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Daily Life

Am I Praying Effectively?

A guide to hitting the mark with our prayer.

Photo by Rayna M. Tedford.

Every aspect of our life, from work to relationships to health, depends on our life force. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo daily, we activate the power of the Mystic Law within; we summon forth limitless reserves of wisdom, courage and compassion that help us move everything forward in the best possible direction. For that reason, those who make chanting a priority are never deadlocked.

Having said that, there may be times when we run up against a difficult challenge and question whether there’s a more effective way to chant. While there is no single correct way to pray, Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes the attitude with which we pray. Here are four things to consider when chanting to the Gohonzon for our goals and dreams. 

1. Am I Being Honest and Open?

All of us face times of anxiety, worry, suffering and sadness. Whatever life state we find ourselves in, we can go to the Gohonzon, just as we are, and chant about our problems openly and honestly, like a child seeking the comfort of their parents’ warm embrace. It is by “carrying on a conversation” with and “confiding our innermost thoughts” to the Gohonzon that we can transform our inner state of life (see The New Human Revolution, vol. 11, revised edition, p. 106). Ikeda Sensei recalls the guidance of his mentor:

My mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, often said that there’s no need for us to stand on ceremony when chanting about our problems; we just need to chant honestly to the Gohonzon, to truly look at what is in our hearts. The practice of chanting, he said, is the practice of manifesting the same life state as the Daishonin within us, so we should chant with the resolve to embody his state of life. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 2, p. 134)

As we chant unpretentiously, expressing whatever is in our hearts, we will be able to polish and forge our lives at the deepest level. 

2. Do I Have a Focused and Concrete Determination?

It’s important to have concrete prayers. A prayer that is ambiguous or irresolute will not fundamentally transform our life, just as following a map with vague instructions won’t get us to our destination. When we chant with a clear determination to never be defeated by any circumstance, we can summon forth the power to move the universe. 

As Sensei says:

Because our practice of faith is aimed at attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, it is essential that we have a solidly focused attitude when chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It is like trying to shoot an arrow: without a clear target, we won’t draw the bow with any real force or determination. In the same way, when we replace vague yearnings with concrete determinations and confident prayer, we can definitely accomplish what we hope to achieve. (SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series: On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime, p. 32)

When we set clear goals, decide to be victorious and wholeheartedly pray to the Gohonzon with concentrated effort, we can blaze a winning path.

3. Am I Actively Fighting My Inner Negativity?

Having doubts or being pessimistic sometimes is only human. But through engaging in our daily practice of chanting daimoku and doing gongyo, we can continuously challenge our disbelief in our Buddha nature and prevent it from hindering the way forward. The key is to chant with the spirit to battle our fundamental ignorance. Sensei explains: 

The power of this wondrous Law cannot fully manifest in a life clouded by ignorance. Ignorance is the inner darkness that prevents us from believing in the Mystic Law and staying focused on our own Buddha nature and that of others. The practice of chanting enables us to break through this darkness and vibrantly bring forth our Buddhahood. Battling our fundamental darkness—this inner struggle is the essence of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. (SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series: On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime, p. 29)

By actively challenging our doubts through prayer, we not only come to experience a deeper sense of confidence in our actions, we will also enjoy the process. 

4. Am I Praying With a Vow?

Nichiren Daishonin states, “It could never come about that the prayers of the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra would go unanswered” (“On Prayer,” The Writing of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 345). The power of our prayers to the Gohonzon are unfathomable. In particular, those who exert themselves to fulfill the vow of the Buddha and make efforts for kosen-rufu as a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra will have their prayers answered, as Nichiren says. Elaborating on this point, Sensei states:

To be “the same mind as Nichiren” means to cherish the same determination for kosen-rufu. When we work for kosen-rufu and we stand up with the resolve to demonstrate the victory of faith, our lives overflow with benefit beyond belief. 

We receive benefit because we work for kosen-rufu, which is the wish of the Buddha. This is analogous to how someone who works for a company receives a salary. 

Josei Toda characterized those who chant with a laundry list of the things they want, as though it were the duty of the Gohonzon to supply benefit, as having “beggar’s faith.” And he urged that instead they should stand up with the determination: “I will stake my life on the struggle for kosen-rufu!” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 5, p. 158)

When we pray based on a vow, we can bring forth the life state of Buddhahood, activate protective forces and tap into the life force necessary to achieve our goals. 

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “There is no true happiness for human beings other than chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (“Happiness in This World,” WND-1, 681). Chanting brings us immeasurable benefit. By praying honestly to the Gohonzon, having concrete determinations, challenging our fundamental ignorance and praying with the spirit to fulfill our vow, we can challenge our obstacles and achieve all of our goals. No problem is a match for those who base everything on this kind of prayer. 

A Posture of Victory

Click here to access practical points on how to conduct ourselves in front of the Gohonzon.

How Much Should I Chant?

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the only way to truly polish our lives at the deepest level. Those who put chanting first can thoroughly polish their lives that have been clouded by darkness and make them shine like a bright mirror, reflecting the Dharma nature. Chanting is a process of polishing and forging our lives, which is why our faith is so important.

Consequently, the benefit of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is absolutely not dependent on the amount we chant. What matters is that we chant to our own heart’s content, the amount that feels right and satisfying for us. Nowhere in his writings does the Daishonin say we should chant a specific quantity. The efficacy of our prayers is influenced by the strength and depth of our faith and by our determination and attitude.

At the same time, sincerely resolving to chant a specific amount is also an expression of faith. We can chant the amount we’ve decided on each day, while continually renewing and deepening our resolve. Victory will undoubtedly come to those who persevere in the practice of chanting Nam myoho-renge-kyo, diligently polishing their mirror day and night (see “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4), just as the Daishonin urges. (Ikeda Sensei, Teachings for Victory, vol. 2, pp. 134–35)

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