A verse chanted daily at mealtimes, and in connection with other services, notably recitations (nenju 念誦) performed on "3" and "8" days and funerals. For meals, the verse is introduced by the rector (ino 維那), then chanted by the great assembly (daishu 大衆), as follows:
Relying entirely on the three treasures, which bestow upon us their certification,
we call upon the venerable assembly to mindfully recite:
nyan ni san po ansu inshi 仰惟三寶咸賜印知
nyan pin son shu nyan 仰憑尊衆念
Birushana Buddha, pure dharma body.
Rushana Buddha, complete enjoyment body.
Shakamuni Buddha, of trillions of transformation bodies.
Miroku Buddha, of future birth.
All buddhas of the ten directions and three times.
Mahayana Sutra of the Lotus of the Wondrous Dharma.
Monjushiri Bodhisattva, of great sagacity.
Fugen Bodhisattva, of the great vehicle.
Kanzeon Bodhisattva, of great compassion.
All honored bodhisattvas, those great beings.
Great perfection of wisdom.
shin jin pashin birū sha no fu 清淨法身毘盧舍那佛
en mon ho shin rushā no fu 圓滿報身盧遮那佛
sen pai kashin shikyā mu ni fu 千百億化身釋迦牟尼佛
to rai asan mirū son bu 當來下生彌勒尊佛
ji ho san shi ishî shi fu 十方三世一切諸佛
dai jin myo harin ga kin 大乘妙法蓮華經
dai shin bun jusu ri bu sa 大聖文殊師利菩薩
dai jin fuen bu sa 大乘普賢菩薩
daihi kan shiin bu sa 大悲觀世音菩薩
shi son bu sa mo ko sa 諸尊菩薩摩訶薩
mo ko ho ja ho ro mi 摩訶般若波羅蜜
The mindful recitation (nen 念) of various buddha names (butsumyō 佛名) is a common practice in Mahayana Buddhism. It is conceived both as an act of worship and as a means of generating merit (kudoku 功徳) that is subsequently dedicated in support of specific prayers. In Japan, the practice of mindfully reciting a buddha's name (nenbutsu 念佛) is most often associated with the Pure Land (jōdo 淨土) schools, which teach an exclusive reliance on the saving power of Amida Buddha, as expressed in the devotional recitation "Homage to Amida Buddha" (namu Amida Bu 南無阿彌陀佛). Japanese Zen, however, is heir to the mainstream Chinese Buddhist monastic institutions of the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, in which the mindful recitation of buddha names (including but not limited to Amida) was a routine practice for all monks, whether or not they were affiliated with the Zen school. →"recitations."
The title Ten Buddha Names is somewhat incongruous in that the text does not actually name ten buddhas. Rather, it mentions four buddhas by name, then pays homage to "all buddhas of the ten directions and three times." It also mentions three bodhisattvas by name, then rounds out that category, too, by hailing "all honored bodhisattvas." In addition, it names the Lotus Sutra and the "great perfection of wisdom." The latter is personified as a deity in some Mahayana texts. The version of the Ten Buddha Names found in Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School derives from Dōgen's Procedure for Taking Meals (Fushukuhanpō 赴粥飯法). In the chapter of Dōgen's Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma (Shōbōgenzō 正法眼藏) entitled Retreat (Ango 安居), however, he cites a version of the text that lacks the line "Mahayana Sutra of the Lotus of the Wondrous Dharma." Evidently, Dōgen intended that shorter version to be used in conjunction with recitations on "3" days and "8" days. The shorter version, which at least has the number of lines (ten) that the title leads one to expect, is the one used in Rinzai Zen monasteries. The title Ten Buddha Names is well attested in medieval Chinese monastic rules, including the Rules of Purity for Zen Monasteries (Zen'en shingi 禪苑清規), which dates from 1103, and is said to derive from the "standards for monks and nuns" (sōni kihan 僧尼規範) written by the Chinese monk Dōan (C. Daoan 道安, 312-385). The contents of verses called Ten Buddha Names exhibit considerable variation, however. In his Encyclopedia of Zen Monasticism (Zenrin shōkisen 禪林象器箋), Mujaku Dōchū 無著道忠 (1653-1744) reviews the textual evidence and despairs of finding a reasonable explanation of the title.
The pronunciation of the Ten Buddha Names given (using the kana syllabary) in Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School is noteworthy for its deviation from standard Japanese readings of Chinese Buddhist texts. It seems to have been influenced by Chinese pronunciations introduced to Japan in the seventeenth century by monks associated with the so-called Ōbaku school of Zen. That is evidence that the Ten Buddha Names, while used in Japanese Zen monasteries in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was reintroduced from Ming China during the Edo period (1600-1868), when many of the modes of Japanese Zen monastic training that exist today were taking shape.