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Speaking of the moon, October in Japanese Buddhism, specifically the Jodo Shu sect of Buddhism is an important time called jūya-e (十夜会), meaning “Ten Nights observance”. It is also sometimes known as:

  • jūya hōyō (十夜法要, “ten night Buddhist sermon”)
  • jūyakō (十夜講 “ten night lecture”)
  • jūya nenbutsu (十夜念仏, “ten night nembutsu“), or more formally
  • jūnichi jūya hōyō (十日十夜法要, “ten day and ten night Buddhist sermon”)

Jūya-e isn’t a holiday as such, but it is traditionally a time of renewed practice and study of the Buddhist teachings, particularly the Pure Land Buddhist teachings. Jodo Shu followers might dedicated themselves to more chanting of the nembutsu for 10 nights, among other things. Often special services are held at the local temple.

The tradition behind Jūya-e lies with a 15th century samurai noble named Taira no Sadakuni (平貞国) who having become disillusioned by this world shut himself in the temple of Shinnyodō (真如堂), more properly a Tendai Buddhist temple known as Shinshō Gokurakuji (真正極楽寺), for ten nights and days of intensive Buddhist practice.

Why ten? The basis for this lies in a passage from one of the three core sutras of the Pure Land tradition, the Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, a.k.a. the Larger Sutra, the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, etc.:

“In this world, you should extensively plant roots of virtue, be benevolent, give generously, abstain from breaking the precepts, be patient and diligent, teach people with sincerity and wisdom, do virtuous deeds, and practice good. If you strictly observe the precepts of abstinence with upright thought and mindfulness even for a day and a night, the merit acquired will surpass that of practicing good in the land of Amitayus for a hundred years. The reason is that in that Buddha-land of effortless spontaneity all the inhabitants do good without committing even a hair’s breadth of evil. If in this world you do good for ten days and nights, the merit acquired will surpass that of practicing good in the Buddha-land of other quarters for a thousand years. The reason is that in the Buddha-land of other quarters many practice good and very few commit evil. They are lands where everything is naturally provided as a result of one’s merit and virtue, and so no evil is done. But in this world much evil is committed, and few are provided for naturally; people must work hard to get what they want. Since they intend to deceive each other, their minds are troubled, their bodies exhausted, and they drink bitterness and eat hardship. In this way, they are preoccupied with their toil no have time for rest.

Translation by Rev. Hisao Inagaki, provided here.

The idea is that in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, people naturally commit good deeds and have peaceful minds due to the wholesomeness of the environment. However, trying to stay good in this world with all its hassles and troubles is a lot harder, and so the merit attained is far greater. Even a little bit here really counts for something.

Speaking of Jūya-e in literature, I also found this haiku by Kobayashi Issa:

JapaneseRomanizationRough Translation
もろもろのMoro moro noAll kinds of
愚者も月見るGusha mo tsuki miruFoolish people see the moon and realize
十夜かなJūya kana“Hey, it’s the Ten Nights observance!”
Poem source: Zenkōji temple with my rough, rough translation

The moon was a common metaphor in medieval Japanes Buddhism for the light of wisdom and compassion of Amitabha Buddha, as evinced by a much earlier poem by the founder of the Jodo Shu sect of Buddhism, Honen in the 12th century:

月影のTsuki kage noThough there is no corner
いたらぬ里はItaranu sato waOf the world where the moon’s light
なけれどもNakeredomoDoes not shine,
眺むる人のNagamuru hito noOnly those who gaze up at it
心にぞすむKokoro ni zosumuAppreciate its light
Yet again, my rough translation

In any case, if you’re a follower of Pure Land Buddhism, with such a beautiful, crisp moon shining in fall, one cannot help but be moved. If you’re wondering what to do during Jūya-e season, as with any Buddhist practice, try something reasonable and sustainable for 10 days, but at the same something above and beyond your usual Buddhist practice. Finding that balance is tricky, especially if you’re not part of a temple community, but with a bit of effort, one can find that sweet spot and have a fruitful and joyous season.

Happy October!

Namu Amida Butsu

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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