On Sunday, April 7th, 2019, I visited Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Center and attended a big meeting. I was raised in a traditional Christian household and I had no knowledge of the Buddhist religion. As I walked in, I could hear the chants of several people in the room. After much research, I understood that the chanting signifies an awakening within one’s life in order to transform any suffering to happiness so that we can create peace in the world and our communities. The name of the chant is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and it is a declaration of dignity and power within everyone’s lives.
I noticed that the chants were directed towards a shrine in the front of the room. I later learned that the object was a Gohonzon, which translates as the “Fundamental Object of Devotion.” Further, I discovered that the Gohonzon serves as a mirror for our own lives and that it is supposed to show us that we have limitless wisdom, compassion, and courage to surpass any obstacles and reach happiness. This struck me because I realized how much they value happiness and how they strive to inspire others. As I looked around the room, people were bright and happy as they listened to the speakers. It was clear that everyone knew each other and were happy to be in a reunion. I watched how they embraced each other and spoke about their lives.
I enjoyed seeing how many races and cultures were represented in the group. From my Education In A Diverse Society class, I learned that cultural representation is a key part in developing respectful citizens that help create a more peaceful world. When one sees their culture represented in an area of study, being a religious practice or a class curriculum, they will be more inclined to learn and be able to identify with the subject that is taught. In addition, it teaches people who are not a part of the culture represented different ways of thinking around the world and how they too can adopt these ways. Overall, it shows how everyone is validated in the subject area. Education and culture cannot be separated, so it was refreshing to see how Soka Gakkai incorporates the views of many different people in efforts to teach about Buddhism and reach as many people as they can. On this particular day, the speaker who delivered her testimony was from France. She spoke about her financial struggles with having to pay for her daughter’s medical bills, but she said how she held on to her religion to keep her strong. She explained how everyone has bad days and that practicing Buddhism does not exempt someone from suffering, however believing in the practice helps one surpass feelings of helplessness.
Everyone at the meeting was very honest and welcoming. As I was leaving, one of the ushers warmly asked me what my name was and if it was my first time at the center. I told him that it was my first time attending a Buddhist meeting and he told me that he was happy that I came and that I was welcome back any time. It was refreshing to witness such a welcoming community since our society has become so individualistic. I learned so much about faith and self-determination in the hour that I was there, but the main take away from my day at Soka Gakkai was how to lead a happy life regardless of the circumstances. One of the phrases that stuck with me was “a smile is not the effect of happiness but the cause of happiness.” This phrase sums up what I learned about Buddhism and it shows how the community emphasizes growth towards unity and peace within themselves and in the world.