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Chanting daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, is termed the “primary practice” and reading or reciting the “Hoben” and “Juryo” chapters is called the “supplementary practice” or the “supporting practice.”
The twenty-sixth high priest Nichikan Shonin explains the relationship between the primary and supplementary practices by comparing them to food and seasoning. In other words, when eating rice or noodles, the “primary” source of nourishment, you use salt or vinegar as seasoning to help bring out, or “supplement,” the flavor.
The benefit from carrying out the primary practice is immense. When you also recite portions of the “Hoben” and “Juryo” chapters, it has the supplementary function of increasing and accelerating the beneficial power of the primary practice.
The benefit of chanting daimoku is immeasurable and boundless. Indeed, there is infinite power in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo just one time. The Daishonin says, “If you recite these words of the daimoku once, then the Buddha nature of all living beings will be summoned and gather around you” (MW-5, 112).
Accordingly, you do not necessarily have to recite the sutra as you usually do in gongyo, if, for example, you are sick. If, as a result of forcing yourself to do a complete gongyo at such times, your condition should worsen, then, rather than increasing your benefit, it may in fact have the opposite effect of destroying your joy in faith and thus generating negative value.
Buddhism is reason. The important thing, therefore, is for each person to make wise judgments so that he or she will be able to carry out a practice of gongyo filled with joy at all times.
Gongyo and daimoku are the roots that, as it were, enable you to grow into a great tree. The tree of your life strengthens and grows as a cumulative result of your continuing practice of gongyo and chanting daimoku. While it may not be possible to see any changes from one day to the next, because of the daily nourishment a consistent practice affords, your life will one day become towering and vast like a great tree. As you carry out a steady practice, you will develop a state of life of absolutely indestructible happiness.
I imagine some of you may wonder how reciting sutra passages you cannot understand could bring about any benefit. Let me reassure you that definitely there is benefit from carrying out this practice.
related article The Poor Woman's Lamp In a letter Nichiren wrote 700 years ago in appreciation of the sincere offerings made by a devout woman named Onichi-nyo, there is a passage which reads: "A poor woman cut off her hair and sold it to buy oil [for the Buddha], and not even the winds sweeping down from Mount Sumeru could extinguish the flame of the lamp fed by this oil." The Daishonin says: “A baby does not know the difference between water and fire, and cannot distinguish medicine from poison. But when he sucks milk, his life is nourished and sustained. Although one may not be versed [in various sutras] . . . if one listens to even one character or one phrase of the Lotus Sutra, one cannot fail to attain Buddhahood.” (MW-7, 104–105)
Just as a baby is nourished and grows naturally of its own by drinking milk, if you earnestly chant the Mystic Law with faith in the Gohonzon, your life definitely will come to shine with immeasurable good fortune and benefit.
At the same time, it is certainly true that if you study the meaning of the sutra based on this practice and with a seeking mind, you can deepen your confidence and strengthen your faith still further.
When we do gongyo and chant daimoku, we conduct a ceremony in which we praise Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the law of the universe, and the Buddha. We also praise the eternal life of the universe, and the world of Buddhahood in our own lives.
[When we chant to the Gohonzon] right then and there the doors of the microcosm within us open completely to the macrocosm, and we can experience a great and serene sense of happiness, as though gazing out over the entire universe. We savor tremendous fulfillment and joy, and gain access to a great and all-embracing wisdom. The microcosm of our lives that is encompassed by the universe in turn encompasses the entire universe.
Gongyo revitalizes us from the very depths of our being. Therefore, the important thing is to do gongyo each day filled with a feeling of rhythm and cadence—like a white horse galloping through the heavens. I hope you will do the kind of satisfying gongyo that leaves you refreshed and revitalized in both body and mind.
—SGI President Daisaku Ikeda
Excerpted from Lectures on the “Hoben” (Expedient Means) and “Juryo” (Life Span of the Thus Come One) Chapters of the Lotus Sutra, SGI-USA, 1996).