African Americans and Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism

"A site to uplift African Americans"

Why African Americans Need to Practice Nichiren  Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai International?

By Bobby Hudson

For too long, African Americans have been at the mercy of the environment and other people. In the United States as only 13.6% of the population, African Americans have the highest rates of poverty, obesity, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, jail incarceration, high school drop out, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, single parent families, and the list goes on and on. The history of African Americans in the United States has been marked by suffering, racism, humiliation, tragedy, and inhumanity. It is time for us to change this posion into medicine. We can do this through practicing Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism.

African Americans need to practice Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai International because it teaches that through chanting "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo," which literally means "devotion to the Mystic Law of cause and effect through sound or the Buddhist teachings," a person can attain enlightenment or Buddhahood and be absolutely happy regardless of circumstance. This does not mean accepting your current situation and being happy with it. What it means is that regardless of your circumstance, you can change it so you are absolutely happy. Attaining enlightenment or Buddhahood means achieving your potential as a human being. It means being happy no matter what. It means fulfilling all of your dreams and desires. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you put your life in rhythm with the universe. You control your environment and your destiny. You attract what is beneficial for your life and repel that which is counterproductive to your life. You become the master of your fate.

 

Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism was born in Japan. It may sound far-fetched that a religion created in Japan could help bring African Americans to prominence in the United States, but if you continue to read on, I will show you that Buddhism is not as foreign to people of African descent as it may seem. Nichiren Daishonin was a 13th century monk who studied the teachings of the original Buddha Shakyamuni. Shakyamuni Buddha was a prince who lived in India somewhere around 550 BC. The interesting point about India is there is much debate about its people's racial origins. Some argue that Indians are a mix of Dravidians, a people of African descent who migrated from Australia, and Indo-Aryan, a people of European descent who invaded India. Whatever the case may be, it is evident from the variety of skin colors of Indian people that their race was influenced by people of Africa. This indicates that the original Buddha Shakyamuni perhaps is genetically closer to African Americans than we may think. Some have even pointed to Shakyamuni's beaded hair style and neogroid facial features depicted in statues of him as evidence that he is of African heritage. I am not referring to the statue of the little bald fat Buddha that is supposed to bring you luck if you rub his belly. This statue is not an actual representation of Shakyamuni Buddha, but a depiction designed for commercial purposes. 

 

I am referring to the traditional statue of the Buddha as depicted below.            

Of course,whether Shakyamuni is of African descent or not, it may be something that will not be recognized for awhile to come. It is like the issue with Jesus being recognized as being of African descent, which although it alludes to in the Bible, the Catholic church does not uphold. The only reason I bring this point up about Shakyamuni is to illustrate that the Buddha could be akin to us through our genetics. By seeing the Buddha as somehow a part of us, we can more easily identify with his teachings, which Nichiren Daishonin based his own teachings upon.

Another point about Nichiren's Buddhism is that Nichiren uses the written language of Chinese Sanskirt to relate key elements of his Buddhist teachings. Even though Sanskirt was popular as a means of communicating important ideas during Shakyamuni's lifetime, Shakyamuni forbade the use of Sanskrit in his teachings because he believed it was too complicated for common people; however, Nichiren employs Sanskirt in characters on the Gohonzon, the object of devotion in Nichiren's Buddhism. Sanskirt can be traced back to the Nagas who were a Semitic speaking people from Ethiopia. Using a written language that was invented by people of African descent, clearly underscores how people of African descent had influence in Buddhism. Again, I point this out to illustrate how Buddhism is connected to people of African descent more than we may assume.

As Americans, we are taught to look outside of our lives for our happiness when actually, we have the power to be happy within our lives. In this country, we are taught from birth that material items will make us happy. What else should we expect from a capitalistic society? Through Nichiren Buddhism, we learn how to find our happiness from within our own lives. That does not mean that we should not want money or material items. We need those things to live as human beings. Many people need a job and a means to get to that job. Everyone needs a place to live and soap to wash with. We need material goods to sustain our lives and we need money to buy those material goods. Nichiren Buddhism says it is okay for us to want material goods and to use the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to attract those material items. In fact, Nichiren Buddhism encourages us to pray through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for material possessions because as we accrue material wealth, it demonstrates in a very real way the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renege-kyo. Obtaining the material items you pray for builds your faith in the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and can make you happy, but the happiness that comes with gaining material items is not absolute happiness.

Absolute happiness is what Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism is all about. Absolute happiness means that if you lose all of your material items like your house, furniture, pictures of loved ones, money, jewelry and even your spouse or children in a fire that you would still be happy. Naturally, as humans if something grave like that happened, you will feel sad, but when you practice Nichiren Buddhism, you learn how to maintain happiness as your core no matter what happens to you. 

