The Meaning of chanting Odaimoku
Sometimes our members ask what mean Odaimoku Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. Other sect chant buddha’s name like amitaba Buddha, But nichiren sect chant the title of Odaimoku.
To chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is our essential practice. We always put our palms together and chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. Actually, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is called Odaimoku. Odaimoku means “Title” in Japanese. So we chant the title. What kind of title is it? The title is the name of one of the Buddhist sutras.
And its name is Myoho Renge Kyo. In English, it is the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma. It is generally called the Lotus Sutra. By the way, “Myo” is Wonderful. “Ho” is Dharma. “Renge” is Lotus Flower. And “Kyo” is Sutra. And “Namu” means our devotion. Therefore, “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” is “Our devotion to the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma.
By chanting Odaimoku “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” continuously, we are expressing that “I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra. I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra. I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra.” We reveal our devotion to the Buddha through our mouth.
By the way, to chant the sutra and Odaimoku is a part of the offering towards the Buddha. It is same as we offer incense to the Buddha, we offer flowers to the Buddha, we offer light to the Buddha, we offer water to the Buddha, and so on. By chanting, we offer our sincere devotion to the Buddha. It is quite important practice for us to continue our offering to the Buddha.
From the view of offering, when we offer, we should not expect some return from the Buddha.
For example, I walk on a street. I see someone walking from the other side. I know if we walk in this direction, we will crush each other. So I give way to him or her. But at this moment, I don’t expect that he or she will pay me some money thanks to my action. And they won’t pay. They may say to me, “Thank you.” That is all. But they feel happy and I feel somehow happy.
I think that this is the fundamental point of the practice of offering. So we are better not to think that “Give benefit to me! Give benefit to me!” when we offer our chanting of Odaimoku. When we think of benefit strongly, we suffer eventually.
It is because we get attachment towards benefits from the Buddha. When someone offers something to us, we are happy. So the Buddha is also very happy when he sees our profound offering from the bottom of our hearts. We offer our devotion to the Buddha and the Buddha receives it. And the Buddha returns his compassion and wisdom and we receive it after all, although we don’t ask for benefit. Eventually, we receive the Buddha’s hearts. So we are able to communicate with Sakyamuni Buddha and unite with Sakyamuni Buddha through our offering of chanting. We should chant Odaimoku from our hearts. Also I believe to chant Odaimoku is a part of meditation too. All living beings possess their own Buddhas inside them. But most of people don’t realize it. Unfortunately, we contain not only the Buddha heart inside, but also evil hearts.
If we don’t realize our Buddha, the evil hearts are so active.
They pressure the Buddha and press it towards very deep bottom of heart. So our Buddhas sleep deeply in our heart. They are not active at all.
When the evils are active in heart, our behaviours, action, and talk are totally influenced by them. We may kill someone with anger. We may steal something with greed. We may like to fight with others and hurt them. These evil hearts control our mind and we don’t see that the behaviour and action we have done are wrong things.
We keep making not good karma through these kinds of our activities. And we would have many troubles in future because of the karmas we make. So the Buddha tells us to awaken to our Buddhas inside our hearts and stop evils. Through our chanting, our Buddhas wake up and be cultivated day by day, so that we are able to control our lower hearts.
When we want to kill someone, we can stop this action. When we want to steal something, we can stop it. Then we are able to get closer to the Buddha little by little through our practice. Therefore, I believe that to chant Odaimoku is one of the meditations in order to make our Buddha evilwake up and work well. Then we can purify ourselves.
As I said, we, human beings are not pure at all. We have forgotten about our Buddha nature. We easily follow our anger, greed, and so on. Then our life level goes worse and we have more trouble. It is because we get attachment to our self. We like ourselves. We like to do whatever we want to do. But we can’t do. So we suffer. The Buddha teaches us that we need to look at the reality of the world. Only I do not construct the world. But we only see the world from our own eyes. We have got a narrow view. Therefore when we encounter unhappy things, we get upset, disappointed and angry easily. Then we criticize others.
