Topeka Capital Journal, Jan. 25, 2003
Publication date: 2003-01-25
Arrival time: 2003-02-12
PHIL ANDERSON/The Capital-Journal
At 3 p.m. on a recent Sunday afternoon, 18 adherents of the Soka Gakkai International school of Buddhism gathered in a midtown Topeka home to chant, discuss their beliefs and spread the word about their organization to several visitors in attendance.
Facing the front of the home’s dining room while seated in folding chairs, the group began their meeting by chanting for about 15 minutes.
“Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” the adherents chanted in unison, while holding clasped hands in front of their faces. “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo….”
The phrase was chanted rapidly and repeated, as the volume reached a crescendo before Preston Hoyt, of Lawrence, sounded a gong at the front of the room.
An altar with a copy of a sacred Buddhist scripture was located at the front of the room. Two candles were burning, and a bowl of fruit was placed to the left side of the altar, as a show of appreciation for the Buddhist message included in the chanted phrase.
Although the literal translation of the phrase is “devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound,” adherents believe it to be much deeper than its literal translation.
They see Nam Myoho Renge Kyo as the name of the ultimate law of life which permeates all things in the universe.
Group leaders said the phrase was translated from written Japanese about a century ago by an English scholar. The phrase, when spoken, resembles both the Japanese and Spanish languages, they say.
The same phrase is chanted by Soka Gakkai International adherents worldwide.
Although the sounds may not be immediately discernible to English- speaking adherents, the power of the words will come forth by the repetition of the phrase, members say.
The goal of chanting the phrase is to bring about happiness and peace in the lives of each individual.
The phrase itself, which is the focal point of the religion, comes from two significant chapters of the “Lotus Sutra,” which explain that every individual holds the potential for enlightenment and that life itself is eternal.
Members testify that by chanting the phrase daily, in the morning and evening, as well as in group settings, they release a power that they always knew was within them, but that they had been unable to tap into previously.
“By chanting, you bring out that power that is within you,” says group leader Ray Bosch, 47, of Kansas City. “You bring out the power you knew you had all along, but never knew quite how to get hold of.”
Bosch receives no compensation, “no perks,” for his work, other than to see others come into the Soka Gakkai International group.
In fact, the organization has no hierarchy, as other religious groups do. Both longtime practitioners and newcomers find themselves on the same ground.
“Nobody is an expert at this,” Bosch says. “Everybody’s learning all the time.”
SOKA GAKKAI BELIEFS
Basic Beliefs of the Soka Gakkai International school of Buddhism include:
The most powerful force in all the universe is present in the human heart.
The purpose of the practice of Buddhism — and there are many different forms of Buddhism which have different practices — is to allow this power to emerge from an individual’s life, promoting a positive change in that person and his or her surroundings.
The environment is a reflection of people themselves.
People are all connected and interdependent. Therefore, a great revolution of character in just a single person will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of all humankind.
Members may donate money to the organization, but aren’t required to do so. There are no dues to belong.
Beyond that, individuals are encouraged to subscribe to the World Tribune, the organization’s official newspaper from Santa Monica, Calif.
The newspaper includes testimonial stories about people who embraced Soka Gakkai International teachings and how their lives were changed.
Bosch said that by chanting, members integrate their religion into their everyday lives, and see benefits in many areas.
Soka Gakkai International is a denomination of Buddhism that dates back 750 years. It was founded by Nichiren Daishonin, who advocated that his followers practice his form of Buddhism both for themselves and for others.
According to the Soka Gakkai International-USA Web site, there are more than 12 million members in 180 countries worldwide, with headquarters in Tokyo.
A regional group, which comprises such towns as Topeka, Lawrence, Kansas City and Columbia, Mo., has about 500 members.
A community center, located at 1804 Broadway in downtown Kansas City, Mo., is the site for Soka Gakkai International gatherings, educational programs and youth meetings.
The Topeka group began meeting about a year ago, when member Cyd McPhail opened her home just west of downtown Topeka for weekly meetings.
McPhail, a Washburn University student who had both Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses in her family, said she became involved with the Soka Gakkai International group after a spiritual search led her to this form of Buddhism.
“When I found this Buddhism,” she said, “it clicked for me. Everything that I believed I found in this practice.”
McPhail said she also was drawn to the Soka Gakkai International movement because it emphasized peace, culture and education.
Many local members of the Soka Gakkai International denomination came out of Christian traditions.
Some, like Bosch, who was raised a Lutheran, find some similarities between the two faiths, but have opted to devote themselves to this practice of Buddhism.