Namo Homage / I prostrate / bow
tassa to Him
bhagavato the Blessed or the Exalted
arahato the Worthy or the Enlightened One
sammā rightly or completely
sam himself (individually, by himself)
buddhassa awakened Buddha or enlightened Buddha
Before starting any Buddhist religious ceremony, we pay homage to the Buddha (Namassakāra) by chanting “Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa” three times, regardless of the event. A dāna offered to the Sangha, for example, begins with “Namo” in three repetitions. Buddhists traditionally pay homage to the Buddha’s incomparable values rather than his physical body (which vanished long ago). By repeating this chanting we acknowledge that the Buddha has offered us priceless treasures that are still present today. Therefore, we must not be discouraged that Buddha entered Parinibbāna.His values are rooted in the hearts of Buddhists. Paying homage with this chant literally means “The Supreme Buddha is the blessed / exalted one (bhagavato), the perfect one (arahato), the self-enlightened righteous one (sammā sambuddhassa).”
The three epithets that describe the Buddha: bhagavato, arahato, sammāsambuddhassa, relate to his characteristics as the Supreme Being, the Buddha.
The meaning and background of the descriptors are as follows:
Bhagavato: means the Buddha, the Exalted. It addresses his quality of compassion in providing the world with the Dhamma that he has self-acquired with his immeasurable wisdom. Over the centuries, people have enjoyed and preserved the Dhamma. Ordinary treasures can be squandered or lost. Compassion of the Buddha is a type of treasure that will not change, will not cause frustration and cannot be stolen or lost. The Dhamma that the Buddha discovered is the eternal truth. He could have chosen not to teach this truth to anyone and he couldn’t have been blamed if he made that decision. But, in his great compassion for him, he revealed and spread his knowledge of him without hiding anything.
Arahato: means Arahant, the Purified. That is, one who is freed from all kileas or defilements. Recognizing the purification of him is a meaning of Arahato, but there are many others such as breaking the cycle of saṃsara; the end of rebirths; the end of death; complete and permanent liberation from the enemies of ill will, hostility and anxiety. The Buddha was unspoiled. He had no contamination to hide from people. The actions of his physical body, his verbal language, and his mind were right, consistent, and open to control. He had nothing to hide and was the same in the presence or absence of people. Therefore, every meaning of Arahato refers to his purified and guiltless nature. The Buddha is always completely purified.
Sammāsambuddhassa means one who has rightly / completely awakened by himself. It refers to the wisdom of the Buddha. In the Thai interpretations, the words “Supreme Being” were added, because he achieved the realization of all Dhamma on his own and his attainment was direct and legitimate, without distortion. The clear knowledge and wisdom of him were true, real, immutable and consistent with nature. The clear knowledge and wisdom of the Buddha is known as Bodhiñāṇa which means “awakened knowledge”, ie his knowledge of him is real and what he knows is also real. From the time of his death until now (about 2600 years), there have been no other buddhas, nor has anyone acquired the level of true knowledge of a Buddha to be able to announce himself as a Buddha. Bodhiñāṇa is reserved only for the wisdom of a buddha.
Reciting these three qualities / characteristics of the Buddha in order, from their internal to external effects, the wise commentators first considered his wisdom, then his purity and finally his compassion. Thanks to his supreme wisdom, Bodhiñāṇa, she could purify his mind. Thanks to his purification of him, he could compassionately spread the truth of the timeless Dhamma outward to people without asking for anything in return but their benefit.
When we contemplate the Buddha, his compassion is revealed to us first, as we receive positive consequences from the righteous practice of his Dhamma which allows us to free ourselves from our suffering. We understand that he taught the Dhamma for our happiness and well-being, this is solely due to his purified mind. The Buddha had no expectations of us, no hard feelings, because he was offering him his teachings purely from him (from his heart). This quality of purification emanates from his wisdom, from his realization of extinguishing any ill will from his mind. Only with the complete eradication of ill will does purification occur. Therefore, perfect purification comes from supreme wisdom. So, contemplating the Buddha, we see first his compassion, then his purification and finally his wisdom.
In response to any inquiry into who instituted the Namassakāra chant, it is not wrong to say that those who had faith in the Buddha composed the chant. It spread to several places where people with faith then paid homage to the Buddha with Namo.
