Happy Birthday Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
Today is April 28th. On this day in year 1253 a rebellious Japanese monk stood seaside and chanted the words nam (u) myoho renge kyo – possibly for the very 1st time.
Nam or Namu- a prefix of the Sanskrit word Namas, meaning devotion. The word namu expresses a feeling of reverence and devotion and is placed before the names of objects of veneration such as Buddhas, deities, sutras, and the three treasures of Buddhism (the Buddha, his teachings and the Buddhist Order.)
Myoho – a Chinese word meaning the ultimate law, principle or truth of life and the universe, often called the mystic law, for its profundity and difficulty to comprehend.
Renge – a Chinese word (lien-hua) meaning Lotus or lotus flower. It is significant here, as, the only flower to bloom and seed at the same time, representing the simultaneity of cause and effect.
Kyo – a Chinese word meaning the words and voices of all living things. Kyo may also be defined as that which is constant and unchanging in the three existences of past, present and future or as a sutra or a teaching.
Put it all together and you get something in the realm of, “ I express my devotion to the Mystic Law of cause and effect teaching, through the sound of my voice.”
I thought so too when I first heard it, now nearly 30 years later at times I still think…”Whaaaaaat?”
The practice of chanting nam myoho renge kyo has been glamorized, bastardized, mocked, scorned and debated but rarely has it been understood.
It gained some validated recognition in the 1990’s when the life story of Anna Mae Bullock, aka, Tina Turner hit the big screen, in the movie “What’s Love Got to do With It”. One scene depicts her life altering moment when introduced to the practice of chanting the phrase nam myoho renge kyo by a former singer of her musical group. The next scene depicts her rising up to kick her abusive husband’s ass and a few scenes later the movie ends with her at the top of her game in charge of her life. Whew!
Nam myoho renge kyo!!
Before that movie most people just said, “Nam mayo-hoe what?”
Now everyone says, “Oh yeah I’ve heard of that.”
Today the practice of chanting nam myoho renge kyo is shared by as many different Buddhists sects as there are different sects of the Christian faith.
Yup, just like you have your Catholics, your Methodist, your Baptists, your Episcopalians, your AME Zionist, your Unity churches, your COGIC churches, your UCC churches and the gambit, the same goes for Buddhists and especially for Buddhists who chant nam myoho renge kyo.
Not all Buddhists wear orange robes and follow the Dali Lama.
Not all Buddhists chant nam myoho renge kyo and not all Buddhists who chant nam myoho renge kyo do it in the same way with the same intentions.
Off the top of my head I can think of 6 Buddhist sects who chant the wonderful law of the lotus phrase and each one professes to hold the true teaching (smirk). But I know there are many, many more than 6 schools of Buddhist thought on this mantra. Try googleing something like: “Who chants nam myoho renge kyo?” and see what you get.
My purpose here is not to encourage you to chant nor is it to tell you who I think have the best spin on the practice. My only intentions today are to offer appreciation to a brave and misunderstood man (Nichiren) who studied the Buddhist sutras left by the original Buddha and from Nichiren’s study, his questioning, his re-questioning, his community ostracism, his execution attempts, and his courage to speak truth to power, he determined that the common denominator of everything left to us by the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama/Shakyamuni Buddha (not the fat laughing guy with the belly best known as the Funky Buddha, he’s Maitreya, but the serious looking dude with the long ear lobes and what looks like cool ass spiraled corn rows), can be summed up in one phrase.
Myoho renge kyo.
(Mystic Law of Cause and Effect)
Nichiren, placing the word devotion, in front makes it a prayer. Believing there is a mystic law of cause and effect makes it a practice. Practice makes perfect.
*Translation in part from the Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism.