The primary practice of Nichiren Buddhism is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Myoho-renge-kyo is the title of the Lotus Sutra, the highest teaching of Shakyamuni, and encompasses all the concepts expressed in the sutra, including the idea that all of life holds the potential for both absolute happiness and fundamental darkness.
Nichiren Daishonin added the word namu, meaning “to dedicate one’s life,” to the beginning of Myoho-renge-kyo and established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to enable all people to overcome suffering and bring forth their inherent life-condition of Buddhahood in this existence, as they are. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are not petitioning or beseeching an external being to act in our favour. Rather, we are repeatedly sending out an expression of our determined intention as we bring forth from within ourselves our highest life potential.
The Japanese word gongyo literally means "assiduous practice." In the practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, it means chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting parts of the second ("Hoben") and the sixteenth chapter ("Juryo") of the Lotus Sutra in front of the Gohonzon. This comprises the basic practice, which is performed morning and evening.
The Gohonzon is the object of devotion, in the form of a scroll, that practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism enshrine in their homes. It serves as the focal point of their daily practice.
The Gohonzon depicts the characters “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which are surrounded by various Chinese and Sanskrit characters that correspond to historical and mythological Buddhist figures. Together, they represent Buddhist philosophical principles, as well as the positive and negative conditions of life.
Nichiren Daishonin first inscribed the Gohonzon on 12 October 1279. It embodies the enlightened life condition of Nichiren Daishonin and represents life in its highest possible state — Buddhahood.
As such, it is not merely a symbol, or something to focus on while chanting, but an embodiment of the enlightened state of life. It is the link between the Buddha state within ourselves and in the environment. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, we call forth our own Buddhahood, tapping into our inherent wisdom, compassion and life force. Through our daily practice to the Gohonzon, our own state of life is gradually influenced and strengthened.
Faith, study and practice
For practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, faith in the potential for Buddhahood for oneself and all people is developed through the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and through studying Buddhist concepts. Faith motivates further practice and study toward the development of an unshakeable life state of absolute happiness. To have faith in Nichiren Buddhism is not to have blind faith, nor is faith required to begin practicing. Faith naturally arises as you see actual proof of your Buddhist practice in your daily life.
Practitioners also attend meetings as part of their Buddhist practice. The purpose of meetings is to support members in their practice, cultivate friendships and to enable members to understand more deeply the profound principles of life as taught by Nichiren Daishonin.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on chanting daimoku
"Being human, it's quite natural for our minds to wander, for all sorts of thoughts and memories to surface. [. . .] There is no set form or pattern for how we should pray. Buddhism emphasizes being natural. Therefore, simply chant earnestly without pretense or artifice, just as you are. In time, as your faith develops, you'll naturally find it easier to focus your mind when you chant.
"It's natural for prayers to center on your own desires and dreams. [. . .] By chanting very 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. Of course, it's perfectly fine as well to chant with the resolve to become a bigger-hearted person or for the welfare of your friends and for kosen-rufu-the happiness and flourishing of all humankind."
Excerpted from Discussions on Youth (SGI-USA, 1998)