A Dhamma teaching from the time of the Buddha refers to the recitation of Namo with a story.
There were two brahmanas, a husband and wife of his. Everyone had a different faith; the husband practiced Brahmanism and the wife trusted in the Buddha. Once, the husband invited his fellow Brahmins to a party as part of a ceremony. His wife respectfully helped serve the meal. She unfortunately she slipped and lost her balance and in doing so, she unwittingly said “Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa”.
When the guests of the Brahman heard her, they got up and left, claiming that her exclamation created a bad omen. The husband burned with anger at his wife. He scolded her and said, “Well, I’m going to give your Buddha a piece of my mind right now.” He rushed towards the Buddha in anger and “exploded” a question: “To live happily, what should be killed?” The Buddha replied, “By killing anger, one will live happily.” Suddenly the Brahman gained faith simply by hearing those few words. He uttered the Namassakāra himself and happily listened to the others reciting it.
The legends about the sources of Namo, according to the masters of the past, are the following:
Namo was enunciated by the Sātāgirīyakkha;
Tassa was enunciated by Asurindrāhu (Rahu);
Bhagavato was enunciated by Cātummahārāja (the Four Great Kings);
Arahato was enunciated by Sakkadevarāja (Indra);
Sammāsambuddhassa was enunciated by Mahābrahma.
Nobody knows the exact origin of each word; the devas mentioned are groups of devas or individual devas:
Sātāgirīyakkha is a leader of the mountain yakkhas who reside on Mount Sātāgirī. In the Mahāsamaya Sutta, there is a description of 3000 types of yakkha residing on earth. But in reference to “Namo … Sātāgirīyakkho”, only one yakkha was mentioned, meaning “Namo was called by Sātāgirīyakkha”, referring to a leader of those yakkhas.
Asurindrāhu: Asurinda refers to a higher rank of the asuras, another type of divine being that has a celestial body. Rahu is the name of a single asura, of which Suriyadevā (the sun) and Candrādevā (the moon) are enemies. Rahu is a friend of the Asura Lord, the mighty Vepacitti.
Cātummahārāja refers to a group of devas, who reside in the realm that takes their name, Cātum Mahārājika, the first level of the six heavenly realms. They are responsible for supervising the earth, and so are sometimes called Catulokapāla (the four guardians of the world). Their tasks are divided into four vectors:
– the powerful Dhataraṭṭha is a superior of the Gandhabba group (celestial musicians), in charge of the East;
– the powerful Viruḷhaka is a superior of the Kumbhandha group (giant devas who love food), responsible for the South;
– the powerful Virūpakkha is a superior of the Nāga group (celestial guards, they can appear as giant snakes or dragons), in charge of the West;
-the powerful Kuvera or Vessavana is a superior of the group of Giants (strong and gigantic devas, titans), in charge of the North.
Sakkadevarāja is a common name of Indra. There are many other names for Indra, such as the mighty Sahassanaya or Sahassanetta, Maghavan, Vasop, Purinda. The common name in the text is Sakko Devarāja or Sakka King of the Devas. The mighty Sakkadevarāja is a king of the Tāvatiṃsa (a kingdom of thirty-three devas) and also oversees Cātummahārāja. The Indra who currently reigns over Tāvatiṃsa is a noble being (ariya) of the Sotapanna level.
The Mahābrahma is a higher level of divine being than those in the celestial realms of the devas.
Their realms are called the realms of Brahma. Like the devas, the brahmas are divine beings as they have heavenly bodies. However, their kamma makes them different from other divine beings in the deva realms. Those beings who have offered dana and kept the full precepts will arise in the deva realms. Those who have acquired deep levels of concentration (jhāna samāpatti) will arise in the brahma realms. According to the levels of power or types of jhana, there are two groups of brahma, the rupa realms (for those who have acquired rupapahna or jhana of the fine material sphere) and the arupa realms (for those who have acquired arpapahana or jhana of the immaterial ball)
How could these various groups, individual devas and brahmas establish the song of Namo when they were separated from each other in different realms? One possibility is that the songs of praise to the Buddha were sung separately and later, according to the masters of the past, the various parts were combined into an official chant (recitation).
