Shin Yatomi on Why We Recite the Lotus Sutra

Through the consistent practice of gongyo, we can purge our lives of delusions accumulated over our present and past lifetimes and bring forth the pure and powerful life-condition of Buddhahood, thereby winning in daily life and enjoying a supreme sense of fulfillment. (Shin Yatomi, Living Buddhism, September 2005.)

The Primary Practice and the Supporting Practice

For our daily practice of gongyo, we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and recite portions of the Expedient Means (second) and Life Span (sixteenth) chapters of the Lotus Sutra. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is essential; therefore it is called the primary practice. Our sutra recitation helps bring forth the benefit of the primary practice and is called the supporting practice.

Of all of the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra, we recite from the Expedient Means and the Life Span chapters because they represent the sutras essence. As Nichiren writes: if you recite the Life Span and the Expedient Means chapters, then the remaining chapters will naturally be included even though you do not recite them. (WND, at 71).

Regarding the primary and supporting practices, Nichikan explains: The supporting practice is to recite the two chapters of the Expedient Means and Life Span; it helps to bring forth the profound benefit of the primary practice. To illustrate, it is ash water supporting water (in cleaning clothes) or as salt and vinegar enhancing the flavor of rice and noodle. It is therefore the supporting practice. (Six Volume Writings, at 193).

Refute and Borrow and Refute and Use

According to Nichirens successors, Nikko and Nichikan, the purpose of reciting the Expedient Means chapter is to refute and borrow and the purpose of reciting the Life Span chapter is to refute and use.

The Expedient Means chapter, particularly in its portions on the true aspect of all phenomena and the ten factors, contains the teaching of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. Shakyamuni, however, has not yet in the sutra revealed his eternal Buddhahood, and instead expounds this teaching in his provisional identity. We recite the Expedient Means chapter, then, to refute its teaching based on our understanding of Nichiren Buddhism.

The Life Span chapter substantiates the teaching of the Expedient Means chapter in which Shakyamunis true identity as an eternal Buddha is revealed. So we borrow its passages to reveal the essential teaching of the Life Span chapter in terms of both the surface meaning and the implicit meaning, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws, to which the Buddha of absolute freedom from time without beginning awakens.

Although the Life Span chapter reveals Shakyamunis true identity as an eternal Buddha, it does not clarify the Mystic Law to which he awakened. For this reason, we recite the Life Span chapter to refute its teaching from the standpoint of Nichiren Buddhism. At the same time, we use the chapter to reveal the eternal Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo implicit in the text.

To sum up: we make use of the Lotus Sutra through our understanding of Nichiren Buddhism, based on which we refute the Expedient Means chapter for being expounded by Shakyamuni in his provisional identity, and we refute the Life Span chapter for expounding only the Buddhism of harvest, not the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.