Daily recitation of excerpts from the Lotus Sutra is one of the most essential religious practices in which Rissho Kosei-kai members engage. They read them aloud each morning and evening before the Buddhist altars in their homes or at the churches.
What are the reasons for this sutra recitation?
Generally, it is not only an expression of the members' devotion and gratitude to the Buddha and the deities, but an essential foundation of their religious life. Through this religious practice, we offer our sincere gratitude to the Eternal Buddha sustaining us all, to Shakyamuni Buddha who left us the teachings of how to lead a true life, to the many guardian deities protecting and guiding us, and to our ancestors who handed down the precious gift of life from generation to generation.
Further, reciting the sutra specifically has three meritorious benefits.
First, we are able to present the gift of spiritual joy to our ancestors through transferring the merits we acquire from sutra recitation.
Through our devoted recitation, the power of the sutra containing the words of truth combines with our wish for our ancestors' attainment of buddhahood. The two combined elements, which turn into a merit, reach and please those ancestral spirits who never had the opportunity of coming into contact with the sutra.
Thanks to our fathers and mothers, and grandfathers and grandmothers, and other innumerable ancestors, we are born into this world and exist here and now. If we compare our ancestors to the roots of a tree, the practice of our daily sutra recitation is like providing nutrients for the roots of our tree of life, so that we the descendants can have meaningful lives.
When we continue to recite the sutra every day with such a grateful attitude, our minds will be purified. When our purified minds cause certain changes in our lifestyles, certain changes will be brought about in our surroundings. As a result, we will come to lead joyful, harmonious lives at home, in our communities, and at our places of work.
Second, the starting point of our faith is our aspiration to the attainment of buddhahood.
Bodhisattvas should not only aspire to their own attainment, but also pray to the Buddha and the deities that all the people in the world will enjoy the state of heightened awareness. That is one of the reasons why the religious practices in our daily lives differ from mere ethical or moral deeds and why our socially oriented activities are different from ordinary volunteer service.
Further, the good works of bodhisattvas are so innumerable and extensive that they will not be achieved without the arrangement of the Buddha and the deities. Therefore, we should recite the sutra wholeheartedly to pray for divine help to render bodhisattva practice for people throughout the world. Thus we can achieve something far better and greater than we could have imagined, thanks to the support of the Buddha and the deities, even though it is invisible.
Third, we are able to purify our minds to their utmost depth by reciting the sutra.
According to the Yogacara (Consciousness Only) school of Buddhism, the five basic senses of human beings are considered as five types of consciousness, with the mind as the sixth consciousness. Later, a seventh and eighth were added, manas consciousness and alaya consciousness. The manas consciousness is the subconscious layer filled and tainted with self-centeredness and attachments to the self. All the traces of our experience, both good and bad, are stored as seeds in the deeper layer, the alaya consciousness. These seeds are ready to burst into sprouts under certain conditions.
In the alaya layer, the seeds of the potential for enlightenment - the buddha-nature - also are stored. Therefore, to be engaged in the Buddhist discipline helps to purify us of the seeds of self-centeredness and to allow the seeds of the potential for attaining buddhahood to sprout. To achieve this, although we make conscious efforts to improve our thinking and behavior, we should also let in the light of truth to our subconscious layers, thus purifying our minds.
One of the important Buddhist practices, sammai practice, is a way of immersing oneself in the life-force as the source of the universe by stopping the working of one's surface consciousness. Sammai practice includes not only meditation and seated Zen, but such religious practices as sutra recitation, chanting the daimoku or nembutsu, and some kinds of dances as well. Sutra recitation in Rissho Kosei-kai also functions as sammai practice.
The continued practice of reciting the sutra purifies one's subconscious gradually. As a result, one comes to do good in spite of oneself or without being forced or forcing oneself to do so. Further, one's overall personality becomes more warmly outgoing, thus attracting people to one.
President Niwano teaches the following:
We are often swayed by such of our defilements as jealousy, miserliness, arrogance, anger, and ignorance. Daily sutra recitation helps bring us back to what we are inherently and to pledge to walk along the Buddha's Way. That is truly a merit to be thankful for... Through reciting the sutra every day we are sure to learn something new and find our mental state changed. Thus we can move ahead on the Buddha Way step by step.
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