The next part of the service is the recitation of key passages from the Lotus Sutra. The way of reciting it that is called shindoku can be found on p. I will explain what shindoku is in the next paragraph.
The English translation that can be recited instead begins on p. The shindoku version begins on p. These two passages were particularly important to Nichiren as he saw chapter 2 and chapter 16 as the most important sections of the first and second halves of the Lotus Sutra respectively. You can read more about why we chant these passages in Lotus Seeds. For over 2, years the sutras have been committed to writing, but the practice of reciting the sutras continues.
In English speaking countries, the kundoku reading would be an English translation of the sutra. Some may have the mistaken idea that the Lotus Sutra should only be recited in the shindoku manner, but even in Japan this is not always the case. It is just as legitimate to recite the sutra in the vernacular.
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In fact, this is what the Buddha strongly recommended in the Vinaya. Once there were two brahmans who had become monks. Whoever should so give it, there is an offence of wrong-doing.
I allow you, monks, to learn the speech of the Awakened One according to his own dialect. The point of reciting the sutras, after all, is to hear the Dharma, understand it, keep the Dharma in mind, and practice in accord with it. For now I am going to set aside the argument of which way of reciting the sutra shindoku or the vernacular is more legitimate and simply affirm that both ways are used in Nichiren Shu.
Having said that, I am going to share my thoughts about each. I think there are many positive aspects to reciting the Lotus Sutra in shindoku. To begin with, there are Nichiren Buddhists all over the world now, and they do not all share a common primary language. In some cases, they may not share a common language at all, but can only communicate with each other through translators. Because of this, shindoku provides a way whereby Nichiren Buddhists from different countries can practice reciting the sutra together.
It provides a way to transcend language barriers without privileging any particular nations language, because the shindoku is not really Japanese and not really Chinese and is certainly not Sanskrit or Pali. It is a transnational liturgical language that facilitates a common practice among all Nichiren Buddhists throughout the world. In addition, though there are many translations of the Lotus Sutra in various languages, it is the Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra by Kumarajiva that is the basis and inspiration of Nichiren Buddhism.
Chanting the Lotus Sutra in shindoku is a way whereby all Nichiren Buddhists can acknowledge and affirm that particular work, which I believe is a classic in its own right above and beyond being a translation. Chanting in shindoku is also a way of honoring the lineage begun by Nichiren Shonin and propagated by faithful Nichiren Buddhist monks for over years.
Finally, I believe that chanting the sutra in shindoku is itself a form of meditation that allows one to simply be mindful in a non-discursive way of the sound and rhythm of the chanting. At the very least this can be a very effective calming S. Reciting the Lotus Sutra in English is of course a very different way of experiencing it. In Nichiren Shu, chanting in English is not the same as simply reading it. Instead of a straight reading, you chant one syllable per beat. It is of course best to learn this by chanting in this manner with others. One change that has been recommended but which is not in the Dharma book is that the title of the Lotus Sutra that heads each chapter should still be chanted the shindoku way as Myoho Renge Kyo.
Chanting in English naturally allows you to understand what you are chanting, and thereby you are able to become more and more familiar with the teaching and keep it in mind. You should not, however, try to figure out what the sutra means or get caught up in speculations or imaginings about what the sutra is teaching. That can and should be done at other times when studying or discussing the sutra.
When chanting, you should simply be mindful of the words without trying to figure out the meaning of the words. In other words, you should have the same simple unified awareness centered on the chanting of the words of the sutra that you would have when chanting in shindoku. There are some other considerations to keep in mind when chanting the sutra, regardless of whether it is in shindoku or English: chant in an uplifting manner and with a clear voice; make sure that you pronounce each word crisply and clearly; chant without mistakes, slurring, or hesitations; have a noble mind free of hindrances and distractions caused by sensual desires, ill will, drowsiness, agitation, or debilitating doubts; and be mindful and keep a dignified manner.
Also, try to keep in mind that we are practicing in the presence of heavenly beings and Buddhas; that our practice should bring relief even to the inhabitants of three lower worlds; and that our practice should move and delight anyone who might be watching and listening.
Even if we do not personally believe in spiritual beings such as the inhabitants of the Buddhist heavens, hells, and other realms , and even if we are practicing alone at home we should still practice as though we were in the presence of these beings, because at the very least there are hells and heavens within ourselves and our practice should be an expression of our own joy and delight in encountering the Dharma and taking it to heart.
If we are chanting the sutra with others, these considerations are all the more important. You should also be sure to be mindful of the tempo set by the practice leader and to ensure that your own chanting harmonizes with the others. After the recitation of the Lotus Sutra we come to the primary practice of Nichiren Buddhism is chanting the Odaimoku lit.
All the other practices in Nichiren Shu, including even the other parts of the daily service, are all secondary practices whose purpose is to support the practice of Odaimoku. Now even if the Odaimoku is chanted in a negligent way, or with the wrong attitude i. We should make sure that we do not just praise the sutra with our lips but slander it in our hearts.
