Here’s an updated illustration of the Hōtōge with the beats now illustrated fully. (See earlier blog post.)
There are no beats for the first two words – Shi Kyō – and then a single beat for each word thereafter until the final Yō, which gets a double beat. Quick beats are struck where the words are linked.
Each service when I play this recording and recite the words I’m reminded of the reason for the odd beat. The story is told in Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick’s Lotus in the Sea of Flames. The event takes place as Nichiren is being taken away to Izu on his first exile.
“I am no magistrate,” said the official. “I am not interested in your arguments. I am only interested in getting you onto that ship, out of Kamakura, and on to Izu. Now keep quiet!”
Nichiren put his palms together and bowed. His disciples cried out to him, some in tears. The guards kept back all but one. Nichiro, now a strong young man of 16, would not be cowed. He slipped past the guards and ran down to the boat just as it was being pushed off into the surf.
“Get back!” screamed the official.
But Nichiro would not get back. Crying for his master as he reached out to him, he waded out into the bay after the boat. Nichiren exhorted him to be calm, but his disciple was too overwrought and would not listen. “Take me with you!” He shouted again and again. Exasperated, the official took an oar and struck the young monk with bone shattering force. Clutching at his broken right arm, Nichiro finally backed away, his face white with pain.
Tears fell from Nichiren’s eyes as he saw his faithful disciple so brutalized. “Nichiro! Calm yourself. Is this how a disciple of the Buddha should act? From now on, when you see the sun setting in the west behind Izu, think of me. When I see the sun rising from the sea, I shall think of you.”
Nichiro nodded. “Forgive me, master.” Becoming faint, he went down on his knees in the water, sweat and tears coursing down his face. One of the guards finally reached him and escorted him back to where Nissho and the other monks were gathered.
As the boat moved away Nichiren began to chant the final verses from the eleventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “It is difficult to keep this sutra. I shall be glad to see anyone keeping it even for a moment.” The rocking of the waves caused his voice to fade in and out, giving the recitation an odd rhythm. The passage ended with, “Anyone who expounds this sutra even for a moment in this dreadful world should be honored with offerings by all gods and men.” From that point on Nichlren knew that he and his disciples had truly become practitioners of the Lotus Sutra as its predictions of hardships that would be faced by the teachers of the True Dharma began to be fulfilled in their own lives.