How Not to Practice Buddhism or Chant Odaimoku
I have written before on being asked the question “how should I chant” or “what should I chant for”. These seem to be questions practitioners frequently struggle with as they practice the Lotus Sutra.
Some people come to Nichiren Buddhism from an organization that teaches that there is a certain amount of time that needs to be spent chanting or that somehow if we chant enough we can have any prayer fulfilled and it will always work.
I work as a hospital chaplain and I have seen enough prayers by people to know that no matter how much people pray death cannot be avoided. There is no amount of chanting or wishing or hoping that will allow us to live without dying; not even if we chant billions of Odaimoku. We cannot escape certain unavoidable outcomes. What we can do though is to be better prepared for living and experiencing the joy of life.
Today I want to share some ways which of approaching our practice that are actually harmful to the very thing we are engaging in; seeking enlightenment.
One harmful way is to think of our practice as a burden we mush endure. Chanting should never be a burden, that isn’t to say there won’t be times when it is difficult to do. There is a difference though in something being hard or challenging and something being a real pain in the ass. At those moments when you may be challenged in such a way, try to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Remember how rare it is to be able to practice the Lotus Sutra and to attain enlightenment.
“The Buddhas, the Tathagatas, expound this Wonderful Dharma as rarely as the udumbara-flower blooms. Sariputra! Believe what I am going to say! My words are not false.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter II)
Another harmful way to approach our practice is with greed for results, expecting things will happen and happen fast and exactly as we expect them. Usually in this way of practicing we are ‘convinced’ that the problem to be solved is something outside ourselves and if would only be fixed everything will be great. Though sometimes it may be that we expect to become enlightened on our own terms and in our own rushed, hurried, and impatient way. Can you see some of the problem with that? There is actually something to work on within ourselves that we are trying to avoid. There is always plenty to work on within that will produce significant results in the environment outside ourselves.
“The world of that Buddha will be the purest. Anyone will be happy to see it.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter VI)
Another way that his harmful when we practice is to think that we are ‘champions’ of practice. That we will chant more than anyone else that we will practice harder than anyone else and that somehow all of that will manifest in a life that is better than others. We may even think that chanting and practice is a competitive activity and that if we win the ‘gold’ of chanting the most we have won the prize. Consider though, if you will, who are we in competition with? Who else is there to hold up as a standard for achievement, especially if we are not ourselves fundamentally happy.
“They are occupied with greed and cravings, and blinded by them. They do not seek the Buddha who has great power.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter II)
Another harmful way to approach our practice of chanting and practicing the Lotus Sutra is with an expectation that we will be magically transformed and no longer experience the sufferings of being human. When we practice from a point of view that says we are somehow better than those who don’t practice, or that somehow our practice will shield us from the everyday problems of life we delude ourselves at great peril, and risk to our understanding of the truth and real reason for practicing Buddhism; which is to attain enlightenment as common ordinary people.
“What are the proper practices the Bodhisattva-mahasattva should perform? He should be patient, mild and meek. He should not be rash, timorous, or attached to anything. He should see things as they are. He should not be attached to his non-attachment to anything. Nor should he be attached to his seeing things as they are. These are the proper practices the Bodhisattva-mahasattva should perform.” (Lotus Sutra, Chapter XIV)
I hope that as we begin this New Year we can all examine our attitude to practice, our mind, our seeking nature, and make corrections as necessary to ensure that we are able to attain the enlightenment of the Buddhas.