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Gongyō (勤行) is a Japanese word that means "assiduous practice" and refers to a formalized service performed by followers of nearly every Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Buddhist denomination. It is often done once or more times a day and consists of the recitation of a sutra passage or passages, a mantra or matras, or a combination of both. Gongyo can be done at a temple or at home, almost always in front of an object or objects of veneration and accompanied by offerings of light, incense, and food. Gongyo is also sometimes called o-tsutome (お勤め) or shōjin (精進). All three terms are common Japanese words and none is specific to any particular sect or school.
The word was first originated from ancient China; although nowadays it's more often used in Buddhism, in fact it first appeared in the Taoism classic - Zhuang Zi. It's original meaning is "very hard and frequent walking/practice".
Later during especially Sui and Tang Dynasties, the Buddhism philosophy developed dramatically in central China, and was influenced by Taoism thinkings. Chinese Buddhist philosophers borrowed this word from Taoism classics, and it spread to Korean, Japan, Vietnam with Buddhism.
Gongyo in Nichiren Buddhism
Nichiren Buddhists perform a form of gongyo that consists of reciting certain passages of the Lotus Sutra and chanting daimoku (also called o-daimoku). As described to some degree below, the format of gongyo varies by denomination and sect. Sometimes these variations are even sources of interschool contention, much as some Christian churches quarrel (and deny the salvation of one another's believers) over the significance of certain of their practices of worship.
Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, Gongyo means to recite the "Expedient Means" or "Hoben" (2nd) chapter and "The Life Span of the Thus Come One" or "Juryo" (16th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra in front of the Gohonzon. This is the supporting practice of all Nichiren Buddhists and is performed together with the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, every morning and evening.
- Note: The SGI gongyo format is different from that followed by other Buddhists. Though they were previously the same, from 1991 forward, in order represent a practical and sensible approach to Gonyo, not one that is formal and pointlessly ritualistic, the SGI began to gradually change certain aspects of gongyo, beginning with the phonetics of the recitation of the sutra, followed by the removal of the prose section of the Juryo chapter, the removal of the need to face east in the morning for the first prayer, then the format of the recitation of the sutra, followed by a change of the content of the "silent prayers", and currently a change in the ringing of the bells.
Format for Practicing Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism: Sitting in front of the Gohonzon, so that it is in perfect view, one rings a bell and chants prolonged daimoku followed by Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo three times to commence Gongyo. The speed of the recitation will be that of a 'galloping horse'.
If it is morning, one faces east and chants daimoku three more times and then offers the first prayer 'Appreciation for Life's Protective Forces(shoten zenjin)'. In certain countries, all five prayers are recited at the end of gongyo.
One then rings the bell and recites the Expedient Means chapter. Another fact to note, is that if one is chanting with a group, only the leader of the prayer will recite the title of the chapter.
Next, one rings the bell again and recites the Life Span chapter. Upon finishing the recitation, one rings the bell while commencing the repetitive chanting of daimoku for as long as one wishes. There is no rule as to how long one must chant daimoku during gongyo. Some chant for a few moments, some for up to an hour or even longer. One can usually tell when the level of satisfaction is reached in their daimoku as each individual is different.
When one feels enough daimoku has been chanted, one rings the bell and chants daimoku three more times.
One then offers the second prayer, Appreciation for the Gohonzon, the third prayer, Appreciation for Nichiren Daishonin, Nikko Shonin and Nichimoku Shonin, the fourth prayer, for the attainment of Kosen-rufu and the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and Personal Prayers, and the fifth prayer, Prayer for the Deceased (while ringing the bell continuously) and prayer for the impartial benefits of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to spread to all beings in the universe and to raise the life condition of every one on the Earth..
One chants three daimoku upon the end of each prayer and prolonged daimoku at the end of gongyo.
In the evening, one does not offer the first prayer, but goes directly to the second, third and fifth prayers along with daimoku.
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Nichiren Shu has many types of Gongyo a person can perform. One example of family service procedure is as follows (This is the same basic format that may be used for regular services at your local Temple):
- Invocation (Invitation to the Buddha, Dharma and Samgha to be present at this service)
- Kaikyo-ge (Opening Canon)
- Lotus Sutra Ch. 2 Hoben-pon
- Lotus Sutra Ch. 16 Juryo-hon (Jiga-ge)
- Chanting Odaimoku Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
- Lotus Sutra last part of Ch. 11 Hoto-ge (The difficulty in keeping this Sutra)
- Four Great Vows:
Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to save them all.
Our evil desires are inexhaustible; I vow to quench them all.
The Buddha's teachings are immeasurable; I vow to study them all.
The way of the Buddha is unexcelled; I vow to attain the path sublime.
Ch. 2 (Hoben-pon) and Ch. 16 (Juryo-hon) are recited the most frequently; however, you may recite Ch. 12 Daibadatta-hon, whole Ch. 16, Ch. 21 Jinriki-hon (whole or from "Shobukkusesha") or Ch. 25 Kannon-gyo. Furthermore, it is a great practice to recite the whole Lotus Sutra from the beginning little by little everyday. You may choose which chapter to read by yourself.
