Chanting ``Namu-Myohorengekyo`` swallows up the functions of ``Namu-Amida-Butsu,`` ``Namu-Dainichi-shingon,`` and ``Namu-Kanzeon-bosatsu`` as well as all the Buddhas, sutras, and bodhisattvas. All these will be of no use without the functions of the Lotus Sutra. This can be seen by everyone, for it has been realized in front of everyone. When I, Nichiren recite ``Namu-Myohorengekyo`` the function of ``Namu-Amida-Butsu`` disappears just as the moon wanes, the tide ebbs, grasses in autumn and winter wither and ice melts under the sun.
-- ( 13th DAY - Nichiren's Words ) -- Senji-Sho
The form of worship instituted by Nichiren Shonin is the repetitive recitation of the Scriptures’ Sacred Title or the Odaimoku “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” that is ‘Adoration to the Scripture of the Lotus of the Perfect Truth.”
His profound understanding of theology caused him to see the need for a simplified practice of affirming our affinity to Buddha and his true teachings. The answer he asserts is found in uttering the Odaimoku. According to Nichiren Shonin, the (Qdaimoku is not a mere representation of Buddha’s Truths. Rather it is the embodiment of Buddha’s Truths when the formula is uttered with a firm belief of the truths contained in the Lotus Sutra and with full acceptance of Buddha as the Saviour.
Namu is derived from the Sanskrit word Namas. It could not be easily translated into a single word when it was first rendered into Chinese. As is the case with many Sanskrit terms found throughout the sutras, the early translators chose to transliterate the sounds of the original word, in lieu of translation. The ancient Chinese did not have an alphabet to transcribe each letter in order to duplicate the pronunciation. The characters were therefore assigned to approximate the sound of the original word. Namas has also been written with different characters producing the same pronounciation or other similar phonetic variations, such as Nama and Namo.
Namu, or Namas, possesses a variety of definitions. Simply, it means devotion which in Japanese, is called Kimyo. However, Namu also signifies to return one's life, to return one's appreciation, respectful salutation, veneration, adhering out of sincere belief and to take refuge in. While residing in Minobu (1274 - 1282) during the latter years of his life, Nichiren Daishonin wrote in his letter, Hakumai Ippyo Gosho (The Gift of One Bale of White Rice also known as the Ji-Ri Kuyo Gosho), "the word Namu is an Indian term and siginifies to devote one's life. In China and Japan, it is referred to as Kimyo and ultimately means to offer our lives to the Buddha."
Nikko Shonin, one of the Six Senior Disciples, quoted Nichiren Daishonin in the Ongi Kuden (Oral Teachings) as explaining that, "...There are two objects of devotion: the Person, which is Sakyamuni, and the Law which is the Lotus Sutra... In the term Kimyo, the Chinese character Ki ("to return or to devote") indicates the physical aspect of one's life while Myo ("life", written with a different character than the Myo of Myoho) is the spiritual aspect." The term Namu, therefore, signifies complete and earnest dedication of our lives, both in the physical and spiritual sense. In other words, we believe in the Buddha and his teachings, especially the Lotus Sutra, while sincerely devoting ourselves in any and every way we possibly can.
In the sense of returning our lives or taking refuge, Namu means we take sanctuary in the Buddha as we are embraced in every aspect of the Buddha's limitless compassion, wisdom and enlightened life. However, it also indicates that in order for us to do this, we must live our lives in accordance with the Buddha's teachings and spirit. Nichiren Daishonin further explained in The Gift of One Bale of White Rice that, "Whether one has wealth or not, life is still the most precious treasure. This is why the saints and sages of ancient times offered their lives to the Buddha and were themselves able to attain Buddhahood." He continues, "common mortals can attain Buddhahood if they treasure one thing: earnest faith. Above all, earnest faith is the will to understand and live up to the spirit, not just the words, of the sutras."
In the prose section of the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra, there is a phrase "Isshin Yoku Ken Butsu, Fuji Shaku Shin'myo" which literally means "genuinely longing to see the Buddha, one does not hold back one's life." These final passages clearly illustrate that our conviction, understanding, refuge and devotion must all unselfishly arise from sincere faith and practice.
Myoho is a translation of the Sanskrit word Saddharma. Myoho is often simply translated into English as Wonderous Dharma or Mystic Law, and as is suggested by its translation, the meaning is far-reaching and profound.
The Sad, or Sat, in Saddharma is the first syllable Myo in Myoho, and signifies the truth. Saddharma therefore means the true or correct Dharma. Sad also denotes completeness, being perfectly endowed and all encompassing. Myo further indicates without peer, mystic, impossible to perceive, beyond comprehension [by normal human beings] and wondrous. Nichiren Daishonin pointed out that while Myoho Renge Kyo is the heart and essence of the entire Lotus Sutra, the word Myo in itself is extremely significant.
