Since this is my first entry on a blog which is now losing it’s credibility by allowing me to contribute, I’m going to start with something not too controversial before I jump into the deep poo abyss.
1a. The use of more words than are required to express an idea; redundancy.
There are many simple examples of this kind of wording redundancy. The most famous might be from The Firesign Theater “The Department Of Redundancy Department”. Others are armed gunmen, fall down, plan ahead, free gift, ATM machine (automatic teller machine machine) or juzu beads (prayer beads beads). My personal new favorite is “Prince, the artist formerly known as, ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’”. The list is an endless list.
Here’s one that pops into my head when I do morning gongyo:
“I suppose you know what your doing, but I wonder if you realize what this means?”
(Claude Rains as Monsieur Renault the Prefect of Police to Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in the movie classic “Casablanca”.)

The wording in our SGI-USA liturgy books contain, for lack of a better description, redundancies. During morning gongyo, before the first prayer, we chant three times “…in appreciation and for the empowerment of the protective forces…” Next, we do the first silent prayer which is ‘…appreciation to the functions in life and the environment (shoten zenjin) that serve to protect us and pray that these forces be further strengthened and enhanced through my practice of the Law,” and chant three more times. In other words, we chant in appreciation for the “empowerment” of these “protective” forces, then we show “appreciation” to the same “functions” that “serve to protect” by chanting three times. (I actually used all the same words again. How redundant of me. And if you realized that in the first place I’m being redundant in telling you so.)
Why do we do it twice? I’m glad you asked. We didn’t use to. We used to face east. That’s where those protective forces used to live and the rising sun represented their manifested form. Hey they have names too; Bonten, Taishaku, Nitten, Gatten, Myojoten and, like the first season of Gilligan’s Island, the rest. But this viewpoint could have a propensity to lead one to think of those forces as separate from us. Especially if we took the written words in a literal way. From the page, to our brain, to our way of thinking, those forces could possibly be visualized as anything from the god of the sun, to the god of the moon, to a Power Ranger. Separating them into specific functions, also, can force us to mentally isolate us from their actual source of origination, which is one’s own self and one’s own environment. Has this answered why we do it twice? Nope! And it certainly got me thinking. But after all, it’s just a guideline, right?
Which brings me back to “I suppose you know what you’re doing, but I wonder if you realize what this means.”
The prose part of the Life Span (Juryo) chapter of the Lotus Sutra says the same thing as the verse part, which is the part we do now. It was longer and more difficult to recite. At least it was for me. We also used to do all that reciting five times in the morning and three times in the evening. Apparently that was considered redundant and was changed into what we do now. But chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo over and over is also redundant isn’t it? So why is one thing expendable and the other necessary?
Here’s an example of one possible explanation. In Nichiren’s letter to Toki Jonin entitled “On The Four Stages Of Faith And The Five Stages Of Practice” he states, ”The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo do not represent the sutra text, nor are they its meaning. They are nothing other than the intent of the entire sutra. So, even though the beginners in Buddhist practice may not understand their significance, by practicing these five characters, they will naturally conform to the sutra’s intent.” Pg. 788, WND.
Monsieur Renault may well have asked, “What’s your intention?” That gets directly to the point, but it’s not very lyrical from a dramatic point of view. If your intention is to be a body builder, then you will have to lift weights over and over again. Is that redundant or is that diligent? Here’s the definition of both and you decided.
No longer needed or useful. Superfluous.
Having or showing care and conscientiousness in ones work or duties.
So, if there are parts of a sentence that are superfluous, it follows that those words are no longer useful or needed to make the intended meaning of that sentence clear. The Department Of Redundancy Department becomes either The Department Of Redundancy or The Redundancy Department. And Prince can just be Prince.
But according to what Nichiren wrote, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo itself isn’t redundant. It’s incredibly economic. And I don’t believe, based on my personal experience with its effect upon my life, that repeating it over and over is being redundant but, rather, diligent.
But wait a second. If the Lotus Sutra’s true intention is contained within Myoho-renge-kyo, why then do we recite excerpts from the Expedient Means and Life Span chapters? Is that being diligent or redundant?
Before you attempt to answer that question read this. It’s from “On Establishing The Four Bodhisattvas As The Object Of Devotion” by Nichiren written to our same pal Toki Jonin. Nichiren writes, ”In the present period the essential teaching is primary, while the theoretical teaching is subordinate. But those who would therefore discard the later, saying it is not the way to enlightenment, and believe only in the former, have not yet understood the doctrine of Nichiren’s true intention. Theirs is a completely distorted view.” Pg. 978 WND.
Clearly Nichiren felt that there was value in the teachings leading to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. What that may be is what we as his disciples must be diligent in discovering. And I got stuck here for a while and started chanting about it. Then I remembered a book I read by Joanna Macy called “Mutual Causality In Buddhism and General Systems Theory,” (you guys read that, right?) and put that together with an article by Shin Yatomi. It was in the Jul-Aug 2006 issue of the Living Buddhism on Dependent Origination. In a nutshell states that nothing exists independently of other things or arises (comes into existence) in isolation. If that’s the case, then you can’t have life without an environment for it to exist in. Likewise you can’t have an essential teaching without the theoretical. (I’m going to write a separate article on what Dependent Origination, Creationism, and the Anthropic Bias Principle all have in common. But I digress.)
