(Photo above by Sandra Kaas / Unsplash)
A beginner’s guide to why we recite the Lotus Sutra daily.
Gongyo refers to the daily practice of reciting two parts of the Lotus Sutra, which most people learn within the first few months of practice. Though beginners might not fully understand what they are studying, Nichiren Daishonin assures us that understanding is not a prerequisite for reaping Buddhism’s benefits. He states: “A baby does not know the difference between water and fire, and cannot distinguish medicine from poison. But when the baby sucks milk, its life is nourished and sustained … if one listens to even one character or one phrase of the Lotus Sutra, one cannot fail to attain Buddhahood” (“Letter to Horen,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 513).
Here’s what the sutras teach:
In “Expedient Means,” Shakyamuni teaches that all people possess the wisdom of the Buddha, which is the source of enlightenment. In reciting this chapter, we affirm that we possess the limitless wisdom to resolve our suffering and achieve happiness.
In “Life Span,” Shakyamuni reveals that all life is eternally endowed with the Buddha nature. Rather than seek this Buddha wisdom outside of ourselves, we can summon it from within. When we recite this chapter, we are declaring that our true identity is that of a Buddha.
At the very end of gongyo, we say: “Mai ji sa ze nen. I ga ryo shujo. Toku nyu mu-jo do. Soku joju busshin.” This translates to: “At all times I think to myself: How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 273).
In other words, how can we help all people become equal to the Buddha and establish unshakable happiness in their lives?
Each time we do gongyo, we tap into our Buddhability, which actualizes this wish.
Consistency is key when doing gongyo. Most people try to begin and end their day with it. Daisaku Ikeda says:
“Reciting gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each day is a ceremony in which the microcosm of our lives harmonizes with the macrocosm of the universe. By engaging in this ceremony morning and evening, we bring forth the power to direct our lives toward the greatest happiness” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 48).
If you want to go deeper, we recommend the book The Heart of the Lotus Sutra. Pro tip: there is an English translation in the back of your sutra book.