In 593, the Great Master of the Dharma, T'ien T'ai, explained in the Fahua Ichi (jp. Hokke Gengi, eng. Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra) that Myo has a double significance. The first is a comparative analysis which illustrates the superiority of the Lotus Sutra over all the Buddha's other teachings. The second significance of Myo is the comprehensiveness of the Lotus Sutra, in that it simultaneously includes every single one of Sakyamuni Buddha's numerous doctrines that he preached throughout the 40 years of his life.
Nichiren Daishonin explained throughout the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra (1266), the Kaimoku Sho (1272) and also in the Kanjin Honzon Sho (1273) that the single word Myo is truly a very powerful element. Myo possesses the three meanings of:
1) to open,
2) to be endowed and perfect, and
3) revival, resuscitation and resurrection, with the ability to change poison into beneficial medicine.
In regards to these significances, Nichiren Daishonin stated in the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, "If there is a storehouse full of treasures, but no key, then it cannot be opened. If it cannot be opened, the treasures inside the storehouse cannot be seen." He also stated in the same writing, "As for the character Myo, the Lotus Sutra states that 'this sutra opens the door of expedient teachings and reveals the true aspect of all reality.' The Great Master of the Dharma Chang'an commented that 'Myo reveals the depths of the secret warehouse.' The Great Master of the Dharma Miao Lo explains 'to reveal is to open.' Therefore, the character Myo means to open." In regards to the second characteristic of being perfectly endowed with all the qualities and significances contained in the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin states in the Opening of the Eyes that "Myo means Gusoku (to be in perfect possession)." He further explains in the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra that, "One fundamental Myo, or mystic principle, underlies every one of the 69,384 characters that comprise the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra is, therefore, made up of 69,384 mystic principles." He continues in the same writing, "Myo means fully endowed, which in turn also means perfection.... it is like a solitary drop of water from the great ocean which also contains the water of all the various rivers that flow into the ocean".
In reference to the third and final description of Myo, Nichiren Daishonin wrote again in the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra that, "Myo means to revive, to return to life." He also explains in this writing, "Plants and trees are withered and bare in autumn and winter. However, when the sun of summer and spring shine on them, they sprout new branches and leaves, later bearing flowers and fruit. Before the Lotus Sutra was preached, the beings throughout the nine worlds were like the trees and plants of autumn and winter. Just like the spring and summer sun, when the Lotus Sutra shines on them they flower with the aspiration for enlightenment and yield the fruit of Buddhahood." Nichiren Daishonin further adds in this letter, "Because it can cure what is thought to be incurable, it is called Myo or wondrous."
What does the character Myo open? As seen from these passages, Myo is a key of great hope, the key that opens for anyone who embraces it, the entire warehouse of treasures contained in the Lotus Sutra, the original and perfect enlightenment of the Buddha of the infinite past. Myo awakens the Buddha nature within the deep recesses of our life. By embracing the faith and practice of Myoho Renge Kyo, we are able to revitalize our lives. In other words, no matter what state we might find ourselves, through faith and practice we can transform any negative or other life condition into enlightenment. We can therefore develop wisdom and a life that is no longer a slave to suffering. Finally, Nichiren Daishonin teaches us that it is the unfathomable or mystical power of Myo in Myoho Renge Kyo which helps us overcome the impossible and cure the incurable. These passages from Nichiren Daishonin's writings clearly illustrate the profound significance and vigor of the single syllable Myo, together with the reason why a consistent daily practice of our faith is so vital.
Ho of Myoho means Dharma in Sanskrit. It is written with the Chinese character for law. In the ancient Indian Vedic teachings and throughout the Upanishads which predate the Buddha, Dharma is defined as religious duty in life. According to these pre-Buddhist traditions, through the observance of one's Dharma or religious duties, life throughout the world is preserved and is able to flourish. In Mahayana Buddhism, Dharma signifies the teachings of the Buddha, but ultimately indicates the Law. This law, however, does not signify a man made law which is upheld in our judicial courts or society, but a natural law of life, such as the law of gravity and other phenomena. It is the pulse of life itself which permeates the entire universe and is in turn, equated to the truth, the doctrine and essence of all the teachings of the Buddha.
Renge is a translation of the Sanskrit word Pundarika written with the Chinese characters signifying "lotus blossom". The word Pundarika literally means white lotus and symbolizes bodhi, or the pure and perfect enlightenment of the Buddha. Lotus blossoms are usually depicted in Buddhist art with eight petals. These eight petals symbolize the Eightfold Path, the first doctrine preached by the Buddha.
