20 Life-Changing Buddhist Concepts

The Fundamental Power of the Universe

Concept #1: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

The NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) Hubble Space Telescope took this image of emission nebula NGC 2313. Emission nebulae are bright, diffuse clouds of ionized gas that emit their own light, May 14, 2021. Photo by Casey Horner / Unsplash


20 Life-Changing Buddhist Concepts is new study series highlighting key Buddhist concepts that can change the way you view and live life.

What is the way to genuine and lasting happiness? Buddhism teaches that we develop true happiness by bringing forth our inherent goodness, or Buddhahood, not only for our own well-being but also for the greater good of humanity.

Nichiren Buddhism offers a way for all of us to reveal our innate Buddhahood and actualize our limitless potential in this lifetime. Regardless of our socioeconomic background, gender, race, education or experience, we can overcome all suffering and lead the most meaningful, happy and harmonious lives.

The key to doing all of this starts with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Ikeda Sensei explains:

Our health, courage, wisdom, joy, desire to improve, self-discipline and so on, could all be said to depend on our life force. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to bring forth limitless life force. Those who base themselves on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are therefore never deadlocked. The important thing is to continue chanting every day, no matter what happens. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental power of the universe. (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, p. 51)

Let’s review some key points about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching and the fundamental principle for revealing our Buddhahood in this lifetime.

Awakening to the Fundamental Law Pervading the Universe

Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, recognized that all people endure the four universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. He sought a way to relieve these sufferings, and in the process, he awakened to the truth that he possessed within his own life the eternal, fundamental principle, or law, pervading the universe and all life. He came to be called a Buddha or “awakened one.” And to guide many others to the same awakening, he expounded numerous teachings, which were compiled as Buddhist sutras.

Later, in 13th-century Japan, Nichiren pored over the many Buddhist scriptures and discovered the essence of the Buddha’s teaching in the Lotus Sutra. He identified the Law to which Shakyamuni had awakened as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And he taught that this Law is the essential means for attaining Buddhahood and opening the way to lasting happiness.

The Daishonin writes:

If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo.[1]Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam comprising two characters). Nichiren Daishonin often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life. (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 3)

Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a concrete means to free ourselves from life’s sufferings. By chanting, we bring forth our inherent wisdom to perceive the truth of life and come to understand life from the enlightened perspective of Buddhahood. As a result, we can use everything that comes our way to enhance and strengthen our lives.

The Profound Meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

A name can convey so much about a person, place or thing. For instance, Nichiren states:

The two characters that comprise the name Japan contain within them all the people and animals and wealth in the sixty-six provinces of the country, without a single omission. …

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. (“On the Four Stages of Faith,” WND-1, 788)

The Lotus Sutra’s full meaning is reflected in its name, which in Japanese is Myoho-renge-kyo. Loosely translated, this is “Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law.”

Myo means “mystic” or “wondrous,” and ho means “law.” Together they form myoho, often translated as Mystic Law, the fundamental Law of the universe, which is difficult to understand.

Renge means “lotus flower,” which symbolizes the wonderful characteristics of the Mystic Law.

The lotus plant grows in muddy swamps yet produces pure and fragrant blooms—just as we practice Buddhism amid our daily challenges and bring forth our pure, inherent goodness—our enlightenment.

Also, the lotus’ flowers and fruit develop together. This makes it the perfect metaphor for the principle that cause and effect occur simultaneously. Sensei says, “Just as the fruit and flowers of the lotus mature at the same time, the effect, or the world of Buddhahood, develops in our lives simultaneously as we carry out our Buddhist practice for the spread of the Law” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 227).

Kyo means “sutra” and indicates the teaching that reveals the mystic nature of life, the Lotus Sutra. It also signifies our voice that conveys this teaching.

Finally, nam comes from the Sanskrit word namas, meaning “bow” or “reverence.” It means to “dedicate one’s life” and points to having faith in the Mystic Law.

Nichiren states:

The Lotus Sutra is the king of sutras, the direct path to enlightenment, for it explains that the entity of our life, which manifests either good or evil at each moment, is in fact the entity of the Mystic Law.

If you chant Myoho-renge-kyo with deep faith in this principle, you are certain to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” WND-1, 4)

Nichiren awakened to the truth that his own life was itself the Mystic Law as were the lives of all others. He revealed this truth in the teaching and practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a simple practice anyone can do.

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sharing it with others, we carry on his legacy, which is to establish the path for everyone to transform our lives and our world, and create a bright future for humanity. This is the way to genuine and lasting happiness for all.

Notes

Notes
1 Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam comprising two characters). Nichiren Daishonin often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings.