The word “and” is a summation of both parts of the elements in the formulas we speak, whereas the word “but” is a subtraction of parts and in fact an actual negation of all that occurs before. To Myoho Renge Kyo, or the Lotus Sutra, we add our devotion as expressed in Namu. Namu, activates Myoho Renge Kyo in our lives. The degree to which Namu is present in our lives, in our actions, will determine the degree of the manifestation of Myoho Renge Kyo. This manifestation appears both in our internal self as well as our external self, our environment.
Just as the physician in the parable sorts out the herbs and such that he will combine together to formulate the good medicine that is perfect in color, odor, and taste. The medicine becomes pleasing as well as beneficial in the cure of the illness of the sons who have become sick.
Over and over in the Lotus Sutra the Buddha says that it is the most difficult of the sutras to believe in and to practice and will become increasingly so as the ages pass. The further away from the time of the Buddha the less capacity there will be in people to understand and keep faith in the Lotus Sutra. Hence in a way the Lotus Sutra appears to be not so pleasing. Many of the arguments that Nichiren dealt with were that the Lotus Sutra was too difficult and so therefore should be abandoned in favor of other sutras that are easier to take faith in.
I also believe that Nichiren grappled with the most appropriate way in which people could actually engage in a practice that would suitably bring the Lotus Sutra’s benefit into people’s lives. In other words how does one engage in a practice that makes the Lotus Sutra work? The key is in the repetition of the concept of faith mentioned repeatedly by the Buddha.
I imagine Nichiren thinking over and over how do you manifest faith, how to you have faith, even what is a way to activate faith? The idea of Namu was not new, and had been used for many years by Pure Land Buddhists in reverence to Amida Buddha. The idea that simply by chanting Namu Amida Buddha and having faith in being reborn in the Western Paradise was all that was needed to become enlightened.
So devotion in faith becomes the key beginning point I believe for Nichiren’s propagation, perhaps. In our own lives think of the times when you may have gone to a doctor, who’s only proof of ability is a certificate hanging on a wall and some other customers who have been cured or helped. You visit the doctor, he listens to your descriptions of your illness, he then prescribes some medicine for you to pick up at your local pharmacy.
On your way home you stop by the pharmacy and then what do you do? Do you then next go to a chemist and have the newly acquired medicine analyzed with each ingredient compared to what is supposed to be in the medicine? After that do you then consult to see that when these ingredients are combined together they do indeed offer restorative benefit? Is it your normal course of action to delay taking the medicine until you have established beyond any doubt that the majority of people the doctor had seen and the majority of people who have taken this medicine have been cured? You might, however I believe that for most of us, we get the medicine and perhaps read the data sheet and then proceed to taking the medicine. Faith, perhaps some faith accompanied by some study, but rarely do we only study until every last little bit of doubt has been proven away.
When was the last time you studied electronics and have you refreshed your study or do you refresh your study each time you introduce a new electronic device into your life? For most I suspect that faith is a deeper integrated part of their lives in way in which not often considered. We don’t consider the new handheld computing device from the perspective of it is nice or it is pretty “but” how does it work? Or we don’t go to buy our car or drive saying “but” how does it work? Our lives, I suggest would come to a virtual standstill, even to the point of being non-functional, if we live in the concept of “but” and so we live in “and”. I like such and such, I need such and such, “and” even though I don’t know everything about it I have faith it will do what I want.
One other thing all of this has in common with our practice of the Lotus Sutra is we have evidence in our lives that indeed it does work. For those who do not see the evidence or don’t see enough evidence they quit, they walk away, or they may suspend the practice until another time. There really is no other proof than self proof and that in a way of necessity includes “and”.[I have some personal doubts about how this is written and whether it makes sense or is appropriate. If you have any comments you wish to share about how it strikes you I would appreciate you sharing with me. I am conflicted ‘and’ I am going to try it out to see what you think ‘and’ I hope you will comment. How’s that for trying to practice what I write?]
All this may seem confusing, perhaps I may not have done a sufficient job in making a logical explanation. Let me try again. We have the medicine of the Lotus Sutra prescribed by the Buddha. How do we actually take it though? Nichiren proposes that it is through devotion, reverence if you will, and so he teaches us that Namu is what activates or enables us to take the medicine of Myoho Renge Kyo. This is a prescription that says, take as much as you want as needed, or PRN as it is used in current medical lingo.
Nichiren further teaches that as we take Myoho Renge Kyo by mouth as needed we need to manifest this through Namu, our devotion. Namu isn’t in name only it also needs to be manifest in action and behavior. As we continue to take Myoho Renge Kyo through Namu, as needed, we begin to see results, or our illness of taking poisons of false teachings and unskilful previous causes begins to be cured; we see results in our lives. This ideally will motivate us to even deeper faith, even more devotion and actions based in devotion and the cycle continues.
It may be that some will refuse the medicine, or that others will stop taking the medicine before being fully cured. It happens in life that way. However there is no expiration date on the medicine the Buddha leaves for us. The medicine the Buddha leaves us in the Lotus Sutra is always good and is always available, even if it appears the physician has died and left us. The medicine, and through the medicine the Buddha, is always available for us to take and benefit from.