Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – Meaning and Interpretations

Chanting nam myoho renge kyo is a truly powerful practice which can transform your life and mindset in hugely positive ways. There are a few ways you can focus your mind when chanting, but the practice becomes even more profound when you focus your attention on the meaning of what you’re actually saying. Not just the literal translation of the words, but what they represent. This mantra is rich in history and symbolism and can be interpreted in various ways, but all really coming down to the same general idea.

Back To The Beginning

Let’s start with a brief (and very basic) history lesson to really understand the significance of these words.

Everyone knows the gist of the story of the Buddha, the prince who renounced his privileged lifestyle and went off in search of solutions to the problem of human suffering. After years of asceticism and meditation, he eventually became awakened to the true nature of reality, or enlightened, while meditating under a Bodhi tree. After his Awakening, he spent the next 50 years travelling around the region of modern-day India and Nepal, teaching his insights. His teachings were passed down by word of mouth, and eventually captured in writing in what are known as the Buddhist sutras.

Throughout the time that he travelled and taught, his teachings were honed and refined as his own understanding of reality evolved. Therefore, the content of the various sutras differs slightly depending on when the teachings were delivered.

The Lotus Sutra is said to contain the Buddha’s most evolved teachings that he delivered towards the end of his life. One of the most significant aspects of the Lotus Sutra is that the Buddha came to realise that all beings, regardless of their karmic balance, poverty level, gender or physical condition, can become enlightened, within this lifetime. Previously, it was believed that people needed to generate good karma over several lifetimes in order to achieve enlightenment, so this was a profound development in the Buddha’s teachings.

A couple of thousand years later (give or take), along came a Japanese monk called Nichiren. After spending years studying all the Buddhist sutras, he concluded that the Lotus Sutra does indeed capture the essence of the Buddha’s final teachings. Taking things one step further, he also declared that any person could achieve enlightenment, and connect with their inner Buddha nature, simply by reciting the title of the sutra. Thus Nichiren Buddhism, and the practice of chanting nam myoho renge kyo, was born.

 

The Meaning of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

The main body of the mantra, Myoho Renge Kyo, is the kanji (Japanese interpretation of Chinese symbols) translation of the title of the Lotus Sutra.

  • Myoho – translates roughly to “Wonderful Dharma” or “Mystic Law”, which is considered by Nichiren Buddhists to refer to a universal law of cause-and-effect. This can also be interpreted as the modern spiritual concept of the Law of Attraction (explained further here).
  • Renge – translates to “lotus flower”. The symbolic significance of the lotus flower is really beautiful, which is why I usually focus on a picture of the lotus whenever I chant. The lotus flower seeds and blooms at the same time, representing the simultaneity of cause and effect. So, once a person has made a cause (or taken a positive action), the effect has already happened (but might not manifest until later). The lotus flower also blooms in muddy/swampy water, representing the potential for any person to attain enlightenment in the “swamp” of human suffering.
  • Kyo – translates to “sutra”, “teaching”, or “the voice of the Buddha”.

Finally, the sutra title is invoked through the use of the word Nam.

  • Nam is a Sanskrit word, derived from “namas” which is taken to express devotion or worship. It’s the same root of the more familiar “namaste”, which means “I honour the divinity within you”. It can also be interpreted in a slightly less subservient way, as a form of alignment or activation.

Taken as literally as possible, then, nam myoho renge kyo translates to something along the lines of “I devote myself to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Sutra”.

You don’t have to think about it in those precise words, though.

Interpretation Is Everything

In the Irish language, “dia duit” means “hello”. The literal translation of “Dia duit” is “God be with you”, which would have been an appropriate greeting in an ancient culture of devout Christianity. Nowadays, more and more Irish people identify as atheist or agnostic, and would balk if anyone actually greeted them by saying “God be with you” (in English). Simply saying “dia duit”, though, carries no religious weight or resistance – it is the intent behind the words that counts.

Similarly, while it is important to know the origins and meaning of nam myoho renge kyo, there is no need to place any great emphasis on the literal translation of the words. The translation above may sound a bit too deferential or old-fashioned for some. As a one-time atheist with an aversion to the concept of “devotion” or supplication to any unseen being or force outside myself, I didn’t like the literal translation when I came across it. I want to Connect, sure, but I’m not into the idea of “bowing” to anyone or anything.

But that’s not it at all.

Myoho Renge Kyo, and later Nam, were the words that were used in a particular time and culture. They were simply the best words to use which resonated with people at that time. But the meaning and intent goes much deeper than the literal translation. There are many ways to interpret the mantra without losing the deeper meaning underlying it, and you are free to pick whatever interpretation resonates best with your soul, and use that intention to fuel your practice every day.

I devote myself to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower.

I bow to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.

I align myself with the Law of Cause and Effect.

I connect with my inner Buddha nature.

I align myself with the Law of Attraction.

The creative energy of the Universe flows to and through me.

I Am spiritual energy, incarnate.

I Am a spiritual being having a human existence.

My outer life reflects my inner self.

What I put out, I get back.

I am a drop in the ocean of Universal energy.

I am the Creator of my own Life.

The Universe provides.

Life Loves Me.

I Am Love.

I Am God.

We Are One.

These are just some examples of how you might like to interpret nam myoho renge kyo. Some interpretations may be looser than others, but it all comes down to the same basic idea that there is a greater creative energetic process going on, and that this practice Connects you with that universal energy. It may be useful to reflect or meditate upon this, upon the meaning of the words in their historical context, upon how that original concept might be transposed into modern (or your own) understandings of spirituality, upon your own intentions and desires in dedicating yourself to this practice. Find the interpretation that resonates best with your soul, and use that to fuel the transformative power of the Universe to manifest that interpretation in your own life.

What’s your favourite interpretation of nam myoho renge kyo? Do you have another one that isn’t listed here? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – Meaning and Interpretations

  1. David Rahill

    Most of Jesus’ words were quoted from what Christians call the Old Testament, from Genesis (Moses 1400 BC) to Psalms (King David, 1000 BC) to Isaiah and Daniel (700 BC). But, 2000 years ago, Jesus said ” A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.” This is my meditation.

    • Jessica

      That is a beautiful sentiment to meditate on, David, thank you for sharing!

  2. Rebecca Trans

    These are not the orthodox doctrines and teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.

    • Jessica

      Hi Rebecca, thank you for your comment. You are quite right – I am not an orthodox follower of any particular school. All the teachings on this blog are a blend of my understandings of Buddhism and modern spirituality concepts such as the Law of Attraction. I truly believe that all these different schools of thought (including those of most world religions) come down to the same essential ideas. I hope you find some value and food for thought here!

  3. Herb Harris

    How beautiful and delightful. Your seeking mind shines through! I have great appreciation for your efforts to bring the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra to a wider audience in a manner better suited to the cultures and people of today’s global mindset.

    For myself, I regularly use the chanting of Nam MyoHo Renge Kyo to transition from what I see in my life that needs to be different somehow to become the person that has the experience of being that new self that lives the new way I want my life to be (so what I really change is myself and my total environment). Generally this will include looking at what I see (in that moment of contemplation and focus) parts that I find to be things that are negative in my mind’s eye that either have occurred or are occurring or I think and believe will occur in the future. I then use the power of faith (or rather expectation of result) in transforming my way of looking at these negatives to move my perception to a place so that I see the situations as having hidden value more than I at first saw, and the situations can then become things I appreciate about life in some manner (though this is tough to do, and especially for some things about my life). When I do this I can then respond to those situations or people, or whatever with a positive energy and attachment of value. In so doing I then create in my mind more to be seen as positive rather than my old and habitual way of responding to negative with more negative, thus creating a cycle that eventually leads to a living hell in everything I see or can think to do.

    The power of this form of practice of the use of the wisdom that the lotus Sutra teaches is truly remarkable and leads to deeper and deeper understanding of the true nature of life and how to create happiness for myself and anyone that cares to share in this life changing method of what I call value transformation.

    It is my belief that we are all one life, with each of out individual lives being interwoven in each other and the greater whole of being in an infinite network of cause-effect relationships, but of course that perception took me a great deal of effort to achieve simply due to the erroneous ideas I had about what the nature of reality was when I started this practice many years ago, but of course how long and what effort each person needs to take all depends upon how quickly they can release from the attachment to incorrect ideas and beliefs and learn new and more appropriate forms of thought and behavior.

    All the BEST to you!

    • Jessica

      Thank you so much Herb for the warm words and for sharing your thoughts!

      I absolutely love your description of transitioning “from what I see in my life that needs to be different somehow to become the person that has the experience of being that new self that lives the new way I want my life to be” – I think that is indeed the essence of what we do and what this spiritual experience is all about: transforming our experience from the inside out. The higher we can raise our own energetic frequency, the more positively we experience what is happening now, and the more positive experiences then continue to manifest.

      Even the “bad” stuff, as you so rightly say, can always be viewed through a positive lens of learning or as one step on a journey. If I’m going through a tough time, I always remind myself of previous struggles which always turned out, in retrospect, to be just where I needed to be at that particular time to get to where I was going.

      Thanks again, and very best wishes to you! 🙂

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