Traditionally, religion has asked its believers to have faith in its tenets before accepting the religion, without any proof of the religion's assertions. But how can we have faith in something with which we have no experience? Unless a religion can provide benefit to the believers' daily lives and help them overcome their struggles, they cannot become happy by practicing it. Today, many religions lack the ability to truly empower people to change.
In Buddhism, faith is based on experience. Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism emphasizes obtaining "actual proof" of the teaching's power. Faith begins as an expectation or hope that something will happen. At the start of our journey, if we are willing to try the practice and anticipate some result, we will then develop our faith brick by brick as examples of actual proof accrue. And to develop faith, we must take action-that is practice. We strengthen our wisdom and vital life force by actualizing our Buddhahood each day in a very concrete way. Practice in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism consists of two parts: practice for ourselves and practice for others. Practice for ourselves is primarily the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Each morning and evening, believers participate in a ritual that, along with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, includes recitation from two significant chapters of the Lotus Sutra chapters which explain that each individual holds the potential for enlightenment and that life itself is eternal. This ritual has been traditionally referred to as gongyo (literally, "assiduous practice"). Practice for others consists of action based on compassion to help give others the means to make fundamental improvements in their lives, similar to what we are undergoing through our own engagement with Nichiren Daishonin's teachings. The development of our compassion through such practice for others is also a direct benefit to us.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the ultimate invocation of life, often referred to as the language of the Buddha.
There are no prerequisites or rules as to what to chant for. We simply make the decision to begin chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And by chanting, we experience the energy and wisdom to make our lives fulfilled. In the sixty years since this Buddhism has been widely accessible through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai worldwide, millions have chanted about every conceivable problem and goal, from the most dire health and financial crises to the most urgent matters of the heart. Unlike in most Western religions, when we chant we are not praying to an external deity invested with human qualities like judgment. Our prayers are communicated into the depths of our being when we invoke the sound of the Mystic Law. This universal Law is impartial, and no prayer is more or less worthy than another. The only issue is whether we can create value in our lives and help others do the same. As the Daishonin teaches, we attain enlightenment through a continual transformation that takes place in the depths of our existence as we seek to fulfill our desires and resolve our conflicts. It is important to understand that our prayers are realized because we bring forth from within ourselves the highest life-condition and the wisdom to take correct action.
Once people begin experiencing the benefits of chanting, they may decide to make a deeper commitment and begin a more complete Buddhist practice. The first milestone after beginning one's practice is to receive the Gohonzon, the object of devotion for Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. The Daishonin inscribed his enlightenment in the form of a mandala called the Gohonzon, and believers chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to a scroll form of the Gohonzon enshrined in their own homes.
In the Gohonzon, the Daishonin graphically depicted his enlightenment, or Buddhahood, which is the enlightened life-condition of the universe. The important point here is that the same potential for enlightenment exists within each of us. And when we fuse our lives with the Gohonzon by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to it, we tap into that enlightened life-condition, our own Buddhahood.
This is why the Daishonin calls the Gohonzon a mirror for the inner self. It is a way to see inside, to begin changing what we don't like and strengthening what we do like. We have the potential of many life-conditions, which appear when we come in contact with various external stimuli. For instance, someone may be rather mild-mannered and quiet, but another person might say something that sparks a show of temper. This temper or anger was dormant inside until provoked by the environment. To bring out our highest potential condition of life, our Buddhahood, we also need a stimulus. As our conviction develops, we will come to see that the Gohonzon is the most positive external stimulus, and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to it is the internal cause that will activate the latent state of Buddhahood in our lives.
The scroll of the Gohonzon is kept on an altar in the practitioner's home where it can be protected from the daily routine of the household.
How often do we chant? Our basic ritual, which includes chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, reciting sections of the Lotus Sutra, and offering silent prayers, is carried out diligently each morning and evening. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the primary practice, is like fuel for an engine. Reciting the sutra is a supplementary practice, like adding oil to that engine. When the two are combined, it is most effective, and we feel the confidence of performing in top condition.
We are also free to chant as often as we like and to our heart's content. Most new practitioners will experiment with chanting until they experience something tangible, sort of like a "test drive." The duration of any particular chanting session is up to each individual's preferences and needs. The complete morning and evening ritual, however, should become the basis of our daily practice, a special time when we can communicate directly with the rhythm of the universe.
As we start to see actual proof of the power of our Buddhist practice, we naturally come to share our experiences with friends and encourage them to try practicing as well. This sharing with others is another key to developing our inner potential for enlightenment, or Buddhahood.
The SGI's ultimate purpose is to contribute to the establishment of a peaceful world where all people experience happiness. We can make our lives larger and experience a stronger life-condition by endeavoring to help others. This way of life founded on compassion is instrumental in helping us strengthen our own Buddha nature. It is the altruistic interaction with people in our daily lives that will help us grow and become enlightened.
This is not only Buddhist theory -- most people recognize the satisfaction and growth that accompany their efforts to truly help others. Practicing Buddhism to overcome our own problems or circumstances gives us insight we can share. We can chant for our families and friends, we can encourage others to practice, we can begin to show our own transformation so that others will be encouraged to find out the source of our great changes and newfound personal freedom.