The purpose of practising Buddhism is creating profound happiness for ourselves and for others.
It is living in a such a way as to constantly develop our happiness, wisdom, compassion, courage, confidence and life force. This we call ‘attaining Buddhahood’ or ‘enlightenment’.
People sometimes imagine that Buddhahood is a blissed-out, detached, other-worldly state that only a few extraordinarily obsessed individuals can attain after years of self-denial, but this is absolutely not the case.
Buddhahood is not a pre-existing state that we discover; rather it is a potential we may choose to fulfil, that we can experience the moment we begin practising, and it can be limitlessly developed.
Attaining Buddhahood, or enlightenment, DOES NOT refer to some distant objective years hence; rather it is a state of steady, ceaseless development. Attaining Buddhahood is taking a firm decision to live in the most valuable way possible each day, taking the best care of ourselves and others, understanding the fundamental profound equality of ourselves and all other living beings.
The heart of practising Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which has a profound revitalising effect in our lives. Many faiths and philosophies may share some of the essential insights of Buddhism, but few can offer as simple and effective a means of making these insights deeply part of our lives; that is, taking them from the realm of intellectual comprehension to deep emotional, psychic (and karmic) integration.
For example, we may intellectually understand the need to take complete responsibility for the circumstances in which we find ourselves; it is much harder to actually live out this understanding. Buddhist practice allows us quite naturally to do this.
Faith, Practice and Study
The three fundamental aspects of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism are faith, practice and study. Faith means to believe in the Gohonzon (see below for an explanation), based on experience of the benefits of doing so. Essentially, faith means having faith in one’s own Buddhahood.
Practice means to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and perform gongyo twice daily, and to teach others to do the same.
Study means to read the writings of Nichiren Daishonin and apply them to our daily lives. Among these three, faith is the most fundamental for the attainment of Buddhahood. Faith gives rise to practice and study; practice and study serve to deepen one’s faith.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo describes the ultimate Law or true essence of life permeating everything in the universe. In this Buddhism, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo mysteriously but wonderfully enables us to achieve Buddhahood.
Nam is the act of summoning Myoho-renge-kyo from within us and putting it into action in our lives and environment by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Myoho is the power of revitalisation, the emergence of the highest state of life — the Buddha state — from within us.
Renge is the cause and effect of the emergence of our Buddha state in terms of benefit, happiness and fulfilment.
Kyo is the thread or link of life, connecting everything through sound and vibration: specifically the sound of the Buddha state, which is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Why should this sound in particular have the effect of enabling us to reveal our Buddha nature?
Certain sounds express one’s own life-state but also affect the life state of others. Music has these powers; it can make us feel sad or excited, depressed or angry, thoughtful or carefree. It’s difficult to explain these effects. And it’s difficult to logically explain the effect of the sound of Nam-myoho-renge kyo. But by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we create the sound of Buddhahood. Hearing that sound draws out our own enlightened life state. And to experience its power, no more is required than the will to experiment, to try it for yourself.
Put all these meanings together, and a superficial translation of the meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo into English reads like this: I devote my life to the mystic law of cause and effect, revealed in the Buddhist teachings, which permeates the entire universe.
When we chant, we do so to a mandala, or Gohonzon, which represents our enlightenment. The Gohonzon is a great aid to practice; however, it is perfectly possible to practice and gain great benefit without having a Gohonzon. (One is eligible to receive Gohonzon when ready to make a lifetime commitment to this practice.)
The Gohonzon is the embodiment of the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in the form of a mandala. Honzon means ‘object of fundamental respect’; go means ‘worthy of honour’.
The Gohonzon most often takes the form of a paper scroll inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters in black sumi ink.
Together, these characters represent life in its highest condition: Buddhahood. Down the centre of the Gohonzon, in characters larger and bolder than the rest, is written: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren.
Nichiren Daishonin taught that one who takes faith in and chants Nam-myoho-rengekyo to the Gohonzon, and who teaches others to do the same, will definitely attain the same life condition of Buddhahood as he himself possessed.
Part of daily practice is our twice daily ceremony of doing Gongyo. Literally, the word means ‘assiduous (constant) practice’. According to the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, gongyo means to recite the Hoben (second) chapter and the Juryo (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in front of the Gohonzon. Usually, this takes between 5-10 minutes.
Gongyo is performed each morning and evening, and the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that follows it is the most fundamental practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.