I meet loads of people who say that if they had any religion at all, it would be Buddhism. That they love the ‘positive thinking’ aspects of the teaching, the idea that we are simultaneously free and responsible, the way it is extremely strict yet has no rules, the emphasis on being the change you want to see in the world, its idealistic pragmatism… and so on. But what some of them struggle with is the idea of chanting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
They might be quite happy to read blogs like this, or even do affirmations into a mirror, but to actually chant, out loud? And in Sanskrit and classical Chinese rather than English (or your own mother tongue…) ? For two years after meeting this practice in 1983, I was definitely one of these people. As William Woollard says in his excellent book, The Reluctant Buddhist: “Scepticism is a tough and resourceful fighter. It doesn’t give in easily and it is very accustomed to putting together bitter rearguard actions.”
But after 28 years of Buddhist practice I am realising that philosophy and affirmations and study and hypnotherapy and coaching can all change your head and improve your mindset. But it takes prayer to transform a heart. And only transformed hearts can really change the world for the better.
I think many religions have overlooked, neglected or forgotten the power of prayer and so most of us have not experienced the way that it can transform people’s lives. Instead we put our faith in science and logic or in codes of conduct or in morality or in politicians – all of which can be powerful forces for change, but none of which change the deepest karma (destiny) of our planet.
We are sceptical about prayer or chanting. But prayer should really be the essence of any spiritual practice. The problem is that it has been lost along the way, wrapped up in inaccessible priestly robes and rituals or drowned out by the corrupt power structures of some organised religions or relegated to insignificance when faiths gets hijacked for political ends. To recap:
- With coaching, I can change my thinking, emotions and habits;
- With deeper therapy (such as hypnosis and mindfulness techniques), I change my mindset;
- With chanting I do all of the above. And I change my heart and the world.
(By the way, I don’t mean to criticise coaching or mindfulness therapy or CBT or NLP. I have benefited from them myself at times in my life and use these techniques myself as a coach. And in my own coaching sessions I speak with many spiritual people whose prayer or chanting has prompted them to seek professional help.)
The tool established by Nichiren Daishonin for accessing this ocean of joy in your life and revealing everyone’s ‘Buddha-soundtrack’ is the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. When I first heard these words in 1983, perhaps because I was an academic and a languages student, my immediate question was ‘What does that mean then?’ Whereas with hindsight I can see that the more useful question would be: ‘What does it do?’
For a linguistic interpretation of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, click here. To me this chant is simply the voice of your Buddhahood, the rhythm of life and the essential vibration of the Universe. The sound and rhythm of these simple words draws out all that is best in me and in you. Thanks to the popular psychology movement, lots of people now use affirmations to change their mindset – most personal development books recommend them.
So you could interpret Nam Myoho Renge Kyo as the ‘Daddy of all affirmations’ which contains within its many layers all of these meanings and more:
- I devote myself to the Law of Life
- I vow to transform my destiny
- I commit myself to revealing my full potential
- I determine to open my Buddha-conscious mind and clear my illusions
- I tune my life into the universal Law of cause and effect
- I am creating my future with everything I think, say and do
- I revere the eternal core of my life.
The 30 or so posts on this blog and the 240-page book that will soon accompany it are an attempt to explain what the six syllables of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo mean. Or how they make you feel. Or more importantly, what they do. My personal experience is that when I am really ‘in the zone’ with my chanting I connect with the love and light that are at the source of Life in a world that needs more of both. Nichiren once compared this mantra to ‘the roar of a lion’, such is its power.
As Daisaku Ikeda explains: “When we chant sonorously, the sun rises in our hearts. We are filled with power. Compassion wells forth. Our lives are lit with joy. Our wisdom shines. All Buddhas throughout the Universe go to work on our behalf. Life becomes exhilarating.”
To hear the sound of ‘sonorous chanting’ click here.
And then, if you want to change everything in your own world and beyond, give it a go. And see what it does for you…