Why chant in Japanese ?

Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby ananda » Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:25 am

Why not chant "Hail to the Holy Law of the Lotus Sutra !" ?
Does the efficacy of Odaimoku depend on it being chanted in Japanese ?

Although I have to say "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" is a nicer and more condensed statement for me than saying "Hail to the Holy Law of the Lotus Sutra!" over and over again.

Why this specific phrase ?
And I am interested in the "How" of how chanting Odaimoku is to supposed to reveal our Buddhanature ?
"Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law? Strengthen your power of faith more than ever." - Nichiren Daishonin
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 17, 2012 2:55 pm

Hi A,

The simple answer is that we chant Nam(u) Myohorengekyo as a matter of convention.

There are a number of ways to analyze this question - in the broadest sense, we could ask - What is Language? and what are the hard and fast rules that distinguish one from another? Is it not possible for languages to evolve? Is there some rule that prevents the speaker of one language from adopting words from another language? "Namu" is not Japanese in origin - it is a word from South Asia, but was adopted into Japanese Buddhist discourse. With use, NMRK could come to be considered an English word. At some point the lines blur. "Beef" for instance was originally a French word, adopted into English - these sorts of examples are too numerous to even begin listing. To me, the real question is whether people understand the meaning of NMRK and feel comfortable including it in their vocabulary without attaching footnotes in their mind that the word is a foreign word. The only question is, is the word foreign to you?

We could chant "I prostrate/venerate/devote myself to the Sublime Law of the White Lotus Blossom Teaching". And there would be nothing wrong with that in my view. There is not, however, widespread acceptance of this. In the end, my attitude is, if it aint broke, don't fix it. NMRK serves its purposes just fine. You may come across some people who insist that NMRK has certain resonance with the universe down to the atomic level and that anything else is unacceptable. Maybe. I dunno. Haven't bothered to test that hypothesis. NMRK has worked for me just fine.

Your second question goes to the heart of Nichiren Shonin's teaching. "How?" Simply put, NMRK is the root cause and effect of Buddhahood. It is your life. It is life. When you open yourself to the reality of your life, it is both the cause and effect of Buddhahood.

That is the conclusion. The theoretical "proof" is extensive and could take years to understand - it really requires a broad and deep knowledge of Buddhist thought. The actual "proof", as I am sure you have heard, is the effect in your own life.

Hope that sort of answers your questions.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby UniversalWorthy » Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:47 pm

QQ,

I think one way to approach this is to say that, well, we can certainly chant the sutra in any language we want. However, when it comes to the daimoku, be it the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra or any other sutra, we are engaging with a mnemonic device whereby each word, each character really is, in a sense, a prism or reflective surface of sorts which triggers off (through each character and therefore the formulation and arrangement of each word) a dialectical relationship through sound. I'm not so sure, though I might be severely limited in my thinking on this subject, how English, for instance, would or could function in the same way.

gassho
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:01 pm

Hi UW,

I think you bring up two different points -

Daimoku as Mnemonic device.

Daimoku as cosmic chant transcending all limitations, for lack of a better way to put it.

Some comments as to mnemonic -

Nichiren Shonin's teaching on the Daimoku is founded on Zhiyi's Fa Hua Hsuan-i (Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra). As you may know, in that work, Zhiyi explained that the entire meaning of the Lotus Sutra can found in the Chinese title composed of the five characters 妙法蓮華経. Without going into the structure of Zhiyi's exposition, he devotes much of the work to analyzing each character and relating it to the message of the Lotus Sutra. In this sense, I agree, the Daimoku as taught by Nichiren is a sort of mnemonic device. However, that does not dictate that the characters ought to be read in Japanese rather than Chinese.

妙法蓮華経 is a direct translation of Sad-dharma-pundarika-sutra. Each of the characters relates to a part of the Sanskrit title - why not use the Sanskrit title as the mnemonic? In fact, Zhiyi relates the Chinese title to the Sanskrit, and Nichiren cites to this in his own writings - particularly in connection with 妙 which is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit "sad" (सद् ?). Again, we could as easily chant "NamoSaddharmaPundarikaSutra" - the meaning would be the same, and Zhiyi's teachings on the Daimoku would still make sense, more or less.

By extension, "Sublime Law of the White Lotus Blossom Teaching" would contain all the elements that could directly relate to Zhiyi's teachings without much reworking.

I don't believe that Chinese is some cosmic written language dictating that the title of the Lotus Sutra must be rendered in Chinese in order to convey the true and proper meaning.

I could be convinced differently, but as it stands, the mnemonic nature of the Daimoku is not compelling to render the Daimoku in Japanese an absolute.

