Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
The three elements of Nichiren Buddhism are faith, or an open mind; chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a prayer for oneself and others; and studying the teachings of Nichiren and the Lotus Sutra.
SGI members carry out their daily practice at home and meet at regular local discussion meetings to study Buddhist principles and how to apply them in everyday life. At these gatherings, members also exchange hopes, challenges and experiences of their faith and practice. These small group meetings are a place of mutual encouragement as well as providing an introduction for newcomers and an opportunity to ask questions.
People beginning to practice Nichiren Buddhism generally start by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for a few minutes at a regular time of day, morning and evening if possible. Beginners are often encouraged to try chanting for at least three months, to get a feel for the practice and see what changes they notice, such as increased hope or energy, or improved relations with others.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is chanted clearly and rhythmically, repeating it as if "singing" on one note. There are no prerequisites or rules as to what to chant for. We simply make the decision to begin chanting: no prayer is more or less worthy than another. The only issue is whether we can create value in our lives and help others do the same. We attain enlightenment through a continual transformation that takes place in the depths of our lives as we seek to fulfill our desires and build harmony with those around us.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo--also referred to as "Daimoku"--is the primary practice of SGI members. Through this practice, one is able to reveal the state of Buddhahood in one's life, experienced as the natural development of joy, increased vitality, courage, wisdom and compassion.
The invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was established by the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren. Myoho-renge-kyo is the title of the Lotus Sutra; to this, Nichiren added namu (contracted to nam), which comes from Sanskrit and means "devotion." The phrase can thus be literally translated as "I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law."
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the expression, in words, of the universal Law of life which all Buddhist teachings in one way or another seek to clarify. It embodies the ultimate truth of Buddhism contained in the Lotus Sutra: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are not praying to an external entity: our prayers are expressions of intent engraved in the depths of our being, enabling us to experience the energy and wisdom to create solutions and live more fulfilling lives.
The Gohonzon is the object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism. Nichiren identified the universal law permeating life and the universe as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and expressed this realization in the form of a mandala, called the Gohonzon. In Japanese, go means worthy of honor and honzon means object of fundamental respect.
The Gohonzon is a scroll on which are inscribed Chinese and Sanskrit characters. In it, Nichiren symbolically depicted the life state of Buddhahood, which all people possess. In this sense, the Gohonzon is not meant to be viewed as an object existing outside oneself, but, rather, as an embodiment of one's life and all of its potentiality.
SGI members chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to a Gohonzon enshrined in their own homes, as an act of commitment to attaining the highest life-condition of Buddhahood. Chanting to the Gohonzon with a strong determination gives people hope, courage and wisdom to take the necessary actions to lead a life of meaning and true happiness.
One can still chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and experience benefit even if one is not near, or able to see a Gohonzon. The most essential element in Nichiren's practice for drawing forth one's Buddhahood is the strength of one's conviction.
SGI members perform a morning and evening practice known as gongyo, which consists of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra. The Japanese word gongyo literally means "assiduous practice." In the practice of Nichiren Buddhism it means reciting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and portions of the second and the sixteenth chapters of the Lotus Sutra, ideally in front of the Gohonzon.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the primary practice, is like fuel for an engine. Reciting the sutra is a supplementary practice, like adding oil to that engine. It is most effective when the two are combined, and practitioners can feel the confidence of performing in top condition.
The duration of any particular chanting session is up to each individual's preferences and needs. Regular morning and evening gongyo, however, should become the basis of one's daily practice, a time to reflect and connect with the deeper rhythms of life.
When beginning to chant, it is a good idea to set up an altar area where you usually sit for your practice. This can be very simple, with maybe a small table set against a wall with water, greenery or candles. Having an altar helps with focus and literally gives our practice space and priority in our busy lives.
If you decide to receive the Gohonzon, you will need a small box or butsudan in which to hang or enshrine it. It is traditional in Nichiren Buddhism to offer fresh water daily, symbolizing purity. Many people like to also offer fruit and greenery, symbolizing the eternity of life. Some people light candles and offer incense but others with young children or animals may prefer not to. It is common to use a bell to signal the beginning and end of gongyo. All these are optional depending on one's individual situation and way of life.