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The Imagery of Nichiren's Lotus Sutra: The Gohonzon - The Great Mandala of the True Dharma 
Nam in Chinese 
The character pronounced Nam by Nichiren Buddhists is composed of two main Chinese characters: Nan on top and Wu on the bottom. 
Nanwu has no meaning in Chinese. It is a sound construct used by early Chinese Buddhists to imitate the sound of the Sanskrit word Namas 

Namas is interpreted as "devotion." Well, not exactly. An old meaning of Namas is "yoke."  But if you try to go from "yoke" to "devotion," you may get lost.  

Here's the connection: Before mechanized times, people used beasts to aid them in their work. Buffaloes or oxen were yoked together to pull heavy carts. If one of these carts entered a small village, a watchful person might yell out "Namas!" meaning "yoke," indicating a large cart was coming. Large carts carried riches, food, medicine, honored people, etc. Buddhists used this term to mean, "harken," "become aware," "pay close attention," and "show respect," when a teaching of the Buddha was to be recited or preached. Western scholars commonly translate "Namas" as "Hail!" And because the hearer turned his total attention to what was being preached, the word came to mean "Devotion."  
Nan (the top Chinese character used in Nam) is composed of three parts Shih, Chiung, and Jen.
Most of the time Shih (Jp. Ju) is the number ten. It is a cross. As an element of Nan, it is the five cardinal points. They are north, east, west, south and center; the center being the most important because one's center determines the other four cardinal points.
Chiung is a bottomless box, an open space, freedom, a pasture, retirement. In making up the character Nan, it is a frontier.
Jen is a compound. It looks like the symbol for yen (Japanese money). It is an upside-down person (an offense) plus a second horizontal line. The second line indicates a repetition of offenses, or simply a repetition. The concept of a jungle vine is used as another way of symbolizing an offense, so as part of Nan, the compound element means a repetition of vegetation a jungle.


Shih, Chiung, and Jen combine to form a descriptive compound that is the jungle frontier south of China. By itself it means "South." 

The bottom half of Nam is the Chinese character Wu (pronounced "oh"). 

Wu looks like a checkerboard with four dots under it. It is an image of men felling a forest (the slash at the top-left is the radical for cutting). It means vanishing, defect, want, or negation a clearing away.

Follow the images:  

A person is surrounded in all directions by jungle vines (his offenses). They cling, trip, tear at his flesh, and block the light, making progress difficult. He is lost, turned around, and going deeper into the jungle.  

This is the Nan of Nanwu 

And Wu is the clearing.  

Updated 6/7/06 
Copyright 2002 Imagery of Nichiren's Lotus Sutra website