Contemplation on Reading and Reciting the Sutra

I am in the process of writing a new book on the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra.  What I'll be posting is my first draft, imperfect as it is.  What I post has been sent to my editor and trust me will be greatly improved by his wonderful work. I'm sharing here on the chance others may find something of value or something to correct of offer feedback on.  Let the reading of this not be an onerous task nor a task of anything less than joy.  The source material comes from the Shutei Nichiren Shu Hoyo Shiki which draws from Miao-lê, as well as most importantly the Mohe-zhiguan or Makashikan by Chi-i.

Dokuju Kyoden Kan

The Lotus Sutra begins with the phrase “Thus have I heard” and we may interpret that to mean the text that follows is what the teaching is and in so doing ignore or pass over the title of Myoho Renge Kyo.  To do so would be in error as what was heard was the title and the text following in an explanation of Myoho Renge Kyo.  The title is the teaching.

Both the title and the body text are deeply connected and both are necessary.  The Myoho Renge Kyo is as if a key to open a locked door.  In this case the the following 28 chapters are what is to be opened.  To consider one separately from the other would be as if trying to enter you home through a locked door you did not pull the key out of your pocket and insert it into the lock.  While it is true you do have the key, as it rests in your pocket, without actually utilizing it you are challenged to enter your home.  Busting down the door or breaking a window you could enter the house without the key, however using the key would provide you quicker entry with less residual mess and expense. 

Even in the case of my electronic lock without either the key or my cell phone the magic of automatic entry or back up manual entry is not possible.  Like my automatic electronic door lock which automatically unlocks when I pull into my driveway the benefits of the Lotus Sutra come to us when we both practice and study even without our full understanding.  This is faith.  

Every phrase, every character of the text of the Lotus Sutra converges within the title of Myoho Renge Kyo.  The five characters, as written in Chinese, contain every stroke and every mark of all the 69,000 characters comprising the Lotus Sutra.  All of the virtues of the entire 28 chapters of the text are all contained within the five characters of the title.  Also every single character within the text of the sutra contains all the virtues of the five character title.  Neither is too small, nor too large.  Neither is required to expand or contract to accommodate or fill the other.   Every character produces virtue due to its relationship with and inclusion of all the other characters.  To ignore the text or to ignore the title deprives us of the mutual benefit of the two together.  I imagine this much like the relationship of beans and rice.  Both contain protein yet when combined the total protein is greater than the sum of their individual proteins.  That is perhaps why even without understanding the science of protein analysis cultures throughout the world you can find some version of a beans and rice combination food staple.  And so it is with the characters of the title of the sutra and the body text.

“Each character produces virtue just as the wish-fulfilling jewel constantly rains down many other jewels.  Even one jewel is enough, while 10,000 jewels are not too many.  No matter the quantity what is produced in sufficient.  You should know that each character and sound spreads throughout the Dharma-realm to propagate the Buddha’s teaching in the past, present, and future, bringing benefit to all beings.” Shutei Hoyo Shiki

As we practice reading and reciting the sutra the place we are in, the place in which practice our devotion to the Lotus Sutra is where the Three Treasures of the ultimate truth of the Buddha appears.  It is also the place where the protective forces of the universe accept our offering of the nourishment of the Dharma we read and recite.  In fact your practice space becomes the Buddha’s Pure Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, and your body becomes awakened to the Dharma-body, the Manifest-body, and the Reward-body.  The sutra is where the Buddha’s from the past, present, and future put their mark of certification, their swearing to the truth of the highest teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha contained in the the Lotus Sutra. 

