Nam or namu?

Question: Which is correct — Nam or Namu? Be honest.

Wade: For those who don’t know, here are the basics of this debate. Some groups, such as Nichiren Shu, say that Daimoku is properly chanted and written as Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. Other groups, primarily Soka Gakkai, drop the “u” and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Supposedly, dropping the “u” was initially done at the behest of Josei Toda in the 1950s so Gakkai members could chant faster. Toda’s complaint was that priests chanting “Namu” were too slow and sleepy. According to Toda, dropping the “u” and changing the rhythm made chanting a brighter, more exhilarating experience.

Others grumble that this is a shortcut meant to popularize and thus cheapen the practice of chanting Daimoku. Many practitioners maintain that chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is a fuller, more conscious, more reverent way to chant. They say that the speed and quantity of Daimoku chanted is not as important as sincerity and intent. Better to clearly enunciate each syllable, saying the mantra once rather than reel off ten hasty, mindless repetitions.

I think both points of view are equally valid. I honestly believe that both ways of chanting are perfectly fine.

Jutta: The meaning is the same regardless of whether you say nam or namu. Some people liken it to a contraction like can’t versus cannot, or don’t versus do not. They mean the same thing. Saying “cannot” is maybe more formal than saying “can’t” but everyone understands what you mean.

This whole nam versus namu debate is one of the many divisive but ultimately pointless fights among practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism. It makes absolutely no difference. Say it how you want to say it. Say it however feels most “right” to you.

Carmelight: It does make a big difference when you are trying to chant in unison with others! We’ve all been in a room with half the group chanting an extra syllable, and the other half eliding it. Two very different cadences. It’s a battle to chant for five minutes in a group like that.

I agree that one should chant however one sees fit. However, if we’re chanting in a group — even two or three people — we all have to agree which way we’re going to chant.

SintJW: I used to think there was a huge difference. I chanted “nam” for ten years. I thought I was doing it “right.” Then I started to wonder. So I switched to “namu” for the next ten years. I was certain I was doing it right! But then, as you say, the issue of chanting with others always came up. So, for the NEXT ten years, I chanted both nam and namu. This is how I do it now, after more than thirty years. Sometimes nam. Sometimes namu.

Montepulciano: Practice the way you think best. Let other people practice the way they think best. Sure. Simple.

Still, you should know that I chant Namu. I don’t care that I’m throwing off everyone else’s rythm. Fast, sloppy daimoku gets on my nerves. Josei Toda was right that people want fast, fast, fast. But Daimoku isn’t supposed to be fast. Slow down. Drone it. It’s a form of prayer. It’s OK to sound like a sleepy old sage.

See, it’s possible to have really strong feelings on this issue, and to have a really strong personal preference. That doesn’t make me “right” and others “wrong,” though. When you get to be as old as me, you’ll see why I say slow it down and savor it like a beautiful melody. (Just fyi, Nichiren Shu calls it “Odaimoku” not “Daimoku.”)