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This question came up in my book club.

Chanting is a central practice in Nichiren Buddhism. How does it work, what effects or benefits come from it? Has this changed much between from historical and modern times?

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Incidentally, Nipponzan-Myōhōji, a modern religious movement that emerged from Nichiren sect, was my first contact with real-life Buddhist practice. In Nichiren, chanting NA-MU-MYO! HO! REN! GE! KYO! is revered as a symbol of what they call "the true cause of Buddhahood". The idea being, if one never hears about Enlightenment one cannot get onto the path, so in each individual case of Enlightenment, the process must have started with someone dropping the word which planted the seed in the student's mind.

Nichiren (the founder) must have thought very low of his times -- chanting a title of a sutra(!) sounds like a suitable teaching for hell, the inhabitants of which would otherwise have no chance of asking "What does this mean, NA-MU-MYO-HO-REN-GE-KYO? Hm... glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the True Dharma... So what is this True Dharma thing?" question.

A contemporary Buddhist teacher my friend Dennis Wallez explains:

Indeed Japan was quite in disarray at the time, torn by wars and famine and persecutions... Nichiren thought this partly was the karmic consequences of the perversion of Buddhism by previous schools. The notion of "Latter days of the dharma" was in full swing too and many teachers saw the local situation as a confirmation...

So to summarize, in Nichiren chanting is both a symbol and practice of seeding the basic seeds, a seemingly primitive work that is never beneath a compassionate Bodhisattva.

This is why Terasawa Junsei, a prominent teacher of Nipponzan-Myōhōji, was (and still is) such a big advocate of chanting NA-MU-MYO-HO-REN-GE-KYO in public, especially in troubled areas such as zones of armed conflicts.

  • So the purpose of chanting is to get other people to ask, what's that chanting? – ChrisW May 1 '15 at 9:59
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    One of the purposes, yes. It is also to remind existing Nichiren practitioners of the chain of causation that connects the original Buddha with the current practitioner. – Andrei Volkov May 1 '15 at 17:53
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I've been to meetings over the past year and the purpose of chanting is to help eliminate bad karma and plant the seeds for Buddahood. Nichiren Buddhist practice consists of chanting usually the 2nd and 10th chapters of the Lotus Sutra ("the last sutra") for long life and achievement of one's happiness. Usually this is done in front of a Gohonzon.

There is no harm in adding the mantra "Namyoho Renge Kyo" to one's spiritual practices done at morning and night. If you want to know the exact practice to do in the morning and night, it is called the gongyo.

I will admit though that some members are averse to adding this practice but I believe this is because they would rather be ignorant of the rest of Buddhism because of the high promises of this Lotus Sutra from merely chanting its title. Nonetheless, it is considered genuine so no harm in trying out the chanting! You will nonetheless benefit from chanting the simple mantra as well as the gongyo practice!

It is probalby the most popular form of Mahayana Buddhism now because it is so easy to practice and because of the previous thing I wrote: chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra (Namyoho Renge Kyo) is said within the sutra to have myriad benefits.

To answer your question: the practice has remained the same since Nichiren introduced it: gongyo and daimoku to the gohonzon (a mystic seal) morning and night (takes 10 minutes).

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Chanting the names of Buddha, Bodhisattvas or even as it happens the Title of the Lotus Sutra essentially works by being a powerful form of meditative mindful concentration. This is an easy straight forward way to practice the Concentration branch of the Noble Eightfold Path. Effects include experiencing the factors of the Jhana aka Zen - rapture, happiness, equanimity and clarity. This also eventually leads to the growth of ethics and wisdom. Best of all there's no special knowledge or meditative techniques explanation required, just chant. Ideally the syllables chosen should be ones that evokes reverential feelings and associations and is of a suitable length. "Sutra of the Lotus of the True Dharma" in English would be a tad too long but "NA-MU-MYO! HO! REN! GE! KYO!" is just about the right length to keep your mind concentrated. Usually 6 - 7 syllables are chosen and probably under 10 at most for 南無本師釋迦摩尼佛 - Namo Benshi Shijiamoni Fo in Chinese - Namo Sakyamuni Buddha.

As people point out it also plant the seed of the dharma, i.e. interest as people wonders what it is you are doing. When it is done as a team effort in group it also inspires feelings of camaraderie, strength, respect and persistence.

In Chinese Buddhism, they actually do this intensively at these seven days chanting retreats - similar to meditation retreats, where you spend 7 days chanting only the name of Amitabha, tens of thousands of times each day. I hear the effects of the training are incredible with people feeling like they are blissfully floating in the air.

Plus, divine assistance is always a possibility. :)

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In general (not specific to Nichiren Buddhism which I am not familiar with), chanting could improve one's concentration and lead to peacefulness in the mind.

There are other benefits such as helping one to connect to its inner mind etc and might trigger the "ah huh" moment that explain questions that is long due to be answered.

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Nichiren Buddhism is based on the centrality of the Lotus Sutra as being the supreme teachings of the Buddha, and believe that devotion to the Lotus Sutra itself is the correct form of spiritual practice.

The central way in which they develop this devotion to the Lotus Sutra is to chant the phrase 南無妙法蓮華経, pronounced Nam(u) Myōhō Renge Kyō (The U is pronounced in some traditions of Nichiren Buddhism and in others is considered silent). The words Myōhō Renge Kyō is just the title of the Lotus Sutra in Classical Chinese pronounced according to their Japanese readings, and the beginning Namu is a transliteration of a Sanskrit word meaning devotion.

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I believe that life is actually following a law that is universal and unavoidable just like gravity.When we chant we try to awaken ourselves to this ultimate law and synchronize our lives with the same .Our life at each moment encompasses the whole universe (as is written in the concept of Three thousand realms in a single moment of life) and we can tap the utmost potential hidden in this very moment by chanting Nam myoho renge kyo.

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I'm not familiar with all Nichiren Buddhist sects, however, the one I do know a fair amound about stresses that just chanting isn't going to solve your problems or lead to your enlightenment. During the actual process of chanting (saying nam yoho renge kyo), there is no "set" thing or reason one has to chant. Generally though, people are chanting for (amung other things) happiness for themselves and others. The important part to remember is that, when chanting, and I'm paraphrasing Nichiren when I say this, "one must summon the faith that nam-yoho renge kyo is one's life itself." He also said that if you think that "the power" of nam yo ho renge kyo is outside of yourself, it is like a poor person counting a rich person's money and expecting to become wealthy. In essence, the purpose of chanting is as a sort of medetation or self-introflection. But it is more than just that, it is considered the way to, and I'm paraphrasing again, "polish the mirror of one's life to attain buddhahood." I have also heard that the reason chanting is said to be so useful is because it is like "the name of the universe", and that, just as a person, if you call them by the wrong name, wont respond, neither will the universe. (By universe here I mean pretty much all phenomena as well as the mystic law. Which are fairly complicated terms that I'm not good at explaining.) Anyhow, the question I asked once I heard this explaination was, "Isn't that pretty arbitruary? Why can't you just say literly any other phrase and expect the same result?" I personally don't know the best andwer to the question, as my knowledge is limited, but I think that it does have to do with the Lotus Sutra in the expedient means chapter where Shakyamuni Buddha says, "what the buddhas have achieved is the rarest and most difficult-to-understand law (termed the mystic law in Nochiren). The true aspect of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between buddhas." This is to say that namyohorengekyo is also the true aspect of all phenomena. -it has many meanings and the title of the lotus sutra is only one-. Anyhow, and to answer your question about whether it's uniform throughout the ages, I would say yes, but I don't know too much specifics about the direct history itself. As for today, one of the reasons that it's kept in Japanese is because then whoever knows how to chant could chant with someone from where ever. There wouldn't be a language barrier or anything like that.

  I hope I was able to answer your questions. If not I'm happy to elaborate. Sorry for the answer kind of being all squished together. I was writing this in a hurry. If you want to get a quick, better, understanding of chanting and such, the link below goes to a short letter Nichiren wrote to a follower which basically outlines chanting and some other parts of the philosophy pretty well. Its also like 2 and a half pages or something like that so it doesn't take long to read.

http://www.nichirenlibrary.org/en/wnd-1/Content/1

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