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You’re thinking about making chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo a part of your daily routine but now have a heap of questions about it. We got you covered.
What’s happening exactly when I chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?
We each have within us an abundance of wisdom, grit, courage and compassion, enough to overcome any challenge in life. We call this our Buddhability or Buddha nature. However, believing in ourselves each day can be quite a challenge. This teaching, that we have Buddhahood or Buddhability within, is found in the Lotus Sutra and is expressed through chanting the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are opening our eyes to our Buddhability within; we are believing in ourselves at the deepest level. It also helps us to see the Buddhability in others. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:
To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to call out the name of the Buddha nature within us and in all living beings. It is an act of faith in this universal Buddha nature, an act of breaking through the fundamental ignorance of life—our inability to acknowledge our true enlightened nature. It is this fundamental ignorance that causes us to experience the cycles of birth and death as suffering.
First published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Winter 2008, vol. 18, No. 2.
Similar to the way your favorite poem or song inspires certain feelings within you, chanting Nam- myoho-renge-kyo is a sound the inspires or calls forth our Buddha nature.
It is not, however, a magic formula. Chanting is instead a tool to fight against our negativity and to win over ourselves. As we chant, we open our eyes to the great potential of our life and realize that we are the solution to our problems.
What should I be thinking about when I chant?
Please feel free to chant about whatever you wish. We don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not when we are chanting.
Daisaku Ikeda was once asked if it’s OK to chant about mainly about ourselves? He answered:
Yes, it’s fine. It’s natural for prayers to center on your own desires and dreams. There’s no need to pretend that you’re praying for something lofty when you’re not. You’re only fooling yourself if you do. By chanting naturally, without affectation or reservation, for what you seek most of all, you’ll gradually come to develop a higher and more expansive life-condition.
Discussions on Youth, p. 224
Of course, it’s also fine to chant with the resolve to become bigger-hearted or for the welfare of your friends and for kosen-rufu—the happiness and prosperity of all humankind. You are free to chant for whatever you wish. It’s all up to you.
Reciting the sutra morning and evening and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are not obligations. They are a wonderful right you possess.
Prayer in Buddhism is ultimately a determination. As we chant over time our prayers become strong determinations for our own happiness and others. For more on this read this great article.
Where should I chant? Is it OK to chant in my car or on the train?
Ideally, we should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in a place with few distractions, so we truly focus and enjoy the experience. This place could be a nice spot in your home or bedroom. Or course this doesn’t mean we can’t chant elsewhere! But chanting in a place where we can focus should be our go-to way to chant.
Driving or commuting on the train usually demands our full attention, so it’s not an ideal place to chant. However, there may be moments when we might feel compelled to chant in these places because we are stressed out or angry, and that is totally fine.
Here’s a great video on the basics of chanting:
How long should I chant for?
This is completely up to you. When we first start chanting, even 15 minutes can feel quite long. Ultimately, the important thing is that you feel refreshed and invigorated after you chant.
Of course, there are crucial moments in life when we are facing a huge problem or challenging a troubled relationship and feel that we want to chant more. That’s great. How much you chant is completely up to you; feel free to do what you think feels right.
Here’s a great article on this topic.
How do I know chanting is working?
We practice Buddhism to be happy and victorious. That’s why seeing proof of our chanting is so important.
Some of the changes we see from chanting are very obvious—our boss recognizes our work or we find a great apartment. Some are subtler and less tangible—we feel more comfortable in our own skin. We feel more optimistic. Or we expand our ability to listen to others, and they trust us more as a result.
Of course, the biggest thing that changes when we chant is us. We open our eyes to the courage and wisdom within. In this sense, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is not supernatural. It fuels us to work hard and helps us find the wisdom to move forward.
Here’s a great article that goes deeper into this topic.
I have more questions. How can I get them answered?
Buddhability is a real community, where Buddhists gather (now virtually) in their local neighborhoods. It’s a space with no formality or judgment. We share stories of applying Buddhist teachings to our real lives and discuss Buddhist concepts. It’s also a place where you can ask questions, share your impressions or just simply listen and soak it in. It’s completely up to you.
If you’d like to check out a local Buddhist meeting and ask more questions, just email us! And we’ll let you know about virtual gatherings in your area.