1. Practices Performed by HBS
The importance of chanting the “Odaimoku" out loud, rather than a silent prayer within your heart, cannot be emphasized enough.
Buddhism is practiced by using the body(Shin), the speech(Ku), and the conscience of thoughts(I). The application of these elements in the worshipping process are illustrated in the following examples.
Some people practice religion with their bodies by meditating under the waterfalls, depriving themselves of food and sleep for days in a closed sanctuary, or taking a treacherous hike in mountains and valleys in remote areas. These religious practices, however, can be accomplished only by a healthy person who possesses the endurance to withstand harsh and difficult conditions. These practices are at times, hazardous, if not time consuming. In these modern times, most people do not have the time to engage themselves in these practices. Because of the limitations inherent in these practices involving the body, this form of practice is not recommended to most individuals.
The thought-concentration practice is usually accomplished through meditation. It calms your soul from the frustrations of life and helps to awaken the 'Buddhist nature'. This practice, however, is neither suited nor easily accomplished by an ordinary person. Deep within one's soul is a dark unconscious world which one cannot reach nor control no matter how much you try through meditation. Even one's conscious soul cannot be controlled by one's thought process. This phenomenon can be observed in many situations where one react or do things that one knows better not to, such as overeating, smoking and getting angry. Because most people have difficulties controlling their actions, despite what they know intellectually, the practice of meditation centered on thought concentration is found to be most difficult to achieve.
Practice which can be performed by anyone.
What about the practice through speech of chanting the 'Odaimoku'? This type of meditation can be done by any one of all ages, anywhere and at any time. It can be accomplished while walking, driving, and even while doing chores with your hands, whenever and wherever you wish. Because of its practical uses, this method of practice is found to be the most important of the three types mentioned.
Nichiren Shonin recommended that ordinary people practice through speech by chanting the `Odaimoku'. It is found to be the least difficult practice because it can be done at any time and anywhere. Although `Odaimoku' can be chanted silently, the chanting in a strong voice is recommended for the following reasons.
Use of `the five sense-organs'
One of the main objectives of our religion is to plant in one's conscious mind Buddha's virtuous merits of enlightenment which is instilled in the 'Odaimoku', to filter the evil and to build virtuous merits in the mind. Which practice do you think, silent or out loud, will better accomplish this objective?
Humans listen to the sound with their ears, view objects with their eyes, smell with their noses, and taste with their tongues. The body experiences sensations and the mind makes decisions. In Buddhism, these faculties are referred to as the six senses. In order to sow and transmit the seeds of the six senses deep into the `Arayashiki', it is more effective to arouse as many senses as one possesses. Therefore, when one prays silently, it only arouses the thought consciousness, and consequently, becomes a weak method of sowing the seed into the `Arayashiki'. However, when we chant the `Odaimoku' aloud, all of our senses are awaken and aid the transmission of the teachings into our minds.
Nissen Shonin said, “To chant earnestly the `Odaimoku', by your mouth and your mind, is to sow the seeds of Buddhahood in the pasture of your soul. That is `Geshu."
Chanting repeatedly is a Buddhist practice (training):
There are some people who say that it is not necessary to chant the `Odaimoku' repeatedly over hundreds and thousands of times. Instead, ten times should be sufficient, if one prays earnestly. If that is the case, why did Nichiren Shonin require the repetitive chanting of the `Odaimoku'?
It is because, if the chanting is not done correctly, it ceases to be a training. In Buddhist faith, worshipping is a form of training. An athlete must train and practice daily for hours to become proficient in his endeavor. Likewise, in religion, fervent practice and training are necessary to make one's mind receptive to the benefits and good fortunes it provides.
HBS does not differentiate between wise and unwise (wisdom and nonwisdom). It disregards all things and concentrates only on chanting `Namumyohorengekyo'. The training is being done in compliance with this idea. If the `Odaimoku' is repeated only ten or twenty times, it cannot be considered as training.
Nissen Shonin said, “To chant the 'Odaimoku' ten thousand times will enable one to comprehend the value of blessings (Goriyaku) received."
The repetitive chanting of the `Odaimoku' is analogous to training in sports, and only through repetitive chanting, can one receive the benefits of good fortunes.
Among our parishioners, there are some who feel that chanting the`Odaimoku' is too repetitive. We do not chant only for the sake of repetition. As the teachings indicate, we chant to create merits. For every chant of the `Odaimoku', we are creating an equivalent number of good merits.
Nissen Shonin said, “Do not misconstrue yourself to be talented when you are just ordinary. It is, also, a big mistake to consider that you are accomplishing your practice by chanting the `Odaimoku' only once."
Posture, Chantig Speed and Method
Chanting the Odaimoku from a sitting position is permitted if benches or chairs are provided in the main hall of the temple. An outdoor prayer service while standing is permissible as well.
The most important thing is to maintain an orderly and respectful posture and avoid having a lax atitude appearances. Following are several points to be considered during chantig of the Oaimoku :
a). Hold your head high in order to see the Mandala. Lowering your head should be avoided. Maintain an erect posture with relaxed shoulders. Try to keep your legs in a perpendicular position while sitting. Do not cross your legs or have them stretched out unless you have a physical limitation. Stand firmly on both feet while standing and try not to avoid balancing the body on one foot.
b). Chant the Odaimoku distinctly. Mumbling the Odaimoku is not recommended. Chanting at an extremely fast pace should be avoided. It will only break down the rhythm of chanting and enunciation of “Namu myo ho ren ge kyo".
Nissen Shonin shows the answers which are obvious in the flowing questions: “Which type of chanting will fulfill the spirit of the Buddha? Is it an energetic correct way of chanting or a slothful one?" If you are to chant the Odaimoku, it is better to chant it aloud. Chanting mutely will not only arouse worldly thoughts, but will serve no purpose in manifesting mercy and compassion.
c). Avoid worldly thoughts during the chanting of the Odaimoku. Nichiren Shonin stated: “No matter what your spiritual feeling may be, chant the Odaimoku by mouth". Nissen Shonin also stated: “What takes place in the mind is yourself. Let that not become an obstacle. Just chant the Odaimoku". No matter what worldy thoughts may arise, ignore them and chant the Odaimoku. Long chanting sessions eradicates worldly thoughts and unites the mind with the soul. It is difficult to achieve that during short sessions. So listen carefully to the chanting voices.
Chanting Speed and Method of Striking the Wooden Clappers:
There is no set regulation as to how wooden clappers should be stricken. Strike them according to the pace of your chant. Depending on the temples, some prefer that the wooden clappers be stricken at a fast pace. Others prefer a slow pace.
While chanting at home, it is recommended that the wooden clappers be stricken 6 times per one Odaimoku. During a prayer session for the recovery of the sick, the wooden clappers are stricken at a faster pace. At solemn funeral or merit transference services, it is customary to chant the Odaimoku at a very slow place in unison with the striking of the wooden clappers minute.
Wooden clappers are an accompaniment to coincide with the chanting rhythm of the Odaimoku. Hold one clapper in the left, cupped hand in a stationary position and strike it with the clapper held in the right hand. It will produce a good sound. If the clapper is held flatly in the left hand, it will hinder the resonance of the sound when stricken. The clappers held in the hands should be positioned in front of the chest at the level of the pit of your stomach. There are some parishioners that hold the clapper on their left and rest it on their thigh, but that is disrespectful and is not recommended. The wooden clappers should be stricken at a same intensity six times in unison with the chanting, Namu, myo, ho, ren, ge, kyo.
Striking wooden clappers at the temple or at home, make sure that the sound rhymes with the chanting. If that is difficult, do away with the clappers and pound your fist on the thigh to maintain rhythm. Clappers are used to regulate the rhythm of chanting. Do not strike it with all your might. A loud sound is not only annoying to others, but it will block out the sound of chanting voices. Refrain from swaying the body or shaking the head from right to left while chanting.