Recently, I was introduced to something in Nichiren Buddhism1 called shōdaigyō (唱題行). Nichiren Buddhism seems to have a fair number of practices within it, all centered around the Lotus Sutra in some way. For example people often:
- Recite (or read aloud) excerpts of the 2nd and 16th chapters of the Lotus Sutra in the liturgical Sino-Japanese language. I think this is called shindoku (真読).
- They may additionally, or separately also recite the odaimoku (お題目) which is namu myōhō renge kyō (南無妙法蓮華経).
But to my surprise, shodaigyo meditation is also widespread.
To be honest, I assumed at first that it was something just to appease Westerners who wanted more meditation practices. However, a quick search in Japanese showed that many Nichiren-shu temples in Japan hold shodaigyo sessions too (examples here, here and here).
Here is an example video taken in Japan:
Obviously the children don’t have to take part, but it’s nice they can absorb the atmosphere with their parents.
The specific format of shodaigyo varies from place to place, but it seems to always have the following elements:
- Veneration of the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
- Mindfulness-meditation to focus and settle one’s mind.
- Chanting of namu myoho renge kyo. There are many styles for doing this.
- Deep meditation, where one simply appreciates the Lotus Sutra, the chanting, etc.
- Prayer and dedication of merit to all beings.
Shodaigyo can be as short as 10 minutes (3 minutes for each meditation session plus 3 for chanting), or an hour for more elaborate sessions. It can be done daily, weekly or whenever.
Anyhow, it’s a fascinating fusion of devotional Buddhism with meditation.
P.S. A helpful page on Shodaigyo meditation in English.
1 Specifically Nichiren-shu Buddhism, the traditionally mainstream Nichiren Buddhist sect in Japan.