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The core Buddhist practice of SGI members is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra (referred to as gongyo), and sharing the teachings of Buddhism with others in order to help them overcome their problems.
The practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was established by Nichiren (1222–82), a reformist Buddhist monk who identified the Lotus Sutra as the core teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Practice is supported by faith and study. SGI members study the teachings of Nichiren in order to deepen their understanding of the principles of Buddhism and the processes of inner transformation. Study strengthens faith and conviction, which finds expression in practice.
Faith, in Nichiren Buddhism, is grounded in the experience of applying Buddhism and seeing improvements in the quality of one’s life. Faith could be described as the ongoing effort to orient one’s heart toward the ideal of Buddhahood—the continual unfolding of one’s inherent potential for good, the ability to transform any negative circumstance into a source of growth and benefit, and a life dedicated toward helping others do the same.
As a tool to help practitioners in this challenging process, Nichiren created a mandala known as the Gohonzon (object of devotion)—a scroll inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters which SGI members enshrine in their homes and focus on when chanting. The Gohonzon is a physical embodiment or representation of the ideal of Buddhahood. The characters on the Gohonzon depict the “Ceremony in the Air” as described in the Lotus Sutra. At this ceremony, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth vow to lead people to happiness during the most tumultuous of times. Gongyo is an act of renewing this determination.
SGI members carry out their daily practice at home, but also meet regularly with other members in their communities. The discussion meeting tradition dates back to the earliest days of the Soka Gakkai’s history in prewar Japan, and serves as the focal point for members to study Buddhist principles and how to apply them in everyday life.
SGI discussion meetings are usually held on a monthly basis, and the vast majority are held in the homes of members who make them available for this purpose. They give people the opportunity to develop the kind of relationships that are increasingly rare in contemporary urban environments where people may live for years as neighbors without developing any personal connection.
The sharing of faith experiences—the transformation in people’s lives realized through Buddhist practice—is a central element of discussion meetings. There is perhaps nothing more heartening for people struggling with problems than the example of others who have successfully confronted and overcome their own challenges.
A key concept in the SGI is “human revolution”—the idea that the inner transformation of an individual will cause a positive change in one’s circumstances and ultimately in society as a whole.
related article The Gohonzon The Gohonzon is a physical representation of the fundamental law that permeates all life, the sublime reality to which Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened. Such transformation comes about through tackling the challenges of daily life with Buddhist practice, seeking to develop one’s potential, conquering one’s negative tendencies and taking responsibility for one’s life and destiny. Change on a global scale comes about through this process of self-reformation in the life of individuals—from fear to confidence, from destruction to creativity, from hatred to compassion.
SGI members believe that each individual has the power to develop a life of great value and creativity and to positively influence their community, society and the greater web of life of which we are all a part. Nichiren Buddhism stresses that the greatest fulfillment in life is found ultimately in working for the happiness of others.