What this indicates is attaining all of your material goals is not the end all in Nichiren Buddhism. To be absolutely happy, you need to do what is called "human revolution." This is a process of discarding the negative aspects of your life, your personality, and your being and replacing them with positive and beneficial traits and aspects. Human revolution is the process of removing, feelings like dissatisfaction, sadness, envy, jealousy, hatred, insecurity, unhappiness, lack of confidence, poor self-esteem to reveal your best self. A part of human revolution is gaining the strength to do what is right for your life. We all know what we should do in our heart in any given situation, but often we lack the courage to do what we believe is best or correct. Sometimes, we want to take the easy way out. Other times we want to do what we are accustomed to doing or what our peers are doing even though we know it is not the most productive course of action. Practicing Nichiren Buddhism permits you to live your best life in the most honest and healthy fashion possible at all times. You can do what is right and not feel like a traitor to others or yourself.

Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, which is based on the theory of karma also known as cause and effect, teaches you to take responsibility for your life to develop your own happiness. The theory of karma states that the causes you make will produce an effect in your life. This means that everything that occurs in your life is a manifestation of a cause you have made. Let us say you steal from someone. Because of this cause, somewhere in your life, you will receive an effect for this cause you made. Perhaps, one day you will be the victim of a crime or maybe you will simply lose something that you hold dear. The manner the effect will manifest is subject to when the conditions are right in the your life. Looking at life through cause and effect, means that you are responsible for the circumstances of your life because essentially you create the circumstances of your life through the causes you make. If you accept that you are responsible for the conditions of your life, you cannot blame anyone for whatever happens in your life. Furthermore, by accepting responsibility for your life means you have to look inside of your life for the answers to your problems, for the source of your unhappiness, and for the source to your happiness.

Does this mean that if you kill some one, you will be killed? No, not necessarily because there are two types of karma: immutable and mutable. Immutable karma refers to things that you can not change in this life. For instance, your race, skin color, and place of birth are examples of immutable karma. Things that are fixed like these you cannot change in this life. Mutable karma refers to things that you can change in your present life. For example, if you did kill someone, there is a possibility that you will not be murdered as the effect for your cause. No matter what karma you create, you can change it. One way to change your karma is through making good causes. If you wanted to avoid the effect of being murdered, you would not go around killing more people, but you might make causes to restore life. Yet, this will not guarantee you will not be murdered because you do not know the extent or nature of your karma.

The best way to change your karma is through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and teaching others to do the same. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo yourself, you put your life in rhythm with the universe. Since when we are happy, we emit positive energy and positive energy allows things to flourish, putting your life in rhythm with the universe means being happy. When you are happy, your mind is clear and you are able to gain the wisdom to know what is best for your life. Plus, by putting your life in rhythm with the the universe you can attract the best things for your life. Like a magnet, your environment responds to your life. Have you ever been at a dull party when suddenly a very upbeat person enters the room and the entire atmosphere of the party changes? Well, the environment reacts the same way to our life condition. If we are happy, our environment responds favorably. If not, it responds likewise. As a result, it makes sense that if you are putting yourself in sync with the universe opposed to out-of-sync, it will help correct or lessen the effect of causes that are counter to your happiness.  

Another method to change the effects of negative causes made in your life is by teaching others to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. If you are happy through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that means someone else will also be. To share this Buddhism with others is a noble cause to empower them to be happy. Helping others change their lives from what may be unhappy to happy produces amazing effects in your own life powerful enough to change any negative circumstance you may be facing into a benefit. Consequently, you can understand how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sharing it with others is the most direct root to changing your karma. 

To be honest, no one knows why the sound of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo works, but it does. That is why it is often referred to as the 'Mystic Law." Moreover, this is why material proof is so valuable in Nichiren Buddhism. Something like chanting for self-esteem may be hard to see and to measure. It may take years for you to realize that you have gained self-esteem in areas that you  lacked confidence; however, if you chant for something like a new car and you get it, you can actually see that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo works. It is clear proof. As your life gets better and your environment reflects your better life, you will know that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo works. I do not expect you to believe me simply because I say chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can make your life happy. To build faith in Nichiren Buddhism, you must chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo yourself to understand and appreciate its power. Once you begin to see that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo actually does work, you can begin to take responsibility for your life.

Can you imagine a world where everyone takes responsibility for his or her own life, a world where everyone is aware that the causes he or she makes will have a consequence in his or her life, and a world where everyone truly wants to make the best causes? There would be no war, no crime, no racism, and no injustice. The world would be peaceful. This is what practicing Nichiren Buddhism can offer the world.


