copyright 2000 Amber Rollins
The practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is simple, yet complex. While the actions may seem simple, their meanings are profound. The aim of this material is to provide a good grounding in the essentials of the practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.
The Daishonin's Buddhism in unique in may ways, not the least being that the practitioner is truly an individual and responsible for maintaining her/his own practice. One can be involved as little or as much as one wants and still be a member of Soka Gakkai as long as the practice is faithful and correct. Following are some guidelines (not to be taken as holy writ) for practicing Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism within the context of Soka Gakkai.
Although this handbook details the practice of Buddhism as practiced by members of Soka Gakkai International, this is not to be taken as an official communication of Soka Gakkai in any way.
The Essential Practice-Daimoku
The core practice of SGI Buddhism is daimoku, the chanting of the title of the Lotus Sutra in Japanese: Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Nichiren taught that all of the benefits of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be realized by chanting its title. Just as a drop of water contains within it all the properties of the ocean, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo contains within it all the knowledge and benefits of the entire Lotus Sutra. The literal translation of Nam-Myoho-Renge Kyo is:
Nam (devotion) means to fuse one's life with the universal law;
Myoho (Mystic Law) is the fundamental principle of the universe and its phenomenal manifestations;
Renge (lotus flower) refers to the lotus, which blooms and seeds at the same time, symbolizing the simultaneity of cause and effect; and
Kyo (sutra, or teaching of a Buddha) broadly indicates all phenomena or the activities of all living beings.
Chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo helps us to manifest Buddhahood in our own life, eradicate the bad karma we have accumulated, and frees us from illusion. It is totally egalitarian in that it can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, any time. It is the most fundamental part of the practice of Buddhism, which expresses the ultimate truth of life and allows each individual to tap into her innate Buddha nature.
When we chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the seed of Buddhahood planted deep within us awakens. Gradually, all of the negative causes we have made in the past are eradicated and replaced. SGI members report positive changes in their daily life experiences as a manifestation of correct faith and practice. Illnesses are cured, family relations improve, various bad circumstances are overcome, and bad habits are ended. This is our karma changing for the better. Gradually, we are able to see that our own happiness is interconnected to the happiness of all others.
"So long as you maintain
strong faith, resolutely chanting daimoku to the Gohonzon no matter what
happens, then without fail you will be able to lead a life of complete
-President Daisaku Ikeda
SGI members chant daimoku during gongyo (morning and evening recitation of key chapters of the Lotus Sutra), and are highly encouraged to chant as much as possible in between. How long and when are up to each person’s particular circumstances, but we should strive to chant at every opportunity.
Most people chant in front of the Gohonzon for a specific length of time per day, 15 minutes, an hour, or more.
Another method is to keep track of how many daimoku one chants in order to reach a goal, and then chant towards that goal (one million is a common number, and is not unattainable-depending on how much one chants per day, it can be done in roughly a year.) There are various ways of keeping track, including daimoku charts, but a simple way to keep track is the formula of ½ hour of chanting = 1500 daimoku.
Yet another method is to chant on juzu beads, keeping track of how many trips one makes around them on the bead counter attached.
The beads form a circle with two strands and three strands that end in tassles. Where these strands are attached to the circle, there is a large bead. These large beads are called the father's bead and the mother's bead. Both represent the Buddha. Between the father and mother's beads, there are 108 beads of the same size that represent earthly desires. There are also four smaller beads, called Bodhisattva beads.
When using the beads to count daimoku, count the beads on only one side - going from the father's bead to the mother's bead and returning back again along the same side. Each time you do this, skip over the four Bodhisattva beads.
When you have done this once, you will have chanted 108 daimoku. Each time you finish going from the father bead to the mother bead and back, slide one of the beads on the counting strand, attached to the mother bead, forward. In this way, you can count 1,080 daimoku using the ten beads on the counting strand. One can chant as many “rounds” as one likes and keep track of the number of daimoku quite effectively with this method.
Literally meaning “assiduous practice”, gongyo is the twice-daily recitation of key chapters of the Lotus Sutra-the Hoben (second) and Juryo (sixteenth)-while seated in front of the Gohonzon.
