Of course then, the practice was propagated by NSA (Nichiren Shosho of America). I was no more than fourteen years old and the primary facilitator was still Soka Gakkai. The primary difference being that then, we had priests and now, after being “excommunicated” approximately 20 years ago, we have “leaders”. The most prominent one, of course, being President Daisaku Ikeda.
My return was fraught with as much shame and desperation, as I had lost my Gohonzon thirty-two years earlier shortly after receiving it during a physical confrontation. For this entire time, I felt that I had not done enough to ensure the safety of my Gohonzon and that to receive another, that I would have to come before a Nichiren priest and explain why I had not defended my Gohonzon with my very life and why I felt that I deserved to be granted another to replace it.
Having had worked in a social service capacity in a disparate community called, the Modesto Airport District for approximately ten years, mostly in isolation and having very little involvement with social occasions outside of this area, I found myself to feel awkward at best approaching those from “the other side of the tracks”. Even though my origins were not so much of the District in which I had holed myself up in for the previous decade. Now, more than three months later, on hindsight, I am not so sure that my mannerisms, speech and humor were really as offensive as I thought they were.
After so many years of searching for alternatives to having to kneel before a Nichiren priest and confess my transgressions regarding my Gohonzon, I had come to cherish terminology that was rather taboo at these “SGI” Buddhist meetings. I would describe distortions I perceived in my own psychology by referencing my “Chi”. Likewise, I would describe the guilt and shame that I felt regarding my affectations toward my environment through the multi-decade procrastination of pursuing the replacement of my Gohonzon as being separated from the “Tao”.
On the onset, I found the people at these meetings to be quite warm, understanding and accepting of me and my self-imposed predicament regarding my Gohonzon. Repeatedly I shared my perception of what it was like for me without my Gohonzon. I described in detail over and over again, how I had tried in vain to take alternatives to returning all of these years by emphasizing one world over the other and imitating through generosity and charity, the Buddha himself, thinking that the other worlds would “fade away” as though they were unnecessary for my spiritual/psychological survival.
And of course, I came back with an agenda. There was only one thing on my mind - To re-claim my Gohonzon once again before I died. Yet not just to have and hold, but to chant the Mystical Law to it as the mandala it is, thereby creating an internal environment in which I could also reclaim those worlds I had abandoned long ago, having crippled myself both spiritually and psychologically to such an extent, that for the first time in my entire life, I literally questioned my own sanity as well as my worth as a living being – becoming quite suicidal.
From the very first day I returned, I began chanting after that morning Gongyo consistently every day, morning and night. Immediately, I began to see the “benefits” manifest themselves within me physically. Within a matter of mere weeks my health dramatically improved to the point of nothing short of a miracle.
Like waves of flood waters, realizations of truth occurred to me in repetitive and rapid succession. In a word – clarity became my very being. I received exactly what I asked for, yearned for and needed to save my very life literally. So much so, in fact, that I now imagine that much of what I shared at the numerous meetings that I attended were probably listened to with suspect minds, as the changes that occurred to me were so intense, psychologically, spiritually and mentally that even now, in comparison with “benefits” of this nature now increasing tenfold – they are still even unbelievable, even to me.
The group consisted of active members no greater than when I had previously practiced thirty-two years prior. Not surprising when considering the ultra-conservative, often hypocritical environment of feigned Christianity that exudes from the self-isolated culture of the California Central valley in which I reside. At first, I felt that I had no choice but to submit myself submissively to the other members, since I was, in effect, prodigal as well as socially inept from my isolation within the borders of the Modesto Airport District and its poverty-stricken, multi-generational culture. Having worked in radical recovery programs for several years, as well as the other factors mentioned above and more, it was often difficult for me to determine if my “benefits” were purely a result of my consistent diamoku and gongyo or a combination of my participation in these numerous meetings as well.
Every member of the group were precious to me, however, there were some that were particularly special. Two of these being members that I remembered from my previous practice, thirty-two years ago, the district leader who was practically born into the practice and would consistently proclaim that she felt that the time of my return was “mystical”, particularly in regards to desired efforts toward Kosen-rufu. Yet one member, in particular I found to be like that of a boot-camp buddy. One whom I could find infinite commonality of experience with.
Within a month and a half, having attended and shared at every single meeting that was calendared and then some, I received my Gohonzon once again.
From the very moment that I clutched my Gohonzon in my hands once again, everything changed, but not in the way I ever thought it would.
My Gohonzon was enshrined the very same day I received it, after having clutched it to my heart for literally several hours. With my best friend and my District leader, the evening gongyo was chanted to my beautiful Gohonzon enshrined in a Butsudan richly decorated by resourcefulness and the most generous of gifts by my ecstatically excited District leader.
The next morning I awoke to chant morning gongyo to my own Gohonzon once again – alone. In awe of its beauty, I recited the mystic law and the Lotus Sutra with thankfulness, relief and joy. As I did so, I recalled many of the distant lands I had travelled to, the thousands of doses of LSD I had taken, the peyote I had choked on, the psionics and sensory deprivation I had experimented with as well as the Christian vestments I had donned – all in an attempt to circumvent that confession to a Nichiren priest that the SGI excommunication had already circumvented. So many searches over so many years culminated back to the beginning.
With that new day’s gongyo, something truly mystical happened to me. Suddenly, I had my life force back once again, yet this time, with such a richly, deep understanding of its significance, that I was severely startled by the power that I now possessed. A power comprised of universal understanding as provided by the very essence of the Lotus Sutra. The key to being truly at one with the universe and everything it comprises – Ichinen Sanzen – Three Thousand Realms in a single moment – completely under my control, with the only limit being that which I, alone, set for myself.
