Winning each day
A great morning and evening gongyo is the secret of winning each day
Part of each day is inevitably filled with routine tasks: each morning we rise, wash, look out of the window at the weather, and decide what to wear. Each evening, we eat, undress, go to bed and fall asleep. It is entirely possible to carry out these activities without much thought. If we are members of SGI, as part of our morning and evening routine, we also aim to focus in front of our Gohonzon, if we have one, or in the place where we chant, to do gongyo (reciting two sections of the Lotus Sutra) and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (daimoku). Unfortunately, in much the same way, it is entirely possible to do this without much thought as well, and to stop regarding it as anything special. But it is!
As members of SGI, we have an incredible opportunity, each day, to experience the conviction that embracing the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Lotus Sutra, is like having a ‘lantern in the dark’ to guide our way, or a ‘ship to cross the sea of suffering’. By really challenging ourselves to chant a great gongyo and daimoku, we have the ability to rise up and out of our lesser selves, trapped in our problems and sufferings, and connect with our ‘greater’ self that is our Buddhahood. It’s possible to draw on the power that is inherent within the universe, and from this vantage point view our challenges from a different and fresh perspective, knowing that we can overcome anything and drawing forth the wisdom and courage to take action for our happiness and that of others.
Shakyamuni Buddha was the first to understand that all human beings have the ability to experience this life state, and chose to demonstrate it to his followers through ‘the Ceremony in the Air’, which is recounted in the Emerging of the Treasure Tower (eleventh) chapter of the Lotus Sutra through to the Entrustment (twenty-second) chapter. The central focus is the appearance of a marvellous Treasure Tower. Whilst on one level this may appear to be an allegory, on a more profound level, these chapters are at the heart of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, because they not only reveal the wonderful life state of Buddhahood that exists in all people, but they also reveal the mission of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, emerging from the ‘earth’ of the Mystic Law, to propagate the teachings of the Lotus Sutra in the future. What follows is a ‘potted version’:
Shakyamuni Buddha called his followers to a meeting on Eagle Peak. They arrived in many shapes and guises symbolising the diverse functions and workings of life. Once the assembly were ready to listen, Shakyamuni Buddha used his supernatural powers to summon up a huge Treasure Tower that rose up into the air, and hovered above the group. It was lavishly decorated with:
…five thousand railings, a thousand, ten thousand rooms, and numberless streamers and banners decorated it. Festoons of jewels hung down and ten thousand million jewelled bells were suspended from it….Its banners and canopies were made of the seven treasures, namely gold, silver, lapis lazuli, seashell, agate, pearl, and carnelian, and it was so high it reached to the heavenly palaces of the Four Heavenly Kings.
This tower is an illustration of our wonderful and beautiful Buddha nature.
The doors of the tower opened, and a loud voice emanated from it praising Shakyamuni. Many Treasures Buddha is revealed, and he invites Shakyamuni to join him on the lion seats within. As he does so, four of the leading Bodhisattvas of the Earth called Superior Practices, Boundless Practices, Pure Practices and Firmly Established Practices think to themselves:
These Buddhas are seated high up and far away! If only the Thus Come Ones would employ their transcendental powers to enable all of us to join them there in the air!
Immediately, Shakyamuni used his powers to ‘lift all the members of the great assembly up into the air.’ He then addressed all the four kinds of believers in a loud voice, saying, ‘Who is capable of broadly preaching the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law to someone so that it may be preserved’.” In response, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth emerge and are entrusted by Shakyamuni with this great undertaking.
There are two distinct points that Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha for the Latter Day of the Law, and in more recent times, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda understood from this account.
Firstly, the Daishonin understood that we can attain this same enlightened life state by chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra, Myoho-Renge-Kyo, supported by reciting part of the verse and prose sections of it, thereby ‘using’ the words to ‘hear’ the teachings with our whole lives. He also taught that you do not have to be anywhere in particular to access this wonderful state of life, rather that the treasure tower exists within each one of us, as he told Abutsu-bo, one of his disciples:
Abutsu-bo is therefore the treasure tower itself, and the treasure tower is Abutsu-bo himself. No other knowledge is purposeful… You, yourself, are a Thus Come One [Buddha] who is originally enlightened and endowed with the three bodies. You should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with this conviction. Then the place where you chant daimoku will become the dwelling place of the treasure tower.
During his imprisonment, Josei Toda realised that:
The heart of this ceremony is the revelation of the Buddha’s original enlightenment in the remote past, and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
He deeply understood the relationship between the Ceremony in the Air, the Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin, the mission of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and gongyo, which at that time was only performed by the priesthood. President Ikeda tells us:
Murmuring silently, [Mr Toda] satisfied himself that the solemn and mysterious Ceremony in the Air he had witnessed in his cell was indeed inscribed on the Gohonzon. Profound delight surged through him, and tears streamed down his face. His hands shook. He cried out from the depths of his being: ‘Gohonzon! Daishonin! I, Toda, will accomplish kosen-rufu!’
As a result of this realisation, Mr Toda determined that he would rebuild the Soka Gakkai, the organisation of Bodhisattvas of the Earth who are dedicated to fulfilling the Buddha’s great desire to spread the Mystic Law, just as predicted in the Ceremony in the Air. He also petitioned the priesthood, whom until that time had carried out Gongyo on behalf of lay people, to allow them to carry out the practice of gongyo, possibly as a means to distinguish themselves from lay believers and create a hierarchy in faith.
Daisaku Ikeda emphasises the importance of maintaining the practice of gongyo (literally meaning ‘to exert oneself in practice’):
If we don’t practise Gongyo, the rhythm of our lives will be thrown off kilter, just as a machine that isn’t oiled will rust. Gongyo and chanting daimoku are like starting an automobile’s engine every day and driving in the direction of happiness and truth. By doing so day after day, you will gradually attain perfect unity with the universe and the [Mystic] Law. That state is the state of the Buddha.
The key to keeping our prayers and daimoku special and fresh each day lies in making sincere efforts to realise that we ourselves are taking part in this ceremony twice a day. It seems to me that not to do so, leaves us vulnerable, trapped in our ‘lesser selves’ – a bit like leaving the house on a cold day without putting your coat on!
President Ikeda says:
By praying to the Gohonzon, which was inscribed based on the Ceremony in the Air, we become one with the eternal and universal life in the present, and we can open a state of life in which we can survey the entire universe from right where we are. Through our daily practice of gongyo and chanting daimoku, we can join the eternal Ceremony in the Air here and now. We can cause the Treasure Tower to shine within us, and to shine within our daily activities and lives. That is the wonder of the Gohonzon. A magnificent ‘cosmos’ of life opens to us, and reality presents itself as a world of value creation.
So enjoy participating in your own ceremony in the air each day, striving to bring forth and praise our Buddhahood and rise into the air in our very own shining Treasure Tower!
Nichiren Daishonin, The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon (WND p. 832)
Nichiren Daishonin , A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering (WND p.33)
The Lotus Sutra. Translated by Burton Watson. (Columbia University Press, 1993) pp.170 – 171
Nichiren Daishonin, On the Treasure Tower. (WND p. 299-300)
The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, No 2, SGI Newsletter, No. 5053 2 March 2002
The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings No 13, SGI Newsletter, No. 5462 3 March 2003
For Today and Tomorrow. Daily Encouragement. March 13th
The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings No 13, SGI Newsletter, No. 5462 3 March 2003