Unbeknownst to you, in our West Hill community, there is a body of local residents who offer daily prayers for our peace, protection and happiness. They are members of a lay Buddhist organisation called the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) which stands for “the international society for the creation of value”. The SGI is based on the Buddhist teachings of a 13th century Japanese monk called Nichiren Daishonin. The Soka Gakkai was established originally in Japan in 1930 by two Japanese educators, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda. It became the SGI in 1975. SGI members have been practising what we call Nichiren Buddhism in the UK since the early ’60s. I have been practising this Buddhism in our community for over 19 years.
So, what is this ‘practice’ that’s going on in our neighbourhood and why I do participate? The purpose of my Buddhist practice is to overcome suffering. When we are suffering – that is to say when confronted with life’s difficulties and challenges – it is not easy to believe we can transform our situation, and change our lives. Nichiren Buddhism begins with the belief that all people can do exactly this. So, as with most Buddhist practice, there is chanting involved. We begin this process of change through chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (see the website below for a full explanation of its meaning). This is one of the most significant attributes of Nichiren Buddhism. I have found this a profound, yet simple method of Buddhist practice best suited for me living in our contemporary urban lifestyle. Its purpose is not to restrict or constrain, but awaken those of us who do it, to the fact that we can access the vast potential reservoir that is our life, and so make it possible to be happy, no matter what. Because it is an organisation of the laity, the SGI operates from four cultural centres in the UK, and holds meeting in members’ homes; alas, no centre in Brighton as yet.