Jodo Shinshu and Marriage, part 2

by Rimban Katsuya Kusunoki

I received a letter from my younger brother and his fiancée. It was an invitation to their wedding. The wedding is going to be in July in Japan. The first thing that came up in my mind is why did they choose to get married in July? They must consider their schedule, their family’s schedule, and friends’ schedule, but it is very hot and muggy in Summer in Japan. Anyway, I now deeply feel joy to celebrate their wedding.

Let me introduce you to an example of a wedding program at our mother temple, Hongwanji.

  1. Opening Remarks,
  2. Procession of Groom, Bride and officiant (with Gagaku music),
  3. Sutra Chanting (Sanbutsuge),
  4. Vows,
  5. Presentation of Onenju,
  6. Exchange of Rings,
  7. Offering Incense by Groom and Bride,
  8. Offering Incense by representative of each family,
  9. Congratulatory message by officiant,
  10. The recession of Officiant, Groom and Bride,
  11. Closing remarks.

When my wife and I got married about ten years ago at my family temple officiated by my father, the program was almost the same as this. One difference is that we had the Sake Exchange ceremony (San San Kudo).

Next, I will introduce you to an example of a Buddhist wedding in US.

  1. Procession of Groomsmen & Bridesmaids,
  2. Procession of Bride and her father,
  3. Sutra Chanting (Shishinrai),
  4. Opening remarks and Explanation of marriage,
  5. Together our vows,
  6. Exchange of Rings,
  7. Presentation of Onenju,
  8. Offering Incense by Groom and Bride,
  9. Pronouncement of Marriage,
  10. Embrace,
  11. Introduction of the Newlyweds,
  12. Recession of Groom and Bride.

I have officiated a number of Buddhist Weddings in US. Nowadays, more couples choose different locations for their weddings like a restaurant, a park, and a winery rather than a Buddhist temple. Therefore, the officiant needs to adjust the ritual and the program to the location and the couple’s request.

There are some differences in the Wedding Vows in Japan and in U.S.

Wedding Vows in Japan:

“We are truly grateful today to be able to hold our wedding in the presence of Amida Buddha. We are grateful to Amida Buddha, as well as to our parents and all people who helped nurture and sup port to this day. From now on, we will always be guided by the Buddha and respectfully follow after Shinran Shonin. We will help support one another. We will work together and create a peaceful family through the Nembutsu teaching. These are our vows we recite together.”

Wedding Vows in U.S:

“May this couple be lastingly true to their vows, love and respect each other, and help one another to live. Regarding marriage, Shakyamuni Buddha once said, “One of the greatest happinesses in life is the bond of marriage that ties together two people in love. But there is a greater happiness still: It is to live without losing sight of what is truly of value in life…Conditions may separate us… there may come times when we must be away from one another, but conditions will never affect those that have come to know what is true and real in love and in life. Together you are one… and apart you are together. Therefore, in marriage be also married to truth… and live with truth in this marriage. Two people who love each other and desire for a union that shall be ever growing must be faithful to one another so as to be like truth itself. They shall place their trust in one another, honor and respect each other. With this, their marriage will be one of joy and happiness… and their friends and family will share in their fulfillment. With this understanding of the meaning and commitment of marriage do you ___ take __ hand in marriage?”

When I compare these two vows, the Japanese vows emphasize more appreciation to their parents and people who surround them, and the American vows focus on the couple themselves more. Also, the Japanese vows contain “Shinran Shonin” and “Onembutsu,” and the American vows mention “Shakyamuni Buddha” and “Truth (Dharma).” These are just two of many Buddhist wedding vows, but I think the differences tell us the history and reality of Buddhism in each country. In Japan, there are a variety of Buddhist sects and each sect has many Buddhist ministers. The program which I introduced here is the Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhist) wedding program. On the other hand, in U.S. there are not enough Buddhist ministers who can officiate a Buddhist Wedding. Although BCA ministers are all Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhist) ministers, each minister has needed to cope with a variety of Buddhist and Non-Buddhist couples. Using “Shakyamuni Buddha” “Truth” may be a more general and relevant expression than using “Shinran Shonin” and “Nembutsu”. The Buddhist Wedding is the entry gate to walk the Buddhist path and Nembutsu path together as a couple and a family. I wish more people would choose a Buddhist wedding and have the teaching of Shinran Shonin, “May there be peace in the World and may the Buddha’s teaching spread,” in the center of their life.

Gassho, Rev. Katsu