There is not a set time for gongyo other than morning and evening. The exact time is up to the individual, but suffice to say it should be a time when you can totally concentrate on gongyo, uninterrupted.
One should have a correct appearance, posture, and attitude when offering the recitation of gongyo and daimoku to the Gohonzon. One may sit either in the traditional Japanese "seiza" fashion (legs tucked under the body in a kneeling position-small seiza benches can be purchased to make this easier), cross-legged in western style, or in a chair. However, what is important to remember is that no matter which style one chooses, gongyo should always be done with the utmost respect for the Gohonzon. Therefore, one should sit up straight, placing the right and left hands together centrally, with both elbows resting evenly against the sides of the body. If you prefer to use a chair, then both feet should be touching the ground. One should try to avoid slouching, sitting askew, or crossing your legs.
When reciting daimoku or gongyo, eyes should be focused on the character "Myo" in the center of the Gohonzon; one's voice should have a speed that is properly matched to the rhythm of one's breathing and be of a medium volume. Of course, circumstances may dictate just how loudly one can say gongyo. If other people are going to be disturbed, it’s best to keep your voice down.
One should chant strongly and correctly, clearly pronouncing each word, syllable and letter. Remember, each character (with a few exceptions) is one beat. When reading the silent prayers, one should fully concentrate on sincerely offering these prayers to the Gohonzon.
Choose a time that is most convenient according to lifestyle, and exert yourself to make gongyo the most important part of your daily life.
The Object of Respect-the Gohonzon
In Japanese, an object of worship is called honzon, which means object of fundamental respect. “Go” is an honorific prefix. Nichiren Daishonin defined the ultimate Law permeating life and the universe to be Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and embodied it in the form of a mandala perfectly endowed with all the Ten Worlds-the Gohonzon. He taught that one should have faith in this mandala or Gohonzon as the object of worship for attaining Buddhahood. The Gohonzon is described in detail in the Daishonin's writings. Nichiren says in the "Reply to Kyo’o”, "I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart."
All Gohonzon derive from the Dai-Gohonzon, which Nichiren Daishonin inscribed on October 12, 1279. The Gohonzon takes the form of a mandala inscribed on paper in sumi ink or on wood with gilded characters. Down the center of the Gohonzon is written "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren." In the lower right is the Daishonin's declaration that "This is the supreme mandala never known in all the world in the more than 2,230 years since the Buddha's passing." The Gohonzon SGI now uses was inscribed by Nichikan, the 26th High Priest.
Receiving the Gohonzon
After you have been practicing for a while and would like to become a member of Soka Gakkai, there are a few conditions that must be met before receiving the Gohonzon. These are not to make it difficult to new people to receive the Gohonzon, but to make sure that all parties involved are fully aware of the responsibilities involved.
Before receiving the Gohonzon, one must:
* Complete the
membership and/or Gohonzon application forms.
* Have the person who introduced you to SGI-USA act as your sponsor.
* Chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo daily and learn gongyo.
* Attend one meeting a month for a minimum of three months.
* Subscribe to the World Tribune (SGI weekly newspaper).
* Participate in a New Members Seminar (if offered in your area).
* Be visited at home by a chapter level leader.
* Meet with a headquarters level leader.
*With recommendation of these leaders, receive approval by the membership department within SGI-USA.
After your application has been approved, you can receive the Gohonzon in a Gohonzon Conferral Ceremony. When and where these are held can vary, but in Fort Worth, they are usually held at Kosen-Rufu Gongyo on the first Sunday of every month.
Before receiving the Gohonzon, one must also have a suitable place to keep it. The “box” where the Gohonzon is hung is called a butsudan. You can make or buy a butsudan, and place it in a spot conducive to meditation. There are no absolute rules as to where the Gohonzon may be placed, other than it should be on the first or second floor. Use common sense in putting it in a respectful place you will be able to sit in front of. Many beginning practitioners place the butsudan on top of a chest of drawers. A high-traffic area is generally not a good idea.
