Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō (also, in some schools Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō; Devotion to the Law of the Lotus Flower Scripture) is a mantra that is chanted as the central practice of all forms of Nichiren Buddhism. The mantra is referred to as Daimoku (also, in some schools, O-daimoku) and was first revealed by the Japanese Buddhist teacher Nichiren on the 28th day of the fourth lunar month of AD 1253 at Kiyosumi-dera (also, Seichōji) near Kominato in current-day Chiba, Japan. The practice of chanting the daimoku is called shōdai. The purpose of chanting daimoku is to attain perfect and complete awakening (enlightenment).
The phrase is difficult to render into English because each word or set of words contains a complex set of symbolism and connotation, and without an understanding of the semiotic significance of the words, the full meaning is lost.
The invocation of Namu-myoho-renge-kyo was established by Nichiren on the 28th day of the fourth month, 1253. Having studied widely among all the Buddhist sutras, he had concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate truth of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. But to Nichiren, Myoho-renge-kyo was far more than the title of a Buddhist text, it was the expression, in words, of the Law of life which all Buddhist teachings in one way or another seek to clarify. What follows is a brief and unavoidably limited explanation of some of the key concepts expressed by this phrase.
The words nah and mu derives from Sanskrit. A close translation of its meaning is "to devote oneself". Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a means to enable all people to put their lives in harmony or rhythm with the law of life, or Dharma. In the original Sanskrit, nam indicates the elements of action and attitude, and refers therefore to the correct action one needs to take and the attitude one needs to develop in order to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. Though linguistic and cultural grammatic rules allow for the pronunciation as "Nam" with the "u" sound un-asperated, it should always be written as the two characters present on the mandala, Nah and Mu, or Namu.
Myoho literally means the Mystic Law, and expresses the relationship between the life inherent in the universe and the many different ways this life expresses itself. Myo refers to the very essence of life, which is "invisible" and beyond intellectual understanding. This essence always expresses itself in a tangible form (ho) that can be apprehended by the senses. Phenomena (ho) are changeable, but pervading all such phenomena is a constant reality known as myo.
Renge means lotus flower. The lotus blooms and produces seeds at the same time, and thus represents the simultaneity of cause and effect. The circumstances and quality of our individual lives are determined by the causes and effects, both good and bad, that we accumulate (through our thoughts, words and actions) at each moment. This is called our "karma." The law of cause and effect explains that we each have personal responsibility for our own destiny. We create our destiny and we can change it. The most powerful cause we can make is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; the effect of Buddhahood is simultaneously created in the depths of our life and will definitely manifest in time.
The lotus flower grows and blooms in a muddy pond, and yet remains pristine and free from any defilement, symbolizing the emergence of Buddhahood from within the life of an ordinary person.
Kyo literally means sutra, the voice or teaching of a Buddha. In this sense, it also means sound, rhythm or vibration. Also, the Chinese character for kyo originally meant the warp in a piece of woven cloth, symbolizing the continuity of life throughout past, present and future. In a broad sense, kyo conveys the concept that all things in the universe are a manifestation of the Mystic Law.
Chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo - also known as "Daimoku" - is the primary practice of some 12 million SGI Buddhist members throughout the world. Through this practice, one is able to reveal the state of Buddhahood in one's life, experienced as the natural development of joy, increased vitality, courage, wisdom and compassion. It was evoked by Nichiren as the fundamental way of practicing the Buddhist faith for all people, as found in the Lotus Sutra.
"When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo."
- Nichiren, On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime
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