This overview of Nichiren Shu by a head priest impressed me the same way yesterday’s link about Pure Land did. I know even less about this tradition of Buddhism, and I was again struck by its openness, simplicity, and humanity:
The main practices of Nichiren Shu include chanting the mantra Namu Myoho Renge Kyo (translated as “Adoration to Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma”), reciting various chapters from the Lotus Sutra, and reading invocations and prayers. It is a wonderful feeling when we meet at the temple to chant together, but anyone can chant anywhere at any time. Chanting quietly in your mind while riding the bus is okay. Daily morning chanting in front of the home altar is recommended, but not required.
Did you notice that “sitting meditation” is nowhere in that list? It’s so interesting to me that the Buddhist tradition — which was literally created by sitting meditation — has diversified so much that some strains of it no longer emphasize that practice. I was reading some excerpts of early Zen texts last night that were explicitly critical of sitting meditation as a way to realization.
I’m not giving up my sitting practice anytime soon, but I continue to be intrigued by the power and simplicity of these Japanese Buddhist chanting practices. It must be because I was born into a tradition — rabbinic Judaism — that also condensed its spiritual practice into repetitious chanting of texts.
The thing is, in a standard weekday of Jewish prayer, the chanted liturgy is about 22,000 words long (according to my calculations), and that doesn’t even include any Torah readings that might be part of services. There have been times in my life when I’ve found that practice fulfilling, but most of the time it’s just too much to sustain, especially if I’m trying to closely heed and internalize the meaning of the words.
Something calls to me about the idea of chanting the same few words over and over again. It seems less superhuman, more acknowledging of what life is really like. That, as I understand, is similar to the rationale in Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhism about why chanting is “enough,” and lay people don’t need to sit for hours of meditation.
I really want to incorporate more mantra chanting into my practice. I’ll be interested to see whether some Hebrew texts emerge for me that might suit this practice, or whether these Japanese ones will start to feel organic to me over time.