What is the meaning of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo? (南無妙法蓮華教) It is a mantra recited by the diverse followers of the Nichiren based school of Buddhism. It is sometimes called Daimoku ("sacred title") and is used as a form of meditation.
(p.s. if you want to see the Japanese characters in the text please choose Japanese encoding in your browser settings, otherwise they will appear as gibberish)
You can see to the left a calligraphy done by an unknown artist of the Chinese characters composing Nam (actually written Namu in Japanese) Myoho Renge Kyo.
From top to bottom we have:
南 : Na: South,
無 : Mu:no, nonexistent,
妙 :Myo: wonderful, sublime,
法 :ho: Law or Dharma in Buddhism
蓮 :ren: Lotus
華 : ge: flower
教 :kyo: scriptures, sutra
Of course, like in many languages, we cannot translate literally the words one by one as they would not make any sense. Let's then explore the meaning of the phrase.
Namu is actually a Buddhist term used as a prefix to many mantras. It means approximately :"I take refuge in ..." It is a Japanese pronunciation of namas in Sanskrit.
Myoho: This one is easier:" In the sublime Dharma"
Renge : this is a lotus Flower
Kyo : as mentioned before, the scriptures.
Thus, we have: I take refuge in the the sublime Dharma of the Lotus Sutra.
The Lotus Sutra is one of the major Buddhist texts and is used as the base text of the Tendai and Nichiren schools. It, in a nut shell, explains that the Buddha is an eternal being and he willingly submits himself to the cycle of rebirth in order to save humanity. It also states that the only way to attain full Buddhahood is through the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and that all religious movement are in some way, part of the greater teaching of Buddhism.
The Story goes that Nichiren, studying Buddhism in the Tendai school of Buddhism, came at the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra was the only way to attain enlightment. Reciting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, is the way to attain said enlightment.
It is much more than just the name of the Sutra for the followers of Nichiren, it is the promise of enlightment for all; without regard of class or education, thus democratizing a religion that seemed more suited for the highly educated elite than the mass.
Today followers of many schools and sub-schools of Nichiren Buddhism use this mantra as a form of meditation and a support in times of needs. They recite it for period of times going as long as hours.