A chanting meditation
Chanting ‘Namu Myoho Renge-kyo’ (known as O-daimoku in Japanese) may be the first place for new members to start practising at Rissho Kosei-kai (RK). We always chant with our palms placed together (Gassho). Chanting with deep sincerity is much more meaningful than the number of times we chant. We are not chanting in a self-centred manner, instead we are keeping an empty mind or thinking of world peace or the happiness of people close to us. This practice will purify both our mind and body.
RK sometimes holds a unique method of O-daimoku practice during some selected occasions such as retreats. This practice will encourage you to reach towards a state of mindfulness, and experience wonder and mystery thereby helping prove the Dharma. You will be advised to participate in the practice because it is a precious opportunity to physically contemplate the world of the Buddha which ordinary people are incapable of seeing.
Now, what are the meanings of O-daimoku and the significance of chanting? After we know that, O-daimoku Practice will become more meaningful.
O-daimoku expressing the joy of taking refuge
O-daimoku was certainly chanted in ancient Japan. But a revered practitioner of the Lotus Sutra in the thirteenth century, Nichiren widely disseminated O-daimoku across the country.
RK members also chant O-daimoku three times to Gohonzon (the Buddha) installed at our home altars when waking up in the morning. When we visit centres or other members’ houses, we first do so at their home altars before chatting. Before going to bed, we chant O-daimoku three times as well. In other words, we begin and end our daily lives with chanting O-daimoku.
Commonly, ‘daimoku’ (non-honorific form of ‘O-daimoku’) refers to ‘title’ in Japanese. So in Buddhism, ‘daimoku’ signifies ‘title of sutra’, which condenses the contents of the sutra.
RK uses as the basic scripture The Threefold Lotus Sutra: The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wondrous Dharma (the Lotus Sutra) and The Sutra of the Method for Contemplating the Bodhisattva Universal Sage. These sutras perfectly clarify questions encountered in our daily lives such as the nature of our world, what human beings are and the issue of how we should live.
The original title of the Lotus Sutra, written in Sanskrit, is Saddharma-puṇḍarīka-sūtra. Kumarajiva translated into Chinese as Miaofa Lianhua jing (Jpn., Myoho Renge-kyo).
‘Saddharma’ (Jpn., Myoho) consists of ‘sad’ (Jpn., myo) and ‘Dharma’ (Jpn., ho). ‘Sad’ originally means ‘true, right, good and wonderful’. Chinese monk Zhiyi (538-97), known as the ‘great teacher of Mt Tiantai’ and ‘little Shakyamuni’, gave a commentary on the translated Chinese letter of ‘sad’ (Chin., miao妙) defined as ‘resuscitating and wondrous’.
‘Dharma’ is a profound word with multifaceted meanings such as (1) things and phenomena (that exist in the universe), (2) truth (that permeates all things that exist), (3) teachings (that express and properly convey this absolute truth of all phenomena to living beings in ways appropriate to their particular times and situations) and (4) practice of the good (that is in accord with the ethics and morality of the teachings of the Buddha).
‘Puṇḍarīka’ (Jpn., renge) refers to white lotus flowers, which are regarded in India as the most beautiful flower in the world. They are rooted in muddy ponds and stagnant water but bloom suspended above the muck, with pearly white flowers that are always pure and unsullied by the mud.
‘Sūtra’ (Jpn., kyo) literally means a ‘connecting thread’ or ‘string’. The people of ancient India also had a custom of threading beautiful flowers together on a string to make hair ornaments. In a similar fashion, a ‘sutra’ brings precious teachings of the Buddha together into a single thematic composition.
Putting all this together, we can understand the title of the sutra—Saddharma-puṇḍarīka-sūtra (Eng., The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wondrous Dharma, and Jpn. Myoho Renge-kyo) —to mean ‘the supreme, precious teaching whereby living beings can resuscitate their lives and bring peace unimpeded by any delusions while living in this impure world’.
You see ‘namu’ before the title of the sutra. It comes from the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word ‘namas’, which means to ‘take refuge’ and express our wholehearted trust, reverence and joy. So, chanting ‘Namu Myoho Renge-kyo’ signifies the vow that we take refuge wholeheartedly in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and practise it as taught.
Considering such profound meaning, you may be more dedicated to chanting O-daimoku.
For in-depth understanding——‘Delusions Are Inseparable from Enlightenment’ and ‘Flower-fruit Simultaneity’
The title, The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wondrous Dharma, is made up of ‘Wondrous Dharma’ and ‘Lotus Flower’. Ultimately both of these convey the same meaning, namely Wondrous Dharma is, metaphorically speaking, Lotus Flowers. Another way of expressing this can be found in ‘Delusions Are Inseparable from Enlightenment’ and ‘Flower-fruit Simultaneity’, an explanation of which follows.
Chapter 15 of the Lotus Sutra ‘Springing Up Out of the Earth’ teaches on ‘Delusions Are Inseparable from Enlightenment’ that ‘They have well learned the bodhisattva way / And are as untainted by worldly things / As the lotus flower in the water’.
Lotus flowers are rooted in and draw nutrition from muddy ponds, and their beautiful blooms are above the water. As such, this teaches that people aiming for buddhahood can live in but are not swayed by worldly delusions, and eventually attain Supreme Perfect Awakening leading high-minded lives.
We can learn two things here. One is words of encouragement. We will be able to lead meaningful lives with a high ideal even if we are currently in such a trying environment as sinking in a muddy pond. The other tells us to be grateful for our delusion. Human beings can attain unsurpassed happiness because we have delusion. As a matter of fact, lotus flowers die if we think their mud is dirty and scoop them out of a pond.
However, we cannot live beautiful lives like lotus flowers unless we overcome and transform delusion, especially what Shakyamuni Buddha called Three Defilements [Poisons], or primal delusions represented as greed, anger and ignorance. How can we do so? The answer is revealed in each chapter of the Lotus Sutra, but Founder Niwano taught that acknowledging the ‘principle of dependent origination is the key’.
‘Principle of dependent origination’ means that all things are arising and being extinguished by causes and conditions. In terms of liberation from sufferings, we can observe that all living beings fade away and die, enormous wealth is no use after death, and a man or woman of unmatched beauty eventually ages, etc. Seeing things without attachment, or with Buddha’s wisdom, our heart and mind becomes liberated from immediate gain and loss. So we live in, but are not swayed by delusions, and thus we can lead purified lives with a free mind.
Seeing things in such a manner is not so difficult even for new members. We are advised to observe ourselves being affected by Three Defilements and live our lives in accord with ‘Wondrous Dharma’. Reverend and senior members will help us until we realise this.
Regarding ‘Flower-fruit Simultaneity’, lotus flowers bear fruit during their full bloom unlike many other plants which only bear fruit after they have flowered. Because of this, ‘Wondrous Dharma’ has been called ‘Flower-fruit Simultaneity’ in terms of time and space. For example, it is not the case that when we practise generosity we will receive merits later on, but rather that we will have already received merits immediately on raising the mind of generosity.
So, we recommend you to practise O-daimoku tasting ‘Delusions Are Inseparable from Enlightenment’ and ‘Flower-fruit Simultaneity’ contained in Myoho Renge-kyo.