Ten Righteous Practices – Part 2

4.  Sutra Reading and Reciting from Memory – Dokuju

When we recite the sutra we should keep in mind five rules for our recitation: 1. Vocal clarity, 2. Phrase-by-phrase  clarity, 3. Fluency, 4. Noble-mindedness, and 5. Solemnity and propriety.  There are also three cautions which are: 1. Mindful we are before the gods and Buddhas, 2. Pray to placate even the spirits of darkness, and 3. Pray to move and delight the people.

When we are in community reciting the sutra it is said we should do so by the ear.  For anyone who has either sung in a choir or played a musical instrument in a band you understand the importance of listening to others around you so your playing or singing is not just in time or harmony but that it is also appropriately loud or soft.  When we recite in community we are instructed to set aside our personal manner of recitation and concentrate on harmonizing with others.  This way we are all together able to enjoy the flavor of the Dharma.

Daily practice is important as this ensures you gain proficiency in correctly pronouncing the words, adjusting your pace of speaking and tonal quality.  In all of this keep in mind to find your own natural style when by yourself.  You should not force yourself to be overly ostentatious in your manner of service.  If you do not naturally have a deep voice then do not naturally try to force your voice deeper, the same with a high pitch.  I will say daily practice can help improve your range of voice which will enable you to better harmonize when in group.

If possible it is desirable to have a place to rest your sutra book so it remains open and your hand free and not holding the book.  During the service you begin with your hands in gassho.  After the third bell is wrung you place your hands in shashu and at about the location of below your belly button.  We do shashu by placing the left palm against the back of the right hand and the thumb of the left hand is inserted into crook of your right thumb and index finger.  This may sound confusing so as always ask your teacher to demonstrate this so you can do it properly.  As the sutra reciting is nearing the end of the passage the bell is rung and at this time you move your hands to gassho until the end of the sutra.

Finally the rhythm of the sutra chanting should normally remain constant.  It is permissible when reciting the entire sutra to change the pace once in the beginning and twice at the end.  Otherwise practice trying to maintain a steady pace.  The natural tendency is on passages one is familiar with to speed up and when an unfamiliar passage is attempted to slow down.  Be aware of this an do your best to keep the same pace throughout.

5. Directing Thoughts – Unzo

“Unzo is deep and contemplative thinking… In dokuju (reading & reciting the sutra), whether chanting in shindoku or kundoku [and English], it is difficult t maintain deep and contemplative thought; during shoddy, it is easy to maintain deep and contemplative thought.” Raiju-giki

For us chanting in non-English we can become so focused on getting the pronunciation correct we get distracted by those thoughts.  In English we can get distracted by knowing what the words mean and trying to assemble a complete understanding of those individual words.  During Odaimoku, or shodai, we can become bored and our minds wander.  Considering these obstacles before hand and doing unto before hand helps us maintain our focus and remind us of our intention.  A suitable unzo, unless a specific one has been given, is reading Nichiren’s instructions.  Or you may simply pause momentarily to pull your thoughts together and focus.

Once you have begun to master the shindoku reading of the sutra I believe you will find it easier to maintain a more deep and contemplative mind and have a transcendent experience.  When doing it in English this is more difficult, though not impossible.  One thing that can help when doing it in English is to follow the pattern of a syllable by syllable rhythm.

6.  Daimoku Chanting – Shodai

Whenever I lead Daimoku chanting, shodai, almost all the time I preface it with an instruction to chant with great joy and confidence.  We should make great effort to avoid chanting in a lazy, gloomy, or distracted manner.  The cultivation of one’s inner spirit of joy and confidence both enhances our Odaimoku and the Odaimoku enhances our inner spirit. Remember the way we chant and the way of our mind are all causes, and have a significant impact on our lives and the benefit of the Odaimoku. 

The pace of the chanting should be moderate, not too fast and not too slow.  It should be comfortable and allow for easy pronunciation of all the seven characters of Namu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo, with Namu taking one single beat and the remaining characters one beat each.  The Raiju-giki suggests a minimum of 300 odaimoku, though I personally am not a fan of the distracting action of counting.  Even if using one’s beads and doing three complete sets of 108 beads it is still a distraction.  My most frequently given advice is to know yourself and chant until you are full, or satisfied.  Of course if you are tuned to your spirit it will be hard to know this, and I do believe over time you can learn to discern when you’ve chanted enough for your spirit in that moment.  Sometimes the number will be perhaps very long and other times it may be as short as 300 repetitions.

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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.