Constructing a Composite Pronunciation Text
(an aid to reciting and learning the Japanese language version of the Threefold Lotus Sutra)
I joined the Risshō Kōsei Kai Lay Buddhist Association in 1992 because I wanted to use some of the Japanese language that I had studied years before in college. As well, it occured to me that learning to recite excerpts from the Lotus Sutra in Japanese would help me understand and appreciate something important about the culture and religion of Japan. At first, I began reciting selected extracts from the Sutra using a "romanized" version of the Japanese prayer-book, or Kyōden (経典), which contained an accompanying English translation. After about a year of concentrated practice, I had memorized the sounds of the Kyōden's Japanese pronunciation. Thereafter, I switched to reading the Japanese version of the Kyōden which indicated Japanese pronunciation through the use of small "furigana" (ふりがな) symbols placed alonside the vertically written Japanese characters. I knew these symbols from my previous study of Japanese so they caused me no difficulty. After another two years, I found that I could actually read most of the Japanese text for meaning as well as sound.
Then I learned that the Japanese-speaking members of Risshō Kōsei Kai read the entire sutra over the course of a month's time, covering a certain number of pages each day during their morning and evening recitations at home. Determined to expand my own reading ability, I obtained a copy of the Japanese version of the Sutra, but found the size of the printed Japanese characters and furigana pronunciation symbols too small for me to read comfortably. So I set out to see if I could find a copy of the Sutra on computer diskette: one that I could read into my own computer and print out using a larger type-size.
訓読法華三部経(平楽寺版)The staff also gave me a copy of a “Romanized” pronunciation text of the Threefold Lotus Sutra entitled:
Kundoku Threefold Lotus Sutra
Myōhō-Renge-Kyō, Narabi Ni Kai-Ketsu
Edited by Risshō Kōsei Kai
Tōkyō: Hinode Printing Company (1970)
When I read the diskette into my computer, however, I discovered that the word-processing machine had used the simplified post-war Japanese characters called "Tōyō Kanji" (当用漢字) and not the more complex pre-war Chinese characters called "Kyū Kanji" (旧漢字) used in writing the Risshō Kōsei Kai version of the Sutra. Furthermore, the diskette contained none of the Japanese furigana pronunciation symbols, either. It soon became clear to me that I had an significantly incomplete version of the Japanese text: one with a great many of the traditional Chinese characters either missing entirely or with simplified post-war characters substituted for them. All this missing or incorrect information I would have to supply or correct myself. The prospect seemed daunting, to say the least. Nonetheless, the staff of Risshō Kōsei Kai headquarters had done their best to help me, and I felt too embarrassed to go back and ask for further assistance. So I made up my mind to produce a pronunciation guide to the Japanese version of the Lotus Sutra, using the materials that I had in hand or could acquire in time. What I eventually did in order to meet this challenge would make a long and technical story, but suffice it to say that seventeen years later, here in the summer of 2012, I at last have something reasonably presentable to show for my efforts.
Michael Murry, "The Misfortune Teller," 2012