The History of Gongyo (2)

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Posted on August 11, 2009

During the time of Nicchin, the 12th high priest (1469- 1527) : The origin of 5 prayer format.

“The five-prayer format of gongyo became formalized during the term of Nicchin, who served as high priest from 1482-1527” (Toryu gyoji sho ni manabu, p. 244). In his work On Reciting the Sutra at Each Temple, Nicchin indicates that morning and evening gongyo were conducted while making the rounds among various temples on the Taiseki-ji grounds. This was first recorded as having taken place on the evening of May 1, 1523, in which gongyo was conducted in the following manner:

Evening gongyo : May 1, 1523
At Hondo: Recite A, B, C, then, chant 100 daimoku
At Temmi-kyo: Recite A, B, C, then, chant 100 daimoku
At Miei-do: Recite A, B, C, then, chant 100 daimoku,
then recite B, C, B, C, B, C, B, C, and 300 daimoku

Morning gongyo: May 2, 1523
At Miei-do: Recite A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B, C, then chant 300 daimoku
At Tenmi-kyo: Recite A, B, C, then chant 100 daimoku
At Hon-do: Recite A, B, C, then chant 100 daimoku
At Miei-do: Recite A, B, C, then chant 100 daimoku
At Mutsubo(lodgings): [prayers for the deceased]

Whether this pattern of morning and evening gongyo was conducted every day is not clear. Nittatsu, the 66th Nichiren Shoshu high priest, suggested that “prayers of appreciation for the Gohonzon were offered at the Hondo, while prayers at the Miei-do were offered for gratitude to the Three Teachers and for the accomplishment of kosen-rufu, and during the outdoor prayer, appreciation was offered for the protection of the shoten zenjin, and furthermore, prayers for the deceased were offered at the priests’ lodgings, and that this formed the basis for today’s five-prayer format of gongyo”(Renge, July 1971, p.12).

During the time of Nissei, the 17th high priest (1600-1683): Origin of “one-site gongyo”

As noted, gongyo included reciting different parts of the sutra at several different buildings on the head temple. The change to “one-site” gongyo started during the tenure of Nissei, the 17th high priest. Nissei, however, is known for two major doctrinal errors: the first was the establishment of a statue of Shakyamuni as an object of devotion, and the second was the mandate that all Twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus sutra be recited during gongyo(*10). As mentioned above, this mandate directly contradicted the teachings of the Daishonin and of his great disciple Nikko Shonin who clearly specified the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters.

In 1631, some important buildings at the head temple burned to the ground. In the following year, Nissei built a new building called the “Daido,” which replaced the previous buildings. According to Nittatsu, “the practice of making the rounds among the various temples to perform gongyo was discontinued at that time”(p.42). Thus, one-site gongyo began.

During the time of Nichikan, the 26th high priest (1665-1726)

Interestingly enough, according to the historical documents, it was nearly 400 years after the passing of Daishonin, sometime between 1682 to 1719(*11) (between 23rd high priest Nikkei to 26th high priest Nichikan) that the practice of doing gongyo twice a day became an established practice at Taiseki-ji. In 1719, Nichikan sent a letter responding to a question from a lay believer in which he lists the form that gongyo was then carried out at the head temple. The following chart shows that format:

Gongyo at Taiseki-ji, in 1719
In the morning(between 2 and 4 a.m) [Silent prayers for:] 1. Recite A, B, C [Heavenly deities] 2. Recite A, A+, B, C [Gohonzon] 3. Recite A, B, C [Three teachers] 4. Recite A, B, C [Personal prayers] 5. Recite A, B, C [The deceased]

1. Recite A, B, C [Gohonzon] 2. Recite A, B, C [Three teachers] 3. Recite C, C, C [The deceased]

As the above chart shows, the gongyo conducted at Taiseki-ji at that time took at least 2 hours. In fact, it was Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda who suggested shortening that form of gongyo, so that it could fit more easily into the daily lives of the ordinary lay people of his day. It was Toda’s desire to make the practice of gongyo more practical to a wide portion of the population, and thus make it more conducive to the original aim of Nichiren Daishonin, world-wide Kosen-rufu.

SGI’s new gongyo format toward a world religion

In the history of Taiseki-ji, many Buddhist formalities were created after the Daishonin’s passing, especially under the Tokugawa government’s parish system(*12),which was implemented during the 17th Century. These formalities include memorial books, memorial tablets, Buddhist altars, funeral services, family tombs, as well as changes to the format of gongyo.

Clearly, the format of gongyo has evolved over the centuries and has been modified with the changing of the times. One may ask why the Daishonin did not set a specific format for gongyo during his lifetime? One can only conclude that he had the foresight to see that such formality was unnecessary and that the practice would need to evolve over time, according to the social circumstances of his followers.

The appropriateness of such formalities must be judged according to the times and the people. If such formalities do not accord with the times and the people, then practitioners, finding themselves bound to archaic ways, will suffer and the progress of kosen-rufu will be impeded.

Nichiren Daishonin revealed the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the sake of the entire world. This is reflected in the fact that the word “enbudai” which means “the entire world” is mentioned some 173 times in the Gosho. Focusing on the primary practice of daimoku, supplemented by the practice of gongyo, the Daishonin revealed a practice that is accessible to the great variety of people that exist around the world.

Throughout this article, each section of the gongyo indicated with following alphabetic symbols:
A: “Expedient Means” chapter (through the ten factors)
A+ : “Expedient Means” chapter (including the long prose portion)
B : “Prose” section of “Life Span” chapter
C : “Verse” section of the “Life Span” chapter

*10. For more about Nissei, See chapter 7 of The Untold History of the Fuji School: The True Story of Nichiren Shoshu, p.61-67.

*11. For example, at the time of Nisshu (the 22nd high priest from 1680 – 1682), priests at Taiseki-ji conducted three gongyo a day. Nisshu states: “At five temples in the Fuji school, three-gongyo -a-day has been practiced with reciting two chapters of “Expedient Mean” and “Life Span” –the essence of all the 28 chapters of the Lotus Sutra—since the time of founder [Nikko].”(Toryu gyoji sho ni manabu, p.252). Thus doing gongyo twice a day became an established practice after Nisshu’s tenure.

*12. For more about the Parish System, See chapter 6 of The Untold History of the Fuji School: The True Story of Nichiren Shoshu, p.53-59.

List of Works consulted:

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1999)
Hori, Nichiko ed. Nichiren Daishonin Gosho Zenshu [The Collected Writings of Nichiren Daishonin] (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1952)
Hori, Nichiko ed. Fuji Shugaku Yoshu [Essential Teachings of the Fuji School] (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1975), Vol. 2.
The Lotus Sutra.trans. Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press,1993 )
Hori, Nichiko. Fuji Nikko Shonin Shoden [A Detailed Biography of Nikko Shonin in Fuji School] (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1974)
Ikeda, Daisaku ed. Gonin shoha sho ni manabu[Learning from “On the Betrayal of the Five Senior Priests”] (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 2000), 2vols.
Ikeda, Daisaku ed. Toryu gyoji sho ni manabu [Learning from “On the Practice of This School”]. (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1990)
The SGI-USA Study Department ed. The Untold History of Fuji School: The True Story of Nichiren Shoshu (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press,2000)
Morino, Ted. “Gongyo, Our basic Buddhist Practice.” World Tribune, January 23, 1995
Saito, Katsuji. “On the Silent Prayers.” World Tribune, May 25, 1992.