Yuren wrote:The Nam/Namu discussion is one of the funniest and most ridiculous discussions in the history of Buddhism, I believe.
Yes. Yes it is. Its sad, really. I regret taking part in it, but people make an issue out of it, and so I feel compelled to point out how they have nothing but their own opinions to stand on.
There are many people who take up the Buddha Dharma, but for various reasons don't have a deeper understanding to see through this kind of facile nonsense. They become discouraged by people pretending to have superior knowledge (notice the people who make the biggest issue out of this don't actually know Japanese at all) and their sincere aspirations are undermined. The Buddha compared such people with meager understanding and whose motivation toward Buddha Dharma is primarily their faith (sraddha) to people with only one eye - their fellows should take extra effort to protect their one-eyed friend and make every effort so that they do not lose that one eye they have.
However, the chanting itself is non-negotiable, or is it? Can one just say NMRK instead? Or think it? If not, why is the singing essential, does Nichiren ever address that?
First, why did Zhiyi recognize the Lotus Sutra as the highest Buddhist teaching?
Lotus Sutra, Chapter 21:
Briefly stated, all the dharmas possessed by the Thus Come One, all the Thus Come One’s supernatural powers of self-mastery, the treasure house of all the Thus Come One’s secrets, all the Thus Come One’s profound affairs are entirely proclaimed, demonstrated, revealed, and preached in this scripture. For this reason, after the extinction of the Thus Come One, you all must single-mindedly receive and keep, read and recite, interpret and copy, and, as you preach, so practice it; whether in a place where scriptural rolls are lodged, or in a garden, or in a grove, or at the foot of a tree, or in a samgha cell, or in the home of a white-clad layman, or in a palace, or on mountains, or in valleys, or in open fields, there, in every case, is to be erected a stupa, to which offerings are to be made. What is the reason? Be it known that that place is a platform of the path; that the buddhas there have achieved annuttarasamyaksambodhi; that the buddhas there have turned the dharma wheel; that the buddhas there have achieved parinirvana.
Lotus Sutra, Hurvitz, p. 264-5.
The italicized part is, according to Zhiyi, the Four Phrase heart of the Lotus Sutra. This is why the Lotus Sutra is proclaimed in the Lotus School to be the supreme teaching of the Buddha.
That self-promotion is all well and good. But what is it about the Lotus that is supreme?
I think everyone is familiar with stories of masters who warn their disciples from becoming attached to signs. This is the first of two messages delivered in the Lotus Sutra - upaya, or Expedient Means. The Buddha says that his enlightenment is not taught in anything he expounded up until that point - not directly, anyway.
In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha explains that everything he taught in this world is an expedient means - preached in response to the needs and capacity of the people - his teachings up until the Lotus Sutra accord not with his mind, but with the minds of the people he is speaking to. All the various stories he tells about this Buddha or that, or this Bodhisattva or that, or this past life or that, are means to lead us to the point that we can glimpse the True Aspect for ourselves. The Buddha explains that his enlightenment is actually the True Aspect of Reality which is only shared between Buddhas. The profound irony is that this True Aspect is constantly revealed to us, but because of our petty attachments, we are trapped in prisons of our own confusion about what is actually going on.
The second message is the Buddha's revelation that he is, in short, the True Aspect of Reality. The True Aspect is timeless, boundless, deathless, etc. etc. He is the teacher of the means to awakening and the embodiment of the awakening, both the subject and object - he teaches that we are all from the beginning, functions of the Buddha's body, just as he is. This should not be taken in the simplistic literal way - consider that all these statements are themselves subject to the caveat of Upaya. The True Aspect, the Buddha, can only be known directly, and is of course subject to all those caveats that make the the Buddha's body ultimately incomprehensible. The Mahaparinirvana expands on this.
I'm not concerned with other interpretations of Buddhism here. If people are interested to see what Zhiyi has to say about all that, his work is increasingly available in English. Basically, he declares that they are all marked by ignorance - essentially its the Master warning the disciple from being attached to signs. Instead, the Lotus Sutra teaches non-attachment to signs and instead urges a path that directly leads to the True Aspect. It begins with adhimukti of the True Aspect itself. Everything else is upaya.
The Daimoku is a pithy conclusion- a de minimis declaration of devotion to this teaching on the True Aspect of reality - a reduction of the Buddha's entire corpus of teachings into a short formula - just as E=mcsquared is a simple statement about a profound idea that can be explored voluminously. Its about as pared down as the Buddha's teaching on the True Aspect can be without becoming unintelligible. If we were to relinquish anymore of the sign, the Buddha's enlightenment would be lost and would need to be discovered and revealed again by another historical Buddha. Its not the only expression of this teaching, but a choice of another name would merely be a matter of alternative semantics - and thats more or less a variation on the Nam/Namu debate - idiotic and wholly missing the point.
