‘Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism. You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others. Both practice and study arise from faith. Teach others to the best of your ability, even if it is only a single sentence or phrase. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.’
The True Aspect of all phenomena, the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Vol 1, p117
The Basics – a guide for new members and a reminder for the rest of us.
For those among us who have recently been introduced to the practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism through the SGI, and for some among us who simply want a refresher and a reminder of why we do some of the things we do, here follows a general basic guide. Please feel free to comment and discuss via the blog.
The Daily Practice
There are three basics in applying Nichiren Buddhism to your daily life: faith, practice and study. They are the primary ingredients in the recipe for developing our innate enlightened condition, or Buddhahood. All three are essential. With this recipe, we will experience actual proof of our transformation in the forms of both conspicuous and inconspicuous benefit. The recipe is universal. These basics are the same in every country where this Buddhism is practiced.
FaithIn Buddhism, faith is based on experience. Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism emphasizes obtaining “actual proof” of the teaching’s power. Faith begins as an expectation or hope that something will happen. At the start of our journey, if we are willing to try the practice and anticipate some result, we will then develop our faith brick by brick as examples of actual proof accrue.
To develop faith, we must take action. We strengthen our wisdom and vital life force by actualizing our Buddhahood each day in a very concrete way. Practice in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism consists of two parts: practice for ourselves and practice for others. Practice for ourselves is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each morning and evening along with reciting Gongyo (two chapters of the Lotus Sutra). Practice for others consists of action based on compassion to help give others the means to make fundamental improvements in their lives.
To gain confidence that this practice is valid, and to understand why your efforts will bring about a result, it is essential to study the tenets of this Buddhism. The basis of study comes from the founder himself, Nichiren Daishonin. More than 700 years ago, he instructed followers in the correct way to practice; and his writings, which have been preserved and translated into English, give us valuable insight into how this practice will benefit us today.
Daimoku and Gongyo
Daily morning and evening practce is normally carried out in our own homes. This comprises the repetition or chanting of the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and the recitation of of portions of the two most important chapters of the Lotus Sutra. This is known as ‘gongyo’, which means ‘assiduous practice’. Simply explained, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means devoting our life to the ultimate Law, or putting our life in rhythm with the life of the universe.
To hear the rythm and pronounciation of Daimoku (chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) click the player below;
To hear the rythm and pronounciation of Gongyo click the player below;
Buddhist Offerings and Accessories
Offerings to the Gohonzon
Basic offerings of candles, evergreens and incense are placed in front of the altar where the Gohonzon s enshrined One or two candles are generally offered to provide light (electric candles are also used).
One or two vases of evergreen are arranged on the altar in lieu of flowers that in Indian tradition were scattered over the Buddha as an offering. One to three sticks of incense are burned as an offering of fragrance. In addition, a cup of fresh water is generally placed in front of the Gohonzon in the morning, ater being highly regarded in the hot country of India where Buddhism started. It also has become traditional to offer fruit or other food, in the spirit of the Daishonin’s disciples who offered him food.
It is easy to imagine the practicality and significance of these offerings in an era when candles may have been the only source of light, incense was used to purify the air and the Daishonin depended on is followers to provide subsistence.
Much symbolism has been attached to these offerings over the centuries, but none of it constitutes the essence of faith. Today many view these offerings as creating an environment conducive to chanting and as symbolizing basic human needs: water and food sustain life, candles and incense engage our senses, while evergreen reminds us of the eternity of life.
Naturally, the most important aspect of the altar is the object of worship itself. The various accessories constitute some of the changeable formalities in Buddhism that can be adapted to the times, the country and individual preference. Therefore, 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.
Greens, Candles, Incense and Other Offerings
The [traditional] basic material offerings to the Gohonzon are evergreens, candles and incense. This triad has symbolic significance: the evergreens, candles and incense represent the three truths, the three properties and the three inherent potentials of the Buddha nature. Hence the tradition is that “The evergreens (shikimi) that represents the property of action is made into incense, and this is lit with the flame of wisdom that represents the property of wisdom; together, they fill the realm of the Law. Thus it is called the offering of the Buddha’s Three Properties of the Law, wisdom, and action.”
Evergreens symbolize the “property-of-action”, the Buddha’s enlightened physical property or his compassionate action and the potential to form a correct relationship with the environment that allows us to manifest our Buddha nature. The evergreens are used to adorn the space before the Gohonzon, which is eternal and supreme. Therefore, they should be something symbolic of permanence and purity. The shikimi tree remains the same throughout the year, regardless of season: it’s an evergreen that always displays vitality. But unlike pines, cedars, and other evergreen trees and bushes, it’s also an aromatic tree whose wood has a distinctive fragrance. This fragrance is thought to ward off evil and to have the power to purify. That makes shikimi the ideal offering to the Gohonzon. However, in the Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin mentions flowers as an acceptable offering. The flowers offered to a Buddha are also symbolic of the faith of those worshipping the Buddha, as expressed by the old saying, “the reality of the votary is manifest [in the flowers he offers].” So the deep evergreen color of the shikimi’s leaves also represents the unchanging steadfasmess of believers’ faith.
