This post is dedicated to my spirit guide, Angela. You taught me to chant and connect with the universe!
The phrase NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO is taken from the title of the greatest teaching of the first historically recorded Buddha, known as Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived in India around 500 years before Christ was born. This teaching, called the Lotus Sutra, declares that all living beings, regardless of gender or intelligence (that means everyone – including you and me!), have the potential to attain Buddhahood. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches that inside each one of us a universal truth known as the Buddha nature. Basing our lives on this Buddha nature enables us to enjoy absolute happiness and to act with boundless compassion. Such a state of happiness is called enlightenment. It’s simply waking up to the true nature of life, realising that all things are connected, and that there is such a close relationship between each of us and our surroundings that when we change ourselves, we change the world.
Is it really possible that simply chanting a short phrase – NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO – can help you change your life for the better? Can help you have a more positive approach to achieving your goals and ambitions? Can help you sort out your problems and develop happiness in your life? For many millions of people, all around the world, the answer is a resounding YES!
Why chant NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO?
The Buddhist practice is based on the teachings and the individual practice of Nichiren Daishonin. Nichiren was a 13th Japanese sage who centered on what is traditionally thought to be one of the last recorded teaching of the first historically recorded Buddha. This teaching was named the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra declares that all living beings, regardless of gender or intellectual capacity, can attain the enlightened state of life within their given lifetime.
Being “enlightened” simply means to act like a Buddha – that is, to act in the appropriate way, at the appropriate time. When we act more wisely, when we become more happy, we help those around us.
Individual enlightenment comes through the profound realisation of the inseparability of us as individuals and our spiritual and physical environment, and the ability we have, as an inseperable part of that environment, to powerfully influence it. Through this practice, every one of us can realise our personal responsibility for, and possibility to change, our own condition, and the condition of our immediate and distant environment. This sense of responsibility and power for positive change is further enhanced by an understanding of the simultaneity of cause and effect. Our every thought, word or deed has an immediate effect on the us and our environment, even though the full ramifications may take time to become manifest.
Nichiren Daishonin summarised these teachings by saying that, in the same way that one can bring to mind any concept simply by uttering its name, all the benefits of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be harnessed simply by chanting its title – (Nam) Myoho Renge Kyo. Chanting therefore constitutes the core of the Buddhist practice, supported by the study and communication of the teachings.
Many people who chant NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO find that it helps them to become more happy and fulfilled as human beings, through acting more often in ways that are wise, and that recognise our profound connections to everything and everybody else.
To Nichiren, Myoho-renge-kyo was far more than the title of a Buddhist text, it was the expression, in words, of the Law of life which all Buddhist teachings in one way or another seek to clarify. What follows is a brief and unavoidably limited explanation of some of the key concepts expressed by this phrase.
The word nam derives from Sanskrit. A close translation of its meaning is “to devote oneself.” Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a means to enable all people to put their lives in harmony or rhythm with the law of life, or Dharma. In the original Sanskrit, nam indicates the elements of action and attitude, and refers therefore to the correct action one needs to take and the attitude one needs to develop in order to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Myoho literally means the Mystic Law, and expresses the relationship between the life inherent in the universe and the many different ways this life expresses itself. Myo refers to the very essence of life, which is “invisible” and beyond intellectual understanding. This essence always expresses itself in a tangible form (ho) that can be apprehended by the senses. Phenomena (ho) are changeable, but pervading all such phenomena is a constant reality known as myo.
Renge means lotus flower. The lotus blooms and produces seeds at the same time, and thus represents the simultaneity of cause and effect. The circumstances and quality of our individual lives are determined by the causes and effects, both good and bad, that we accumulate (through our thoughts, words and actions) at each moment. This is called our “karma.” The law of cause and effect explains that we each have personal responsibility for our own destiny. We create our destiny and we can change it. The most powerful cause we can make is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; the effect of Buddhahood is simultaneously created in the depths of our life and will definitely manifest in time.
