Here is a collection of articles to help you get started with your Buddhist practice.
Why Practice Nichiren Buddhism?
If you are reading this you are probably wondering, why would I want to be a Nichiren Buddhist?
Embark on a Life of Happiness
When you begin to practice Nichiren Buddhism, you will embark on a path to a life of success and happiness.
Goals of the Practice
The goal of the practice is to live the kind of life in which you can transform obstacles and suffering into sources of growth and fulfillment. You can overcome weaknesses to establish the indestructible life state of Buddhahood. The ultimate goal is to live an enlightened life, a life of unshakeable happiness. This means the kind of absolute happiness that is not based on any outward circumstance in life but comes from deep inside.
Prove It To Yourself
You are not asked to believe anything to begin. This is a prove-it-to-yourself practice. If you try it you can prove to yourself whether the practice works for you in your life. People ask, “Don’t you need to have faith?” No – how can you have faith in something you’ve never tried. Faith develops as you overcome one challenge after another and find that the practice works.
Why Practice Nichiren Buddhism? (C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
Daily Practice Has Two Parts
The daily practice in Nichiren Buddhism includes both practice for oneself and also practice for others.
Practice for Oneself
Practice for oneself includes twice daily chanting practice, called daimoku. This the primary practice and is the repetition of the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo allows you to tap your Buddha nature and bring out its attributes of compassion, deep wisdom, freedom and unshakeable happiness for use in everyday life.
The secondary practice includes both daimoku and a recitation of two books of the Lotus Sutra, in a twice daily ritual called Gongyo. It takes about fifteen minutes morning and evening.
It’s called ‘the practice’ because, twice daily, you attune your life to your inner state of Buddhahood, or Enlightenment, gradually growing into higher states of life.
When you chant and you tap into your Buddha nature, you can bring out its wisdom, compassion and happiness to be lived in everyday life. It allows you to address and take action to deal with problems and challenges in life from a much deeper level of wisdom so that life assumes a flow and you are not deadlocked when handling obstacles and challenges. It allows you to turn any difficult situation, poison, into a source of happiness and value, or medicine.
Practice for Others
- Practice for others includes:
- Chanting about another person’s issues, as though they were your own. Taking action to give them the means to make fundamental changes in their lives. This includes teaching someone to chant and supporting their practice.
This work opens the heart of the practitioner. In this manner the compassion necessary to eliminate suffering in the world grows in the heart of each person. This fundamental change is of great benefit to the person doing the work.
“What Is the Daily Practice of Nichiren Buddhists?”(C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
Prove It To Yourself
If you have read about the practice and have decided to find out whether it is the path for you, I suggest you pick a goal and chant for it for ninety days.The ninety day experiment exists so you can prove to yourself whether the practice works for you. No one asks you to believe anything. How could you? You’ve had no experience with the practice yet.
To begin the ninety day challenge, the person guiding you will teach you to chant, Nam-myoho renge-kyo, the primary practice. If you aren’t working with someone go to http://www.sgi-usa.org/newmembers/resources/chantingpractice.php. This is the official Soka Gokkai International website for Nichiren Buddhism. Read down the list until you come to Chanting Practice. You can hear or download the chant there.
Have A Positive Goal
When you start to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, have a positive goal in mind, something that would be a stretch for you to achieve. Set a goal for something you want. For example, you could chant for a job, a reliable vehicle, a relationship or a raise.You could chant to resolve a problem in your life, or about a health condition.You can chant for anything you want. Make it a clear goal for now, not vague. You can chant for anything later, but during the prove-it-to-yourself period you should have a clear, defined goal so you will know when you achieve it. Start to chant for it a few minutes twice a day setting your intention as you begin.Then watch what happens.
Hope Versus Determination
There is a certain mind state that is the most effective in achieving a goal. It is called determination and is very different from hope alone. Determination means that you are going to achieve this goal no matter what, and are prepared to do anything necessary towards that end. Hope on the other hand indicates that you believe that it may or may not happen. It is important to realize that the universe is going to reflect what you think, so make sure you have made up your mind to achieve your goal.That kind of determination activates the invisible positive energies of the universe to support you in your endeavor.
Touch base with the person who has introduced you if anything comes up such as doubt, or questions of any kind.They will guide you in the ways of using the practice for the best results. Or, come to my blog where we will be discussing questions that come up.
