The Odaimoku, which literally means “the title,” is used in Japanese Buddhism in reference to the repeated recitation of a Buddhist mantra. The Odaimoku of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is derived from the title of the Lotus Sutra which over a millennium, continues to have great influence throughout all of Japanese Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra has also been an inspiration to great Buddhist thinkers and Masters in China, Tibet, Korea and Japan since ancient times, and was a subject of profound interest and research by the 13th Century Buddhist Master, Nichiren Shonin. This ingenious teacher not only wrote exhaustively about the Lotus Sutra, but actively promoted the recitation of both the Sutra and its title, the Odaimoku.
The Odaimoku is today, therefore, the essential mantra of Nichiren Shu Buddhist faith and practice. This book examines the meaning of each single word composing the Odaimoku, so that one might have a deeper understanding of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and its implications on one’s life, cultivation of Buddhist practice and enlightenment. It is divided into the following four chapters for easy comprehension:
Introduction to the Lotus Sutra and Odaimoku
The Meaning of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
Why do we chant the Odaimoku?
How we chant the Odaimoku?
From the book dedication:
May the merit accumulated in the creation of this work adorn the pure land of Buddha, repay the profound debts of gratitude owed to the Three Treasures, our parents, teachers, and all those senior and more experienced, as well as help those who are suffering or in need. May all who see, read or hear this work bring forth their Bodhisattva heart, walk along the Path of the Buddha and obtain the blessed enlightenment of the Tathagata.
Nichiren Shonin taught us in the Kanjin Honzon Sho, “All good deeds and virtues of Shakyamuni Buddha are manifested in the title of the Lotus Sutra, ‘Myoho Renge Kyo.’ No matter what mistakes we may have committed, we shall be naturally endowed with all the deeds and virtues of the Buddha, if we adhere to these five characters.”
The more we chant and act in accord with the Buddha’s teachings, the more the Odaimoku will manifest itself within our life. This is why we recite the Odaimoku, and why we chant it with tranquility, devotion and attention.
As we use our entire body to chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, the sound of the Odaimoku permeates our entire being and the environment around us. We use our voice to chant the Odaimoku and our lips, mouth and voice become enlightened. We maintain our hands in Gassho (prayer form) as we chant, the words of the Buddha lightly brush across our hands, thus our hands become enlightened. As we chant the Odaimoku, our ears hear the enlightened words of the Buddha and our ears, heart and mind become enlightened. This sound enters and then resonates throughout our entire body and every cell within our body becomes enlightened. This process lasts for the entire time we sit in front of the Mandala Gohonzon and chant the Odaimoku. It is because, as we just explained, our life is able to come into direct connect with the enlightened life of the Eternal Buddha at that time. When we finish, we then return to being the common mortals we all are. However, thanks to the teachings left us by Nichiren Shonin, we are able to experience this enlightenment, even for a short while, every time we say Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.
When we sit in front of the Mandala Gohonzon, we are meeting with the Buddha Shakyamuni, Nichiren Shonin, the many Bodhisattvas and all the other figures pictured on the Mandala. We are there to meet with them, and converse with them, heart to heart, as they open the door of their enlightened world for us. And we do this by speaking in the Buddha’s language: by chanting the Lotus Sutra and Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.
Let’s remember that when we sit in front of the Mandala Gohonzon, we are sitting down in a sacred and very spiritual place in order to closely approach the Buddha and Nichiren Shonin. Using a more mundane example, this could be comparable to sitting down to have an important conversation or become closer with someone very special in our lives, such as a good friend, loved one, boyfriend, girlfriend or fiancee. If we meet someone as special as this, then of course we would want to be dressed properly, speak clearly and sincerely, and thoroughly enjoy the time we spend with that person. When we talk to this special person, we will look them directly in the eyes, possibly even feeling great emotion. We will also put all our energy, spirit and attention into addressing that person as we sincerely seek to connect with them. That is, we will use all our heart. It is the same with chanting the Odaimoku.
Reciting abundant Odaimoku is a wonderful thing. In fact, the more we sincerely chant the more merit and good fortune of the Buddha’s enlightened life is accumulated and becomes an integral part of our life. However, we must also be careful not to simply chant out of mere habit or in an empty fashion. Here, sincerity and quality, not mere quantity, is key.
[T]ue Lotus Sutra, the Odaimoku and the Mandala Gohonzon represent the very body, voice and heart of the Eternal Buddha. We should therefore strive to clearly pronounce the Odaimoku as we chant it. Concentrate on each syllable and observe the Odaimoku written on the Mandala Gohonzon. While chanting serenely and solemnly from deep within our diaphragm, our voice should be neither too loud nor too soft. Maintain a melodic rhythm, neither too fast nor too slow.
Repeating the words of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo to the Mandala Gohonzon depicting the realm of the Buddha becomes a highly focused practice devoted to the Odaimoku, the entire Lotus Sutra and the Buddha’s eternal enlightenment. In this way, Odaimoku recitation can be considered a form of meditation, a meditation devoted and focused solely on the eternal enlightenment of the Buddha. While traditional meditation is considered to be silent meditation, the chanting of Odaimoku to the Mandala Gohonzon becomes active meditation.
Since the practice of chanting the Odaimoku is so important, our attitude and way we chant is vital. It is important to strive to chant the Odaimoku with a spirit of sincerely wishing to cultivate a practice of faith, respect, devotion, awareness and gratitude.
In Nichiren Shu, the mantra of the Odaimoku is … considered a fundamental practice that facilitates transformation. The phrase Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is the heart of the Lotus Sutra and the Eternal Buddha’s enlightenment. Nichiren Shonin taught us that by chanting these enlightened words of the Buddha, we too are able to open the enlightenment that has slept within our lives since ages past, referred to in Buddhist terms as Bussho, or our Buddha-nature. Bussho can also be translated as the “life of the Buddha” within each and every one of us. Therefore, the more we chant, the closer we become to the Buddha and the more our own Buddha-nature begins to grow, develop and blossom in a very natural and day-to-day manner.