Vol. XLIX, No.10

October 2003


Juzu / Nenju

Nenju - "thought-beads": The Nenju is also called a Juzu ( "bead-counter"). Because Jodoshinshu does not use it as an aid in meditation, it is more properly called a Nenju--a string of beads which directs our thoughts on the Buddha. The Nenju is a string of beads used in rituals and in other Buddhist meditations. The Catholic rosary and the Muslim "worry beads" are thought to have been derived from this string of beads from Buddhist India. Through the centuries, the symbolism of the Nenju has evolved to a degree of considerable complexity. There are as many meanings of the size and number, shape and material of the beads as there are Buddhist sects. In general, the use of the Nenju is limited to the Mahayana schools of Buddhism and is most highly developed in the esoteric schools. Jodoshinshu has not developed a separate symbolism of their own.

Jodoshinshu priests carry a Nenju of 108 beads. This number does not count the 4 small Shitenno "four-heavenly-kings" beads which represent the Four Heavenly Kings said to dwell on the four sides of Mt. Sumeru, the central mountain of any world system. Also not included in the counting are the two large beads called Oyadama and the auxiliary beads hanging from the Oyadama. the remaimng 108 beads represent the 108 Bonno or "afflicting passions" of man that bind him to the world of Samasara, the Ocean of Birth-Death. The following breakdown of the 108 Bonno is the most common.

Six types of Bonno can arise when the sense organs (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body, and mind) perceive an object. The objects perceived may be considered desirable, undesirable, neither desirable nor undesirable, pleasurable painful, or neither pleasurable nor pairiftil. Six possibilities for each of the six sense objects gives 36 possibilities. Each of these 36 possibilities exist in the past, present, or future so that a total of 108 possibilities exist. The number 108 is traditionally an ideal number since it is a multiple of the number 9 which has the greatest potential for variation.

In Buddhist India, the Nenju was a special attribute of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Kannon Bosatsu). Since the 108 beads represented the 108 Bonno of the Samsaric world, the Nenua of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion signifies the Bodhisattva's desire to liberate sentient beings from the 108 fetters, And since Avalokitesvara is the Bodhisattva emanating from the Buddha Amida, the Nenju, be closely associated with Aniida.

The Nenju of 108 beads is divided into two sections of 54 beads each, hence the two Oyadama beads. Each side is further divided into sections of 7, 14, and 3 two Shitenno beads, by the two Shitenno. With this arrangement, the four Shintenno beads form a square representing the four cardinal directions when the Nenju is folded in two.

Various explanations are given for the division of the strand of beads into 7, 14, and 33. In the Shingon School for example, the formula Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo is recited 7 times, or 3x7 times. Thus one recites the formula once for each bead until he comes to the first Shitenno bead (for a total of 7 recitations) or until he comes to the second Shitenno bead (for a total of 21 recitations). There are other traditions which also use the Nenju as a counter and the arrangement of the beads is explained according to their own particular doctrine. The word Juzu (bead-counter) refers to this use as a means of counting recitations, one's breath, etc. in meditative exercises. Jodoshinshu however, does not stress the number of times one recites the Nembutsu and the Nenju is used only symbolically in the Gassho. For. this reason, it is more proper to refer to this string of beads as a Nenju rather than a Juzu. The arrangement of the beads has no meaning peculiar to Jodoshinshu doctrine but is simply a traditional arrangement common to most schools of Buddhism. The symbolism of the Nenju is therefore largely a product of those schools prescribing a specific meditative practice, the Shingon Sect in particular.

The Jomyo bead is a counter bead that is slipped up the string when the counting of the beads is begun and slipped down at the completion of the counting of one cycle of 108. The Kazutori consists of a double row of 5 beads representing the Ten Perfections or Paramitas. In the above diagrarn, two sets of Kazutori are found at one end of the Nenju. In some cases, one set is placed at each end of the Nenju, but the double set at one end is the arrangement used in Jodoshinshu. The set of 10 Kazutori represent the Ten Paramitas which lead to Enlightenment.

Dana             Giving

Sila               Keeping the Precepts

Ksanti           Perseverance

Virya            Vigor

Dhyana         Meditation

Prajna           Wisdom

Upaya           Skillful means

Pranidhana    The will to act

Bala              The strength to act

Jnana            Knowledge, comprehending and expounding

At the end of the Kazutori are the Tsuyudama (dewdrop-beads) named for their shape and representing the Wonderful Twin Fruit of Bodhi and Nirvana. The Wonderful Twin Fruit are reached by descending the Ten Paramitas symbolized by the Kazutori (count-taking) beads. Honen Shonin was known to have used this type of Juzu as a counter for the recitation of the Nembutsu.

The single strand of beads is an abbreviation of the 108-bead Nenju used by the priests. Laymen generally carry the single strand Nenju. The single strand Nenju should have 2 Shitenno beads, 1 Oyadama, and 9 beads or a multiple thereof (9, 18, 27, 36, or 54) depending on the size of the beads. The number of beads between the Shitenno beads and the Oyadama is 8 beads in a 36-bead strand, 6 beads in a 27-bead strand, and 4 beads in an 18-bead strand. In some cases where unusually carved or unusually large beads are used, the number of beads is not strictly adhered to. This is especially the case with the small wrist Nenju whose bead number is according to the size of the wearer's wrist. Single strand Nenju with a tassel are usually for women and those with a simple string arrangement are usually for men. The 108-bead Nenju can have either string or tassel, or very often both.

The Nenjie is always held in the left hand since the left hand represents the world of Samsara with its 108 Bonno. The right hand represents the world of Nirvana. It is through the use of the Nenju that the two utterly different worlds of Samsara and Nirvana are seen in their essential Oneness - that is to say, the bringing together of the left hand of Samsara and the right hand of Nirvana into the Oneness of the Gassho. From a Jodoshinshu point of view, one can say that the left hand of Samsara, of the 108 passions of egotism is the world of Namo, of "I, myself; me." The right hand of Nirvana is the world of Amidabutsu, the real world of Amida Buddha. The Nenju brings together these two seemingly opposite worlds into the Oneness of Namoamidabutsu; not Namo, or Amidabutsu separately, but Namoamidabutsu.

In the Nishi Hongwanji tradition of Jodoshinshu, the Nenju encircles the hands in Gassho with the tassel or strings hanging below the two palms and the two thumbs resting lightly on the beads. There are a number of ways of holding the Nenju depending upon the sect, school, or tradition of Buddhism. The Jodo Sect of Honen Shonin for example, places the Nenju around the thumbs of the hands in Gassho. The Higashi Honganji tradition of Jodoshinshu places the Nenju around the hands in Gassho with the string or tassel end held between the thumbs and base of the index fingers. Priests of the Shingon Sect (Koyasan) use several gestures depending upon the ceremony, one of them being to drape the Nenju around the index finger of the left hand and the

middle finger of the right hand at the Oyadama and enclosing the strand of beads between the two palms. The beads are then rubbed together producing a raffling sound. When not in use, the Nenju is held in the left hand or placed around the left wrist.