Also, before receiving the Gohonzon, your altar should be set-up and ready with all the accessories. Basic offerings of candles, evergreens, and incense are placed in front of the altar where the Gohonzon is enshrined.
One or two candles are generally offered to provide light (electric candles can also be used). You will also need a candle snuffer, as it is traditionally considered disrespectful to blow candles out in front of the Gohonzon.
One or two vases of evergreen or any other green plant are arranged on the altar. The general rule is either a one candle/one vase or two candle/two vase combination.
One to three sticks of incense are burned from left to right. In addition, a cup of fresh water is generally placed in front of the Gohonzon in the morning and removed before evening gongyo.
It also has become traditional to offer fruit or other food in the morning, so an offering plate or bowl is needed. When offering food, ring the bell three times, place palms together, and chant daimoku three times as a gesture of deep gratitude and appreciation.
A bell is needed for performing morning and evening gongyo. The bell need not be loud or elaborate; in fact, if you live in an apartment complex or with others, be careful not to ring the bell so loudly that it disturbs them.
It is important to remember that the most important aspect of the altar is the object of worship itself. The accessories can be adapted to the times and individual preference. Artificial, silk, or potted plants have become common alternatives for evergreen cuttings. Also, parents of small children may prefer to avoid lighting candles and incense, as might people with pets or allergies.
You should not place photos inside the altar, nor things on top of it. Refrain from hanging anything on the wall above the altar. Photographs should never be taken of the Gohonzon and should be destroyed if accidentally done.
Members sometimes add personal items to the altar area (never inside the butsudan!), such as small gifts, mementos, a list of determinations, etc. Anything that helps your practice and strengthens your resolve to practice is all right, provided the altar doesn’t become cluttered and practice is impeded.
Gohonzon Conferral Ceremony
When you receive your Gohonzon, be sure to bring a sutra book, or, if that’s not possible, a nice cloth. Both are for protecting the Gohonzon for the period after you receive it but before it is enshrined.
You are also asked to make a minimum offering of $20.00 as an expression of appreciation when receiving the Gohonzon and in support of the SGI-USA. This is a donation, not a commercial transaction. The Gohonzon is loaned to you; you do not buy it. A single $20.00 minimum offering includes all members of your family who join at the same time.
As an SGI-USA member, you
will be asked to make a membership pledge to:
* Embrace the Gohonzon throughout your life.
* Exert yourself in faith, practice, and study.
* Abide by the guidance of the SGI as it relates to the practice of faith, indicating that you recognize that the SGI faithfully upholds the Buddhism of Daishonin and your own desire to share in this movement for the happiness of all people.
DO NOT unroll the Gohonzon before the Gohonzon Enshrinement.
Enshrinement of the Gohonzon
A senior member will have to come and enshrine the Gohonzon. There are no special preparations to make, other than having the altar and its accessories set up. (I’m sure the people involved would probably appreciate some refreshments, but this is not mandatory.) You might want to temporarily remove anything that might get in the way of the enshrinement-these can be placed on any nearby surface covered with a white cloth or sheet. But if you are unsure, simply leave things as they are and let the senior member decide if anything will be in the way or not.
All participants, except the one enshrining the Gohonzon, should start chanting daimoku solemnly to the empty altar (the enshriner should be chanting daimoku silently).
The enshriner then places an evergreen clipping or a piece of white paper between his or her lips in order to prevent breathing on the Gohonzon. The enshriner removes the Gohonzon from its protective envelope.
After unrolling the Gohonzon halfway, the leader then hangs the Gohonzon by the string attached to the two nails on the top of the Gohonzon. Then, holding the bottom wood part, unroll the Gohonzon very slowly, letting the weight of the wood do the work. Without using undo pressure, treat the Gohonzon, which is made of wood and paper, with the utmost care. You can touch the brown frame part of the Gohonzon if necessary, but please never touch the white part of the Gohonzon with the inscription of the characters. No matter how long it takes, please handle the Gohonzon carefully.
