Monday, October 31, 2005

Q&A: "Your Buddhism Is No Match For Mine"

JJ asks: Your introduction talks about not wanting to get into a pissing contest about whose Buddhism is right. What are the criticisms that this branch of Buddhism receives? Who says it ain't the best and why?

Well, I think I got into some of this in our previous Q&A session, but that's specific to within those people practicing NS. Non-SGI members generally take the side of the Head Priest Nikken, namely that we're arrogant for thinking we can attain enlightenment without his approval. Not really worth commenting on, as I'm pretty sure you can tell which side of the fence I'm on...

From without the NS branch of Buddhism, the charges are numerous and varied, which are voiced by folks both familiar and un-familiar with the practice:

It's a greed-based religion. This one is usually levelled by Zen Buddhists, as well as those who've been talked to by someone who has been chanting for money or a car or whatever.

Zen Buddhist say this because their philosophy ("Only by eliminating earthly desires will you attain enlightenment") is in stark contrast to the NS philosophy ("By pursuing earthly desires, you will attain enlightenment"). I'll save further Zen v. NS comparisons for a later entry.

Those who aren't practicing any form of Buddhism are similarly turned off by the attachment to material things, which is ponderous.

Look, I'll be honest, I've been chanting for a new(er) car (and it seems like I'll be getting one), and the reason is simple: My current one is a piece of shit. It gets me from point A to point B, usually with some struggle. Who, in these circumstances, wouldn't want a new car? And as long as we're looking for something, why not ask for the moon (in my case, I'd like a 70s - 80s Mercedes)? Am I gonna get the Mercedes? Probably not right now, but it's a goal, and one never knows when you're gonna get what you want. I'll continue trying to get one, at the very least.

It's not a matter of status, you, generally, don't have to worry as much about newer cars. The same way one doesn't have to worry with more money coming in the door, or a better job than the one you currently have, or an apartment that's better than the one you're living in.

It's a lazy-man's religion. You only practice when you really need to. This one's funny to me.

This charge comes from people who notice that members who practice only talk about it when there's a crisis afoot. Which, in and of itself, is a good point. Members should talk about the good easy times, as well as the shit times.

However, what better test of a belief system than when the shit's coming down? Does it come through? Is the desired effect reached? This is a proof-based practice, after all.

And American Buddhists are human, like everyone else: We only really pipe up when we're excited, or when shit's happening. Else we're viewed as arrogant/delusional for only talking about the good times.

It's not really Buddhism. And in a sense, this is correct, despite the fact that the ontology could be legitimately followed right to Shakyamuni/Siddartha.

The niggle here is simply that the focus of this Buddhism is on attaining wisdom in the here and now, embracing our human nature in the process. The basis of this Buddhism is that we can do this in our present beings, we don't have to live lifetime after lifetime, eternity after endless eternity (as some Hinayana/Mayahana sutras espouse) to merely become a Bodhisatva. We don't need to carry out various and sundry austerities and hardships, nor deny our basic needs to be enlightened.

Neither do we believe, for example, that only one man can be a Buddha at a time or that Shakyamuni is reborn in one person throughout the lifetimes (as Tibetan Buddhism claims, or someone better redefine what the Dalai Lama is about).

The concept of Nirvana/Hell in the here and now is also specific to this Buddhism (others may have adopted it, but textually, this is where it started).

I mean, the list is endless, but what it comes down to is this: This Buddhism is an anomaly in its theories and philosophies, even amongst other Buddhist texts. What it espouses is unique in its world, to the point of being unrecognizable to those who do not adhere to it.

Let me know if this doesn't cover your question, as I am sure you will. I may add to it later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

RIP Mrs. Parks

And thanks for everything, ma'am. As much of a pain in the ass, I'm sure, your corns and tired body were at the time, it was from such tiny circumstances, and the denial of such a basic human need for rest, that finally awoke an entire nation to its gross injustices. Church bombings didn't do it. The lynching of Emmett Till didn't do it. (One last on Emmett Till.*)

What did it was your sitting your tired ass down at the end of an exhausting workday. And for that I salute you wholeheartedly. I'm sure you were surprised that from such a small action, so much would be made from and of it, but, usually, that's all it takes. Thanks for having the guts to not bend on that fateful day.