There are four kinds of the benefits that can be obtained by praising the Supreme Buddha, as explained by the masters of the past:
1. Following the path of the nobles (Ariya);
2. The Buddha’s power to guard and protect from harm;
3. Creating a meaningful life;
4. Purification of the mind.
Each benefit is further explained, as follows:
-You could be on the Path of the Ariyas emulating the practice of the Nobles, who, when working on any task, usually remember the goodness of those who gave them kind support in the beginning. This tradition has been followed up to the present day. In Thailand, for example, when starting a new business, we respectfully honor those who pioneered the idea of the business. Ceremonies in homage to pioneering teachers are done for this reason, especially in Thai music and dance. The remembrance of a pioneer is the practice of the Nobles, especially to praise the Supreme Buddha.
Recalling the power of the Supreme Buddha as protection, it is recognized that the Buddha’s attainment was achieved by his supreme wisdom and offered to the people of the world with his great compassion. Therefore, at the beginning of any religious ceremony, Buddhists will remember the indispensable values of the Buddha and will consciously pay homage by chanting Namassakāra or Namo.
-A meaningful life is an advantage to cultivate, remembering that this life will end, just like blowing out a candle. When lit, the candle of life “glowed in the wind,” which meant that dangers were omnipresent. Death can occur in many ways, without warning, when and where it is not known. At the end of life, the body has no movement, it is stretched out like a tree trunk, it is no longer suitable for the place it used to reside. Once living in a huge mansion with many bedrooms and living rooms, when a person dies, a family moves the body to a small space and takes it to a burial site or crematorium. These facts of life reveal uncertainty. Being alive, one should not be careless and give meaning to life. A life can be fulfilling through thoughtfulness, helping and supporting other people in difficult times, cultivating purity of mind, and remaining irreproachable in body, speech and mind. Filled with knowledge and wisdom, one can sustain a life in this world without suffering or harm; this kind of life is excellent and full of meaning. Whenever this kind of life ends, its goodness is significant and has been carved into people’s hearts. Paying homage to the excellent Buddha inspires our lives with the unsurpassed values of a supreme being, whose compassion, purity and wisdom are timeless qualities. We will absorb those values and start filling our lives with them. Cultivating these values is like building a stupa within us, a stupa that is filled with the qualities of the Buddha. Paying respect, even briefly, is better than never holding these values in our minds. Therefore, the religious ceremonies began with praise and conscious homage to the indispensable qualities of the Buddha by chanting Namassakāra or Namo.
– Cleansing one’s mind means cleaning his stains and impurities. Some things induce the desire to please. Some cause dissatisfaction, agitation, frustration, anxiety, irritation, and aggravated punishment. Some lead to temptation and delusion. Some evoke doubts and hesitation. The mind depends on sensual perceptions through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body to eagerly seek sensations to satisfy itself, unable to seek happiness on its own. In such a state, the mind is considered not liberated, dependent and a slave to sensuality. Whenever the mind is occupied with desire, it will develop attachment. When faced with unwanted issues, the mind will rebel, be irritated, frustrated and upset, unable to calm down, just like a fish, stuck in the sand on a hot beach, jumps, falls again and again, never stopping, struggles to the exhaustion. In these states, the mind cannot achieve purification, brightness and clarity. When the mind is not clear, actions and speech can become harmful. Since the mind is the motivation for physical and verbal behaviors, a purified and clear mind leads to well-behaved physical and verbal acts. The purification process must follow the path indicated by the Buddha. When the mind is firmly gathered around the primary qualities of the Buddha, the impure ailments that have tainted the mind disappear. When purification, brightness, and clarity arise in the mind, a beneficial merit is planted, which in turn leads to the cultivation of other merits. A clear and purified mind that arises for even a split second is superior to a mind that does not at all entails purification. Frequent remembering of the Buddha’s qualities, as recited in Namo’s chant, can also lead to ongoing purification. Therefore, Buddhists will recite or remember the Buddha in homage to Namo before any religious ceremony.
We always repeat the homage to the Buddha’s chant three times, not once or twice. Commentators explain the three repetitions as homage to three types of Buddha:
1. Viriyādhika Buddha – is a supreme being who has used incessant efforts to attain the perfection of the pāramīs. The time required to complete the acquisition of pāramī in this way is sixteen asankheyas and 100,000 kappa.
