The Nichiren Buddhism【ミステリーな日蓮 英訳版】2. What is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo?

2. What is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo?

Hiroto Ema

It seems that many people believe the first person who prayed “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo(南無妙法蓮華経)” is Nichiren(1222-82). Certainly, it is Nichiren who for the first time popularized Chanting Daimoku, the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo(南無妙法蓮華経), as done with Namu Amida Butsu(南無阿弥陀仏), homage to Amida Buddha. But the prayer Nam Myoho Renge Kyo had surely existed before him.


Originally, “Nam(南無)” , a phonetic change of Namu, is a transliteration into Japanese of the Sanskrit “Namas”, which means bending one’s body to show his respect. It has the same root with the greeting of India “namaste”, and has been translated “Kimyo(devotion)” or “Kirei” in Chinese. It was a custom before the era of Nichiren that “Nam” was added to the objects of respect, such as Amida Butsu(Amida Buddha : 阿弥陀仏) or Sanpoh(the three treasures) of Buddhist, so that they were called “Namu Amida Butsu” or “Namu Sanpoh” (or “Namu San”), and thus prayed. Likewise, Myoho Renge Kyo(妙法蓮華経), the formal title of the Lotus Sutra, had been called Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to show respect to it and prayed so even before Nichiren started his preaching. In fact, Nichiren himself referred to the fact that he was not the first one who prayed Nam Myoho Renge Kyo repeatedly. So, the question is why Nichiren tried to popularize the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo as done with Namu Amida Butsu. This is an unavoidable question in order to consider the originality of Nichiren, so we must discuss it a little further.


In the past, the Lotus Sutra was called the first among all sutras and had been treasured since the era of Shotoku Taishi (574-622), the second son of Japan’s thirty-first emperor. And Minamoto no Yoritomo(1147-99), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, has been famous as a devout believer in the Lotus Sutra. It requires embracing, reading, reciting, expounding, and transcribing of the sutra as training. That is to say, getting and embracing, reading, reciting, expounding, and transcribing of the Lotus Sutra composes the training of the Lotus Sutra and the belief in it. The lower classes which then dominated the population worked hard on farming and ended their lives. Surely, they couldn’t read and write. So the belief in the Lotus Sutra was foreign to such people, and as a result the original belief in the Lotus Sutra was permitted only to the aristocrats who had special knowledge and wealth. Now, how was the situation of the Eastern warriors, who were to become the leading characters of the Kamakura Shogunate? In next chapter, we will start with this question.


August 1st 2018

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