NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO/ Nichiren's Budhism/ Soka Gakkai International
#1
Hi,

This is my first post on this forum and this is pertaining to a certain form of buddhism known as Nichiren's Buddhism (also known as Buddha of latter day of law) under the aegis of group known as Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and whose main themes are Lotus sutra and chanting of phrase "Nam myoho renge kyo".

One of my friend is a big proponent who introduced me to this practice a couple of months back and asked me to take a look at that. Skeptic as I am of such practices/cults i decided to check for myself what exactly this thing is. So after having taken a brief introduction I decided to attend one of their local chapter (Its organized as local chapters which consists of people staying in nearby areas who support each other in practising this law and chanting of nam myoho renge kyo) in Delhi

(*I would like to add a disclaimer that since I have been exposed to this thing just for few months my knowledge might not be complete about functioning or purpose of this group)

U can read about these things here:
http://www.buddhistcentre.net/information/topic_023.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichiren
http://www.sgi.org/

Here I would like to say there is (might have limited knowledge) difference between philosophical and spiritual (like AOL) groups because SGI propounds itself to be a philosophical group. The main point is chanting of "nam myoho renge kyo" and its propounded benefits.

Verbatim copy paste
"How does chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo work?

SGI members often speak about the positive impact that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has on their lives. This is hard to comprehend and is something that can only be experienced on an individual basis. Often people trying the practice are encouraged to try chanting even a small amount regularly for a while, in order to see the effect it has. The 13th-century priest Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the full truth of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. By chanting "Nam," or devotion to the essential message of the Lotus Sutra, we activate the state of Buddhahood in our lives. Rather than being a prayer to an external being, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is an expression of the determination of the human spirit, seeking to come into rhythm with the reality of the universe. Through continuing in this practice of determined intention we bring forth our highest potential from within our lives."

Regarding experience of visiting chapter based in a posh area in Delhi. It was a big auditorium which was booked. I found mostly smartly dressed (typical upper middle class or upper class ladies' with goggles on, costly handbag and modified english accent) ladies. It started with some speech, some music & dance by children and then few people coming on stage and sharing experience on how this "practise - mainly of chanting " has changed their lives.

My observations (and counter arguments by my friend also) have been produced below:
1. Rich Women Club - My first impression was that it is a rich woman's (mostly housewives) club who have enough time and money to spend, which they spend this way by meeting and interacting different people. Friend's counterargument - Since you have visited a chapter which is located in one of posh locality there are bound to be rich families and people who are member. At other not so rich area chapters' the situation would be different. I am yet to verify that by visiting some other chapter.

2. Experiences - Now many people shared experience on how their health improved after chanting, how they got desired success (money, career, education etc etc) after chanting. Even if i negate the act of planting such people in audience and assume them to be genuine, my reasoning was that you propound that this chanting has an effect without any time bound limitation to that. So if a person with some problem starts chanting, after 3 months he hasnt got any result you say to him be patient, there will be result...after 6-9 months he/she gets the desired result and problem solved. Isn't this natural progression, a problem (job loss, bad boss, health, disputes etc) might take its own natural course of action to solve and in absence of any chanting it would have taken same amount of time. Additionally, by that time your perceived difficulty level (since you get used to it) goes down leading to perception of problem being less server then it was 5-6 months back. Naturally as an act of free will (happiness on problem being solved) or to conform with group they tend to list their experiences

3. Drop-Outs - No body mentions how many people started the exercise and left it mid-away after getting frustated on not getting desired results. 100 started, may be 70 dropped out and 30 people got their problem solved due to natural progression of life and events. There could be case of false attribution.

4. Reliance on Cause and Effect (Karma in hindi). You present problems are due to your karma and you can negate that karma by chanting.

5. Link between chanting "Nam myoho renge kyo" and supposedly wiping of bad karma or bringing good luck.

6. Money - This is interesting. Unlike AOL, there is no fee to be member of group or attend local chapters, atleast not that i know of till now.

