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Buddhist Study

The Dynamic Practice of Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Photo by Dave Goodman

Nichiren Daishonin lived during a tumultuous time in 13th-century Japan when people suffered almost year to year from some form of natural disaster, extreme weather event, famine, epidemic or political instability. Searching for a way to relieve people’s suffering, he delved into Buddhist scriptures and revealed the truth found in the depths of the Lotus Sutra—that all people possess the supremely noble life state of Buddhahood and that they have the power to transform their karma and attain a life state of absolute happiness in this lifetime.

He recognized the title of the Lotus Sutra, Myoho-renge-kyo, as the fundamental Law of the universe that permeates all life and resonates as the life state of Buddhahood within all people. Adding to this title the word nam, which means “dedication to” or “devotion to,” he established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo expresses the mystic principles and functions at work within our lives—it is an expression of the Mystic Law, which corresponds to the Buddha’s intent to guide all people to enlightenment.

As a graphic expression of this Law, Nichiren inscribed the Gohonzon to serve as an object of devotion and a mirror to reflect our innate enlightened nature and cause it to permeate every aspect of our lives.

Why Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?

In the same way that our name represents who we are in our entirety, when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are affirming everything taught in the Lotus Sutra. By chanting, we call forth our highest state of life, or Buddha nature, characterized by limitless courage, compassion and wisdom.

Nam means “to dedicate one’s life”; myoho means Mystic Law; renge literally indicates the lotus flower, representing the simultaneity of cause and effect; and kyo means sound or teaching.

There are many perspectives from which Nichiren explains the meaning and significance of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Most important, though, is that it signifies dedicating our lives to the Mystic Law. Acting based upon that Law, we work for the happiness of ourselves and others.

Does Chanting Work Even If I Don’t Understand It?

Nichiren teaches that even though we may not understand the full meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can gain benefit by chanting this phrase.

He writes: “When a baby drinks milk, it has no understanding of its taste, and yet its body is naturally nourished . . . The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo . . . 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” (“On the Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 788).

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, then, we can imbue our lives with the life state of Buddhahood. SGI President Ikeda says:

Of course, it is better if you understand the meaning of [chanting and reciting sutra passages]. That will strengthen your commitment to the Law. But if you understand and yet fail to practice, it is all of no use. Moreover, you cannot understand the real depth of the teachings through reason alone . . .

The Daishonin has taught us that through gongyo and chanting daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo], we can reach an elevated state in which, while engaged in our daily lives, we traverse the entire universe . . .

When you chant to the Gohonzon, the door to your microcosm is opened to the entire universe, the macrocosm, and you experience a great, boundless joy, as if you were looking out over the entire cosmos. You feel great satisfaction and rejoicing, a great wisdom—as if you held the entire universe in your palm. (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 47–48)

Studying Buddhism is an integral part of practice because it helps us deepen our faith. But, ultimately, it is only by chanting and applying our Buddhist practice to our daily challenges that we demonstrate the real power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Chant to Win

In addition to practice, another vital factor is faith. Faith is built upon the experiences we gain through chanting.

Nichiren writes, “Whether or not your prayer is answered will depend on your faith” (“Reply to the Lay Nun Nichigon,” WND-1, 1079).

Our firm determination to win is the key factor in whether our prayers will be answered. This requires battling our tendencies to be influenced easily by negative impulses in our lives and environment. By summoning a powerful resolve and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can bring forth the courage and wisdom to overcome such tendencies and steer our lives in the best direction with confidence and composure.

President Ikeda states:

The power of our inner determination is immeasurable, and its ultimate expression is unshakable and courageous faith in the Mystic Law. The sound of our voices resolutely chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo reverberates throughout the entire universe, turning everything into a positive force that will support and protect us.

When you hit a wall, chant. When things are not going as hoped, pray with even greater resolve until you win.

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo bravely and vigorously enables us to bring forth the wisdom to surmount adversity and move things dynamically toward fresh victories. (Nov. 9, 2018, World Tribune, p. 3)

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