The lotus is the only flower that blooms with a seed pod already developed. Normally, as most other flowers bloom, the beautiful colour of the flower and its scent draws bees and other insects into the blossom. At this time, the flower is pollinated, later dries up and falls off. Finally, a fruit containing seed develops. However, in the case of lotuses, the process is different. The flower blooms already containing its fruit - the seed pod. This is very unusual in the plant world.
In Buddhism, the lotus flower with its simultaneous blossom and fruit, visually demonstrates the cause of the plant itself (the seed) and the final result (the flower). This simultaneous relationship in Buddhist terminology, is called Inga Guji or possessing both the cause and the effect at the same time. The principle of cause and effect is one of the most basic and a very important concept in Buddhist philosophy.
The lotus bloom in very dirty and muddy water. In fact, the dirtier the water, the more beautiful the blossom. If we compare the example of the lotus to our own lives, it demonstrates that from the problems and suffering we experience in daily life, we can obtain the pure and beautiful condition of Buddhahood, in the same way that the lotus blooms from filthy water. All beings possess the potential for Buddhahood. Therefore, when we chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo to the Mandala Gohonzon, the pure beautiful flower of enlightenment within our own lives is able to sprout, mature and bloom. However, this seed of potential Buddhahood must be nurtured, watered and taken care of - just as any other living thing. This is done only through the nourishment of the Lotus Sutra, reciting the sutra, chanting Namu myoho Renge Kyo and serving the Buddha. Without sincere faith and practice, the seed of enlightenment concealed within our life can not receive nourishment and as a result, will not sprout, grow nor bloom. Nichiren Daishonin wrote in the Kanjin Honzon Sho, "The Fugen Sutra states, 'This Mahayana sutra is the treasure, the eye and the seed of life for all Buddhas in the universe throughout the past, present and future... You should exert yourself in Buddhist practice and never let the seed of Buddhahood die out.' "
Kyo is a translation of the Sanskrit word for "Sutra". The original significance of this Sanskrit term is a string or thread. This was originally used in the sense of stringing together the Buddha's words and sermons paraphrased in prose. The term "sutra" is not originally nor exclusively Buddhist. Pre-Buddhist Brahmanic verse are referred to as sutras as well. The recorded Jain doctrines, a teaching that existed during the time of the Buddha, as well as the written doctrines of other post-Buddhist Indian religions, are also all referred to as sutras. However, in the Buddhist sense, sutras refer only to the teachings and recorded sermons of the Buddha. Today the sutras have been transmitted to us in printed form and also translated into many of the world's languages.
It is said that the Buddha preached a total of 84,000 sermons, but Sakyamuni Buddha did not directly write any of his teachings down. The transcription was done by his disciples and later priests. The Buddha's sermons were memorized by those who first heard them, then passed on verbally to others, who in turn memorized them and passed them on to yet other people, and so on. In fact, all the sutras begin with the opening phrase, " Thus I have heard." This ancient Indian tradition of oral transmission, as opposed to recording on paper, was practiced during the Buddha's time and earlier, and is still observed today even today amongst Hindu masters and disciples. Therefore, Sutra or Kyo also means the words of the Buddha.
Even though Sakyamuni Buddha physically passed away nearly 3,000 years ago, he remains alive today through his words, recorded in the sutra. Therefore, if we wish to meet the Buddha today, all we need do is embrace the Lotus Sutra and its heart, the Odaimoku of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. Nichiren Daishonin explains this particular point in the Kanjin Honzon Sho, "People can attain Buddhahood in two ways: By meeting the Buddha and hearing the Lotus Sutra, or by believing in the sutra even thought they are not able to [physically] meet the Buddha."
The Kaikyoge, or Verses for Opening the Sutra, reads "We shall be able to approach enlightenment when we see, hear, or touch this sutra. Expounded is the Buddha's truth, expounded is the Buddha's essence. Each and every one of the letters that compose this sutra, are the manifestation of the Buddha. Since innumerable benefits are contained within this sutra, all living beings are benefited by this sutra without hindrance and as implicitly as incense is perceived by a thing placed nearby." Let's continue to do our best to sincerely recite the Lotus Sutra every morning and evening and chant Odaimoku, based on unselfish devotion. With every heart felt effort we put forth, our lives will become closer to that of the Buddha and blessed with all the qualities of the Buddha, his wisdom, compassion, tranquility as well as immense good fortune and happiness. Nichiren Daishonin strove his entire life to teach us that Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is the Buddha's gift to all of us.
Let us wholeheartedly embrace this treasure and allow it to blossom within our lives and in the lives of all those around us