A recent conversation gave me pause. I had to consider the issue. Ponder it. Topic? The power of words. I am a Nichiren Buddhist (SGI-USA). I am also a Northern Tradition pagan. I’m pretty sure that the “shoten zenjin” or protective functions of the universe in Buddhism, especially in my case, are the old gods. They still get ’round, yanno? So, let me toss out a Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and Hail Odin for watching my back. For thirty+ years I have chanted and recited portions of the Lotus Sutra in my Buddhist practice the way I was taught to recite them. And it ain’t in English, peeps.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo flows much sweeter off the tongue than “Invocation of the mystic law of cause and effect through voice.” Makes sense to chant it as Nichiren did. But Gongyo…which means “assiduous practice” although melodic and sonorous, is a different animal. I tell folks we all learn it one word at a time. Gongyo is recited twice daily in a phonetic manner based upon the classic language Nichiren spoke. No matter where we are in the world, if we sit down to recite the sutra with another SGI Buddhist, Gongyo will sound the same way due to its phonetic translations into a myriad of different languages. Nichiren recited the sutra in the classical Chinese (or Japanese) language and to unify with him and the millions of his followers around the globe, it goes without saying that we should recite it the same way he did. Not in English. Not in Tamil. Not in Greek or Navajo. Even if we don’t understand it. True that.
Words have power. Many words have SERIOUS power, and we are able to wield that power even if we don’t understand the true implications of the utterance. Gongyo is one of those kind of things.
Gongyo can be read in English. The entire Lotus Sutra has been translated (more than once). I’ve read it. I’ve recited it aloud in English. It does not wield the same power as when we recite it in the language Nichiren taught it in, but whatever. It’s what I wanted to do and 25 years later, I can say I did it and did not suffer ill-effects for doing so.
As a child I used to create spells and incantations based upon phrases from my favorite books. Even as a ten year old, I recognized that words have power. One I recall clearly is “AVERT!” from “A Wizard of Earthsea.” I believed in Erreth-Akbe, a wizard-warrior from the series. I wore his sigil. I danced the long dance. I wanted to fuse with the magic talked about in the series.
I now understand the difference between using *good* fiction as a communication/divination tool, mundane words, powerful words and invocation of the mystic law. I do fuse with the magic every time I chant. It is my galdr (sacred/magical words), my focus and the basis of my life force.
I choose to practice Buddhism the way Nichiren taught. Because that’s what I’m told to do? Hardly. I’ve proved the power of words to myself. I chant and recite Gongyo and honor my personal shoten zenjin, because I must. All of it is a part of me as much as much as the fat roll around my middle or heavily coated-with-mascara eye lashes.
Words have power. Wield them carefully, precisely. Magically. Joyfully.