The SGI stands for Soka Gakkai International, Soka Gakkai meaning ‘Society for the Creation of Value.’ We practice a form of Buddhism founded in thirteenth century Japan by a monk named Nichiren Daishonin. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Buddhism isn’t for young American college students! Well, here are 10 awesome things about being a Buddhist (written by a young American college student) for you to consider:
1. You don’t have to live isolated at the top of a mountain with nothing but the clothes on your back–bald. (You don’t have to be a yogi or a vegan either.)
The SGI is an organization of lay people, meaning that we aren’t “professional Buddhists,” but have ordinary jobs and lives. It’s probably quite easy to attain enlightenment when you have nothing to do but sit on a peaceful mountain all day. Alas, that is not a possibility for most people. Instead of punishing human beings for having needs and desires, Buddhism teaches that, “Earthly desires are enlightenment.” Wealth and possessions themselves are not evil–it’s up to us to learn how to use them for good.
2. Collecting figurines and statues, while an interesting hobby, is entirely unnecessary.
When most Americans think of Buddhism, they think of the fat, smiley Buddha. In Nichiren Buddhism however, we do not pray to any representation of a Buddha–statue or otherwise. While “the Buddha” (see Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautauma) lived an influential life, he is not someone we worship. We believe that all people are Buddhas, that is, containing the potential for Buddhahood within them. To pray to something outside of ourselves, therefore, is to diminish the incredible value of our own lives. Our practice is based on unlocking and enhancing our boundless, innate potential to overcome life’s obstacles–not on asking someone else to do it for us.
3. You design your own practice.
The core of our practice is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the key to unlocking our limitless potential. Literally translated, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means devotion to the mystic law (the phenomena of life) of cause and effect through sound. Besides the universal law of karma, there are no “rules” in Buddhism. You can chant for whatever you want, wherever you want, for however long you want.
4. You will never hear the word “impossible.”
Science tells us we only use about 10% of our brain capacity. SGI members believe that we can make even the seemingly impossible possible when we tap into the boundless compassion and wisdom that resides within us through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This principle also drives our conviction that world peace is possible. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says, “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, can even enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”
5. You can ask all the questions you want, the more controversial the better.
The staple component of our movement is the discussion meeting. Gathered in local homes or community centers, SGI members meet regularly to study Buddhist teachings together and encourage one another. There is no priest who bears the sole responsibility of learning the writings of Nichiren Daishonin. There are no taboo subjects or questions that are off limits. Through dialogue, members work together to understand and apply the writings to their lives.
6. You can come exactly as you are.
Got problems? Good. Make mistakes? Even better. Being Buddhist doesn’t mean being calm or peaceful all the time. We all experience frustration and anger, and these are things we can openly discuss at meetings. Rather than pretending these life states don’t exist, or pretending to be someone we’re not–we acknowledge our negative tendencies and seek to “turn poison into medicine.”
7. You can harness your inner activist.
Nichiren Daishonin was considered a radical in his day. He declared that all people (read: ALL PEOPLE) could attain enlightenment, whereas other traditions had restrictions based on gender and social standing. In its early days, the SGI was criticized as being a gathering of the sick and poor. Yet, this is a badge we wear with pride. Our history is one of helping those who are suffering the most–to making our philosophy answerable to people facing poverty, discrimination, and oppression; as well as the universal struggles of birth, sickness, old age, and death. In Buddhism, peace is not separated from justice. We fight for all sorts of social causes (women’s rights, racial justice, nuclear abolition, and environmental protection, to name a few), and believe that taking action in the face of injustice is essential to upholding the dignity of human life.
8. You can go nearly anywhere in the world and connect with other Buddhists.
The SGI is in 192 countries and territories. (To give you some perspective, there are only 193 states in the UN.) There are over 12 million people of all different backgrounds chanting to create world peace through individual happiness. It’s more than being a part of a family, it’s being part of a movement.
9. You can be gay, straight, trans*, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, still figuring it out, you name it!
Generally speaking, Nichiren Daishonin’s writings talk about two things: how to become happy and the equality of all people. There are no regulations on romantic or sexual relationships and we intend to keep it that way. The SGI is one of very few religious organizations that not only tolerates members of the LGBTQIA community, but openly welcomes them. We have LGBT groups that meet regularly, national LGBT conferences, and are involved in community-based LGBT rights and pride initiatives.
10. You don’t have to take my word for it.
Anyone can chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Try it for yourself and see what kind of results you get. No Freaky Friday type things will happen to you. Promise.
Moreover, everyone (Buddhist or not) is welcome to join the meetings hosted by the SGI-Chapman club at the Interfaith Center on Monday nights, 6:00-7:15 p.m. Contact SGI-Chapman President, Nobuko Shigeyama (email@example.com), for more information.