Chant First, Receive Ideas, Take Action
When you set a goal and start to chant for it, you have started an adventure.You never know how the universe will work out your goal , so just see the end in mind and don’t worry about how it is going to happen. Our culture teaches us that we have to figure things out on our own, but figuring out how things should develop is not anywhere near as effective as chanting and leaving the universe free to work in its own way.
Realize you have started a conversation with the universe by connecting with your own Buddha nature within.You chant with an intention and the response will come in the ideas you receive.
Sometimes ideas come as you chant, sometimes at other times during the day. Pay attention to anything that relates to your goal no matter how small and insignificant. Don’t let these ideas float off.
If you see that an action should be taken,take the next step and do it. Don’t put it off. Sometimes these ideas come at just the time the action needs to be taken and if you put it off, you may lose an opportunity. Taking these specific steps towards your goal is how it will work out in the material world.
Listen to the Experiences of Practitioners.
They will give you ideas to think about, ways you might use the practice to achieve your goal. You can find a group closest to you by going to http://www.sgi-usa.org. Look to the right to Find Us and put in your zip code.
Steps in Trying the Ninety Day Experiment
• Have a positive goal in mind.You can chant for anything you want. Make it a specific, clear goal, not vague.
• Chant with the determination that you are going to achieve this no matter what, not just the hope that it will happen.Chant twice a day setting your intention to achieve your goal when you start, then chanting.
• Keep the end in mind.
• Don’t try to figure out how the steps should develop.
• Pay attention to any ideas that come relating to your goal.
• If you see an action is needed,go ahead and do it right away.
• Get support from other practitioners.
• Enjoy the process.
“Try the Ninety Day Experiment,” ©Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
Set a Focal Point
At home find a comfortable chair where you won’t be disturbed. Face a blank spot on the wall and set a focal point for yourself. Your connection with the universe is inside yourself, in your Buddha nature.
The Focal Point Represents the Gohonzon
The focal point represents the Gohonzon, inscribed by Nichiren.
Inscribed in calligraphy on a scroll, the Gohonzon represents your life. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written down the center and represents your Buddha nature. All of the other life states you live internally every day are inscribed around it in ancient Chinese and Sanskrit.
The Gohonzon acts as a mirror of your life. You are not praying to something outside of yourself as that connection is within. To find out more about the Gohonzon go to www.sgi-usa. org and search for Gohonzon.
Set a Goal, Something You Want
Face the wall and put your palms together. Decide what you want to chant for. Then start to repeat Nam-myoho-renge-kyo over and over. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental law of the universe and you are connecting with it inside yourself. You are starting the conversation with the universe, with your Buddha Nature within.
Chanting Leads to Happiness
When you start to chant, you are beginning to walk the path which will lead you to success and unshakeable happiness in life. For expanded instructions on how to begin, go to the article try will help you see how the practice works, the ninety day experiment. Chanting for ninety days to prove that it works for you and to determine if it feels right as your spiritual path.
“How Do I Start Chanting at Home?”(C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
There are different ways that you can set a goal. The following guidelines will allow you to be effective.
Set a positive goal
For example let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. You don’t chant to lose the 20 pounds. Instead, chant to weigh your goal weight. Let’s say you’ve developed a health problem. Chant for perfect health. You want to envisign the end in mind, what you want to have happen.
Be specific About What You Want
Sometimes people are surprised at the idea of being specific. That usually comes from a belief that you couldn’t actually achieve a specific goal. Just remember that a vague goal will produce vague results.
Make a Determination
Chant with a conviction that says, “This goal is going to happen no matter what!” This conviction announces to the universe that you are serious. If you chant with hope, but without conviction, then you are telling the universe that you believe the outcome is in doubt. The universe is going to mirror your degree of faith in the result. If you are determined, you will have good results. If you are halfhearted in faith, the results will reflect that.
See Your Goal as Completed
This is harder than you might think, particularly if you are chanting for a goal that is a stretch. If you are like most people you may have negative thoughts come up. One of the keys is to pull your mind out of your fears and doubts every time this happens. The universe will reflect what you dwell on, so you want to chant for what you want not for what you don’t want.
Don’t Try to Figure out how the Goal is going to be Achieved.
All you are responsible for is setting your preferred outcome. The universe is responsible for plotting the map for getting there. Pay attention to ideas which come for steps to take towards your goal.
When you chant regarding a goal you are communicating with the universe. Then the response comes in the form of ideas for steps to take towards your goal.
Take Action on the Ideas You Receive
Action is the second half of the equation. Ideas will come to you and it is up to you to follow through with putting them into action. After all you are in the material world and this is where your goal will work itself out.