The lotus flower grows and blooms in a muddy pond, and yet remains pristine and free from any defilement, symbolizing the emergence of Buddhahood from within the life of an ordinary person.
Kyo literally means sutra, the voice or teaching of a Buddha. In this sense, it also means sound, rhythm or vibration. Also, the Chinese character for kyo originally meant the warp in a piece of woven cloth, symbolizing the continuity of life throughout past, present and future. In a broad sense, kyo conveys the concept that all things in the universe are a manifestation of the Mystic Law.
How do you chant?
Don’t worry, it’s simple, really. Try to find somewhere where you won’t be disturbed for a little while, or have to worry about disturbing others. Sit on an upright chair, facing a blank spot on a wall – so there are no distractions.. Keep your eyes open, and your back as straight as you can – but don’t be uncomfortable. Hold your hands together, so as to keep them still – you may wish to hold them as in prayer – again, don’t be uncomfortable. Set yourself a time for how long you will chant, and stick to it. Remember, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 2 minutes, 10 or twenty, the point is to set a time and stick to it. Just be determined to keep chanting till the time is up – at first, you might find that this takes quite a lot of determination! Repeat the phrase NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO over and over rythmically, until the time limit you have set is up.
There is no special recommendation – just whatever comes. Just keep steadily chanting, try not to get so lost in your thoughts that you stop! Before you begin to chant, you might like to take a moment to fix a thought in your mind – something you want to change or achieve. This can be anything you like, from the smallest to the biggest thing you can imagine. Often, when people start to chant, they want to set a specific goal, and see if chanting helps them achieve it – “I want to buy a new car by next Tuesday” – for example! Don’t be afraid to test the practice in this way – nothing says that your aims have to be “spiritual” or noble – just chant for whatever is important to you – to improve your material circumstances, your relationships, whatever. Don’t expect miracles overnight – a situation that’s taken years to build up might take a while to change. However, be prepared to be surprised by how quickly you can make a difference to some things! The whole point is to be guided by your own wisdom – right now you may not believe you have any, but chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo will help you realise that you do, and that you can trust the decisions you come to when chanting.
To sum up:
a number of possible subjects might act as the focus for your thoughts while chanting – a particular problem to be resolved; a difficult decision to make; or the best course of action to follow in a given situation.
Likewise, you could be focused on emotional situations, and look for ways of coping with them; or thinking of the well- being of another individual. Or your thoughts might be on personal wishes and wants, goals or determinations.
How long you should chant for? This is up to each person but as a guide people are often recommended to chant for about 15 minutes morning or evening (though of course you are free to chant less or more as you wish). It is however a good idea to try to get into a regular rhythm of chanting a little in the morning and evening rather than chanting a lot one day and none the next. Once again, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 2 minutes, 10 or twenty, the point is to set a time limit and stick to it. Just keep on chanting till the time is up.
How to pronounce
Nam rhymes with Pam and jam! It’s pronounced just as the last part of the word Vietnam. To hear a recording of how Nam is pronounced, click here.Here we offer a guide to pronouncing each part of the phrase NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO, by giving examples of rhymes and words that sound alike. We also have provided some recordings of the phrase being chanted, in parts and the whole phrase. The audio files are provided in .wav format, and you should be able to download and play them on any PC just by clicking on the links.
Myoho comes in two parts. Myo rhymes with go, and is pronounced m’ o. Ho also rhymes with go. The whole word sounds like m’ o-ho. To hear a recording of how Myoho is pronounced, click here.
Renge also is a two-part word. The first part, Ren, rhymes with hen and sounds just like the last part of the word children. Ge is pronounced exactly like the word gay, and rhymes with hay and stay. The whole word sounds like ren-gay. To hear a recording of how Renge is pronounced, click here.
Kyo also rhymes with go, and sounds just like the last part of Tokyo. To hear a recording of how Kyo is pronounced, click here.
The whole phrase, NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO is pronounced nam-m’ o-ho-ren-gay-kyo. To hear a recording of how Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is pronounced, click here.