People who have knowledge about this group may put their perspectives and opinions.
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#2
Perhaps a fitter keyword for a lookup for what is really going here is 'relaxation response' rather than Sokka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda or Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Rather than any particular insight of Buddhist traditions, this seems to be an autonomic nervous system phenomenon which seems to have been exploited by several faith traditions recommending repetitive practices such as the Japa Yajna in Hindu traditions and zikr of the sufis or the rosary of the Catholics. Notice how even when the relaxation response is studied in an ostensibly clinical and hence non-sectarian setting like Massachusetts General Hospital here, the cultural milieu influences choices of words to repeat (here 'The Lord is my shepherd' and 'Shalom' are recommended among others') even after a cursory acknowledgment that any word, say 'one' works in theory. Having said that, a word which one is invested in emotionally may serve as a finer aid than an arbitrary word.

There are some schools and techniques, such as anapanasati ('remembering to breathe') in Theravada Buddhism or shikantaza ('just pure sitting') in Zen Buddhism, which think of a mantra as a distraction and the word 'meditation' itself as an undue romanticizing, and emphasize on simply mentally noting the rhythm of breathing, with keeping count as a tool used for beginners. This idea of 'watching the breath' seems to stem from the observation that autonomic nervous system activity is where an overall state of relaxation is most discernible, as suggested by the physiological markers of relaxation listed here. Since the effects are largely autonomic rather than strictly 'cognitive', there is grounds to assume that the word-choices for repetition are coincidental and it is the repetition itself that is largely responsible for the trick. Speaking of autonomic measures, the Autonomous Sensory Median Response is a phenomenon that has recently sparked off a great deal of interest due to its correlation with experiences of relaxation, and this phenomenon too has little to do with the meanings or cultural histories of words, but can be elicited by he sound of people wrapping presents!
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#3
(24-Jun-2012, 09:07 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: Perhaps a fitter keyword for a lookup for what is really going here is 'relaxation response' rather than Sokka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda or Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Rather than any particular insight of Buddhist traditions, this seems to be an autonomic nervous system phenomenon which seems to have been exploited by several faith traditions recommending repetitive practices such as the Japa Yajna in Hindu traditions and zikr of the sufis or the rosary of the Catholics. ........

".......This idea of 'watching the breath' seems to stem from the observation that autonomic nervous system activity is where an overall state of relaxation is most discernible, as suggested by the physiological markers of relaxation listed here. Since the effects are largely autonomic rather than strictly 'cognitive', there is grounds to assume that the word-choices for repetition are coincidental and it is the repetition itself that is largely responsible for the trick. Speaking of autonomic measures, the Autonomous Sensory Median Response is a phenomenon that has recently sparked off a great deal of interest due to its correlation with experiences of relaxation, and this phenomenon too has little to do with the meanings or cultural histories of words, but can be elicited by he sound of people wrapping presents!

OK so the main idea here is "AMSR" which can be achieved by chanting of any "arbitrary" choice of words. Am i right? But compared to other "breathing relaxation" techniques which specifically lay emphasis on "breathing" - either slow or fast, this one has no mention or any kind of emphasis on your breathing pattern. Not any i heard or read of. ANother contrast is in other breathing or chanting techniques one is required to keep eyes closed. On the contrary herein you are required to keep your eyes open and stare at "Ghonzon" (Have no idea what that is because never seen it or in absence of that at any blank wall, with your hands folded in prayer mode. So I guess as opposed to AoL's kriya whose purported aim is to meditate, this one's aim is to repeatedly chant (with focus, devoation, confidence and many other such words thrown at) to get good luck and getting rid of your Karma. http://www.buddhistcentre.net/information/topic_019.php

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#4
(25-Jun-2012, 11:38 AM)Ajax Wrote: OK so the main idea here is "AMSR" which can be achieved by chanting of any "arbitrary" choice of words. Am i right?.... So I guess as opposed to AoL's kriya whose purported aim is to meditate, this one's aim is to repeatedly chant (with focus, devoation, confidence and many other such words thrown at) to get good luck and getting rid of your Karma. http://www.buddhistcentre.net/information/topic_019.php