Chant until you achieve your goal
If you have a goal that could take weeks or months to work itself out, make sure you have the support of experienced practitioners. You can find them by going to http://www.sgi-usa.org Look to the right for Find US. Then put in your zip code.
You can also come to my Blog where we will be discussing issues that come up around chanting and you can ask questions.
“How To Set a Goal”, © Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
What Can I chant For?
You can chant about anything. You can chant for money, the solution to a relationship problem, clarity about a decision you must make, to have a safe trip, to protect someone. You can chant for world peace or enlightenment. Anything which comes up in your life is grist for the mill.
I chant for ideas of what to put on this website. My husband chanted for solutions to construction problems when we were remodeling our house. What people chant for is as varied as their problems and challenges.
Spirituality and Daily Life
Sometimes people are surprised that they can chant for material goals. That doesn’t seem spiritual. If you’ve grown up in western culture, you’ve probably been raised with the idea that denying yourself is the spiritual route.
Nichiren Buddhists believe that faith and daily life are intertwined, one and the same. You don’t have to isolate yourself to develop spiritually. Spirituality grows only through using your faith in daily life. There is a Buddhist concept which says that our outer life circumstances manifest from inside ourselves. So using the practice to change ourselves, surmount obstacles and make our lives work is where we grow spiritually and show proof of faith in daily life.
Activate the Life State of Buddhahood
Daily life provides the arena where using your faith you engage with, overcome obstacles, and achieve goals. Through this process you are going to awaken to the knowledge that you have a Buddha Nature, an internal state of absolute freedom, happiness, deep wisdom and great compassion, which will allow you to handle anything in life. When you base your life on the Mystic Law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, daily life provides the opportunities to learn to use your practice to activate the enlightened life state of Buddhahood, or unshakeable happiness in your life.
“What Kinds of Goals Can I Set?” (C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
The Role of Your Sponsor
Someone, your sponsor, has introduced you to the practice. Don’t be intimidated by the word sponsor. All this means is that this person has introduced you to the practice. Ideally, the person who introduces you should assume the responsibility of following up with you, teaching you to chant, helping you to learn gongyo, answering your questions, giving you things to read and going with you to your first few meetings until you feel comfortable.
If he or she does not follow up with you, then you are always welcome to ask someone else to help you. You will meet other practitioners when you start to go to meetings. The most important thing is that you get the guidance you need.
Never be shy about asking questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. You’d be unique if you didn’t have questions. Ask them. This is how you’ll learn. Everyone remembers what it was like when they started and will be glad to help you.
Meetings Are Important
In the meetings you will have the opportunity to chant with other people and someone in the meeting will show you what to do. You will hear Buddhist topics and you will meet long term practitioners and hear their experiences. Those will be invaluable in teaching you how to use the practice to address your own obstacles.
Learn To Practice Quickly With Support
Try to stay in touch with the person guiding you and attend meetings on a regular basis. This is the quickest way to learn what you need to know to practice properly. If you get the support you need at the beginning, you will quickly realize the benefits of the practice.
“The Importance of Support at the Beginning,”(C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
Doubts are normal at the beginning
Everyone has doubts. Doubts are normal. Until you have proved to yourself that you have the Buddha nature within and can handle anything in your life, it is easy to fall into doubt when times get tough. Doubts mean dwelling on fears, anxiety and the feeling that you can’t possibly make your goal.
To Master Doubt is to Master Your Mind
Learning to master doubt is part of learning to master your mind. Remember that you want to create what you want not what you don’t want. The more you dwell on your fears the more likely you are to create them in the future. So when tempted to fall into them remember to pull your mind out of your fears and refocus on your goal – what you want. At the beginning this is a real discipline and you may have to redirect your thinking many times in one day. Take heart though, it does get easier.
Study something from Nichiren Daishonin or President Ikeda such as the promises of Buddhism. Deepen your practice. This will make handling doubts easier. Study will give you encouragement.
Connect With A Long Term Practitioner
When faced by doubts it is important to ask questions and talk with a long term practitioner. That person can encourage you, share experiences and remind you how to use the practice to overcome your doubts and fears.
Get in touch with someone who can identify your steps of progress as you move towards your goal. Sometimes it is hard to recognize small steps and seeing the progress you are making will give you encouragement.
When Having Doubts,Chant
When you have doubts just lay them aside for a while, and chant to the Gohonzon. Then exert 100% effort to take action in dealing with the steps of the challenge.