People within the group seemed to change. Some did, as I suspected perhaps by their own practice as it is said that only Buddhists can know other Buddhists. Yet, suddenly, it seemed that the words “Chi” and “Tao” were no longer the only taboo. Now Ichinen Sanzen was a sensitive subject to one individual in particular. It being inferred that I was not “qualified” to refer to this “calculation” in my share. But it began to go beyond this.
As I chanted to my Gohonzon, I felt as though I were being “talked to” by the mandala. I chanted as I was instructed to. I chanted “for” things and situations. Primarily I chanted for unity within the Modesto, California District, The “Modesto Rising Sun”.
Like a slap in the face, I felt as though my Gohonzon was saying to me – “Why do you disrespect me? Why are you seeking outside of yourself for your own personal practice?” I imagined, of all things, a box of Sees Cherry covered chocolates (2 pounds, yet), laying at my feet as I chanted to my Gohonzon for a box of Sees Cherry covered chocolates (2 pounds, yeah?), fixated upon the calligraphy on the scroll, never stopping to take a step back and take stock. That I was chanting for what I already possessed. That in chanting for the unity of the Modesto Rising Sun district, that I was redundant, in that the District is already unified.
However, one of the two members that I had known thirty-two years previously, had held meetings at her home for what has now become fourteen years straight. But these meetings were not attended by SGI leadership, even though the practitioner had been faithfully practicing for approximately thirty-five years and had been a district leader herself during this time as well.
These meetings consist of nothing more than traditional Diamoku and Gongyo and then shared readings from Nichiren Daishonin’s Goshos. Yet, since they are not sanctioned, they are considered by SGI leadership to be improper, a slander and at the very least – incorrect practice. I have only been back for three and a half months, after having been absent from this practice for thirty-two years. The history that has led to this situation is not entirely known to me, and certainly not enough that I can iterate how this is a problem for SGI, considered slanderous, as well as incorrect practice. I chanted “for” this, and received the same resulting experience from my Gohonzon – a slap in the face – “Why do you waste your time? So many years apart. Have you still no respect for me?”
So I felt as though I was put into quite an awkward situation. Whom do I trust? Those outside of myself or myself as reflected by my Gohonzon?
But that, unfortunately was only the beginning. As I reached out with several articles such as this, a radio show called, “The Lion’s Roar” and participation in several facebook pages regarding Nichiren Buddhism, I became engaged in conversations by various members that had participated in this area over the years, many now living in other states or countries – and began receiving consistent information regarding some of the history as it pertains to the local SGI district(s), much of which was quite disturbing, in that I began to feel that I had been somewhat brushed aside and deceived.
I sought comfort in chanting to my Gohonzon and though I did in fact receive the comfort I desperately sought, I also found that upon my plate of responsibility laid truths that were hard to accept, as I had developed, albeit in a relatively short period of time, a great deal of affinity and affection for many members, that according to my Gohonzon, demanded too much of my “faith” to be misplaced. Misplacement being anything outside of the Mystic Law – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
After a matter of only a few weeks, I was slapped on my face daily by my Gohonzon.
“Why do you agree to ally yourself to some but not all? Why do you promise me your devotion to the Lotus Sutra and then practice the opposite of its teaching as soon as your back is turned to me? Has thirty-two years of emptiness and pain taught you nothing?”
But I could not understand. So I continued unwittingly to slander my most precious possession by my own actions. Constantly worried about my status within the group, I defied my daily vows to the Gohonzon and conveniently convinced myself that what was said to me was true – that I had no comprehensive knowledge of what Ichinen Sanzen was.
My life condition had become, as it still is; quite dyer. My reputation as a “loose cannon” activist, my grandiose plans of publication of several books I have and am still writing, coupled with the distractions caused by my fear to be still with my Gohonzon has brought me to the very brink of financial ruin.
Still reaching outside my Butsadan, outside myself and my practice, I lost track of why I returned to the practice in the first place – to balance the embodiment of the ten worlds of Ichinen Sanzen within myself. Ceding to veiled threats by a professed Buddhist that seems to be more interested in accomplishment through thuggery and materialism.
So it certainly has been, with the very best of intentions I have been instructed by many to chant only for those goals that will improve my materialistic life condition.
Slap. Slapped in the face again by my own Gohonzon. “Why are you even chanting to me? Why don’t you chant to them? Your nemesis is right. You have no idea what Ichinen Sanzen is. But here you sit and chant. Lying to me that you devote yourself to the Lotus Sutra. What do you need me for, when you have them? You disgrace me. You are a hypocrite.”
The truth hurts. That was about a week ago now. The next day, I did not chant “for” anything at all. I chanted to chant. I chanted four hours that day, not including my gongyo. Suddenly, for the first time, my Gohonzon talked nicely to me with the most simple of revelations. That Ichinen Sanzen is me, my Gohonzon, the Lotus Sutra and Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Nothing more – nothing less.
To look outside of myself for answers that I already have is truly insane. Truly suicidal.
So perhaps I will become despised now, because I refuse to prostitute my Gohonzon for material gain and some cloak and dagger ideology that is certainly not of “correct practice”.
But come what may, I will always have my Gohonzon. And perhaps, if it is to be, I will be strong enough to show others, that the answers are not outside of them either.
Three Thousand Realms in a single moment. And every single one of them belongs to you. Copyright 2014 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.