A Brief History of The Soka Gakkai International

  Traditionally when we think about Buddhism, we think of an Asian male mediating in front of an alter dressed in robes. Today, thanks to the Soka Gakkai International, this stereotype is changing. Across the world in countries like Brazil, France, New Zealand, Ghana, Cuba, Jamiaca, Russia, Zambia, Poland, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Palau, Canada and Nigeria, Buddhism is being practiced by people native to these countries. Here in the United States, Buddhism is being practiced by an ever growing diversity of people. Because of the efforts of the Soka Gakkai International, Buddhism is no longer a religion primarily for people of Asian descent. Here in the United States from Newark, New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan to Compton, California, a great number of African Americans are practicing Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai International.

 

During the 13th century in Japan, Nichiren Daishonin established the Buddhist practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo whereby a person could become enlightened and attain Buddhahood. After Nichiren's death, his teachings were maintained and handed down through the priests of NIchiren Shoshu; however, Nichiren's teachings remained relatively unknown.

 In the 1928, a teacher named Tsunesaboro Makiguchi formed the Soka Gakkai, a value creating educational society. 

 

Josei Toda was a fellow teacher who was Makiguchi's disciple and helped Makiguchi form the Soka Gakkai. Once Makiguchi was introduced to Nichiren's Buddhism, he made Nichiren's Buddhsm the primary focus of the Soka Gakkai. The Soka Gakkai became the lay organization to Nichiren Shoshu. With Josei Toda at Makiguchi's side, the two men started the task of spreading Nichiren's teachings throughout Japan. 

By the advent of World War II, the Japanese  Government began enforcing all its citizens to worship Shinto Talismans. Although Nichiren Shoshu priest agreed to the Japanese government demands, Makiguchi and Toda refused to stop practicing Nichiren Buddhism. As a result, Makiguchi and Toda were imprisoned. As the result of malnutrition, brutal treatment and torture, Makiguchi died in prison. Eventually, Toda was released. Upon Toda's release from prison, the Soka Gakkai was for all practical purposes destroyed. Toda assumed the responsibility of restoring the Soka Gakkai.

 

It was around this time, that Daisaku Ikeda at the age of nineteen attended his first Soka Gakki meeting and immediately chose Toda as his mentor. 

On May 3, 1951, Toda was inaugurated as the second president of the Soka Gakkai. The membership of the Soka Gakkai was only 3,000 families. At Toda's inauguration, he determined the Soka Gakkai reach a membership of 750,000 families by the time of his death. Shortly before Toda's death on April 2, 1958, he surpassed this goal.

After Toda's death, Ikeda was inaugurated as president of the Soka Gakkai on May 3, 1960. Until this time, Nichiren Buddhism was exclusively practiced in Japan. Ikeda promised Toda that he would spread Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world. Within six months of his inauguration, Ikeda established chapters in the United States and South American countries, followed a year later by organizations in nine European countries. Because of Ikeda's determination, today, the Soka Gakkai is an international organization with members in 192 countries and territories and 90 registered constituent organizations. Furthermore, no longer is the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) assoiciated with NIchiren Shoshu as a lay organization, but the SGI is now an independent and strong organization unto itself.

Without President Ikeda's strong determination and efforts to spread this Buddhism throughout the world, Nichiren Buddhism may still be exclusive to Japan. We owe President Ikeda a debt of gratitude for exposing the world to Nichiren Buddhism. Naturally, President Ikeda's movement to spread Nichiren Buddhism around the world has not gone without opposition. There are forces in the environment that do not want people to know they are capable of becoming enlightened and attaining Buddhahood. These forces do not want you to know that you can control your own destiny and life because it is not in their interest. Some of these forces are the priests of Nichiren Shoshu, the very organization the Soka Gakkai International aided in the past. The priests of Nichiren Shoshu do not advocate that you can achieve enlightenment and attain Buddhahood without their sanction. This strongly goes against the tenants of Nichiren Buddhism. No where in Nichiren's teachings does he indicate that the only way you can achieve Buddhahood is through the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu. In fact, in the letter "On Attaining Buddhahood," Nichiren writes: 

 "The Lotus Sutra is the king of sutras, the direct path to enlightenment, for it explains that the entity of our life, which manifests either good or evil at each moment, is in fact the entity of the Mystic Law. If you chant Myoho-renge-kyo with deep faith in this principle, you are certain to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. That is why the sutra states, 'After I have passed into extinction, [one] should accept and uphold this sutra. Such a person assuredly and without doubt will attain the Buddha way.' Never doubt in the slightest." (WND, p. 4)

As you can see, Nichiren does not  mention anything about attaining Buddhahood by way of any priest as Nichiren Shoshu would have you believe, but he asserts that by having faith in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, which are the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, and by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you can become enlightened and attain Buddhahood. Attaining Buddhahood is a mission initiated by you and supported through the SGI. It is not something that is orchestrated by Nichiren Shoshu. There are people who are members of Nichiren Shoshu who for whatever reason hate President Ikeda and the SGI. They would rather have their enlightenment manipulated by the priest of Nichiren Shoshu, which is of course not true enlightenment at all. Actually, it is just people being controlled by Nichiren Shoshu priests.