This is what Nichiren wrote:
As a daily religious practice, one should recite the daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Those persons who are able to do so should further recite a verse or a phrase of the Lotus Sutra. As a supplementary practice, if one wishes, one may offer praise for Shakyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, or the Buddhas of the ten directions, for all the various bodhisattvas or the persons of the two vehicles, the heavenly beings, the dragon deities, or the eight kinds of nonhuman beings [who protect Buddhism]. Since we live in an age when there are many uninformed people, there is no need for believers to attempt at once to practice the meditation on the three thousand realms in a single moment of life, though if there are persons who wish to do so, they should learn how to practice this type of meditation and carry it out.
On Reciting the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra
To accept, uphold, read, recite, take delight in, and protect all the eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra is called the comprehensive practice. To accept, uphold, and protect the “Expedient Means” chapter and the “Life Span” chapter is called the abbreviated practice. And simply to chant one four-phrase verse or the daimoku, and to protect those who do so, is called the essential practice. Hence, among these three kinds of practice, comprehensive, abbreviated, and essential, the daimoku is defined as the essential practice.
-the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra
As for the Lotus Sutra, one may recite the entire sutra of twenty-eight chapters in eight volumes every day; or one may recite only one volume, or one chapter, or one verse, or one phrase, or one word; or one may simply chant the daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, only once a day, or chant it only once in the course of a lifetime; or hear someone else chant it only once in a lifetime and rejoice in the hearing, or rejoice in hearing the voice of someone else rejoice in the hearing, and so on in this manner to the fiftieth hearer. And if one were to be at the end, even if one’s faith were weak and one’s sense of rejoicing diluted like the frailty of a child of two or three, or the inability of a cow or horse to distinguish before from after, the blessings one would gain would be a hundred, thousand, ten thousand, million times greater than those gained by persons of keen faculties and superior wisdom who study other sutras, persons such as Shāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, Manjushrī, and Maitreya, who had committed to memory the entire texts of the various sutras…
First of all, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, you should understand that, whether one recites all eight volumes, or only one volume, one chapter, one verse, one phrase, or simply the daimoku, or title, the blessings are the same. It is like the water of the great ocean, a single drop of which contains water from all the countless streams and rivers, or like the wish-granting jewel, which, though only a single jewel, can shower all kinds of treasures upon the wisher. And the same is true of a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, or a million such drops of water or such jewels. A single character of the Lotus Sutra is like such a drop of water or such a jewel, and the hundred million characters are like a hundred million such drops or jewels…
But to return to your question. As I said before, though no chapter of the Lotus Sutra is negligible, among the entire twenty-eight chapters,the “Expedient Means” chapter and the “Life Span” chapter are particularly outstanding. The remaining chapters are all in a sense the branches and leaves of these two chapters. Therefore, for your regular recitation, I recommend that you practice reading the prose sections of the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters. In addition, it might be well if you wrote out separate copies of these sections. The remaining twenty-six chapters are like the shadow that follows one’s body or the value inherent in a jewel. If you recite the “Life Span” and “Expedient Means” chapters, then the remaining chapters will naturally be included even though you do not recite them. It is true that the “Medicine King” and “Devadatta” chapters deal specifically with women’s attainment of Buddhahood or rebirth in the pure land. But the “Devadatta” chapter is a branch and leaf of the “Expedient Means” chapter, and the “Medicine King” chapter is a branch and leaf of the “Expedient Means” and the “LifeSpan” chapters. Therefore, you should regularly recite these two chapters, the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters. As for the remaining chapters, you may turn to them from time to time when you have a moment of leisure.
Expedient Means and Life Span Chapters
We speak of upholding the Lotus Sutra. But although there is only one sutra, the manner in which we uphold it may vary from one period to the next. There may be times when a person literally rends his flesh and offers it to his teacher, and in this way attains Buddhahood. Or at other times a person may offer his body as a couch to his teacher, or as so much firewood. At yet other times a person may bear the blows of sticks and staves for the sake of the sutra, or may practice religious austerities or observe various precepts. And there may be times when, even though a person does the things described above, he still does not attain Buddhahood. It depends upon the time and is not something fixed.
Therefore, the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai declared, “The method chosen should be that which accords with the time.” And the Great Teacher Chang-an said, “You should let your choices be fitting and never adhere solely to one or the other.”
Letter to Horen