Soto Zen Liturgy
The texts that are regularly
chanted in Soto Zen practice are many in number, varied in literary
form and derivation, and extremely rich and diverse in philosophical,
ethical, and spiritual content. When these texts are used liturgically
in formal ritual settings, however, they have a limited number
of functions that can be clearly distinguished.
One of the most common settings
in which texts are chanted in Soto monasteries and temples are
the daily, monthly, and annual sutra chanting services (fugin).
These are rites in which spiritual merit (kudoku) is first
generated by chanting Buddhist sutras or dharanis and then ritually
dedicated (ekô) to various recipients who are named
in a formal verse for transferring merit (ekômon).
In Soto Zen, sutra chanting services are used to make offerings
of merit to a wide range of beings: the Buddha Shakyamuni; his
immediate disciples, the arhats; the lineage of ancestral teachers
through whom the Zen dharma has been transmitted; the two leading
founders of the Soto Zen tradition in Japan, Dogen and Keizan;
the founding abbot and other former abbots of particular monasteries;
various dharma-protecting and monastery-protecting deities, including
Indian devas, Chinese spirits, and Japanese kami; the ancestors
of lay patrons of Soto temples; and hungry ghosts, denizens of
hell, and various other benighted and suffering spirits. Particular
sutra chanting services are distinguished by (and sometimes named
after) the main figures to whom merit is transferred, but it
is common for a single service to include offerings to a number
of ancillary or minor figures at the same time.
Other settings in which texts
are chanted to produce and dedicate merit include: monthly memorial
services (gakki) for Dogen, Keizan, and the founding abbot
of each monastery; annual memorial services (nenki) for
them, other ancestors in the Zen lineage, and lay patrons; funerals
(sôgi) for monks and lay followers; and various
routine and occasional recitation services (nenjû)
and prayer services (kitô).
All sutra chanting, memorial,
and funeral services are held before altars on which images or
name tablets of the major recipients of the offerings are enshrined.
The chanting that produces the merit is generally done in unison
by all the monks (and sometimes laity) present at a service,
whereas the verse for transferring the merit is recited by a
single person, a monastic officer known as the rector (ino).
The oral performance in which merit is generated and transferred
is often accompanied by other, more physical offerings at an
altar, such as the burning of incense or the presentation of
food and drink. Recitation and prayer services are somewhat different
in that the merit produced is dedicated not to individuals, but
rather in support of specific benefits that are prayed for, such
as recovery from illness, harmony in the community, or the success
of a monastic retreat. There being no named recipients of offerings,
such services need not be performed before an altar, but may
be held in other places, such as an infirmary or meditation hall.
The production and dedication
of merit are two of the most important ritual functions of the
Soto Zen liturgy, but other puposes are also served by the chanting
of verses. There are verses that are used mainly to sanctify
and give meaning to otherwise mundane activities of monastic
life, such as meals, face washing, and entering the bath or toilet.
Those are always chanted when and where the activity in question
takes place, either by a group (as in the case of meals) or by
individuals (as when entering the bath). The recitation of certain
other verses, such as the Three Refuges Verse (Sankiemon),
the Four Vows (Shigusei ganmon), and the Repentance Verse
(Sangemon), are acts of religious practice in and of themselves.
Such verses are chanted by groups in conjunction with sutra chanting
and other services, but in essence their recitation is an individual
act of devotion.
Finally, it should be noted that
regardless of how they are used in ritual settings, most of the
texts that are chanted in Soto Zen can also be read for their
meaning, as works of philosophy, ethics, and/or inspirational
religious literature. Far from being mutually exclusive, the
various functions that the texts have are mutually supportive
About this Handbook
This handbook contains sutras
(kyô), dharanis (darani), verses (ge,
mon), eko (verses for transferring merit - ekômon),
and other texts that are chanted on a daily basis in Soto Zen
monasteries and temples.
Part One contains all the texts
-- sutras and dharanis -- that are used to generate merit in
daily sutra chanting services. Sutras are texts revered as sermonsof
the Buddha Shakyamuni. Dharanis are strings of sounds which,
although they may have little semantic value, are deemed sacred
and powerful. Although sutras can be read for their meaning and
dharanis often cannot, in the context of services the chanting
of both is similar insofar as it serves to generate merit.
Part Two lists the various sutra
chanting services that are performed daily. For each service,
the texts to be chanted to generate merit are named, and the
eko (verse for transferring merit) is given in its entirety.
The eko themselves generally have two parts. The first states
how the merit was generated, who it is to be transferred to,
and for what specific purpose. The second part is a prayer that
asks for something in exchange for the merit just given.
Part Three contains: (A) numerous
verses that are chanted on various ritual occasions, (B) three
eko that are used in rituals other than sutra chanting services,
and (C) two long texts that express the ideals of Soto Zen practice.
About the Translation
In order to ensure the broadest
possible consensus on the English version of the liturgy, the
translations have been developed as a cooperative effort of the
American Soto Zen centers, through a series of workshops at Green
Gulch Farm, in California, that brought together representatives
of American Sôtô groups to work with the translators.
A printed version of the translations is scheduled for publication
by the Sotoshu Shumucho.