I've always been fascinated by this mantra. When I first heard it, it was as though I'd heard it a thousand times before. So I just looked up a slightly detailed description of the mantra and I'd like to share it here. I'll post some information about The Lotus Sutra as well. What does Nam-myoho-renge-kyo mean?
Here we are, living in the 21st century. At times, it may have seemed unlikely that humankind would make it to this time. Wars and conflicts, droughts and famines, economic, environmental, psychological and physical problems; the advances of the twentieth century were not able to resolve these issues. Our planet, seemingly robust, remains remarkably fragile. The causes we are making now will affect the environment of our planet for generations to come. As individuals, we have been born into this world, and into these circumstances. We grow, mature and one day we will start to decline and inevitably we will die, passing from this world into some other, as yet unknown, state.Right Now!
This reservoir is known as the Buddha state, or Buddha wisdom, and the teachings of Buddhism exist so that we can reveal it in daily life. From this we can understand that the Buddha is an ordinary person. Buddhahood is not an unattainable life-condition, but a potential that is within all life and within each of us, right here, right now.
The person who established the way for anyone to become a Buddha in this day and age was Nichiren Daishonin, who lived in the thirteenth century in Japan. This is what he says: '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. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life.' (1)
So what has been called a 'reservoir', Nichiren Daishonin refers to as 'the mystic truth'. It is 'mystic' because it is not apparent to our ordinary conscious minds. It is the 'truth' that is at the heart of all Buddhist teachings. All life, all phenomena, are endowed with Buddhahood; the greatest potential of life.
A Buddha is an ordinary human being alive in this world who realises that the reservoir is there, draws on it at will, and encourages others to do the same. Nichiren Daishonin said that all the teachings of Buddhism pointed to this fact: we all have this potential and the way to experience it is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.What is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?
It is not easy to give a short answer to this question that includes all the aspects of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Here are two answers. It is the title and the heart of the Lotus Sutra, and it is the Law that explains the workings of life.The Lotus Sutra
The Buddhist teaching which explains that everyone has the same potential as the Buddha is the Lotus Sutra ('sutra' means 'teaching'). The Lotus Sutra was originally recorded in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, entitled Saddharma-Pundarika-Sutra. As the teachings of Buddhism spread they were translated into the languages of the cultures they travelled to. The Lotus Sutra was translated into Chinese, and when it reached Japan it was known as Myoho-Renge-Kyo. The title of a sutra was considered to encapsulate the teaching it contained. It was also the practice to place the Sanskrit word Nam (or, 'devotion') before the names of Buddhist teachings or characters in order to praise them.
Nichiren Daishonin taught that the act of praising the Lotus Sutra would enable the qualities of the Buddha, the reservoir, inherent in our lives to emerge. Therefore he placed the word 'Nam' in front of the title of the Lotus Sutra, Myoho-renge-kyo. This appears very simple; but the practice itself is very profound.The Law of life
As we consider each of the constituent parts of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we start to sense its profundity. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is referred to as the 'Law of life'. Although it is just six syllables, each signifies profound truths that go to the heart of the universe, the issue of life and death, and the law of cause and effect.Nam
'Nam' is an action word. The act of praising our potential will make it emerge. 'Nam' is the word that turns this principle from a theory into a reality. The Lotus Sutra, although profound, is merely a teaching. But Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a practice that will have actual results. The literal meaning of the word 'Nam' is 'respect' or 'dedication' - so the whole phrase has the simple meaning of 'devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra'.Myoho
'Myoho' explains at least two major principles of life: the relationship between life and death, and the relationship between our most enlightened, or Buddha, state and all our other nine conditions or states of life. The 'ten states of life' or 'ten worlds' will be covered in a future part of this series.
How do the teachings of Buddhism view the relationship between life and death? We all have a birthday. That is, quite simply, the day when we emerged into the world as a baby. We also have some idea of what was happening to us in the nine or so months before we emerged from the womb. Before that, however, other than the knowledge that a sperm and an egg came together at a particular moment, things are not so clear. Biologists cannot give definitive answers as to where or what our consciousness was before conception and philosophers have also struggled to explain this. Buddhism teaches that all our constituent parts, not just physical ones, but mental and spiritual as well, existed in a state of latency, waiting for the right conditions to emerge before we could start the process of being born after conception. Before conception, we are latent, or 'myo'. This means that our life energy is waiting for the necessary circumstances before it can take on a physical form. 'Ho', which means law, or phenomena, describes the manifest state and particularly the emergence of the new-born baby into the world. We remain alive - manifest - until the point when, for whatever reason, our bodies can no longer support our lives. The body dies, and the constituent parts separate. At this point we cease to be 'ho' and return once more to the latent state of 'myo'.
Buddhism teaches that life is a cycle. We emerge from 'myo', become 'ho' and return to 'myo' again. This rhythm continues forever. The cycle of the seasons echoes this process. We see new growth in spring, maturity in summer, harvest and decline in autumn before a period of apparently bleak withdrawal in winter. But winter never fails to turn into spring once more, and the cycle starts again. We feel our Buddhahood at work because our chanting has caused it to appear according to another fundamental life principle: 'renge', which is about how the effect exists simultaneously with the cause.Renge
This literally means lotus flower. The lotus flower rests on the surface of the pond, its roots going deep into the water and drawing on the nutrients it finds in the mud at the bottom. This image of the lotus flower also means that the Buddha is not a perfect being, detached from the realities of life, either in a monastery or in some other, unearthly realm. Rather, the Buddha is an aspect of our own lives which we can draw upon. It is because of the trials and tribulations of real, everyday life in this world that the Buddha's qualities can be revealed. 'Renge' signifies the process of cause and effect at work deep within the life of each person. (The topic of cause and effect will be covered in a future part of this series.)Kyo
The word 'kyo' literally means 'sutra', or teaching. It is the vibration of our voice which is so important in our Buddhist practice. It is said the voice does the Buddha's work (2). This is why we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo aloud, rather than performing a silent meditation. 'Kyo' is the interconnectedness of all phenomena; and how our prayer or the sound of our chanting can affect people and situations out of our immediate sphere.