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PostSubject: Finally, The Meaning of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo   Finally, The Meaning of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo EmptyThu 01 Aug 2013, 19:09

Defining Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
by: beryl
Wed Jul 16, 2008 at 11:47:05 AM PDT

Chapter 3 from Nam-myoho-renge-kyo: A Personal Exploration of the Wonderful Buddhist Mantra by Cris Roman.

Just as one who undertakes a scientific investigation cannot help but somehow affect the results of that investigation, so too is my explanation of Buddhism affected by my beliefs, biases and experiences.

Even so, I contend that not only is the Buddhist methodology of Nichiren effective one hundred percent of the time, it can be used by one hundred percent of the people. It will work for young or old, rich or poor, male or female, healthy or ill, intelligent or not.

What does Nam-myoho-renge-kyo mean? Why do we chant those words?  
beryl :: Defining Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
My definition is closely aligned to one given to me some 30 years ago by my father-figure leader in The Org. I have never heard anyone give a better one, although I have chosen to expand and finesse what I heard on the basis of my own decades of experience.

The words Myoho-renge-kyo form the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese title of the Lotus Sutra.

The word Nam is an abbreviated form of the Sanskrit word, Namaste, which can translate as devotion. Nam of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means devotion to the Lotus Sutra or, more precisely, the teachings of and principles contained in that sutra. This devotion is predicated on more than just lip service.

I actually heard the word Namaste three years before I began chanting in 1968. As a freshman at Michigan State University in 1965, a group of us went to see a strange professor by the name of Timothy Leary. Upon entering the room, the LSD guru clasped his palms in front of him, bowed deeply and said, "Namaste." He then explained that he was saluting the divinity within each of us.

It was a pivotal moment in my life because, at age 17, I had never before heard anyone speak of the potential of the divine we hold within. In truth, that moment was the catalyst for all that happened over the next three years -- my adventures as a hippie, my numerous encounters with psychoactive materials and, ultimately, my beginnings of faith in a universal truth -- a truth which I eventually came to realize was Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

It is very interesting to me at this point in my life that I was recently re-introduced to the concept of Namaste via a course called New Horizons that I took in as part of recent tenure as a counselor in the U.S. Job Corps. The gentleman teaching the course told of being greeted outside one of Mother Theresa's facilities in India by a beggar with a compound fracture. Obviously in excruciating pain, the beggar clasped his hands together and said, with genuine affection, "Namaste."

The teacher then said that the full translation of Namaste was, "I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the place in you of love, of truth, of peace and of light and when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us."

Is it any wonder why, with so many layers of meaning, the challenge of translating Nam-myoho-renge-kyo proves so daunting?

You may have seen the small red dot that many Indian women wear on their foreheads. This is called a Namus and it signifies their dedication to their families. This is dedication that manifests in their spirit and their behavior. In the same way, devotion to the Lotus Sutra is meant to imply devotion lived, not simply felt.

Nichiren understood that devotion to, or faith in the Lotus Sutra, particularly by those unfamiliar with its teachings, could not be coerced or commanded. Therefore he placed Nam before its title to affirm that devotion to the sutra's teachings was the key to enlightenment. This key could be turned by the act of chanting -- an act involving both body and mind. In Buddhism, body and mind are considered to be inseparable, two components of the same existence -- that which we call life.

For a person to simply start chanting with no belief or faith signifies devotion, or Nam. Naturally, because this is a religion, it is to be fervently hoped that faith and belief develop in time.

However, in the beginning, the effort in giving voice to the chant -- the effort being the spiritual component and the voice being the physical component -- is in itself an act of faith and devotion.

Myoho is the first word of the Lotus Sutra's title and is defined as mystic law. The mystic law is, by definition, non-definable. Einstein referred to it as the unified field theory and progressively grew more religious as he tried to explain it. It is the non-conceptualized essence of all reality, the glue that holds all phenomena together. I hesitate to call it intangible because it does reveal itself tangibly.

That may be the key to myoho. Rather than intangible, it is ineffable. It is real and extant. But we can't reach out and touch it either physically or conceptually. Fundamentally, it explains all that we consider mystic or unanswerable. Why am I here? Why am I me? Why is every single moment of my life completely different from the lives of all those around me? These and other imponderables that we each ask ourselves on so many different occasions are all said to be included within the realm of myoho.

Nichiren said that myo, the mystic part of the mystic law should be viewed as having three meanings. First of all, he said, it indicates an opening of the darkness of illusion to reveal the brilliant light of the Buddha nature within.

Secondly, this opening allows the person's entire phenomenal life to be endowed with the perfection that is Buddhahood. Lastly, this endowment leads to a revitalization of life so that earlier benighted life activities can be place in perspective and human activity can proceed on the highest plane.

I realize this may all sound rather lofty and vague, but I hope we can understand that Nichiren was trying to describe a process he himself knew was almost beyond description.
We may not be able to get a handle on myoho, but we can certainly view its process within our life as one reward of the Buddhist practice.

Renge literally translates as lotus flower, a plant which blooms and seeds at the same time, a rarity of nature. This is said to symbolize the simultaneity of cause and effect. However, we never really perceive cause and effect as being simultaneous. In fact, one of the great tortures of life lies in awaiting the effects of causes that we make. Sometimes we may feel like we are waiting forever and, sometimes, it will seem as though we are waiting in vain, but there always seems to be a time differential involved in the principle of cause and effect.