Let’s extrapolate Dependant Origination further. If you can’t have life without an environment of which life is a part of, then you can’t have an environment, which supports life, without a cause for it to arise (come into existence). Life and its environment are the simultaneous cause and effect for each to exist. Life isn’t just an effect. It causes an environment to support it to come into existence. Within life is the cause and effect for it to arise without the need for an anthropomorphic, metaphysical deity either.
Reciting the passages from the Lotus Sutra during Gongyo is an act of appreciation. Nichiren encourages us to appreciate everything because we are a part of everything and in turn everything, the whole cosmos, is a reflection of ourselves. The first prayer in he morning is for this. So in reciting the Hoben and Juryo sections of the Lotus Sutra we are expressing our appreciation for them leading us to Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
By now it should be apparent that I have way too much time on my hands. But I hope this encourages you to read the Writings Of Nichiren and chant about what you read. There are a lot of answers in his writings to a lot of questions about this practice and about life and how it all works.
Here is a letter I wrote objecting to the profuse amount of redundant language used in what was supposedly a profound explanation in an SGI-USA publication.
Letter to Living Buddhism May-June Living Buddhism 2006
“Lost In Translation”
The lecture in The Living Buddhism “On Attaining Buddhahood In This Lifetime” by Mr. Katsuji Saito, a very learned man and much respected co-contributor of the series “The Wisdom Of The Lotus Sutra”, is a perfect example of the importance of “zuiho bini”, the difficulty in bridging cultures, and the importance of addressing the needs and capacities of a specific audience. The concepts attempting to be clarified appeared to have been filtered through the Department of Redundancy Department. For example;
“What gives rise to all those laws is the Mystic Law. It is the essential Law that supports all things. Again, because it is difficult to comprehend, it is called “mystic” or “wondrous”. At the center of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is myoho-the Mystic Law. Because the Mystic Law underlies all things, naturally, it supports all living things. In other words, the Mystic Law exists in and supports our own lives. This is why Nichiren calls it the “mystic truth”…” and on and on and on. In fact the terms “Mystic Law” and “Mystic Truth” are offered as an explanation of Myoho-renge-kyo around 56 times in this 12 page lecture.
Also; “For this reason, he teaches each of us must develop the conviction that “my life is Myoho-renge-kyo,” that “Myoho-renge-kyo is my life itself” and that “the name of my life is Myoho-renge-kyo.” What was that first thing again?
Now these last three sentences are in quotes as if that is what Nichiren said, but it is paraphrasing what he said. The actual Gosho translation is much clearer than the explanation.
Speaking of which, on page 16 Mr. Saito is addressing the Pure Land School’s interpretation of Buddhism and draws a conclusion, which makes no sense at all in relationship to his premise;
“Any religion that seeks salvation in the absolute tends to focus on things far removed from ordinary people.” Scooby Doo says “Rhut?”
The manner in which this lecture is transmitted challenges one to find the blossom in the mire. There are some. But one really needs to wade in chest deep to find them. For example;
“In this letter, Nichiren expounds on the meaning of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the foundation and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Because he repeatedly admonishes us not to seek the Law outside ourselves, we can transcend the destiny of other religions that fall into formality and authoritarianism.”
My initial reaction was to this statement was, “Is it hot in here, or is it just me!” I seem to remember boys on one side, girls on the other and a whole lot of uniforms. But after re-reading and reflecting on what is actually being said, Mr. Saito is referring (perhaps) to the issue that SGI, in transcending what the other religions can only experience as “destiny”, must also be subject to it in order to overcome it. In fact, how else can SGI lead they way for corporate revolution without overcoming the same pitfalls they all face? If one gives Mr. Saito the benefit of doubt, it was a very adroit way of alluding to past culpability without admitting complicity. Once again this may be a cultural difference.
Mr. Saito was very upfront in stating, “Additionally, I intend to confirm here that it is only the SGI that has been propagating this great Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo exactly as intended by Nichiren.” He spends a good third of his lecture in refuting the Nichiren Shoshu organization and priesthood. I imagine that in Japan one can pick up a newspaper or ride on a train and read an advertisement or listen to a news program and hear disparaging remarks and editorials from those who either want to destroy the Soka Gakkai’s movement for the globalization of peace or who simply do not understand what the truth actually is. However, we here in America who practice this amazing Buddhism, do not see that conflagration in same social and cultural way as the Japanese. In fact I doubt if any information, positive or negative, would reach us except through the auspices of the SGI information network. It’s really not a part of our daily life. We are more inculcated with religious fundamental extremism, which this issue of the temple and its priesthood occasionally bleeds into, and gives us pause to reflect.