What’s Actually Happening When I’m Chanting?

(Photo above by Eugene Golovesov / Pexels)

Every day has its ups and downs. Sometimes we surprise ourselves with how we respond (in a good way) and other times, not so much. Whatever the situation, bringing our Buddhability to the table can dramatically change how we react on a daily basis.

Despite how we deal with things, each of us has the ability to tap into inherent reserves of courage, wisdom and compassion. But actually believing that is a whole other challenge.

The 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin understood this well, stating:

We ordinary people can see neither our own eyelashes, which are so close, nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts.

“New Year’s Gosho,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1137

So let’s learn from an important Buddhist concept, the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,” which offers insights into how we can not only believe in our Buddhahood but tap into it anytime.

The concept of the Ten Worlds explains that we can experience at any moment any of the 10 states of life that are potentials within us, ranging from the life state of hell (feeling like life itself is misery) to the highest world of Buddhahood (a state of inner absolute freedom).

This process is not linear or fixed. We can go from one life state to another throughout the day, from moment to moment even, based on the changing internal and external conditions.

Here, “mutual possession” of these 10 states of life means that each world contains the potential for all ten. The point? Each life state exists in the world of Buddhahood, and Buddhahood exists within each world.

Let us break that down further. It means that Buddhas remain as ordinary people and will still experience various life states. It also means that we can access our Buddhahood, no matter what state of life we’re in, even if we’re in hell.

So, how do we do this? By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Through that, we elevate our state of life and rather than being controlled by our baser instincts, we can live based on our Buddhahood rather than constantly reacting to our constantly changing external circumstances.

Rather than being controlled by our baser instincts, we can live based on our Buddhahood rather than constantly reacting to our constantly changing external circumstances.

We can develop this inner freedom by living a cause-oriented Buddhist practice, where we focus on constantly making positive causes in our Buddhist practice to create a bright future vs. practicing based on our constantly fluctuating feelings. These causes include chanting and doing gongyo every day, studying Buddhism, sharing it with others and making the happiness of ourselves and others the motivation for everything we do.

Describing a Buddha as “one who embodies the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,” the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda says:

The world of Buddhahood can also be described as a state of life where one willingly takes on even hellish suffering. This is the world of Hell contained in the world of Buddhahood. It is characterized by empathy and hardships deliberately taken on for the happiness and welfare of others, and arises from a sense of responsibility and compassion. Courageously taking on problems and sufferings for the sake of others strengthens the world of Buddhahood in our lives.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, pp. 30–31

By changing our default through continued Buddhist practice, we can come to use each experience, negative or positive, to generate even more happiness.

Will we see our challenges as setbacks and causes for suffering? Or as opportunities to strengthen and enrich our lives? Knowing that our Buddhahood is always accessible helps us live with complete peace of mind, using everything to advance our happiness.

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P.S. If you’re a fan of the podcast, you can also listen to a breakdown of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds.

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