This society has made some progress, and there's still plenty of room for growth, but none of it would have been listened to if we didn't have something as prosaic as "let the damn woman sit the fuck down" to point to.

I, for one, will mourn your loss, and celebrate your life.

PS - For (President of the Buddhist Layman's Organization SGI) Daisaku Ikeda's impressions of Mrs. Parks, click here.

*I just recently found out about Emmett Till, and his story should be taught in classes, along with the heroics of Mrs. Parks, Dr. King, and Mr. X.--tbo

Friday, October 21, 2005


JJ asks: If you can imagine a judge with a divinely perfect understanding of Mystic Law, and that judge administers the Mystic Law, is that any different [than god, TBO assumes]?

Yeah, but there is no judge. I mean sure, you could postulate that there is a judge, if that makes it convenient for you.

However, what this does is add an extra step/barrier that really isn't necessary. It puts a nebulous entity in charge, or in control, or the thing to answer to, and there's no room for that in this Buddhism.

Here's the thing I keep coming back to: There is no uber- in this Buddhism, and any attempt to place one there fucks with the fabric of the thing. There's a universal wisdom we aspire to attain, but ultimately it is up to us to get it, no one marshals it out. In other words, everything is equal, and there is no need for anything more.

This human insistence on having some kind of stopgap in place that determines the good, the bad, the meting of justice, etc. just complicates things needlessly, and allows for the possibility of someone coming along and taking advantage of that situation. I know you're trying to understand this Buddhism, JJ, and the above is an attempt to do so (or at least equate it with other religions), but my answer becomes the question "Why do we need one there? Why do we need a judge? Or an entity of any kind?"

We can talk until we're blue in the face about how such things make it easier for people to believe/comprehend, or that if you truly study a given source material it all comes down to the same thing. And, in essence, this is correct.

The danger comes in just how complacent, lazy, hypocritical, and gullible said given source material makes its followers. In other words, how easily could it be corrupted and maintained to stay that way.

You could argue that the basic tenets of Christianity, the stuff expounded by Jesus, if you study it close enough, expounds, in a similar fashion, the ideals of this Buddhism. Which may or may not be true, but we've seen how easily corruptible these teachings have become. (My personal belief, close but no cigar. If Jesus were really expounding these ideals, he wouldn't have died either on the cross, nor as a martyr.)

This is not to say that this Buddhism isn't corruptible.

As recently as 1990, Nikken, the current head priest, has essentially excommunicated members of the SGI, because, as he says "only through my approval can you gain enlightenment." Quite pope-like. The Head Priest position within Nichiren Shoshu, is simply to study and serve the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, as well as the various sutras written by Shakyamuni (aka Siddartha), but specifially the Lotus and Nirvana Sutras (Nirvana sutra exists simply to support the Lotus, think of it as a big epilogue). Nikken demanded money and fealty.

Thankfully, Nichiren Daishonin couldn't have been more damning in his warnings about this very thing, and spoke directly to anyone who decided to pick up his theories. Namely, to actively oppose anyone who attempts to tamper with the tenets of this Buddhism. *

There have been plenty of examples of this occurring, but the SGI is the only organization involving non-priests who took up this call. Around the time, during WWII, the Japanese government said that all existing religions must embrace and promote the practice of Shinto, to encourage a nationalistic unity.

The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood gave in. It was at this point that the SGI members started rebelling, then drew fire and persecution from the government. The SGI had been founded by a frustrated school teacher, who happened to stumble upon this Buddhism at a late age, nary a moment in any kind of religious teaching.

And this is what separates this organization from most other organized religions (current Nichiren Shoshu priesthood included), no where else will you find a body of laymen willing to stand up to a supposed authority and quote Cartman "fuck you, I do what I want (in this case, get enlightened by my own damn self)!"

Okay, this is a rambling answer, and written sporadically throughout the day. My apologies if it lacks cohesion, or if it doesn't answer your question at all. Feel free to take me back on topic, if that's the case.


*Another important exhortation: "If you embrace this Buddhism and it does not work for you, you can shout it from the mountains, you can discourage others from embracing it. Only, you must embrace it fully." I paraphrase, but that's the gist.