35 Day Practice; Introduction

35 Day Practice; Introduction

Frequently I am asked, especially by new folks, how to practice, or what should a person do to practice. I am somewhat averse to giving specific instructions because I don’t believe we should necessarily approach Buddhism from a strict point of view of do’s and don’ts except in cases where one is in a monastery or under direction and guidance personally. Still though Buddhism is not completely unstructured and there really needs to be some basic framework for practice.

In Nichiren Shu we have such a general frame-work which we practice in the morning and hopefully in the evening as well, which consists of reciting certain dedicatory passages, passages from the Lotus Sutra, chanting the Sacred Title, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, and offering dedicatory prayers.

As a priest and as a teacher who feels responsible to somehow make Buddhism approachable and practical to folks, especially new members I concern myself with many things. My first concern is sustainability; how to assist a new person in achieving a goal that can be sustained so the next level can be reached. My second concern is how to enable that person to learn as much of the basics, and what those basics might be, so that they can actually know what it is to be Buddhist. There are of course other considerations but those two form the basis of what I try to think about when giving initial instructions in practice.

While the optimum practice is desirable I have to worry about the ability of a person to actually follow through with such an arduous discipline when they are just beginning. It takes time to develop the skill to recite the Sutra in a meaningful and appropriate manner, time a new person may or may not be able to sustain long term. In the time we live in folks generally expect to do things much faster and see results equally as rapidly. I don’t agree with that but what I agree with has no bearing on the reality with which many people come to Buddhism.

Many people come to Buddhism because they are initially looking for some peace, some tranquility, some joy in their lives. If they feel like a bigger burden needs to be endured to lessen other burdens they may not be willing to continue. So how do we teach people in such a way as to gently ease Buddhism into their lives, offer the chance to manifest initial benefit, which will encourage continued effort? That is the challenge.

I have written in the past of my aversion to practice by the clock, that is requiring minimum time limits to practice; saying things like ‘you must chant X number hours a day’ or such. But when a person is just beginning I think that such a structure can have benefit. Because if for no other reason it gives them a stopping point, a goal, and a way to ‘fit’ Buddhist practice into probably an already busy schedule. Yet in this proposal I will actually employ as an expedient the use of time goals.

Remember at first bringing Buddhism to our lives is a major adjustment. There may be adjustments of space if a sacred space is desired. There is an adjustment of thinking if one is pursue the philosophy. There is an adjustment of time if one has a practice to engage in. There are many other subtle adjustments and they are not all easy to accomplish.

So what I am going to do for the next 35 days is to put forward an outline of daily practice. For those who are long time practitioners of the Lotus Sutra I encourage you to actually engage in this activity as perhaps a way to reconnect yourself with your beginning practice, with the excitement and joy you had when you first began. Reconnect with your dreams, your reasons for first starting. And use this as an opportunity to refresh your practice.

I am also putting this all together into a brochure, which will be an abbreviated version of the more detailed daily postings. I’ll make the brochure available on the blog as a PDF so you can download it and use it whenever you need to.

As I do these postings I invite you to comment on them, I would appreciate your feelings about this. Your feedback will help me consider this in ways I may not have done so previously. And remember, your feelings are your feelings, they are not right or wrong they simply are there.

My initial objective as I begin this is to accomplish the following:
1. Basic foundation for daily practice
2. General overview of the contents of the Lotus Sutra and basic Buddhism
3. Learning to chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo as a meditative practice
4. Learn to recite the Lotus Sutra
5. Encourage a connection to Sangha
6. Sustainable and beneficial practice for a lifetime

So, tomorrow we will begin. But first, if it not already this way, please put your copy of the Lotus Sutra on or near your altar or sacred space. This way everything you will need will be in one place and ready for you to practice uninterrupted and without distraction. Also spend the day thinking about deciding on a specific time of day you might be able to reasonably devote for the next 35 days to your practice. Finally write down on a piece of paper what you hope to gain from your Buddhist practice, be specific. Also think about perhaps one characteristic you would like to focus on changing over the course of this practice time. That is your practice for today. If you already are chanting then of course do so, you know you want to anyway.

Oh, one final note and then I’ll let you go. As I post these on the blog there may be interruptions due to holiday or commemorative event blog postings. As I am writing this I haven’t completely decided how I’ll handle this.

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About Ryusho 龍昇

Nichiren Shu Buddhist priest. My home temple is Myosho-ji, Wonderful Voice Temple, in Charlotte, NC. You may visit the temple’s web page by going to http://www.myoshoji.org. I am also training at Carolinas Medical Center as a Chaplain intern. It is my hope that I eventually become a Board Certified Chaplain. Currently I am also taking healing touch classes leading to become a certified Healing Touch Practitioner. I do volunteer work with the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (you may learn more about them by following the link) caring for individuals who are HIV+ or who have AIDS/SIDA.