After it is enshrined, you may notice that the bottom of the Gohonzon curls upward. In time, it will straighten out. If, however, you are particularly concerned, the enshriner may take the Gohonzon out of the altar, roll the Gohonzon backward one-third of the way and then roll up the Gohonzon again in the normal direction halfway and re-enshrine it.
Generally speaking, the bottom wood part of the Gohonzon should be at eye level. If the Gohonzon hangs too high, you can adjust the level using the string. You may also adjust the height of the altar.
After the enshrinement is completed, place the accessories in their proper positions. Be careful not to spill the water or knock down the vases or candlesticks. In addition, sufficient distance should be maintained between the Gohonzon and the Buddhist accessories to avoid any accident.
Next, the candle(s) and incense should be lit, fresh water should be placed in the cup just for the Gohonzon’s use and placed on the altar, and the leader and all participants begin the sutra recitation. Please do not conduct either morning or evening Gongyo during the ceremony. The Hoben and Juryo chapters (parts A, B and C of the sutra book) are then recited once, followed by about five minutes of daimoku. (The five minutes is just a basic guideline). The ceremony will be concluded by chanting daimoku sansho (three times). Use a candle snuffer to extinguish the candles, instead of blowing them out or fanning them with your hand.
Congratulations! Your life has truly begun.
After Receiving the Gohonzon
Daily practice after receiving the Gohonzon is composed of morning and evening gongyo, daimoku, offerings to the Gohonzon, and participating in SGI activities. Faith, practice, and study are all-important components of being a member of Soka Gakkai. Just as before receiving the Gohonzon, you must recite morning and evening gongyo and chant daimoku as much as possible.
With the Gohonzon enshrined, it is also important to make daily offerings of water, candles, incense, and food. Offering your time and talent to Soka Gakkai in whatever capacity you can is also considered an offering to the Gohonzon.
Additonally, SGI offers a series of exams designed to encourage study of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. These are scheduled and announced periodically.
You can also utilize the SGI community and culture centers. SGI has community & culture centers all across the country. In North Texas, the community center is located in Dallas at 2733 Oak Lawn Avenue (214-559-4115). Call the center to get a schedule of activities and hours of operation.
In Fort Lauderdale, SGI also has the Florida Nature and Culture Center, which periodically schedules conferences for intensive, 3-day long study of various Buddhist topics. To find out schedules and costs, visit www.sgi-usa.org/FNCC/index.html.
For people who are preparing, or have children who are preparing, to enter college, SGI also runs Soka University of America, with campuses in Aliso Viejo, California (undergraduate studies) and Calabasas, California (graduate studies). You can get more information on Soka University of America by going to www.soka.edu.
And of course, districts and chapters frequently schedule discussion, chanting, and planning meetings. One should attend as often as possible to receive encouragement and continue to grow in knowledge of the faith. Calendars of events are usually given out at district meetings. In Fort Worth, you can also see a regularly updated calendar on our web site: ftworthbuddhas.tripod.com/fwbuddhaspage/index.html
That’s it. What you do with your practice is up to you. Remember, this life is an incredible opportunity to attain enlightenment and should not be wasted. In the words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, “The Soka Gakkai is a precious organization that promotes the peace and happiness of the people the world; it is the beacon of hope for humanity.”
The Lotus Sutra Translated by Burton Watson
The best and most accurate English translation of the Lotus Sutra.
Writings of Nichiren Daishonin
Gosho collection, newly translated.
The Human Revolution Daisaku Ikeda
The New Human Revolution Daisaku Ikeda
Fictionalized account of the history of Soka Gakkai. President Ikeda has written a great many books, all of which are valuable resources of information.
Living Buddhism & World Tribune
Official magazine and newspaper of SGI.
The Buddha in Daily Life Richard Causton
Explains the teachings & practice of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. Excellent introduction of our daily practice.
www.sgi.org SGI Public Information Site
www.sgi-usa.org Official site of SGI-USA
www.gosho.net World’s best SGI study site
Gakkai Experiences Online
www.egroups.com Home to a number of SGI discussion lists
Site of Fort Worth’s Fortune District!