Normally people believe that others and me are different beings. Actually, as you know, physical matter, and mental matter are separated. We have different shape, different thought, different action and extra.
Buddha shakyamuni explained in the lotus sutra chapter 3 Parable this:
“This triple world is my property. All living beings there in are my children. There are many suffering in this world. Only I can save all living beings”
The Buddha’s teaching is that all living beings’ life is Buddha Shakyamuni’s children. Although all are different from each other such as how our appearance is, our characteristics is, our behaviour is and so on, there is a total equality in a profound area. It is the equality of heart. We look different from each other. In fact, these different people and living beings together support the earth and together construct the world. So each person and living being have so precious life, who work together to contribute to the world. All these different people are holding this one big universe. This whole universe is one living beings. Inside this living being, we are doing our life in different ways.
Chapter 21 “Supernatural Powers of the Tathagatha” of the Lotus Sutra explains
“All the teachings of the Tathagata, all the unhindered, supernatural powers of the Tathagata, all the treasury of the hidden core of the Tathagata, and all the profound achievements of the Tathagata are revealed and expounded explicitly in this sutra.”
As Sakyamuni Buddha states this, the Lotus Sutra contains the essence of the teachings of the Buddha deeply. Therefore, the Lotus Sutra is very important teaching throughout the teaching of the Buddha. And we chant “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo”. “I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra.” Why do we chant only the title of the sutra? When we hear the name of someone, we can have an image of him or her. We can understand their nature such as their characteristics and so on.
For example, Rev. Chitoku Kawaguchi. When we see this name, in our mind, we can image his appearance and we can have some information regarding him without seeing him. So a name has a great power. By chanting the name of the title of the Lotus Sutra, we are able to touch all the teachings, all the unhindered, supernatural powers, all the treasury of the hidden core, and all the profound achievements of the Buddha.
And we advise people to chant Odaimoku of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo everyday. Chanting is our essential practice. Continuous practice can strengthen our life. Everyday practice progresses us. In order to master something, we need to practice certain things continuously. If I sometimes do and sometimes don’t and sometimes do and sometimes don’t, I can't advance myself smoothly. Our progress will never stop until we attain our Buddhahood.
Everyday practice brings us to the state that teaching of the Buddha becomes a part of body. It is different between understanding the Dharma in only brain and understanding it through body.
For example, Gagaku music. If I study the way of play the gagaku music by book, and I understand how to hold and play gagaku Ryuteki flute. However, it doesn’t mean I understand the Gagaku music way perfectly like songs. In fact, when I appear on gagaku music concert, I cannot play really Gagaku music with 3 instruments because I practiced only by me without other instruments like HItiriki flute or Sho. Gagaku music has 3 instruments. And Gagaku hasn’t any conductor like Euro orchestra. So we should practice together with every persons heart become one.
I cannot play myself. Because mind and body are different. Even I have big knowledge on certain subject, but I don’t really practice with other instruments. It means I don’t obtain the knowledge perfectly on Gagaku music. When my body remembers the teaching, I attain my goal.
Nichiren Daishonin also explained Kanjinhonzonsho this:
“Buddha shakyamuni’’S buddhahood are altogether contained in the five words of myo, ho, ren, ge, and kyo and that consequently, when we uphold the five words, the merits which he accumulated before and after his attainment of Buddhahood are naturally transferred to us.”
Therefore, by chanting, we use body. We have certain understanding on Buddhist teachings in brain. These understandings flow into our bodies and they become our part of body. Then we can act naturally in a Buddhist way.
So to chant Odaimoku has many meanings. One is a part of our offering. We offer our devotion to the Buddha Dharma. Secondly, it is a way of meditation to let people awaken to the Buddha inside us. And chanting lets the teaching be a part of body. And it is the way to our purification of the hearts.