Chanting Lays the Foundation: One District’s Experience

“When I, Nichiren, first took faith in the Lotus Sutra, I was like a single drop of water or a single particle of dust in all the country of Japan. But later, when two people, three people, ten people, and eventually a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, and a million people come to recite the Lotus Sutra and transmit it to others, then they will form a Mount Sumeru of perfect enlightenment, an ocean of great nirvana. Seek no other path by which to attain Buddhahood!” Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, pg 580

What Does This Mean In Everyday Life?

Shakyamuni the originator of Buddhism, committed himself to relieving the suffering of the world, through teaching as many people as he could reach the path to Buddhahood. Nichiren Daishonin followed this same path. Today Nichiren Buddhists follow in that tradition to communicate the ultimate way to happiness and a peaceful world to all kinds of people through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the philosophy of Buddhism.

Chanting Is The First Step.

Districts across the country from New Jersey to Oregon have all laid the foundation by one or two people starting to chant together with the goal of expanding their outreach to as many people as possible.
In one sleepy district, there had been little activity. Two of the members decided to chant together five days a week for an hour to expand their outreach to new people. Within a couple of years the members decided to have an hour long Wednesday night chanting session called the Unity chant, where about fifteen people chanted to introduce new people to Buddhism. They set a goal to introduce a certain number of people by the end of the year. This became a consistent weekly meeting.

People Need to Be Spiritually Fed.

“Everyone needs to be spiritually fed, when they come to a meeting,” an experienced practitioner said. “Let’s discuss a Buddhist concept at the weekly meeting in addition to the Unity chant and have a discussion of twenty minutes to half an hour.” She suggested that newcomers be called and told about the topic. “They might come just to hear the topic.”

During part of the year the meeting was used to review study booklets. The consistent weekly meeting gave the members a solid structure for their month with regular encouragement in their practice. It also focused the district energy and interest on the introduction of new people.

How The Weekly Meeting Supports New People

People who regularly attended the weekly meeting all knew that if a new person walked in the door, two things would happen. First the leader would pause before gongyo and a member would give a short introduction to Buddhism and the practice. Then the topic would shift to something relevant to a newcomer, such as the meaning of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, experiences showing some of the benefits of practice, or how to use the practice to address a concern. From time to time the meeting was used to teach new people gongyo and basic Buddhist philosophy.

The members became excited and energized as new people started coming to the weekly meetings. They would review how the meeting had gone and whether there was anything they could do to improve it. Everyone grew in their capacity to explain Buddhist concepts and handle the questions of newcomers.

As the district was now making a point of supporting new people, every member knew if they introduced someone to the practice, they could follow up and connect them with the group within a week or two.

Good Member Care: The Second Step

As the chanting continued the district leaders made member care an important activity, monitoring each member every other month to see who was being visited and encouraged. They tried to visit anyone who hadn’t been attending meetings in a while or who had been dealing with a difficult life situation. They also looked the list of newcomers and chanted for the beginners. Their goal was to make sure everyone was getting benefit from their practice.

Both the Wednesday night meeting group and the morning group expanded as new people were brought into the district as a result of members gaining benefit from their practice and sharing their experience with someone else.

The Development of Small Groups, More Focused Meetings

About four years after the chanting began, the district started three small groups in response to ideas received while chanting. These ideas revolved around how to meet the needs of the members more effectively.

One of the small groups focused on encouraging and training new people in the practice. It also provided a weekly day time meeting.
The other two developed on a monthly basis to meet the needs of members who, due to physical difficulties plus distance, were having trouble getting to other meetings.

The small groups proved to be invaluable in getting to know the members well and giving them a place to support one another. The small groups allowed for plenty of air time to discuss problems and how to use the practice to deal with them. People who needed more support than could be given in the larger district meeting could get that support in the smaller groups.

The small groups also provided a supportive training ground for members to learn to make presentations, explain Buddhist concepts and lead gongyo. The three groups gave the district six more meetings a month where members could take a new person. All the group members knew that if a new person came, they would discuss material pertinent to a newcomer.

People who lived close to the homes where these meetings were held were invited and encouraged to attend those groups. Being able to chant with practitioners nearby, is an important element for developing close friendships and creating a community of support.

Necessity Creates Opportunity

In the fifth year two women came to find out about Buddhism. As they were living in a situation which required them to be home by 6:30 for dinner, they couldn’t come to any evening meeting. As the district tried hard to meet the needs of its people, the early morning chanting group decided to invite the new people to join them. A short discussion meeting developed after the chanting to help guide the newcomers into the practice. This added four more meetings a week which could accommodate a new person.

Today, the district is expanding into community festivals and introductory talks in the wider community.

Chanting Lays the Foundation For Everything Else.

This is the way one district grew, one step building on another. Other districts may grow differently but having a couple of people chanting together on a regular basis lays the foundation for everything.

” Chanting Lays the Foundation: One District’s Experience”, (C) Margaret
Blaine, The Practical Buddhist

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