I have long thought that there are three important aspects to the practice of chanting the Odaimoku that are expressions of the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. I would like to suggest that these are things we should bear in mind when we chant Odaimoku. The first aspect relates to the teaching of the One Vehicle wherein the Buddha taught that all his teachings are for the purpose of leading all his disciples to buddhahood.
In accord with that teaching the Odaimoku can express our own aspiration to attain buddhahood for the sake of all beings.
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The second aspect relates to the teaching of chapter 16 wherein Shakyamuni Buddha reveals that he actually attained buddhahood in an inconceivably remote past and that his passing away is itself only a skillful means and that he will actually continue to teach the Dharma into the future. In that chapter the Buddha also states that from his awakened viewpoint there is no birth or death. As far back as the teachings of the Pali Canon the Buddha spoke of nirvana as the unconditioned, which could also be called the unborn and the deathless.
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- Daily Lotus – A Book of Daily Quotations from Lotus Sutra.
I think that what the Buddha is saying in chapter 16 is that nirvana and buddhahood are not two different things, buddhahood is the unconditioned, and therefore it is unborn and deathless, without beginning or end. That means that the buddhahood we are seeking is not going to began at some point in time or end at some other point. It is the unconditioned, unborn, and deathless true nature.
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Because we are deluded we do not see this. The Odaimoku, however, affirms the true nature. It is an expression of trust and confidence in the unborn and deathless true nature that is fully present but hidden from us by the fundamental ignorance that clouds our lives. Finally the third aspect relates to the final six chapters of the Lotus Sutra wherein various bodhisattvas are shown dedicating their lives to sharing the Wonderful Dharma with all beings.
The chanting of Odaimoku is therefore an expression of our own sharing of the Wonderful Dharma with others and a dedication of the boundless merit of our practice to others. We do not need to consciously reflect on these three aspects when chanting but I think it would be good if we practitioners of the Odaimoku realize, at least in the back of our minds and in our hearts, that Odaimoku is most truly a verbal expression of our aspiration to buddhahood, our trust in the unborn and deathless nature of buddhahood in our lives, and our dedication to sharing this teaching with all beings.
Now apart from the attitude and intention that we bring to chanting the Odaimoku there are some more mundane yet important considerations that we should have if we want to express our faith and sincerity. The intention of our practice is to chant joyfully. As part of daily practice, we should chant it three hundred times, each time mindfully in a moderate tempo free of distraction or drowsiness but with courageous effort. Finally we should chant it ten more times at a slower tempo with deep sincerity and clarity so that everyone is focused and mindful [of the Daimoku].
In short, because chanting Daimoku is the main practice we should chant it often with sincerity and mindfulness. This shows our sincerity and mindfulness. Note also that it is suggested in the quotation above that one chant at least times. Now I will be the first to argue that quality of faith, attitude, sincerity, and mindfulness is more important than mere quantity, but I also know that the quality of our practice is reflected in the time and energy that we devote to it. I also know that if we give our practice enough time we will be able to better settle into the calm and peaceful abiding that allows the light of insight to shine into our lives.
Please give your practice the time it needs to allow for the development of authentic centering in and awareness of the full depths the Wonderful Dharma. The next part of the service is to dedicate the merits of practice to the welfare of all beings. Prayer 1 on p. This is followed by a series of petitions for the spread of the Dharma; for the health, peace, prosperity, and happiness of all beings; and finally for the development of our own practice in terms of basic Buddhist values and virtues. The principle behind this is that it is karmically wholesome or meritorious to recite Buddhist sutras, and in particular to recite the Lotus Sutra and the Odaimoku; but as bodhisattvas we do not practice only for our own benefit, so instead of hoarding this merit we dedicate it the welfare of all beings.
In that way, all are able to benefit from our practice, not excepting ourselves. It may or may not be possible to dedicate something as nebulous as the merit of Buddhist practice, but it is really the thought that counts. At the very least, we are cultivating the thought of boundless loving-kindness, compassion, and generosity. We are cultivating the intentions and attitudes of a bodhisattva, in fact of a buddha.
You may also wonder, as I have, why the merit would be dedicated to the Three Treasures and protective deities. The thinking here is that they are also the worthiest recipients of anything that we have to give. I think it would also be fair to say that if in fact merit can actually be turned over to others, then the Three Treasures are may best be entrusted with our merit in that they are the best possible distributors of merit. What is happening is that a circuit of merit is being established between our own practice, the infinite merit of the Three Treasures, and the welfare of all beings.
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Our own limited efforts pour into the vast pool of merit of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and this pool of merit overflows into the lives of all beings. The service concludes with a recitation of the Four Great Vows on p. Some people have noticed that these vows are not something that an individual is likely to accomplish in a single lifetime.
In fact the four vows appear to be downright impossible.
Related Nichiren Shu Service: Gongyo with Additional Prayers
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