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The invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was established by Nichiren Daishonin on April 28, 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 word nam 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.
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.
How to Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo–also known as “Daimoku”—is the primary practice of SGI members. 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.
The Gohonzon, a scroll practitioners chant to, was inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin and is depicted in Chinese characters embodying the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the life of Nichiren, as well as protective functions of the universe. The fundamental object of respect, the Gohonzon represents the enlightened life of each individual. Down the center are the characters Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and Nichiren’s signature. This indicates the oneness of person and Mystic Law—that the condition of Buddhahood is a potential within and can be manifested by all people. SGI members enshrine the Gohonzon in their homes as a focal point for their daily practice. The Gohonzon’s strength comes from the practitioner’s faith—the Gohonzon functions as a spiritual mirror. Sitting in front of the Gohonzon and chanting enables a person to recognize and reveal his or her own Buddha nature, the unlimited potential and happiness of their life.
The Japanese word gongyo literally means “assiduous practice.” The practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and recite portions of both the second (Expedient Means) and the sixteenth (Life Span) chapters of the Lotus Sutra in front of the Gohonzon. This is the fundamental practice of Nichiren Buddhism, performed morning and evening.