Our reading and reciting is a solemn practice one which carries great significance.  We are not who we may think we are when we engage in this seemingly simple practice.  We are no longer the mere mortal living a mere mundane life as we may sometimes think of ourselves and our existence.  Our voices are carried throughout the entire universal Dharma-realm, our thoughts are also spread to the farthest edge of the limitless universe, as contradictory as that may seem.  They are our offerings we carry to all the entities, all the beings, all the energies throughout space and time.  We are in fact creating a cascade of Dharma influenced causes which reverberate outward from us, and inward toward us.  Just as we send the Dharma nourishment to the beings of time and space that same nourishment imprints on our own lives the Ultimate Truth of the Buddha causing us to manifest all the rewards and benefits of the Lotus Sutra.

Our actions upon the environment become actions on ourselves as well.  These thoughts should be the thoughts that occupy our minds as we engage in our devotions of reading and reciting the sutra.  Our sitting, or kneeling, our prostrations, our bowing, our bell ringing, our water offering, our incense lighting, our book opening, the turning of the pages, our shifting in place as our joints ache, our singing of the hymns, our reading and reciting the sutra and chanting the sacred title are all priceless offerings we give to all sentient beings and to the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  We are not merely common mortals sitting in a simple room with a small box shrine housing a yellowing scroll or dented Buddha statue reading in a scratchy voice.  All of those are transformed into the grandest castle housing a gold-plated shrine wherein is housed a scroll written in gold, silver and platinum characters as we lift up the sutra with the voice of an operatic singer. 

You and your place of practice are not merely transformed, no they are truly revealed.  Your place is revealed as the Buddha’s Pure Land it has always been.  You are revealed as a Buddha you have always been.  

These are the mysteries for us to contemplate as we engage in the solemn yet joyful practice of reading and reciting the sutra in our daily practice.  

And you know what, this doesn’t wear out, you cant use it all up.  In fact the more you do it the more abundant it becomes.  Your dedicating merit to others does not reduce your own merit.  Your Buddha’s Pure Land and your own enlightenment grow and expand as your practice continues to grow and deepen.

Let me interject a caution here.  I’m not sure I would have even mentioned this say 10 or so years earlier, but with an increase in religions teaching prosperity as an indicator of faith or prosperity first before helping others I feel it is important to do so.  While it is true we benefit from our practice, it is not true that our benefits are the indicator of our faith or practice.  Prosperity has nothing to do with joy, it has nothing to do with enlightenment.  The Buddha turned his back on prosperity, he turned his back on austerity.  If our teacher did this then shouldn’t we also.

You do not need to become wealthy in order to benefit others.  Your financial situation has nothing to do with your ability to benefit others, it has nothing to do with your ability to cause others to be joyful, it has nothing to do with your enlightenment.  In fact financial prosperity may even hinder all of the above.  This is not to say we shouldn’t try to become secure in our living situations, or that we shouldn’t try to be wise in our finances.  Finances and prosperity are simply things which can hinder or encourage, but it is the hindering and encouraging we should focus on.

When we become virtuous,  kind, trustworthy, respectful, humble in our selves then we are manifesting the qualities desired and these are unmeasurable and not indicated by our bank account or the place we dwell in, or the car we drive, or clothes we wear.  These qualities are in our actions and our words; our presence of being.  Being honest with yourself you will know and others will certainly respond.

“This is the place of practice where the Three Treasures of ultimate truth and the unseen beings who protect the Dharma now appear and descend to this place.  They see us clearly with the light of their wisdom. This place of practice where we are is the Pure Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.  This present form-body is the awakened Dharma-Body.  The sutra that we are upholding is what all Buddhas certify as the Dharma.  The thought that is rightly upheld is the entire Dharma-realm.  May each sound and each thought and all the virtues spread equally to adorn the Buddha’s land as offerings to the Three Treasures and contributions to all sentient beings. May awakening spread everywhere manifesting its light.  May all the natural spirits, other beings, and the four kind of devotees in this world, those who are far and near, inside and outside the place of practice, throughout heaven and earth, and those who have a relationship with the Dharma and are seeing, hearing, and enjoying it receive conspicuous and inconspicuous benefit equally and limitlessly.” Pg. 395

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