Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.6]

3.6 The Profound Meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

What is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and what is the significance of the practice of chanting it? In this selection, President Ikeda refers to passages of the Daishonin’s writings to explain the fundamentals of Nichiren Buddhism.

The practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo contains immeasurable benefit, for it enables us to summon forth in our own lives the limitless power of the Mystic Law, the fundamental law of the universe.

Nichiren Daishonin stood up to actualize happiness for all humankind through the boundless beneficial power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The doctrinal basis for this endeavor is set forth with great simplicity and conciseness in the opening passage of his writing “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime”:

“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.” (WND-1, 3)

This passage encapsulates the profound principles of Buddhism and the history of the religious revolution to bring about the enlightenment of all people. Each word and phrase is infused with the sublime wisdom of Buddhism.

The Daishonin’s reference to “the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning” is premised on the concept of transmigration, according to which living beings undergo an unceasing, suffering-filled cycle of birth and death that continues from the infinite past into the infinite future. Buddhism holds that this never-ending round of suffering ultimately arises from earthly desires, and that a negative cycle of earthly desires, karma, and suffering is part and parcel of transmigration. In this sense, “the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning” also represent an interminable succession of delusion and suffering.

Because the thought of such endless transmigration is ultimately unbearable, people naturally came to wish for a way to put an end to this painful cycle of birth and death and free themselves from the chains of delusion and suffering.

In Buddhism, there are two basic approaches to liberation from the suffering of this cycle. One view holds that people can free themselves from the endless karmic cycle of birth and death by eradicating earthly desires believed to cause it. The other is the Mahayana approach, in which the essence of life that undergoes transmigration is not viewed as a transient, impermanent phenomenon.

The Mahayana teachings, for example, espouse the concept of undergoing the cycle of birth and death in accordance with the bodhisattva vow to guide living beings to enlightenment; or they view the alternation between birth and death itself as a cycle of emerging from and returning to the fundamental, all-embracing life of the universe. The latter view can be easily understood using the metaphor of waves on the ocean: birth is like a wave appearing on the surface of the ocean—the life of the universe—while death is the wave submerging back into that ocean. Gaining such an understanding of the essence of our own lives, which repeat the cycle of birth and death, is to attain “unsurpassed enlightenment,” the highest awakening of the Buddha.

In this passage, to “perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings” means to “attain unsurpassed enlightenment.” The wisdom to apprehend this universally inherent truth represents the supreme enlightenment of the Buddha.

The point where Buddhism radically departs from the philosophies and religions that preceded it is that it uncovered within the individual’s own life the Law, or limitless inner power, for resolving all suffering on the most essential level. A Buddha is one who, based on this Law, has attained the ultimate wisdom to fundamentally put an end to suffering and construct unshakable happiness.

Buddhism is a teaching of unparalleled humanism that stresses the boundless potential within human beings. That’s why it is called the “internal way.”

To “perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings” is to “attain unsurpassed enlightenment,” and is the sole means for freeing oneself from “the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning.” This is Shakyamuni’s starting point, and the ultimate conclusion of Buddhist thought. The scripture that gives highest expression to this philosophy of the internal way is the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people can attain enlightenment. The Lotus Sutra could be said to embody the ultimate principle of respect for human dignity.

In this writing [“On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime”], the Daishonin says that the “mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings” is the “principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena” (WND-1, 3). This latter principle refers to the inscrutable relationship that exists between ourselves—our minds or each life-moment—and the universe; its meaning is that all phenomena are contained in one’s life and that one’s life pervades all phenomena.

The life of the universe enfolds and pervades everything, and because it does so, it is also inherent in all things. The oneness of the life of the universe and our individual lives lies at the heart of the “principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena.” To awaken to this mystic truth is to attain the Buddha’s “unsurpassed enlightenment.”

The question is how to enable all people to perceive this “mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings.” A widely accessible Buddhism will not be possible if only a very limited number of people can follow the way set forth for apprehending the mystic truth.

The initial step the Daishonin took in opening the great path to enlightenment for all people was to name the mystic truth. The universally inherent mystic truth originally had no name, but as the Daishonin explains in “The Entity of the Mystic Law,” a sage awakened to this truth in his own life was able to give it the most appropriate name (WND-1, 421).1 Naming something is a creative process. Giving a name that accurately captures the essence of a thing has the important effect of making that essence available to all people; it enables all people to share in its value.

In “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” as indicated by the passage “the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings is Myoho-renge-kyo,”(cf. WND-1, 3), the Daishonin clearly states that this mystic truth that constitutes the fundamental law of the universe is none other than Myoho-renge-kyo. Strictly speaking, the term Myoho-renge-kyo existed prior to this as the title of the Lotus Sutra, but the Daishonin was the first to identify Myoho-renge-kyo as the name of the principle of the “true aspect of all phenomena,”2 which the Lotus Sutra teaches is the profound wisdom of all Buddhas. Also, although the “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra expounds the life of the eternal Buddha from the standpoint of Shakyamuni, it was the Daishonin who first revealed that the “heart of the ‘Life Span’ chapter” is Myoho-renge-kyo (cf. WND-1, 371).

The eternal Buddha, since attaining enlightenment in the remote past, repeatedly undergoes the cycle of birth and death as a Buddha while appearing in various forms within the Ten Worlds3 to free living beings from suffering. The “Life Span” chapter reveals that living beings of the Ten Worlds (including Buddhas) and both birth and death are all manifestations of the great eternal life of the universe. Because the Daishonin says that the “heart of the ‘Life Span’ chapter” is Myoho-renge-kyo, we can infer that Myoho-renge-kyo is the name of the great, eternal, universal life that is revealed in the “Life Span” chapter.

