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The Meaning of Taking Refuge

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoTaking Refuge in the Truth

The real world in which we are now living is temporary, as expressed by the phrase [attributed to Prince Shotoku (574–622)], “the world is empty and temporary.” The antithetical phrase that follows is “only the Buddha is Truth,” in other words, only the realm of the Buddha is Truth, as all of you know very well.

This means that even those of us who live in an illusory world of making comparisons to others and rating them as superior or inferior are inhabiting a realm in which fundamentally all people have an equally worthy existence and in which there is no
need to make comparisons of any relative values. Also, our life spans appear to be limited, but fundamentally they are unlimited, eternal. Therefore, this world is said to be temporary, and the realm in which the absolute, the unlimited, and the eternal are innate is called Truth.

Taking refuge in this Truth is the basic principle of religion, of faith, the realm in which comparisons and distinctions are not made. Respecting others, showing them consideration . . . as this is the true nature of human beings, returning to this innateness is the essence of religion or faith.

We are apt to think that such a subject is difficult but by habit we express it as if it were something quite natural, which is, in fact, the “namu” of “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo” (I take refuge in the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma), the o-daimoku recited by members of Rissho Kosei-kai. “Namu” means “to take refuge in” and is written with two kanji characters, one of which means “to return.” What is returned to is the Truth.

Therefore, “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo” is a phrase clearly expressing the thought that “through the Lotus Sutra, I will awaken to the realm of Truth and leave all things in the way they really are,” as well as a phrase that renews the inspiration to live in the realm of Truth.

In this sense, to put the meaning of the o-daimoku more simply, it is “namu Truth,” as fundamentally, religions all take a position of “namu Truth,” aiming for an awakening to the one and only truth.

When Awakened to the Truth

Nichiren (1222–82) argued that reciting “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo” makes one’s own buddha-nature awaken. He said, for example, that just as when a bird in a cage sings, it calls out to and attracts the birds flying in the sky, and just as when the birds flying in the sky gather and the bird in the cage tries to escape, when “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo” is recited, the buddha-nature responds and comes back to life. Truly, this is because one is aware, spontaneously, of one’s inherent self.

From this can be understood that “namu,” or returning to the Truth, is not such a difficult thing to do, but it means being aware that one is actually living in the realm of Truth. Its catalyst is the o-daimoku or the moment of prayer in which one prays instinctively and wholeheartedly to the gods and the buddhas to be freed from suffering.

Some people may think that, in order to say “namu” or take refuge, the resolute faith of leaving everything up to the Buddha is required. Of course, that degree of determination is fine, but as is written in the Lotus Sutra, even a small child making a sand pagoda at play or even only once reciting “Namu Buddha” is nothing else but an opportunity to awaken to the Truth. Furthermore, I think that there are a great many people for whom rebelling against or harboring doubts about faith has become an opportunity to awaken to the Truth, which is encounters with “namu.”

In Rissho Kosei-kai, however, when making an offering of sutra recitation, we recite the words of taking refuge in the Three Treasures, in which the “namu” is basically taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. I understand then the meaning of this, which is common to nearly all of Buddhism, in the following way, while considering the Dharma as the core of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha:

I [the taker of refuge], one awakened to the existence of the realm of Truth, wish for all to awaken, and will, through the teaching of the Buddha, attain wisdom in their company. I will continue to pursue the Way so that many people experience the happiness of awakening to Truth.

With the wish that one’s own awakening becomes the cause of the awakening of as many people as possible, pursue the Way. That is the joy of having faith.


June 2015
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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