Morever, I find some support in Nichiren's own writing for calling the Daimoku in Japanese a convention. In one text, I can't remember off hand, Nichiren declares that his 5 or 7 character Daimoku is the same as Bodhisattva Never Despise's 24 character Daimoku which roughly translated is, "I would never dare despise you because you are bound for Buddhahood!" The words, Nichiren explained, are different, but the meaning is the same. By the same token, the point Nichiren takes from Zhiyi's Fa-Hua Hsuan-i is that the meaning of the 80,000 some odd characters of the Lotus Sutra are contained in the 5 characters of the Daimoku. The difference is that the particular causes and conditions of this Saha world, at this time yield the Daimoku in Japanese.

In saying that the Japanese Daimoku is a convention, however, does not mean that it lacks reality. We are operating within the context of East Asian Lotus Buddhism which takes as a given the principle of the Three Inclusive Truths, which tell us that all dharmas are real, even as they are empty, and even as all dharmas are empty, they are real. I hope I'm not going too far off an confusing my argument. I don't disagree with your proposition. The process you describe triggered by the rendering of the Daimoku in Japanese could and probably does play out the way you describe. However, that does not preclude the meaning of the Lotus Sutra manifesting and enlightening beings in other ways - this I believe is the teaching on Upaya which is one of the core teachings of the Lotus Sutra, going hand in hand with the Life Span of the Buddha.

Calling the Daimoku in Japanese a convention does not demean it. It is merely a description of its nature in accord with Buddhist, particularly, East Asian Lotus Buddhist thought.

As far as Daimoku in Japanese being a cosmic, absolute truth, I think the above comments about its conventionality address this. What if I was a being that communicated in scent - like many organisms? Would that in itself preclude me from understanding the nature of reality?

I hope you don't think I'm too direct or harsh - but if you're going to propose some limitation like the idea that the Daimoku works optimally only in Japanese, there has to be a good, articulable reason for placing that sort of limitation. As of now, I just don't see it.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:21 pm

UW,

Reading this over, I realize your comments were general in nature. I am only addressing the question of Daimoku in Nichiren Buddhism. I can't speak to any other tradition's approach to chanting the daimoku of sutras. Please limit my comments in this context.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby UniversalWorthy » Fri Aug 17, 2012 7:22 pm

First, Ananda, thank you so much for triggering this fruitful and meaningful discussion. These are the kinds of things we should be discussing.

QQ,

Second, thank you for your extensive comments and responses, really great ideas there.

"I could be convinced differently, but as it stands, the mnemonic nature of the Daimoku is not compelling to render the Daimoku in Japanese an absolute."

Sorry if it seemed like I was saying that. I, too, agree with you. However, I think maybe (here goes another possible display of my complete inepitude in the field of linguistics/semantics) that a 'basket' of languages (perhaps sanskrit, chinese, kanji....) provides a different kind of sound when doing mantra or dharani than, let's say, the roman alphabet, english language. I guess I'm just saying that I'm not so sure the mnemonic effect would be the same or even present at all.

"What if I was a being that communicated in scent - like many organisms?"

exactly! What if I could neither hear, see, speak, was paralyzed, and had numbness all over my body. This would not preclude me from experiencing the true aspect of all phenomena. So, it must be the 'intention' put behind the words, characters, sounds and that 'intention,' the sole intention to achieve the state of bodhicitta in order to begin the path to buddhahood occurs both with and without 'flavors,' both instantaneously and at some other distant point in time.

gassho
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:16 pm

Hi HW,

However, I think maybe (here goes another possible display of my complete inepitude in the field of linguistics/semantics) that a 'basket' of languages (perhaps sanskrit, chinese, kanji....) provides a different kind of sound when doing mantra or dharani than, let's say, the roman alphabet, english language. I guess I'm just saying that I'm not so sure the mnemonic effect would be the same or even present at all.


Could you elaborate a little more on the "mnemonic effect"? I think I might be missing some of the meaning intended in that phrase. I have a feeling we might be talking about slightly different things. You described what you meant a little before, but maybe I missed something.

I have heard people say that Sanskrit is a sort of cosmic spiritual language - and they point to Om, for instance, in support. I've heard people suggest that the Daimoku in Japanese is similarly "cosmic." These are what I would call "Yogic" or "Tantric" theories - which I believe have something to them. My sense is that you include something along these lines in what you mean.

Thanks.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Osho » Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:48 pm

Our [Amida/Tariki line]
"Namo Amida Bu"
has six syllables.
No idea why but apparently there's some significance in that.
Any ideas guys?
IMHO though it's the intention when we chant that matters not necessarily the language used to chant.
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http://bemindful.co.uk/
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Queequeg » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:19 pm

Osho wrote:Our [Amida/Tariki line]
"Namo Amida Bu"
has six syllables.
No idea why but apparently there's some significance in that.
Any ideas guys?
IMHO though it's the intention when we chant that matters not necessarily the language used to chant.


Hi Osho (as in the Indian guru?)