In Nichiren Shu, Recitation of the Lotus Sutra can be performed in Japanese or your own language.
In Nichiren Shoshu, gongyo is in principle performed twice daily, upon rising ("morning gongyo") and before retiring ("evening gongyo"). It is the act of offering the sutra, daimoku (the invocation Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), and silent prayers to the Gohonzon, the object of veneration. Offering the sutra entails reciting the Expedient Means (second) and the Life Span of the Tathagata (sixteenth) chapters of the Lotus Sutra; the silent prayers are five formal meditations expressing gratitude for the Three Treasures as defined in Nichiren Shoshu, and the merit accrued through Buddhist practices.
The sutra recitation is done in the Japanese pronunciation of Myōhō-Renge-Kyō, the Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra by Kumarajiva. The number of recitations depends on which silent prayer is to be offered. The established format consist of five in the morning and three in the evening, with the Expedient Means and Life Span of the Tathagata chapters recited once for each silent prayer offered. The full Life Span of the Tathagata Chapter is recited only for the second prayer (an expression of appreciation to the Dai-Gohonzon); for all others, only the "verse" portion is recited. Each recitation of the sutra passages is followed three "prolonged daimoku" (hiki-daimoku, wherein each syllable pronounced distinctly and drawn out: "Na-Mu, Myō-Hō–Ren-Ge–Kyō–") and the corresponding silent prayer, except for the final recitation of the service, which is followed by the chanting of 100 or more daimoku and the final silent prayer. Note that the number of or the length of time daimoku is chanted between the final sutra recitation and silent prayer, is discretionary.
Variations on this basic gongyo format, consisting of different combinations of the Expedient Means Chapter and parts of the Life Span of the Tathagata Chapter, are also offered on certain occasions, such as at mid-day meetings, before chanting daimoku for extended periods, and at funerals and celebrations.
The most important gongyo service in Nichiren Shoshu is the Ushitora Gongyo performed daily by the high priest or his proxy (when he is unable to officiate). Ushitora Gongyo takes place in the Grand Reception Hall of Head Temple Taisekiji and follows the format of the five-prayer morning gongyo service. It is done between the eponymous hours of the ox (ushi, 02:00) and the tiger (tora, 04:00), usually starting at 02:30 and taking about 50 minutes. Its purpose is to pray for the worldwide propagation of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and—by extension—the peace and prosperity of all the world's peoples.
The significance of performing Ushitora Gongyo at this time of day derives from earlier Buddhist teachings that describe the hour of the ox as "the end of darkness" and the hour of the tiger as "the beginning of light," and ones that describe all Buddhas as having attained enlightenment at this time. The passage from the hour of the ox to the hour of the tiger therefore symbolizes the transition from the unenlightened condition of a common mortal to the enlightened condition of a Buddha, so the performance of gongyo at this hour as serves as a reminder of the true purpose of Buddhist practice: to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime.
Though in principle Nichiren Shoshu clergy and lay practitioners alike perform gongyo following the three-prayer–five-prayer format passed down through the ages at Head Temple Taisekiji, sometimes people under schedule pressure perform shorter variations while increasing the amount of daimoku they offer. This is because chanting as much daimoku as possible is the main practice of the Nichiren Shoshu faithful, whereas the sutra recitations are an auxiliary practice. Further, when circumstances prevent someone from performing gongyo according to established convention, it is better to do a shortened version and chant lots of daimoku than to lose daily contact with the Gohonzon.
Gongyo in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism
The concept of gongyō is also common in Japanese Pure Land Buddhist schools such as Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu. The central practice of these schools is the recitation of the name of Amida, also called the nembutsu, but in daily practice a Pure Land practitioner will also chant excerpts of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, particular the sections titled the Sanbutsuge or the Juseige, and in some temples chanting the entire Smaller Sutra of Immeasurable Life may occur once daily or alternatively only on more formal occasions.
In larger Pure Land temples, the daily service is performed by priests or ministers, and lay people can optionally attend and recite along if they wish. The times for these services will vary depending on the individual branch, and individual temple.
In traditional Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, practitioners may also chant a hymn written by Shinran called the Shoshinge, which is not a sutra per se, but expounds the lineage with which Jodo Shinshu owes its beliefs. A shorter hymn called the Junirai, the Twelve Praises of Amida, can be used as well.
- Junen: The nembutsu is recited 8 times in one breath, without the final 'tsu' sound, then recited fully in one breath, and recited a final time without the 'tsu' sound again. This is 10 recitations total
- Nembutsu Ichie: The nembutsu is repeated as many times as the practitioers choose to.
- Sanshorai: The nembutsu is recited 3 times in a long, drawn-out fashion, after which the practitioner bows. This process is repeated twice more for a total of 9 recitations.
Further information regarding Pure Land daily devotions can be found here.