Learning To Handle Doubt is Part of the Process
Doubts are normal until you have established the unshakeable life state of Buddhahood, which remains unswayed by whatever is happening on the outer levels of life. Everyone has to learn to handle doubt. It is part of the process.
Ways to Handle Doubt
- Keep your mind focused on your goal, what you want, not your fears and what ifs.
- Study something such as the promises of Buddhism for encouragement.
- Talk with a long term practitioner, who will share experiences, and remind you of the steps of progress.
- Chant to the Gohonzon and then take action to deal with the next step of the challenge.
- Doubts are normal and learning how to master them is one of the steps to establishing Buddhahood in your life
“How to Handle Doubts”, Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
Chant Before Figuring It Out
The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra means that when faced with a challenge or a matter of concern, a practitioner will chant about it first before doing anything else.
This is different from how our society addresses problems. We’re taught that it is up to us to solve our own problems, that we have to think through the issues. Be self-reliant.
Solve the Problem From Deeper Wisdom
Although it seems contrary to what you were taught, you’ll find that when you chant about an issue first, you’ll get ideas on how to handle the situation and will think far more deeply about it than you would if you just addressed it on your own. It’s almost as though you are given an overview of the problem and creative ways of handling it you wouldn’t have thought of by yourself.
Try it with an issue you are facing. You’ll see if the Strategy of the Lotus Sutra works.
“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” (C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
When In Rhythm Life Flows Smoothly
When you consistently chant and do gongyo twice a day, you put yourself in rhythm with the universe every day. Being in rhythm feels like the difference between hitting every red light as you drive across town and hitting all the green ones instead. Life becomes easier, smoother, and happier and more grounded. Life just works better.
Being in rhythm means that things happen when needed and it’s not so much of a struggle to accomplish what you want to do. Whatever is needed in your life shows up.
Out of Rhythm;Life is Not So Smooth
If you have missed a day of practice, you have probably experienced what life is like when you don’t chant in the morning. I would imagine that day was a little off kilter, a little less easy. Not in rhythm.
Put Yourself In Rhythm First Thing
Even if you are running late in the morning, remember to do Sancho – chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo three times. Put yourself in rhythm before you leave home.
“Put Your Life in Rhythm With the Universe,” (C) Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist
Change Begins with the Individual
Nichiren Buddhists believe change in society begins with the inner transformation of an individual which then ripples out to affect people around him.
If you take up this Buddhist practice, you will embark upon a process of inner transformation called human revolution. Over time, using the twice daily practice, you’ll find yourself becoming stronger. Ultimately you can make the wisdom, compassion and unshakeable happiness of Buddhahood your everyday experience. Imagine this process as being like a little chick pecking its way through its egg shell and breaking free into a new way of life.
For example, one woman suffered from anxiety much of the time. Immobilized when faced with a challenge she would take to her bed for 2-3 days. She learned the chant and then encouraged by more advanced members she chanted about the school demands which frightened her. She found she could overcome them one after another. Repeatedly having had this experience, she changed. Now when faced with a new challenge, she talked to herself differently. Instead of dwelling on all the possible catastrophes she would remind herself of her past successes. She developed the ability to look at anxiety-creating situations with the confidence that she could handle them with the practice. In this way she stopped the development of the anxiety in its early stages. Before long, out of appreciation, she began to reach out to help other people.
You Can Do It Too
If you suffer from anxiety, you can use the chant to break through your challenges as well. It would be important to find chanting support from other members, as it is hard to maintain confidence when having anxiety. Then set your goal, how you want your challenge to turn out. Chant for that resolution 5-10 minutes a day and see what happens.
Another person felt his life was out of control financially. With regular chanting and support from the group, he proved to himself over and over that he could handle difficult financial obstacles. With that realization a deep sense of relaxation came into his life. He knew he no longer had to worry about finances. He could have what he needed. Once his life stabilized he branched out and found ways of contributing to the community, such as working with other newer members who were having financial problems.
According to President Toda, the second SGI president, this process of inner transformation is not dramatic but occurs when you chant. Then live life the best you can, where each day you improve yourself in the most natural and positive way for you. In this way new insights and new behaviors will grow gradually and naturally over time.
Inner Change Leads to Life Changes
Personal human revolution can lead to a better world. For example, one young woman was lonely and isolated with no friends when she began to practice. She chanted on a daily basis for several months to have better relationships. Little by little she pecked through that shell of isolation and began to reach out and ask about other people’s lives when she came into her workplace in the morning.