The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra is six beats, if not syllables, as pronounced in Japanese. Among Nichiren Buddhists there is the question of 南無 as two syllables (Namu) or one (Nam), but it is regardless chanted as one beat.

I've wondered about the six beats/syllables. I've never seen anything in Nichiren's writings about it.

Zhiyi/Tientai in Mohozhikuan/Makashikan/"The Great Cessation-and-Contemplation" makes reference to the six syllable dharani of Avalokitesvara as a means of purification and he also wrote a ritual using a text for petitioning Avalokitesvara as the basis. (Its not Om Mani Padme Hum, but that is six syllables, too).

I have wondered if the six syllables is connected to 妙 (myo) which is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit Sad. Sad apparently means 6, and 6 has certain connotations of perfection.

Maybe. Maybe.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Osho » Sat Aug 18, 2012 5:34 pm

Osho as in the job description rather than that Indian chap. I'm a Amida/Tariki line 'not-monk'.
Thanks for that info Q. No one I have asked so far seems to know why six syllables and I'm far too idle and ignorant to hit the texts [hence Pure Land suits me to a T]. It does sort of flow off the tongue with six beats though. More or fewer syllables don't resonate in quite the same way.
Om Mani Padme Hum is another with six to it.
Someone on here is sure to know.
I'll ask.
I have found this site to be a goldmine of info in the short time I have been on.
Some very learned folks about.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby UniversalWorthy » Mon Aug 20, 2012 2:57 pm

QQ,

Yes, by "mnemonic" I meant the traditional 'memory aid' sense, as we might find in mikkyo practices (which, of course, Nichiren engaged in as a young monk, on his way to becoming the wisest person in Japan, as he prayed for to Bodhisattva Kokuzo) I guess I also meant to infer another slightly different meaning insofar as many of the formulated and condensed mantras function both mnemonically as well as by triggering multiple meanings to one character or one word and the order of those words and characters also trigger multiple narratives so, in effect, a tantric practice is basically achieved whereby we mean a kind of 'threading' into actual experience. It results in a practice, like daimoku, that at once seems very simple but just under the surface is very profound. The real danger is that some very large 'Nichiren' organizations could direct practicioners away from understanding the multitude of teachings that lie just below the surface and/or replace them with the eight worldly dharmas. This could get a person very tangled up and confused.

gassho
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby UniversalWorthy » Mon Aug 20, 2012 6:28 pm

to clarify one of my previous statements:

"The real danger is that some very large 'Nichiren' organizations/temples, some medium-sized ones and some very small sects, could direct practicioners away from understanding the multitude of profound teachings that lie just below the surface and/or replace them with the eight worldly dharmas, not the least of which would be the notion of being the one True Practice (arising from fear) or fetishization of material possessions (arising from attachment to worldly concerns and comforts)"

gassho
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby Queequeg » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:21 pm

Thanks for elaborating on what you meant.
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby markp » Thu Aug 23, 2012 6:24 pm

And I am interested in the "How" of how chanting Odaimoku is to supposed to reveal our Buddhanature ?


The Daimoku brings out your karma but at times when it can manifest in a way that is easily overcome. It harmonizes the conditions across the whole spectrum of interdependence so that this can happen, and by doing so you're able to get to Buddhahood faster. It also leads you down the road to understanding Buddhist wisdom, which in itself is a revelation of your Buddha nature.
The observer and that which is observed are everywhere produced by the matrix of causality and conditions. In all that is produced by causality and conditions, there is emptiness of self.
The Great Calm-Observation, Volume 5, Part 3, Page 1
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby markp » Thu Aug 23, 2012 8:18 pm

Additionally, when people ask the question 'why can't I chant in English', is that based on Nationalistic conditioning? People's conditioning is what drives causality and the reason we cannot see our own destinies, because if we were able to then we could just change the conditions as we go through life, assuming we would know how, and change the effects of past causes.

This is what it means to be in samsara. It's like a box of your own making that you can't see out of, and because more than 90% of all the decisions you make come from not being able to see out of your box of conditions, you roll right into situations based on your karma and the karma of others in your environment. Thus there is retribution for past causes.

Harmonize the conditions in your life and you can get through all the past bad causes and turn them into something beneficial. No magic involved, just a little harmony that is born from practice! :)
The observer and that which is observed are everywhere produced by the matrix of causality and conditions. In all that is produced by causality and conditions, there is emptiness of self.
The Great Calm-Observation, Volume 5, Part 3, Page 1
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby ananda » Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:58 am

Thank you all for participating in this thread !
:anjali:
"Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law? Strengthen your power of faith more than ever." - Nichiren Daishonin
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Re: Why chant in Japanese ?

Postby dsaly1969 » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:18 pm

It's interesting that in Rissho Kosei-Kai we usually chant the portions of chapters of the Lotus Sutra in English, the Odaimoku in Sino-Japanese, and the Three Refuges in Pali.
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