Living beings in the nine worlds repeatedly undergoing birth and death also follow the rhythm of birth and death of emerging from and submerging back into the great eternal life that is Myoho-renge-kyo. They are embraced by Myoho-renge-kyo, and at the same time possess Myoho-renge-kyo within them. This is why Myoho-renge-kyo is the name of the “mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings.”

It was the Daishonin who first declared that Myoho-renge-kyo is to be chanted and spread in the Latter Day of the Law.

The Daishonin’s next step in opening this great path was to establish the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He appended the word nam—a transliteration of the Sanskrit word namas, meaning “devotion”—to the universal truth of Myoho-renge-kyo, and established the practice of invoking this truth. Nam means “to dedicate one’s life.” Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo aloud represents a determination and vow to dedicate one’s life to the realm of truth of Myoho-renge-kyo in thought, word, and deed.

At the same time, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables each person to actualize a way of life based on the universal truth of Myoho-renge-kyo. The crucial point in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Nichiren Buddhism is not simply intoning the name of an external truth. It constitutes a practice to actually summon forth the inner truth that pervades the universe and our own selves and live our lives in accord with that truth. This practice could be described as a process of establishing a self capable of activating and tapping from within the “mystic truth originally inherent in all living beings.”

In order to enable all people to perceive and actualize the “mystic truth originally inherent in all living beings,” the Daishonin gave it the name Myoho-renge-kyo and established the practice of reciting that name—the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. By doing so, he opened the way for all people to dedicate their lives to and live based on the mystic truth.

The Daishonin thus established the means by which all people can awaken to the fact that the truth of life and the universe exists within their own lives, and actively manifest that truth. Moreover, this truth is the enlightened wisdom of all Buddhas and is fully revealed in the Lotus Sutra, which is the highest teaching of Buddhism. By basing ourselves on that truth, we can lead lives of supreme value. Nichiren Buddhism made this realm of truth accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, no matter what their background. It would be no exaggeration to say that the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Nichiren Buddhism gave rise to a Buddhism of the people, open to all. This practice of chanting is indeed the supreme Buddhist practice, making it possible for us to fundamentally transform our lives.

To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to summon forth our own innate Buddhahood (cf. WND-1, 887).4 It is the direct path to manifesting that highest state of life. The wisdom and compassion of the Buddha that emerge through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enrich our being and bring happiness to ourselves and others. Further, as more and more people come to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the happiness of themselves and others, it will be possible to forge an alliance of people filled with the compassion of the Buddha and to ultimately transform even the destiny of humankind.

Another point we should bear in mind regarding the true meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is that it is also the name of the life of the Buddha of the Latter Day, Nichiren Daishonin. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the life of Buddha of the Latter Day are indivisibly connected. We could say that the fundamental truth of Myoho-renge-kyo that pervades life and the universe was only identified and established for the first time through the Daishonin himself practicing it and manifesting it in his behavior. He gave concrete expression to the Law that people had not been able to perceive up to that point.

Nichiren Daishonin’s life as the Buddha of the Latter Day is none other than a life dedicated to battling evil and vanquishing fundamental ignorance.5 The struggle to free people from all misfortune and misery in the world, from all karma and the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death, ultimately entails battling the ignorance that gives rise to evil and suffering.

The chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, established by the Daishonin for the happiness of oneself and others and the realization of kosen-rufu, has the power to clear the clouds of ignorance (cf. WND-2, 85). When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the sun of the world of Buddhahood rises in our hearts. The ignorance and delusion, like heavy clouds shrouding the sun, are swept away. When the sun of Buddhahood comes to shine within us, the darkness of ignorance vanishes.

Nichiren Buddhism is not a teaching in which the Daishonin alone shines like the sun. It is a teaching in which all of us can bring the sun of Buddhahood to rise in our lives just as he did. We are truly fortunate in that we can manifest the same brilliant life state of Buddhahood as Nichiren Daishonin.

From Lecture on “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” published in Japanese in January 2007.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.

  • *1In “The Entity of the Mystic Law,” the Daishonin writes: “This passage of commentary [in T’ien-t’ai’s Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra] means that the supreme principle [that is the Mystic Law] was originally without a name. When the sage was observing the principle and assigning names to all things, he perceived that there is this wonderful single Law [myoho] that simultaneously possesses both cause and effect [renge], and he named it Myoho-renge. This single Law that is Myoho-renge encompasses within it all the phenomena comprising the Ten Worlds and the three thousand realms, and is lacking in none of them. Anyone who practices this Law will obtain both the cause and the effect of Buddhahood simultaneously” (WND-1, 421).
  • *2True aspect of all phenomena: The ultimate truth or reality that permeates all phenomena and is in no way separate from them. Through the explanation of the ten factors, the “Expedient Means” (2nd) chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches that all people are inherently endowed with the potential to become Buddhas, and clarifies the truth that they can tap and manifest this potential.
  • *3Ten Worlds: The realms of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, heavenly beings, voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. They are also referred to as the ten life states of hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, heaven, learning, realization, bodhisattva, and Buddhahood.
  • *4In “How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra,” the Daishonin writes: “When we revere Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion, the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is what is meant by ‘Buddha’” (WND-1, 887).
  • *5Fundamental ignorance: The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. The inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life.