Nevertheless, the purpose for this website is not to discuss the ills of Nichiren Shoshu. The central concern is for African Americans to practice Nichiren Buddhism to improve their lot in life. The only reason to mention Nichiren Shoshu is to alert you that there are organizations that claim to be proponents of Nichiren Buddhism who do not have your best interest at heart and do not uphold the correct teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. These organizations twist the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin to suit their own needs. For instance, Nichiren Shoshu priests want you to spend huge amounts of money on unnecessary formalities and rituals like going to visit a temple in Japan or paying for priests to pray for your deceased relatives. The priests claim that by visiting the head temple, you can attain enlightenment. In fact, the priest state through visiting the main temple is the only method that you can become enlightened. Nichiren Daishonin never stated it was necessary to make a pilgrimage to any temple to become enlightened. For that matter, it does not make sense that you should be able to attain enlightenment in only one specific place on earth when one of the meanings of enlightenment is to reveal your highest potential as a human being. It seems to me that if you are going to reveal your highest potential as a human being, you should be able to do it anywhere under any circumstance. The priests' motive for imposing restrictions on enlightenment relates to gaining money and power.

The SGI does not insist that you give any money to it. In SGI, there is study material in the form of a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine, which can be purchased, but these materials are packed with study material to help you develop yourself in your Buddhist practice. More still, although it is suggested that you subscribe to these periodicals for use in your own life, these periodicals are not mandatory, but optional. In addition, once a year SGI has a special campaign lasting for just over a month where it is encouraged that you donate money to help with maintenance costs of SGI community centers and such; however, you are not required to give any specific amount of money during this campaign. You can give $1.00 to $100,000.00 or more if you so desire. For that matter, you can donate any amount of money anytime of the year to the SGI. The wonderful thing about donating money to the SGI is that it is a cause that brings you tremendous financial benefit to your life because in reality you are donating to world peace, which means you are helping others to be happy. With that said, whatever your give to the SGI is always appreciated fully.

I just wanted to touch on money because it is always an issue with organized religion, but at no time in the SGI have I ever felt pressured to give money. Nichiren Shoshu maintains that because President Ikeda is wealthy that somehow he is corrupt. Yes indeed, President Ikeda has amassed personal wealth, but his wealth is actual proof that this Buddhism works. Would you believe President Ikeda if he said practicing with the SGI could bring you absolute happiness and he was living like a pauper?  How can you be absolutely happy if you are worried about how you are going to pay your rent or buy food all the time? President Ikeda is a man who initiated the spread of Nichiren Buddhism around the world so Nichiren Buddhism is now practiced in 192 countries and territories. When President Ikeda joined the SGI at age 19, he suffered with tuberculosis. Doctors predicted President Ikeda would not live beyond the age of 30 years old. He is now 84 years old. More still, because of his work with the Sokas Gakkai, President Ikeda did not attend college, but today, he holds over 300 honorary degrees from universities and colleges throughout the world. This number of honorary degrees is the most amount that anyone in history has ever received. In addition, President Ikeda has penned over 40 books. He is a poet, photographer, peace activist, and educator. Finally, President Ikeda has been married to one woman, Kaneko, for 60 years. I tell you all this to say that President Ikeda is a great living example of the effect Nichiren Buddhism can have on your life. Of course, President Ikeda is not perfect, he is only human. He has had to do his human revolution just like you and I. Therefore, it is not surprising that he has haters. 

 The main goal for SGI is to spread Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world so people can be happy. Anyone with the desire to improve their life or just seeking can join SGI. There are no requirements that you must meet to become a member of SGI. Moreover, there is no executive board or priests that run SGI. The members are in charge of how the organization runs. In this way, being a people led organization, SGI is revolutionary. If a majority of African Americans join the SGI and practice Nichiren Buddhism, for the first time in the history of the United States, African Americans will finally be able to achieve the status they deserve. 

For more information on the SGI, please log onto: www.sgi-usa.org.