A First Glance at an SGI Nichiren Buddhist Meeting in Japan

First off, the care and attention given to new members is outstanding. Of course, I can't speak for everyone, but my experience thus far, has been superb. Last week, my mom visited a local Soka Gakkai International (SGI) center, and informed them about how I wanted to attend meetings, and that I would be living in Kyoto for two years. That same night, a woman called me at my dorm and invited me to a local Buddhist block meeting the following week. I gladly accepted the invite!

The heart of the Lotus Sutra is the revelation that one may attain supreme enlightenment in one's present form without altering one's status as an ordinary person. This means that without casting aside one's karmic impediments one can still attain the Buddha way.
"Reply to Hakiri Saburo" (WND, 410)

Tonight, I attended my first SGI Gakkai meeting in Obaku, Kyoto Prefecture. The woman who had called, came and picked me up at exactly 6:45 pm, which was our planned time. After doing a quick daimoku sansho (recitation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), she kindly drove me to our local meeting — a mere 5 minute walk away. I had no idea that I was living right next to an apartment complex with at least four SGI members. 

The minute I walked in, everyone clapped for me! And I was astounded, so I quickly introduced myself in a mix of Japanese and English. When we all started to do gongyo (recitation of the Lotus Sutra) and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together, I felt at home. Immediately, I felt so much appreciation welling up from inside my heart. Finally, I had landed in a brand new country, where everything is completely different, and found something so close to home. 

Key Similarities Between San Francisco & Kyoto

Many parallels exist within the meetings here and in San Francisco such as the structure of the meeting and general appreciation of people.

  • At the very beginning of the meeting, the emcee started off by introducing herself and quickly explained what was going to happen next. But, we started gongyo at 6:58 pm, instead of the usual 7:05 or so!

  • A woman shared her experience about encouraging people to vote. And afterwards, a young man explained some of the activities he is doing with other youth. Both experiences and youth speaking about activities are regular occurrences in San Francisco.

  • A men's leader from another area, offered a heart-warming lecture on the Gosho (Nichiren Daishonin's writings) about how he changed poison into medicine. After 30 years of practice, his only daughter came into a horrible circumstance. At first, he wondered why was this happening to me? Aren't I practicing so that I can become happy and avoid issues like this? How could it happen to my daughter? But then, as he studied more, he realized that this was an opportunity, a chance to change the direction of his daughter's life in a positive, value-creating way. When he started viewing the obstacle as an opportunity, things began to shift. And because of the insane amount of stress and pressure his family was experiencing, he chanted such strong daimoku that he says he cannot replicate anymore. Rather, it was the life-changing, powerful determination welling up in his entire being, that ultimately, allowed him to have a total victory for he and his family in the end! 

  • And finally, there was profuse clapping after everyone spoke, which I truly appreciate. After all, think about the antithetical experience ... that wouldn't be encouraging at all!

Key Differences Between San Francisco & Kyoto

While I've attending meetings for years in San Francisco and Berkeley, I noticed that at least at this meeting, a few things were different. 

  • Everyone (well...almost everyone) sits on the floor. As an American guest, I sat on a small chair. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one. 
  • One of the first things we did was sing an energizing song, specific to the Kansai region that everyone seemed to know by heart. And if they forgot, the lyrics were conveniently written on a wall. Plus, it was enhanced by two young men, swinging their arms the way President Daisaku Ikeda used too. 
  • When studying a Buddhist concept, we all read the content aloud together, and did not discuss it afterwards. That way, were able to cover more material within the allotted time slot of an hour. 

In San Francisco, we may sing songs together, or listen to a jazz performance, or a live chorus, but it doesn't happen at every meeting. Whereas, in Japan, singing is ingrained within the culture from grade school, as are group activities.

Personally, I've attended meetings in Cuba, Costa Rica, and Spain. And regardless of the small cultural differences, the meetings are relatively the same all over the world. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that the Soka Gakkai International has done an excellent job of distilling information across 129 countries with disparate cultures and

Keep in mind, I've only been to one meeting thus far, but I will be attending at least another two this month! I can't wait to see what else Japan holds in store for me.