Downward Dog Days NYC: The Gongyo

Still on a a "transcendental tear" after my Yoga teacher training, last night's spiritual excursion was to a Gongyo - a formal chanting ceremony in the Nichiren Buddhism tradition, as practised by members of Soka Gakkai International.

Wiki oh wiki, what is Nichiren Buddhism?

Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the Lotus Sutra and a belief that all people have an innate Buddha nature, and are capable of attaining enlightenment in their present lifetime. Nichiren Buddhists believe that the spread of Nichiren's teachings and their effect on practitioners' lives will eventually bring about a peaceful, just, and prosperous society.

Sounds good to me!

I was first introduced to SGI by leadership coach and friend Chuck Craytor, an SGI devotee for over 20 years. I was mesmerized by the power of even a small roomful of people chanting the key mantra, or Daimoku: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

From Wiki: The basic practice of SGI members is based on faith, practice, and study. Faith entails chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo daily and reciting gongyo (the Expedient Means and Life Span Chapters of the Lotus Sutra). The duration of chanting tends to depend upon the individual member; typically it will start off minimal (5 to 10 minutes morning and evening), but long term practitioners frequently chant for at least half an hour or an hour morning and evening. Some members will occasionally chant daimoku tōsō ("chanting struggle"), which is extended chanting over several hours in a single day. ... As lay believers and engaged Buddhists, SGI members strive in their everyday lives to develop the ability to live with confidence, to create value in any circumstances and to contribute to the well-being of friends, family and community. The promotion of peace, culture and education is central to SGI's activities.

Applied Buddhism - what the world needs more of for sure. We arrived at the NY location at 7pm. You need to sign in with ID if you're not a member. Upstairs, a large room with rows of chairs face the alter or Gohonzon. There is a set half hour practice which follows a slim little volume you can buy for 75 cents called "The Liturgy of Nichiren Buddhism".

The procedure is this: first, a spirited recitation of the Lotus Sutra - a hypnotic poem in a kind of phonetic Japanese. Some know it completely off by heart, which isn't meant to be impressive to the casual observer but really knocks your socks off. Then there is some gonging, with silent prayers in between, followed by a truly frenzied repetition of the Daimoku. It's led by someone with a mike and will be as fast or slow as that person decides. In this case, the woman leading it would make a darn good fist of "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers". Indeed, the more frenzied the chant, the more emotion is generated and the deeper the effect, I'm told. During the chanting many people fondle a string of prayer beads.

You couldn't help but notice the extreme diversity of people sitting in the chant. There was truly no one main kind of "chanter". Half an hour passed quickly, and yet slowly; it is amazing what the brain does when it is forced to focus on one phrase. Time expanded, then contracted.

Afterwards, we peeked into some upstairs rooms where the sutra was being taught slowly for beginners by a man with a very strong Japanese accent - it required considerable meditation to work out what he was saying. Then we traipsed down to the bookshop and each bought a copy of the 75 cent liturgy and a CD to listen to how it should sound.

Gongyo has a completely different sound and feel to the melodic Kirtan. It's all good.

Hear the Gongyo for yourself:

Gongyo slow and steady

Gongyo fast and furious by Western Bhuddist monks

Tina Turner reciting the Lotus Sutra for Larry King - really impressive!


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