2. Saddhādhika Buddha – is a supreme being who has used faith with all his strength to try to reach the perfection of the pāramīs. The time interval to complete the acquisition of pāramī is eight asankheyas and 100,000 kappa.
3. Buddha Panñādhika – is a supreme being who has used exhausting wisdom in an attempt to reach the optimal pāramīs. The duration to complete the acquisition of pāramī in this way is four asankheyas and 100,000 kappa. Our current Buddha is a panñādhika buddha.
The main modes of commitment, faith and wisdom differ in the time it takes to reach brotherhood for each path. One could compare the paths to the three ways of entering the Thai army officer hierarchy: one gets to the lowest level and makes his way, another with an AA degree goes to a higher level and continues to work his way in tall, the third comes with a four-year degree in the top position. Each path is different and takes a different time to reach the goal.
Some teachers explain that the reason for three repetitions of Namo is to allow the mind to truly absorb the values of the Buddha and not to be distracted while reciting. The mind is used to activities enslaved by sensual desire and when it shifts to “spiritual” activities, it does not easily concentrate on the words of the recitation and will try to diverge into other channels. This is another reason that explains the three repetitions. Therefore, the mind is trained to move progressively into a more stable and focused mode with each repetition, which are described as follows:
1. Parikamma. The first expression in homage to the Buddha is to set the mind’s intention to stay with the recitation by dropping other sensual stimuli and only adhere to recitation.
2. Upacāra. The second repetition brings the mind closer to acting. The mind may not be firmly focused, having recently been married to the desires of the senses, and it may be unstable, moving from acting to its previous state of mind.
3. Appanā. The third repetition firmly establishes the mind in acting, in absorption, not in motion, steady, firmly at peace. It is a clear and bright mind, purified and radiant, which creates good merit in itself and is a basis for other wholesome acts. This is called kammanīya, suitably ready for action.
Finally, the benefit of three repetitions can be seen as directed to those who hear the chant and pay homage to the Buddha. The singing is reinforced by three repetitions, just as a string gets louder when it has three strands instead of one.
There are many styles that the Bhikkhus Sangha has developed for chanting Namo, in particular using the vocal rhythm as a differentiator. The differentiation is based on the number of pauses or stops in the acting model (naming each pause model by the number of pauses).
Namo – single, no break
Namo – three breaks
Namo – five breaks
Namo – nine breaks
The Namo with uninterrupted rhythm is used exclusively in the Mātikā (Matrix of the Abhidhamma) which is reiterated for funeral and memorial services.
The three repetitions are recited in a string with no pauses between words. The leader begins “Namotassabhagavato”, the second senior bhikkhu joins, and then the others follow:
The three-rest Namo is used to give precepts (sīla), after the request for precepts and before giving precepts, Namo will be sung three times with rests in between.
NamoTassaBhagavatoArahatoSammāsambuddhassa NamoTassaBhagavatoArahatoSammāsambuddhassa NamoTassaBhagavatoArahatoSammāsambuddhassa
The five-pause Namo is used after requesting a Dhamma talk and before teaching the Dhamma. In this case, he will take five breaks between the three repetitions.
NamoTassaBhagavatoArahatoSammāsambuddhassaNamoTassa. – BhagavatoArahatoSammāsambuddhassa. –
NamoTassa Bhagavato. –
The Namo with nine breaks is used for blessings when holy water is present. Before reciting any blessing, the monk will begin with Namo in three repetitions broken down into nine rests, emphasizing a syllable in front, not a syllable following broken words at each pause.
A leader begins with “NamoTassaBhagavato”.
The second bhikkhu joins and the others follow: “ArahatoSammāsambud. – dhassaNamoTas. – saBhagavatoArahatoSammāsambud. – dhassaNamoTas. – saBhagavato. – ArahatoSammā. – sambud. – dhassa. –
When reciting with a rest in the middle, the rest usually comes to a syllable with a strong stop sound. A syllable with nasal sounds usually marks the end of a pause, except when there is a duplication within the word buddhassa, pausing in “bud” and no pause in “dhassa”. The purpose of these schemes is to lead a majestic song and promote harmony.
– Legend of Paritta’s protective songs and background stories
– Several conferences and lectures
Translated, arranged and adapted into Italian by Reusi Bhālacanda