The Odaimoku—Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
The Odaimoku—Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
(The Odaimoku is a term used by HBS and other Nichiren Buddhist sects for the sacred phrase Namu Myoho Renge Kyo)
Q: Was chanting the Odaimoku, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo advocated by Nichiren Shonin? Or was it being chanted before Nichiren Shonin?
A: The way of chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo was practiced before Nichiren Shonin as one of the practices among Buddhist practitioners. Since 'Namu' is a word translated phonetically from Sanskrit 'Namas' or 'Namo' which is interpreted as to 'to take refuge in the Fine Dharma or the Buddha whole heartedly, or 'to revere'. 'Namu' means 'to believe and submit' or 'to take refuge in'. So, it is commonly said that Namu Myoho Renge Kyo means to take refuge in Myoho Renge Kyo (the Lotus Sutra). In this case, however, Myoho Renge Kyo is not just the title of a Sutra but should be regarded as the fundamental truth of all the laws of the Universe which was enlightened by the Buddha. When we chant the Odaimoku, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, after the manner of Indian people, it may be pronounced "Namo—Saddharma—Pundarika—Sutra". Ninkai (953—1046) who was a priest in Heian period in Japan wrote in his work that Zenmui (Subhakarasimba, 636—735) chanted "Namo—Saddharma—Pundarika—Sutra". He was one of the great masters of esoteric Buddhism. He was born a prince in central India. He became a priest and studied Buddhism. In 716, he came to China with many Sanskrit manuscripts. So, the Odaimoku must have been chanted by other Buddhist priests over 1,500 years ago in India. In "Hokke Zanmai Zangi" which was written by the Great Master Tendai (Tien—tai 538597). It was written chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo wholeheartedly and it is said that he chanted the Odaimoku many times. Also in this work, he stated that "Namu Buddhas in all directions, Namu Fine Dharma in all directions, Namu Shakamuni Buddha, Namu Taho Buddha (Prabhutaraua), Namu Myoho Renge Kyo". We can see from this that the Odaimoku seems to have been chanted in China since over 1,500 years ago too. In Japan, there was the expression in the work "Shuzenji Soden" which is said to have been written by the Great Master Saicho (The founder of the Japanese Tendai sect 767—822) that "Chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo at one's death bed and the meritorious power of the Fine Dharma immediately causes one to attain Buddahood and one's body to be freed from the cycles of suffering." He also stated in his work "Shikai Taishi"; that "When you go and worship to the sacred statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, salute 100 times to each object and chant “NamuMyohoRengeKyo". There is another work by Eshin Sozu (a Tendai monk, 942—1017), it stated "Keep a view of life as something transient and empty, pray for being guided to the Pure Land and chant Namu Amidabutsu (Namo Amitabha) Namu Myoho RengeKyo, Namu Kanzeonbosatsu (Namo Avalokitesvara)".
As we can see before the appearance of Nichiren Shonin, the Odaimoku seems to have been chanted in India, China and Japan. Then what is the difference between the Odaimoku chanted by such priests and that chanted by Nichiren Shonin?
The Odaimoku chanted by the other priests was just a part of the overall practice of chanting sutras, etc. In contrast, Nichiren Shonin recommended us to chant the Odaimoku single—mindedly as the most important and primordial practice. Nichiren Shonin considered that based on the primordial eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra the quintessence of the Lotus Sutra is Namu Myoho Renge Kyo wraps all the merits of enlightenment of the Buddha. By upholding and chanting the Odaimoku, we are promised its merits.