The essence of Buddhism is the conviction that we have within us at each moment the ability to overcome any problem or difficulty that we may encounter in life; a capacity to transform any suffering. Our lives possess this power because they are inseparable from the fundamental law that underlies the workings of all life and the universe.
Nichiren, the 13th-century Buddhist monk awakened to this law, or principle, and named it “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” Through the Buddhist practice he developed, he provided a way for all people to activate it within their own lives and experience the joy that comes from being able to liberate oneself from suffering at the most fundamental level.
Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, who lived some 2,500 years ago in India, first awoke to this law out of a compassionate yearning to find the means to enable all people to be free of the inevitable pains of life. It is because of this that he is known as Buddha, or Awakened One. Discovering that the capacity to transform suffering was innate within his own life, he saw too that it is innate within all beings.
The record of Shakyamuni’s teachings to awaken others was captured for posterity in numerous Buddhist sutras. The culmination of these teachings is the Lotus Sutra. In Japanese, “Lotus Sutra” is rendered as Myoho-renge-kyo.
Nam derives from the Sanskrit word namu, meaning “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, namu 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–the underlying truth or principle which governs the mysterious workings of the universe and our life from moment to moment. 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.Myo also means to open, to revive, and to be fully endowed with the qualities we need to develop our lives.
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 affirms that we each have personal responsibility for our own destiny. We create our destiny and we have the power to change it. The most powerful positive 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 in the midst of the struggles of day-to-day existence.
Kyo literally means sutra, the voice or teaching of a Buddha. In this sense, it also means sound, rhythm or vibration. In a broad sense, kyo conveys the concept that all things in the universe are a manifestation of the Mystic Law.
These are some of the ways in which the name “Myoho-renge-kyo” describes the Mystic Law, of which our lives are an expression. To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is an act of faith in the Mystic Law and in the magnitude of life’s inherent possibilities. Throughout his writings, Nichiren emphasises the primacy of faith. He writes, for instance: “The Lotus Sutra . . . says that one can ‘gain entrance through faith alone.’ . . . Thus faith is the basic requirement for entering the way of the Buddha.” The Mystic Law is the unlimited strength inherent in one’s life. To believe in the Mystic Law and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to have faith in one’s unlimited potential. It is not a mystical phrase that brings forth supernatural power, nor is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo an entity transcending ourselves that we rely upon. It is the principle that those who live normal lives and make consistent efforts will duly triumph.
To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to bring forth the pure and fundamental energy of life, honouring the dignity and possibility of our ordinary lives.
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