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Let’s Talk About the Basics

Photo by Kingmond Young.

This series answers popular questions asked by SGI members on the fundamentals of Buddhist practice.

Q: Is it ok to do gongyo in the car? I have a hard time waking up early enough to chant before work.

A: It’s truly praiseworthy to want to maintain a consistent practice. That being said, where and how we start our day determine victory.

Nichiren Daishonin cites the Buddhist phrase “morning after morning we rise up with the Buddha,”[1] which indicates doing an invigorating morning gongyo. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in front of the Gohonzon is the time when we can fuse the microcosm of our individual lives with the life force of the macrocosm that is the universe. “If we do this regularly each morning and evening,” Ikeda Sensei explains, “our life force—or engine—is strengthened.”[2]

Understandably, there may be times when you go to bed late or are just completely exhausted, but it’s important to keep trying to win over yourself, even a little each day.

Sensei once explained to a couple who asked whether they could climb out of poverty:

Imagine piling up one thin sheet of paper every day. During the first few days, the pile won’t look as if it has grown at all. But if you keep doing that every day for 10 or 20 years, you’ll have a high, towering pile that is clearly visible for all to see. Through our Buddhist practice, we can accumulate such “inconspicuous benefit.”[3]

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can never chant elsewhere, but the foundation of our Buddhist practice should always be to chant to the Gohonzon. Also, since Buddhism is based on reason, we should always use sound judgment when chanting outside our homes. Because reciting gongyo requires our full attention, attempting to do it while driving is not only difficult but also unsafe for ourselves and those around us.

Consider this parting thought from Sensei regarding gongyo:

Failing to win in the morning can lead to an unsatisfactory day. And an unending succession of such days can add up to an unsatisfying life. On the other hand, winning in the morning, getting off to a good start, leads to a productive day and puts you on a path to solid progress, ultimately culminating in a life of fulfillment and victory.[4]

Q: Why do I have to do gongyo twice a day?

A: The trajectory of our lives is determined by what we do and how we live each day. Our practice of morning and evening gongyo is the driving force for continually improving our lives. Speaking to a future division member, Ikeda Sensei said that Buddhism exists to free people, not restrain them. When we carry out the practice of gongyo each day, it amounts to what we might call a “spiritual workout”—“It purifies our lives, gets our ‘motors’ running, and sets us on the right track. It gets our bodies and minds moving and sets a good rhythm for the day.”[5]

Just as morning gongyo revs our engines for the day, doing evening gongyo enables us to “fine-tune” our lives, to gain perspective and refresh our determination after experiencing the various obstacles and setbacks that are part and parcel of daily life. As Helen Keller, the deaf-blind social activist who overcame unimaginable hurdles, so eloquently put it, “Our worst foes are not belligerent circumstances, but wavering spirits.”[6]

The journey to change our karma and do our human revolution is never-ending. For that reason, Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, teaches us: “Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror[7] day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”[8]

While we shouldn’t place unnecessary pressure on ourselves, the more we exert ourselves in the practice of morning and evening gongyo, the more we stand to gain. And the spirit of challenge—to keep chanting even a little more today than yesterday—is truly admirable.

Prepared by the World Tribune staff


  1. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 83. ↩︎
  2. See Discussions on Youth, new edition, p. 216. ↩︎
  3. Jan. 28, 2011, World Tribune, p. 8. ↩︎
  4. April 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 49. ↩︎
  5. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, vol. 1, p. 70. ↩︎
  6. Joseph P. Lash, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy (New York: Delacorte Press, 1980), p. 310. ↩︎
  7. To “polish your mirror” refers to chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in front of the Gohonzon. ↩︎
  8. “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4. ↩︎

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