Why and How to Chant Nammyohorengekyo
What is Chanting and why this particular phrase?
The answer is as simple as it is complex. The worst thing I could do is to mis-inform or mis-lead you by oversimplification. So I urge you to read this entire letter at very least, and to investigate further the teachings of the Buddha through Nichiren, T'ien-T'ai, and other reputable sources, before settling on my humble attempt to expound on the core of true Buddhist practice by my use of contemporary rhetoric.
Here it goes; who are you? Are you the sum of your biological parts? your biological functions? are you an address on an envelope, cell phone number, clothes style, grade on a quiz, driver's license picture, reflection in a mirror, a group of opinions others hold? The question of who you are eventually leads to something that transcends the physical does it not? What I mean to say is that "we" are not tangible "thing", but an amalgam of memories, actions, and impressions. Thinking this way, we can scare ourselves a little. After all, what keeps us from simply "disappearing" should all memory of us be erased. Cultures of peoples all over the world have created endless ritual to avoid this fearful idea. Rituals to repeat, and ingrain into memory certain actions and marks as to "lock" in memory to quell the fear of disappearing or dying.
Certainly, the most common answer to "Who are you?", is your name. Over time, your name becomes such a part of each action you take that your name becomes a signifyer to recall all actions and attributes associated with you. But, your name IS not "you". Yet when we call out "mom!" or "Robert!", we invoke a presence even without that "person" in our physical presence.
In times of great stress, we can invoke the comfort, forgiveness, love of another by simply invoking their name. Such is the nature of our "attachments" to mortal existence, in Buddhism named "Samsara".
Let's take a look at the "name" Mom, for a moment longer. Mom, is not as specific as "Robert", "John", or "Mary". Mom could be any mom, all mom's, Robert's mom, John's mom, Mary's mom, the idea of "mom". Then too, "Robert" could be the Robert you know, or all Robert's, or the idea of Robert. Isn't the idea of a name what we mean when we say, "He doesn't look like a, 'Robert'."
So, what name could we make to represent, invoke, and collect definitions for that which we all are? Man? Mankind? Human? all are good "names", but what of life itself. what name could possibly invoke and define all of creation. Actually not all of creation, but what created creation, why, how, when, and all of its functioning. Many cultures have struggled with this question. Many names have been created, and names are powerful things. The name God for instance, in some circles represents that unknowable entity from which all we experience was "created". In Judaism, the Kabbalah, God is but one of many names for the forces of the universe, and is yet transcended by a more fundamental "all knowing", "all powerful" entity named Ein-Sof. One need only study a limited amount of religious texts to find that "God" is a rather mutable term used to suit all manner of "belief". What all these names have in common is the labeling of something, some one, "Other".
To a Buddhist, this is the essential problem. To a Buddhist, if that which creates is, by definition, "other", then it cannot be a part of our experience. Like a child "creating" a sand castle, the castle has no intrinsic value, cannot self-perceive, cannot "create". Only if the child were able to grow and "create" another child would the awe, beauty, and power of "creation" be available for experience, which, of course, mandates that the child as woman, be in the same existence as the offspring child.
To the Buddhist this is obvious, and without question. So the idea of "creator as other" is simply immature, unthoughtful, folly. the Ultimate force or entity of life is life, and it is in everything, all around us, through us and of us. We are as much the "creative" force as it is all about us. Understand here, we "are" the creative force, entity, creator", and not just "part" of it. "It", the creative force, life, is not compartmentalized, it is NOT "OTHER". So How do we invoke and experience it?
Since we live in a state of memories and attachments, "samsara", we "forget" our true nature. Our true nature, has been exhaustively defined by Buddha, and therefore, one name derived to point us at the direction of our fundamental core is our Buddha nature. But this is a mere label, and does not function well to invoke and experience that intrinsic Buddha nature. However, if one studies all teachings, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, physics, meta-physics, and all the Buddha's teachings, one will come to realize that the culminating teachings of the Buddha contain a "name" that does the job.
In his final teachings, the Buddha named his final teachings, and prefaced each chapter of his final teaching with five characters. These five characters, studied by sages and scholars for thousands of years represent such profound "ideas" and concepts as to be inexhaustible in meaning, but succinct in definition. Definition, that is, of the Ultimate truth or entity. Those characters of Myo Ho Ren Ge and Kyo, can then be used to invoke and experience our true "Buddha-nature". By formalizing this name with the two characters, Nah and Mu, like a Mister or Doctor before a Pronoun, we enact our volitional state. This is because as human beings, we do not fully experience anything until we "decide" to participate. By chanting Nah Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo, we repeatedly invoke and experience our fundamental buddha-nature. Simplified, the prefix characters can be pronounced as Nam, rendering Nammyohorengekyo.
OK, so now we know how, but why chant?
By awakening our true nature, the nature of all life, we can break down the veils of illusions and mistaken beliefs we have constructed in our samsaric attachments and delusions. In short, chanting purifies our senses and our lives. From this state of awareness comes ultimate security, fearlessness, knowledge, and an unshakable sense of happiness, awe, and appreciation for life, all life.
With all my respect,
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