Meaning, Purpose and Truth

Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;

 

The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.

 

 

Religious Experience

Soka Gakkai members, especially converts in the West, are often happy to relate their religious experiences. In an interview, Tina Turner responded to a question about the relationship between singing and spirituality by saying:

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a song. In the Soka Gakkai tradition we are taught how to sing it. It is a sound and a rhythm and it touches a place inside you. That place we try to reach is the subconscious mind. I believe that it is the highest place and, if you communicate with it, that is when you receive information on what to do. Singing a song can make you cry. Singing a song can make you happy. That’s spirit—the spirit inside of you. If you look up ‘spiritual’ in a dictionary, you will find that it is your nature, it is the person you are. When you walk into a room, a person might say, ‘Oh, she’s got great spirit.’ Or you can walk into a room and someone will say that you don’t have spirit because it’s not visible. You’re kind of off or negative. Meditation and praying change your spirit into something positive. If it is already positive, it makes it better (Miller 2016).

The British rapper, poet and activist, Shauna O’Briain (also known as MC Angel) – who also identifies as lesbian – recounts a history of drug and alcohol abuse before she encountered Soka Gakkai. According to her:

Other than going to discussion meetings, I initially struggled with doing activities and developing a bigger involvement in the SGI. Thanks to the persistent and compassionate support from local members and leaders, I slowly began to do more….I started to take responsibility for my life and I gave up drinking around four years ago. I threw myself into SGI-UK activities within the youth division. Previously I had felt heavy in the mornings, but after SGI-UK activities, alongside other young people, I felt light. I started to realise the fatigue had been caused by deep suffering and that Buddhist activities were transforming my negative tendencies. Through my Buddhist practice I have transformed so much of my life and I have received such care and love. I have felt supported through every challenge and obstacle, while empowered to make healthier choices for my own life (SGI-UK 2017).

Answers to Ultimate Questions

As noted in other sections above, Soka Gakkai teaches that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo expresses the ‘universal law of life’, and that its recitation “allows each individual to tap into the wisdom of their life to reveal their Buddha nature” (SGI-USA: 2016). The phrase thus encapsulates the Soka Gakkai belief that each individual has Buddha nature. When an individual lives by the universal law, through dedication to and daily repetition of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, s/he can “deal effectively with any situation” and can work towards the happiness of self and others (SGI-USA: 2016). A central teaching of Soka Gakkai is that individual change will lead to societal, and then global, change: “empowered global citizens” will work for change in their own communities. SGI describes itself as “Buddhism in Action for Peace”. SGI also teaches that dedication to the Lotus Sutra is the only means of salvation in the current ‘Latter Day of the Law’, also known as the ‘Age of Decay’ (mappō).

According to Soka Gakkai teachings, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to “see, hear, smell and taste more clearly”, while “our sense of touch becomes more sensitive, and we begin to perceive and make judgements about both the physical and abstract world with greater clarity” (SGI-UK 2017: 38). This accords with the Buddhist teaching about the Nine Levels of Perception or Consciousness shared by all living beings.

The first five consciousnesses corresponded to the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The sixth consciousness enables us to make judgements about physical things – for example, recognising that a chair is hard and that we can sit on it, or that an apple is edible. The seventh consciousness is about discerning the abstract and making moral judgements. The eighth consciousness stores our underlying habits, dislikes, likes and other personality traits as an accumulation of our karma. The ninth consciousness is the life-force itself, which Nichiren Buddhists call Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo thus enables us to attain the ninth consciousness and to purify all the other eight consciousnesses.

Religion and Science

The relationship between religion and science is generally uncontroversial amongst Soka Gakkai followers. In fact, the movement has two universities – one in Tokyo (founded in 1971) and one in Orange County, California (founded in 2001). Its Tokyo university campus opened with three faculties – Economics, Law, and Letters – in 1971 (“History | SOKA UNIVERSITY | Discover Your Potential” 2018). The Engineering faculty was added in 1991 and was expanded to Science and Engineering in 2015, while Nursing was added as a faculty in 2013. The California university is a four-year liberal arts college and graduate school which states that it was “founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life” (Soka University of America 2018).