlife, entrust ourselves deeply to Amida Buddha, and recite the nembutsu.

 Humbly and respectfully.

Incense Offering

Buddhist SchoolNumber of timesWay of offering
Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha (Nishi Hongwanji)1 timePlace a pinch of incense directly on the charcoal without raising it to the forehead.
Shinshu Otani-ha (Higashi Honganji) 2 timesPlace a pinch of incense directly on the charcoal without raising it to the forehead.
Soto Shu2 timesFirst time: raise a pinch of incense to the forehead before placing it on the charcoal.
Second time: Place a pinch of incense directly on the charcoal without raising it to the forehead.
Jodo Shu1 to 3 times No set guidelines.
Tendai Shu1 or 3 timesNo set guidelines.
Shingon Shu3 timesRaise a pinch of incense to the forehead each time before placing it on the charcoal.
Rinzai Shu1 timeRaise a pinch of incense to the forehead before placing it on the charcoal.
Nichiren Shu1 or 3 timesNo set guidelines.
Nichiren Shoshu3 timesRaise a pinch of incense to the forehead each time before placing it on the charcoals.
Information translated from

Why only one pinch of incense in Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha?

We offer incense as an expression of gratitude to the great oneness that is Amida Buddha.

Why isn’t incense raised to the forehead in Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha

One common understanding is that incense is raised to the forehead as an expression of gratitude for the purification that is received (Jpn. itadaku 頂く) though the offering.  In the Jodo Shinshu tradition, the way of offering incense expresses the understanding that the fragrance is not something we receive for our own self-purification, but rather is something that we offer as an expression of our gratitude and reverence for the Buddha’s great compassion.  The words of the Buddha found in the Three Pure Land Sutras assure us that the Buddha’s great compassion embraces us just as we as are—with all our impurities of body and mind—so incense does not serve the purpose of purification in the Jodo Shinshu tradition.

Some common explanations for offering incense three times: 

(Thanks to Rev. Koraku Mikami of the Shingon Shu tradition)

The most common understanding is that incense is offered to

  1. Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana Buddha)—as a symbol of the principle of true reality
  2. Kobo Daishi—as a symbol of our Master/Founder
  3. Ancestors—as a symbol of our origin

Another common understanding is that incense is offered to “burn away” or purify the negative karma created by

  1. thought
  2. speech
  3. behavior

Incense may also be offered on behalf a departed loved one

as an expression of homage to

  1. The Buddha
  2. The Dharma
  3. The Sangha


in order to eliminate/purify oneself of the three poisons

  1. Anger
  2. Craving
  3. Aversion

before going to the next realm.

A person who offers incense on behalf of a departed loved one shows their respect and honor for the deceased through the intentions described above.  Through the power of the Buddha, Bodhisattva, or other being (ex. Fudo Myoo) to which the incense is offered, impurities are transformed into virtues or merit (Jpn. kudoku 功徳) that can support and aid the deceased when they are about to be born into the next realm.

These understandings are based on the Shingon goma fire ritual, in which spiritual thoughts are burned with the fire of the Buddha to create goodness or remove karmic defilements.  In this way, the fire, smoke and incense express a goma fire ritual conducted by a representative of the deceased.

Memories of San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s First Obon

By Susan (Kawakita) Kwong

Hearing my mom reminisce of how she and a handful of her friends started Obon at San Mateo Buddhist Temple, it quickly caught my attention and found it my mission to contact her friends and listen to their stories. Wish I had known years earlier since I was only able to obtain a few people’s memories. Was quite interesting and wanted to share this story since our Obon is around the corner. Thank you, Mrs. Wada, Mrs. Hashimoto, and mom for reminiscing about San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s first Obon.

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The Six Superhuman Powers

Six kinds of superhuman ability attained by a Buddha or enlightened disciple of the Buddha as a result of their spiritual practice.

1. Divine Feet

2. Divine Eyes

  • Also called “Knowledge of Death and Rebirth” or “Knowledge of Samsara”
  • The unimpeded ability to see into every place and to know the future rebirths of all beings.
  • See the 6th Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara

3. Divine Ears

4. The Wisdom to See into the Minds of Others

5. Knowledge of Past Lives

6. Complete Extinction of Afflictions

  • The ability to know that one has completely extinguish one’s blind passions (greed, anger, and ignorance), such that they will never arise again.
  • See the 39th Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara