O'daimoku as Hua-t'ou

by Rev. Ryuei
Michael McCormick

In Chinese Buddhism there is a distinction between the "Hua-Wei" and the "Hua-T'ou." Hua-Wei means "Speech's Tail" while Hua-T'ou means "Speech's Head." When we are wrapped up in the words or mere sound of the Odaimoku or even worse the mere discursive meaning then we are simply trailing after it, we are caught by the Hua-Wei. However, if we are able to use the Odaimoku to disengage from our habitual views, responses, and identifications and then to abide in the placeless place out of which the Odaimoku emerges, the inneffable sourceless source which Odaimoku expresses, then we have been able to discover the Hua-T'ou.

The Hua-T'ou is the Wonderful Dharma, or Myoho Renge Kyo, which only a Buddha and a Buddha can express. It is Myoho Renge Kyo from the side of the Buddha's enlightened wisdom. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is our subjective engagement with that True Reality. It is the Wonderful Dharma experienced in the midst of our short sightendness and delusions. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is the rope which the Buddha lowers into the pit of our delusions. But the point is not to cling to the rope (the Hua-Wei) but to follow the rope or allow the rope to pull us up to the top of the pit which is freedom (the Hua-T'ou). So again, the rope is the Odaimoku. Clinging to the rope but staying in the bottom of the pit is the Hua-Wei practice of clinging to the words. Using the rope to emerge from the pit is the Hua-T'ou practice of using the words to find the enlightened source of the words.

In order to discover the Hua-Tou of Odaimoku when you are chanting try to ask yourself "Who is reciting the Odaimoku?" Or better yet, "What is the Odaimoku that is prior to my vocalizing it?" The two questions are really the same. Don't literally think or say these questions. Just have that sense of questioning or openness to something prior to the words. Not prior in the sense of time, but prior to time and space and recitation itself.

This excercise is not for everybody. If it starts to drive you crazy, do not persist in it and return to simply abiding in the sound of the Odaimoku. There are times, however, when one may wish to penetrate further into the mystery of the Odaimoku and the true nature of ourselves and reality. This excercise of using the Odaimoku as the focal point of the Great Question of where does all this come from and who are we in the first place can be very powerful. In this sense, the Odaimoku becomes the bit of the drill that we can use to bore through the most important question of our lives.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2001.



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