The point here is that even while engaged in the obvious wild-goose chases of 'good fortune' and 'karma cleansing', some of the mystics stumbled upon techniques which may serve the workaday purpose of stress-relief, much like early alchemists seeking the mythical Philosopher's Stone, along the way developed what would later become chemistry apparatus. Baba Ramdev of course is no scientist when he says that one can initiate the exercise without pronouncing the word ‘Om’ and can substitute it with ‘Allah’ or ‘God’ but is definitely someone who has observed and is exploiting the fact there are no 'magic words' for the real relaxation response. An acknowledgment that some techniques developed by tinkerers from a pre-scientific era maybe proven to have a scientific basis today, does not of course mean that the scientific method is overrated and pre-scientific serendipity is a better bet, like postmodernists would have us believe.

The disturbing trend of course is that several attendees at meditation workshops seem to take a line that 'The relaxation response is for real and so the tradition of the instructor who taught it to me must have got the stuff right about karma and good fortune as well'! This makes about as much sense as saying that 'The retorts invented by alchemists work well enough for today's chemical research and so the alchemists were right!'
It is this sort of proneness to accord honor by association thanks to which organizations hardselling meditation as a panacea are able to commandeer science to promote mysticism.

Staying with the science a moment, more than one mechanism may contribute for the benefits accorded to meditation and the 'relaxation response' may not be the whole story. For example, here is an excerpt from Daniel Kahneman's book 'Thinking Fast Thinking Slow' (certainly not a book written to promote any woo!) from the chapter 'The Associative Machine', section 'The Marvels of Priming':

Quote:Simple, common gestures can also unconsciously influence our thoughts and feelings. In one demonstration, people were asked to listen to messages through new headphones. They were told that the purpose of the experiment was to test the quality of the audio equipment and were instructed to move their heads repeatedly to check for any distortions of sound. Half the participants were told to nod their head up and down while others were told to shake it side to side. The messages they heard were radio editorials. Those who nodded (a yes gesture) tended to accept the message they heard, but those who shook their head tended to reject it. Again, there was no awareness, just a habitual connection between an attitude of rejection or acceptance and its common physical expression. You can see why the common admonition to “act calm and kind regardless of how you feel” is very good advice: you are likely to be rewarded by actually feeling calm and kind.
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#5
science is a study through empirical observation , the more you observe and try to answer the "mystery like themes" the more you advance scientifically . The world existed before transistors, wireless comm., microprocessor , VLSI and several other current technologies . men has benifitted from this revolution and the biggest change it brought was to the form of human communication. Nichiren's Buddhism is more with this inner communication with self , and probably "nam myoho renge kyo" is the ethernet standard. Hinduism had equivalent protocols like "OM namo etc.. etc.. " , essentially all are same or similar . Now whether this helps maynot be a million dollar question - simple reason is the way this has been put to "Googles clad rich women " the purpose of the cause goes in vain . No sutra or mantra can help you win lottery or car , but the way it is advertised is something on similar lines . I was reading a SGI members website in one blog targetting western members - " if you dream of buying a car next tuesday , then also you can chant this sutra" , well the thing it missed is " how will the dream materialize ? - whether through a lottery or someone gonna drop a box of dollars while you are sleeping " ... these propaganda's are ridiculous .. i feel pity for such people who are part of SGI and spoiling the faith . Just tonight and whole day I practised this sutra chanting before wasting my time and money in a lotto just to disprove this material aspect . well , now coming back to the mental and spiritual aspect , this may have some meaning . Not just the words , but the faith of self belief is what this sutra teaches .... It basically teaches to believe in yourself and not any external manifestation of God , and by repeated chanting with concentration , it makes your resolution more stronger day by day - and nothing beyond this . Gohonzon is not meant for non-chinese folks and those are simply writings of thoughts by the founders of this cult. I dont believe this sutra can give you land , money , lottery , power or fame . It just will make you remind "aham brahmasmi" everytime you practice this . whether you feel calm or wild after practising this would entirely depend on the way you do it and the understanding you have about this prior to doing it . Some people enjoy post masturbation period , some feel guilty , and some feel like missing a real event instead ..... just think which one you are .
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