(Photo above by Rikka Ameboshi / Pexels)
The best way to learn about chanting is to try it.
Q: I want to start chanting. What do I need to read or learn before I begin?
A: Although it’s helpful to be aware of foundational Buddhist concepts that can enhance your practice, studying is not a prerequisite for chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. One cannot expect to experience the full benefits of Buddhism by simply learning about it. You have to try it out to gain proof that it actually works.
Types of Buddhist Practice
There are two types of Buddhist practice: personal practice and practice for others.
Personal practice entails chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the 2nd and 16th chapters of the Lotus Sutra every morning and evening. (Sounds daunting, but it takes 5 minutes once you learn it.) We follow this up with chanting—however much you need—to change your mindset, enabling you to find better ways to approach your problems and circumstances.
Practice for others consists of sharing Buddhism with the people around you and supporting fellow Buddhists in advancing their practice. As Nichiren states, “You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomenon,” WND-1, 386).
Only by practicing Buddhism can you evaluate its true worth.
Why Doubts Are Welcome
Blind faith is not a prerequisite for participation. Buddhism doesn’t ask you to immediately believe; all you need is an open mind and willingness to try out the practice. Once you begin practicing, you will be presented with proof that it’s legit because your life will start to look different. Belief will likely come later, not at the start.
The Buddhist teacher and educator Daisaku Ikeda explains it further by stating:
Theory alone is not enough. To know something intellectually is different from knowing it with your life. In sports such as kendo and judo, just learning the rules and moves doesn’t make you proficient. You actually have to practice and engage in many bouts, learning with your body, with your life, how to win and what to do in different situations. The same is true of faith. Experiencing the power of faith is the direct path to developing conviction
December 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 47
If you wait until you have intellectually grasped all of Buddhism’s teachings, the benefits of faith will remain theoretical. Only by practicing Buddhism can you evaluate its true worth.
How to Gauge Buddhism’s Effectiveness
Buddhism has three standards for judging the validity of a given teaching: documentary proof, theoretical proof and actual proof. Documentary proof is whether it’s based on a real Buddhist sutra. Theoretical proof is whether it’s reasonable or logical. Actual proof is whether you experience real benefits when you put it into practice. The Daishonin writes: “In judging the relative merit of Buddhist doctrines, I, Nichiren, believe that the best standards are those of reason and documentary proof. And even more valuable than reason and documentary proof is the proof of actual fact” (“Three Tripitaka Masters Pray for Rain,” WND-1, 599).
The possibilities of Buddhism are limitless, as is your ability to transform your life.
Ideas for How to Get Started
Your local SGI community can help you receive the Gohonzon, the mandala Nichiren Buddhists chant to as a catalyst to bring out our Buddhability. By setting up a designated space in your home to chant, you are able to be intentional and consistent with your practice. We recommend chanting once in the morning and once at night.
Additionally, you should attend a local meetup! There, you’ll meet other people who are exploring Buddhism, receive the encouragement you need to fine-tune your practice and ask questions.
The possibilities of Buddhism are limitless, as is your ability to transform your life. All that is left to do is begin.