Candles stand for the truth of non-substantiality or the latent potential of life. They also represent the property of wisdom or the Buddha’s enlightened spiritual property and they symbolize the potential wisdom to become aware of our innate Buddha nature. In the Yakuo Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Yakuo sets his own elbows alight to offer light to the Buddha; in a parable called the “the poor woman’s flame,” the light a poor woman offers to the Buddha with her utmost sincerity continues to burn long after those offered by others have burned out. Both express the depth and breadth of the merit that offering light to the Buddha brings. Since it extinguishes darkness and makes all things visible, light expresses the Buddha’s property of wisdom and his wisdom itself so we also have expressions like “Light of the Law,” “Light of the Buddha,” and “Light of Wisdom.” Burning candles thus also signifies incinerating earthly desires and the sparking of the flame of wisdom in the Buddha nature. The last of the triad is the incense. It represents the truth of the Middle Way, the essential property of the Buddha’s life or the property of the Law, and the potential of our innate Buddha nature. One to three sticks of incense are burned in a flat position so as to help engender a feeling of serenity before the Gohonzon. The incense burner is placed in the center of the altar, and incense is burned from left to right. Incense serves to create a fragrant atmosphere and is burned in front of the Gohonzon during morning and evening gongyo. The Great Teacher T’ien T’ai wrote, “No color, no fragrance is not of the Middle Way.” This indicates that all things encompass the True Aspect of the Middle Way, as well as elucidates that the fragrance of incense includes the virtues of the Buddha of the Law Body of the Middle Way. Thus burning incense, while spreading fragrance throughout the room, also signifies, through the fragrance’s spreading throughout the environs, the universality of the realm of the Law of the Buddha’s property of the Law. Though stick insence is used most of the time, powdered incence is used under certain circumstances, such as funeral and memorial services.
Symbolically, the light (candle) signifies the light of the Buddha’s wisdom, or his “property of
wisdom” (houshin); the greens, the Buddha’s conduct, or his “property of action” (oujin); and the incense, the life of the Buddha (i.e., his property of the Law Hosshin) which is the fusion of the realm of the Original Infinite Law and the inherent wisdom of the Buddha of Kuon Ganjo (kyouchi myougou). Overall, this expresses the Buddha, whose property of the Law inherently encompasses the wisdom of his property of wisdom, and the conduct resulting from his property of action; in other words, the flowers (greens), incense, and light represent the Three Properties (sanjin), the Three Truths (santai), and the Three Inherent Potentials of Buddha Nature (san in busshou). Break these down further, and the three represent the following:
1. The light, non-substantiality (kuutai) and the property of wisdom (houshin) in death;
2. The incense, the Middle Way, the property of the Law (hosshin), and the fusion of the realm of the Original Infinite Law and the inherent wisdom of the Buddha of Kuon Ganjo (kyouchi
3. The greens, temporary existence (ketai) and the property of action (oujin) in life. in addition to this triad of offerings, fresh water is placed in a cup before the Gohonzon prior to morning gongyo and is removed just before evening gongyo.
Members sometimes add personal articles such as small gifts, memorabilia or a list of determinations to the altar. These accessories generally elicit feelings of appreciation or determination while chanting or serve as a reminder to direct prayers toward specific goals. Offering meaningful gifts representing our achievements or determinations is a time-honored practice in the SGI and is acceptable as long as the altar does not become overly crowded. As President Ikeda has said, it would be wrong if anything made it “even a bit more difficult for us to worship the Gohonzon:”
Water, Fruit and Bell
In addition to the triad of basic offerings, there is the water cup, offering dish, and bell. Fresh water is placed in a cup before the Gohonzon prior to morning gongyo and is removed just before evening gongyo. After being offered, the water may be put into another cup and then consumed.
Food, such as fruit, is another offering to the Gohonzon. Cooked food is sometimes offered on special occasions, such as New Year’s Day. When offering food, we ring the bell three times, place our palms together and chant daimoku three times as a gesture of deep gratitude and appreciation. The fruit may be consumed after it has been offered to the Gohonzon. The ringing of the bell during gongyo serves to offer a pleasing sound to the Gohonzon. It should therefore not be sounded jarringly, but in a way that is pleasing to the ear. If you live in an apartment complex or with others, be careful not to ring the bell so loudly that it might disturb them.
Expression of Sincerity, Respect and Appreciation
To clean the altar and offer fresh water each day, to make offerings of greens and fruit, and to light candles and burn incense while doing gongyo and chanting daimoku are all forms of service to the Gohonzon. These actions serve to honor the Gohonzon and dignify the place where it is enshrined. Moreover, our sincerity, respect and appreciation toward the Gohonzon will be reflected in the form of benefit. Concerning this point, Nichiren Daishonin in his Gosho, “On Attaining Buddhahood,” stated: “Whether you chant the Buddha’s name, recite the sutra or merely offer flowers and incense, all your virtuous acts will implant benefits and good fortune in your life. With this conviction, you should put your faith into practice” (MW-1, 4).
You should not place photos inside the altar, nor things on top of it. Also, you should refrain from hanging anything on the wall above the altar. Photographs should never be taken of the gohonzon and should be destroyed if accidentally taken.
Traditionally the Juzu beads consist of 108 beads, meant to represent the 108 earthly desires. Generally they are used to help focus our concentration on our Daimoku as we chant to the Gohonzon. Ultimately, our Buddha nature resides within our own lives and while beads and other accessories can help our practice, without this realisation, we cannot be said to experiencing the full benefit of our practice. .