Next she stepped out and volunteered to help other people. She took meals to shut-ins, and sat and chatted with them. As time went on she realized she could do more. She lobbied for state money to support and expand the number of meals that could be distributed. She found more volunteers to chat with the shut-ins. Not only did she feel happier and more connected but her efforts improved the community around her. The change that began with her rippled out to benefit many people as she became able to support and care for others.
The Bigger Picture
In this way the inner transformation of one individual multiplied by many hundreds of thousands can result in the improvement of education, the promotion of tolerance, the protection of the environment and the end of war. But it all begins with the individual
There are three fundamentals in Buddhist practice. These are faith, practice and study. Each supports the other two. Faith grows as a result of practice and study. Let’s see how this would work.
How Does Faith Develop?
When you first are introduced to Nichiren Buddhism, you are not asked to believe anything. You are taught you have a Buddha nature that is eternal and universal and through activating it and bringing it out into everyday life, you will be able to actualize your life as you wish it. Practitioners know through experience that in the first stages of practice it takes time to build faith and to come to believe you have this universal connection. No one believes it at the beginning.
Chant and See What Happens
How do you go about building faith? Faith is built through taking on the challenges of everyday life through your Buddhist practice.
First you do an experiment. Get someone to teach you how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and then plan to chant for ninety days for a goal that is a reasonable stretch. In this way you will see whether the practice works as practitioners say it will. You’ll have questions so make sure you have someone more experienced who can answer them for you.
If you are consistent and chant daily, you can expect to achieve your goal or something better. We call this receiving a benefit. By setting one goal after another, chanting and taking action to reach each one, you can overcome any deadlocks to take charge of your life and move it in the direction you want.
Some of these benefits are easy to see. They are conspicuous benefits. You might try chanting for a relationship or you might chant for a raise. With concrete goals like these you’ll know when you receive them.
As the weeks, months and years pass, you may discover that you have received benefits which are not obvious like the conspicuous benefits just discussed. They are called inconspicuous benefits. An inconspicuous benefit is one which grows gradually like the rings on a tree. You are not necessarily aware that it is happening.
For one practitioner this mean’t that over a period of years, her whole life shifted into the work which gave her life the most meaning and where she could use all her strengths. Her life felt unified and focused, no longer split. She had slipped into the perfect place to make her unique contribution in the world but it was only after everything was in place that she recognized what had happened.
An unexpected benefit might include receiving something your life needs, whether or not you have specifically chanted for it. These benefits can be a surprise. You might have been chanting for a certain goal when the perfect support for your endeavor unexpectedly arrives.
One practitioner was getting ready to publish a book. She knew that she would need to market it. Since she didn’t know anything about marketing she had chanted for ideas. One day she went to the library to support a talk given by another writer. She walked into the perfect room for a presentation on her topic. When she talked to the person who scheduled the talks, she discovered to her delight that the room would be free. Best of all since the library liked her topic, they would do the publicity. Perfect support for her first marketing endeavor! Surprise!
Benefits That Lead to Awakening
Some kinds of benefits lead to an awakening. For example one early practitioner in the 1960’s chanted for marijuna. She received it and when the practitioner smoked it, she realized it brought the quality of her life down. With that realization, she stopped smoking marijuna as she wanted to raise her quality of life.
Faith Grows Step by Step
When you chant then receive one benefit after another over weeks and months, your faith grows along with the repeated experiences. After a number of these experiences you know that you can count on chanting and that through activating your Buddha nature your life will move in a positive direction. With that realization you can relax deep inside. You have learned you can trust your internal connection with the universe to provide for your needs.
Study, the Second Leg of Practice
This growth in faith through using the practice is the first of the three legs of practice. The second is study. Studying the works of Nichiren Daishonin and the commentaries of President Ikeda not only gives you confirmation of your experience but also teaches you the heart of the Buddhist way of life. Study is important to understand the true nature of things in life. As President Ikeda says,
“In the clear mirror of the Gosho, ( The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin) the true nature of all things becomes apparent. That is why it is important to hone our wisdom through Buddhist study.” Faith into Action, p. 167
Both your developing faith and study provide you with the knowledge and experience to put into practice what you have learned from the writings of Nichiren Daishonin to help others to become happy. Practice means putting the teachings of the Gosho into action, to live them in your life.
The synergy between the three legs of faith, practice and study will develop your faith step by step.