Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Solitary Bodhisattva

I have been what might be termed a "Solitary Bodhisattva."

AfterEarly in my practice with SGI, I and several other senior leaders were "officially" ostracized by the HQ in Philadelphia for four years, until Pres. Ikeda intervened and made them publicly apologize at a HQ meeting and reinstate our positions.

AfterDuring that time, I learned a great deal about myself and about having only my twice-daily practice and my innate Buddha nature as my guide.

AfterAfter finally disaffiliating with SGI, I was fortunate, in that dear friends moved to Sacramento and happened to rent a home next door to a member of Rissho Kosei-Kai. At the time it was definitely to be considered within the sphere of "Nichiren" Buddhism, although that is not so much the case today.

AfterWhile living in Sacramento, I had a car and was able to drive the 100 miles to Pacifica to attend the RKK Church there. The two different ministers I met there were extremely supportive of the English-speaking members and our group numbered about 25 people.

Thus, when I moved to Long Beach, CA I also drove to the RKK Church in East Los Angeles (dubbed by its members as "Tokyo East") There were two ministers there, one for us English-speaking members and one for the Japanese-speaking.

AfterWe "Americans" (about 20 of us) were relegated to a third-floor room in an out-building and I was even referred to (behind my back) as a "gaijin" by the Japanese minister. She was nonplussed when I actually understood her insult and confronted her.

After a year, I moved back north, this time to San Francisco and, before I had to sell my car to come up with the $5,200 needed to move into an apartment here, I visited the RKK church was told by the new Japanese minister (who's English was not very good) that there was no longer an English-speaking group.

That was when I found Nichiren Shu, and was fortunate to find someone in the city who drove the 60 miles to San Jose to the temple there. Unfortunately, after a few years, that ride was no longer feasible so, I decided to rent a car once a month to drive to RKK (only 25 miles away) and much cheaper than driving to S.J. Although I was not able to attend Nichiren Shu services, I never lost contact with my friends in NS.

The RKK minister at that time, although born in Japan, had been in the U.S. since he was 18 studying in L.A., and was thoroughly "Americanized," although he did suffer criticism from the Japanese-speaking members because he could no longer read Kanji and had to read speeches in Japanese phonetically.Our English-speaking group throve, until he was transferred away and a new minister from Japan, whose English was very good, was assigned to the church.

It is my opinion that the man was clearly a xenophobe. He moved us English speakers out of the main sanctuary into a conference room in the basement. And, after a number of us had spent two years of intense study to become a "certified" Dharma Teachers with RKK, he announced at our first (and my last) RKK Convention in Las Vegas, that unless we English-speaking people came to Japan and learned to read and speak Japanese, we were not qualified to teach "Buddhism." Further, despite the efforts of English-speaking member having worked on our "Kyoden" daily practice book, he refused to release it to us because he didn't like the translation.

The fact that the RKK organization allowed that man to remain at that church, despite his xenophobic discrimination against the English-speaking group, simply spoke to the "Eastern" attitude of never bringing disapprobation (or loss of face) against a leader and ultimately led to the destruction of what had been a vibrant English-speaking group.

Probably, the most unfortunate aspect of all this is the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area lacks a vibrant Nichiren Shu group. San Jose is 60 miles away and Sacramento is 90 miles away. Neither the RKK members from the south bay nor the Nichiren Shu members from San Jose will (want to) come to San Francisco to support the establishment of a practice center here. "Oh, it's so far!" "Oh, you can't find parking." Oh, the traffic is awful!"

When I approached the Nichiren Hokke Buddhist Church here in Japantown, the young minister said we all chant the same O'Daimoku and that we few NS members would be welcome there but then he was transferred back to Japan and their headquarters in Japan let me know that we were NOT welcome, because they believed that Nichiren Shu would try to "take over" their temple.

I must ask where is the spirit of Nichiren Shonin, or for that matter Shakyamuni Buddha himself, in these lazy, defeatist and/or obstructionist attitudes?

The Nichiren Order of North America is developing as an "American" organization, staying true to the spirit of Nichiren Shonin and propagating Buddhism and many of the ranking priests in Japan are very, very supportive of our efforts. The recently elected Bishop of North America is a woman of half Japanese, half African-American heritage and we have more and more U.S. born young(ish) men and women coming into the priesthood.

Many of our temples now have both live-streamed and YouTube services available for viewing (and participating in). I myself am a member of the Houston Temple where our Bishop, Myokei-shonin is the chief priest. Check out the services of the New England and Seattle temples as well. They are vibrant, growing, and dare I say "democratic."

I speak only for myself but, in my opinion, the (not only) Japanese system of primogeniture in both its priesthood and lay organizations has no place in our religious institutions here in the west and I am very heartened by the use of congregational polity in specifically American religious organizations.