Buddhism would say, however, that this time differential is an attribute of living in the illusion-filled, phenomenal world. In reality, as soon as we have made the cause (sown the seed,) the effect is an inevitable conclusion (the ultimate blossom.) This is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, aspects of the Buddhist teaching.

Because we perceive time as we do, it is hard to swallow the fact that we have indeed created the causes for the lives we are living now. Similarly, it is difficult, based on much of our prior experience, to have faith that what we are cultivating now will bear all the fruit we wish.

Nonetheless, Buddhism in general and renge in particular teach that understanding the simultaneity of cause and effect can have a profound effect upon our life. Suddenly we become aware of the fact that concentrating only on life's effects -- those things presently happening to us, or our current state of mind -- is in reality not much of a cause.

Better to be causally oriented -- or, as social scientists might say, be proactive rather than reactive.
There is nothing more fulfilling than living life with the acute awareness that each moment offers new opportunities for new kinds of causes.

It may be a cliché, but it's true: renge is the concept that this is the first moment of the rest of your life.

Another aspect of the lotus flower is that it blooms in muddy swamp-like terrain. This symbolizes the purity of life as it struggles to emerge from the morass of its own bad karma.

There is a saying that "the muddier the swamp, the more beautiful the Lotus." Buddhism teaches that this is indeed true of those of us who feel our karma, our effects, are simply horrendous. It is a saying not only meant to encourage -- it is a saying that evinces the truth that our struggles are indeed the fertilizer that enriches the soil from which we are striving to make our lives blossom.

Kyo translates as sutra or teaching. Keep in mind that these teachings are essentially oral, based on the principles of "Thus I heard." Therefore, kyo needs to be viewed as a vibrational concept.
I guess my old hippie roots are showing, but I always liked this interpretation.

Of course, at one level, kyo can denote the Sutra of the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect (the Lotus Sutra), but on a more profound level it can be said to be the warp and weave of the universe itself.

The goal is harmony. The kyo we seek is good vibrations. Cancer eating at your body or the media incessantly bantering about war and tragedy -- that's bad kyo. People telling you they love you or learning to resolve differences with those whom you may have previously disagreed or disparaged -- now that's great kyo.

I suppose that if I could string the entire phrase together for you it might be helpful, if only as a mnemonic.

I can't tell you how many meetings I attended where someone would get up and say, "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound." This would make my skin crawl because first of all it was so simplistic and, secondly, it was incomplete if not completely wrong. Yes, chanting is a way in which we demonstrate an affinity for the mystic law, but it this definition of kyo as the sound we make by chanting is quite shallow.

If we must have a single phrase to encapsulate Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I believe it should be something like: "Devotion (nam) to the mystic (myo) law (ho) is a cause (ren) which creates the effect (ge) of creating harmony (kyo) in our lives."

I hope I am communicating to some degree the extent to which I feel Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is indefinable. Do the words Grand Canyon contain the magnitude and awe inherent in that place? It is certainly more than "grand." Does the word "orgasm" give any indication of how great it feels...possibly even grander than the Grand Canyon?

Even a cursory examination of the mantra will, I think, leave one with the impression that there is literally a universe of information contained within. There is profound meaning here, yet it pales in comparison to what actually happens when one invokes the actual mantra of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

I worry that this whole issue of definition may beg the question of why can't we just chant in our own language. This is a most common question and, for many, presents a critical hurdle in attempting to chant.

For me, it's primarily a matter of aesthetics. I have chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and, on occasion, tried to recite "devotion-mystic power-lotus flower-sound" in a rhythmical manner. The latter just wasn't very pretty. I may sound facetious and suppose I am to an extent, but I also believe that the pleasantness of any religious practice should be a factor when considering that practice.

I'm the kid who truly thought fasting on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) really sucked. Religious practice should be a source of joy, comfort and aesthetic pleasure. Since our own home, rather than any grandiose religious edifice, is the place in which the practice of Nichiren's Buddhism is fundamentally undertaken, I think it is important that it be pleasing to the ear.

It is also critical to keep in mind that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is originally described by Chinese pictograms, not English letters. The Chinese language literally paints a picture for each word it describes. I tried to give a sense of that depth in the above definition and hope that I at least succeeded in conveying the impression that each of these words is literally a novel unto itself. Sometimes things really do suffer in the translation.

There is a final and perhaps most important reason why Nam-myoho-renge-kyo should be chanted as its founder, Nichiren, taught. Namely, because that's what its founder, Nichiren, taught. He was certainly not conversant with any Latin-based language at that time, but he did know Japanese, Chinese and Sanskrit. To him, these were the languages of the world he knew and he incorporated them.

You may recall my saying that Nam is the Sanskrit word preceding the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters. It would be a mistake to think that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a Japanese phrase. Your average Japanese, or any Asian for that matter, would be initially as unfamiliar with its meaning and pronunciation as any Westerner.

Although chanting is primarily done alone, or within one's family, there are occasions upon which it is both fun and useful to get together with others to chant. Thousands of people chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together can be a tremendously powerful, visceral experience. If each person were invoking his or her own native language it would be incredibly Babelesque.

Nichiren taught this mantra as a universal. It can be chanted by anyone and it is efficacious for everyone. It's Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Chapter 1: Looking for a Bridge

Chapter 2: Nichiren and the Lotus Sutra

Chapter 3: Defining Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Chapter 4: The Benefits of Buddhist Practice

Chapter 5: A Focal Point for One's Faith

Chapter 6: The Gohonzon and Bodhisattva Practice

Chapter 7: A Personal Relationship with the Gohonzon
Tags: Nichiren's Teachings, Cris Roman, (All Tags)

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