Friends or acquaintances curious about Nichiren Buddhism often ask what Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means. This is a very important and difficult question, one that cannot really be answered in a brief or cursory way. It’s best to consider what Nichiren Daishonin himself said about this.
Nichiren tells us, “There is no true happiness for human beings other than chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (“Happiness in This World,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 681). He goes on to explain that while life is naturally filled with joy and suffering, ups and downs, there is a deeper and more enduring happiness. This he calls the “boundless joy of the Law” (WND-1, 681) that underlies and supersedes the cycles of temporary happiness and suffering all people experience.
He identified the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the means to establish a deepseated, enduring and genuine happiness.
To Nichiren, this phrase signified something far beyond being simply the title of a Buddhist text. It was the principle, or Law, at the very heart and core of the sutra’s teaching. He added nam to Myoho-renge-kyo and set forth the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the practice to accord one’s life with this Law, which he identified as the Law of life itself.
Nam comes from the Sanskrit word namas, which was translated in Chinese and Japanese as meaning “to dedicate one’s life.” “Dedication,” Nichiren says, means “dedication to the principle of eternal and unchanging truth” ( The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 3). And “life” indicates that, when dedicated to this principle, our lives become based on wisdom that perceives that truth and functions in response to any changing circumstance.
What does this mean to us? When we live our lives based on Myoho-renge-kyo, the Mystic Law— the ultimate truth or Law of life—we exhibit the wisdom to deal effectively with any situation, creating the most valuable outcome.
Nichiren Daishonin says that in chanting, faith, or one’s heart, is what is important (see “The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1000). This means to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with firm conviction in our own limitless potential and that of others, determined to bring about our own happiness as well as the happiness of others just as Nichiren taught. When we do so, we will see clear proof of the power of the Mystic Law in our lives.
SGI President Ikeda states: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo . . . directs us on a course to absolute victory. Nichiren Buddhism enables us to develop a serene life state of inner abundance pervaded by the noble virtues of eternity, happiness, true self and purity. Those who embrace faith in Nammyoho-renge-kyo possess far, far greater wealth than those who have the most staggering fortunes or the most luxurious mansions. Nam-myoho-rengekyo is the life and fundamental Law of the universe. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we have nothing to worry about. The Daishonin’s words are never false. The purpose of our faith and practice is to achieve happiness and victory in our lives. This is the reality of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, the one and eternal Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law” (March 5, 2010, World Tribune, p. 4).