Back in 1975 I went to my first NSA Buddhist meeting. There were obvious cultural issues; men sat on one side of the room and women sat on the other; everyone was sitting on the floor and on their knees; everything about the altar area was oriental; half of the people in the room were Asian. After a while my occidental knees gave out. That made me think about the physical aspects of race and how it affects culture. If you are a fully-grown person who weighs 90 pounds and are five feet tall, sitting on your haunches or knees may add focus to whatever you’re attending to and chairs are for those who sit upon thrones. In some other cultures where you can add 150 pounds and a foot and a half in height to a fully-grown individual, it’s stools for everyone! Let’s eat!
At this first meeting after I could no longer stay seated on top of my knees, I stretched my legs forward towards the altar area. It didn’t take long before a nice sweet American girl gingerly approached me to ask that I not point the soles of my feet towards the altar. I asked why? She told me that it was a sign of disrespect. I asked how and in what way is it disrespectful? She said that she did not know, but that is what she was told by her “elders” and she was “respecting their beliefs”.
Okay, there are a bunch of things going on here. The home was in Alhambra California, which is also someone’s domain. It had been transformed into other than what I have been used to in Southern California living rooms, but as such should be respected regardless. That being said, however, my first impulse was to leave. This young girl had decided to believe something without knowing why but rather because she was told something from an “authority”. Beyond merely accepting the belief she was behaving upon it. She was taking an action, without understanding the motivations behind it, which affected her environment, and that turned out to be me.
I couldn’t articulate it back then but I certainly can now. Individual beliefs are the last things that get my respect. I’ll respect your humanity, but if you want my respect for what you believe, you’ve got to earn that.
My first reaction was “I’m outta here.” But there was much about Buddhism that interested me, so I decided that I’d turn a blind eye to those peccadillos until a later time. Well, thirty-five years later, I can no longer just not think about things until later because it is later. This all came about from my starting to really study the writings of Nichiren, Daisaku Ikeda, and the others that I was lead to.
Back in the day, NSA was touted as a “life philosophy based on actual proof”. America’s bi-centennial was a year away, and this Buddhism was doing all it could to show the rest of the nation that they weren’t the Hari Krisnas or the Moonies, but a bunch of regular “Mericans” who openly celebrated this countries heritage in dance, song, and parade. Every day was the 4th of July. That kept most of us busy making American-Buddhist causes for the future of American and all this was to change the destiny of the nation as well as our own. Seems right in line with Nichiren doesn’t it? We weren’t very aware, at least I wasn’t, that in Japan, the source of our “life philosophy” was a big ass religion, with all the trappings that come with a big ass religion, and that it was also a political movement. Today that pretense has been dropped by the publications and the SGI formally refers to itself as a religion. If they called themselves a “Big Ass Religion” I still might subscribe to the paper because that would show a sense of humor. But that’s not going to happen. I used to joke that the smallest book in the world was The Book of Japanese Humor: it only had one page with one joke. It never got into print because the publisher didn’t get the joke and therefore had to commit seppuku.
Getting back to beliefs, the reason I started this rant, was because of something that happen at a recent discussion meeting that reminded me of my first time. A picture was being taken and a person whom I consider a friend and intelligent, was oblige to act upon an official SGI written belief that one should not take a picture of a Nichiren Gohonzon and if one does, even by accident, one should necessarily destroy it. This person shut the altar so no inadvertent picture would be taken and then have to be destroyed.
I have a full satchel of arguments about why this has nothing to do with Nichiren Buddhism regardless of all the quotes being pulled out of context from Nichiren trying to align them with photography and intention. I’ve got just as many out of context rebuttals. One of the problems about beliefs, especially religious beliefs, is that reason, logic, or any kind of actual evidence doesn’t really matter because that’s the nature of religious belief. The bottom line is “don’t point your feet at the altar”, and “we just ask you to respect our beliefs.”
Beliefs, although tolerated, have been hobbled by the law of man, and that takes precedence in this country. We actually do not respect beliefs for their own sake especially if they go against the law of man. If you saw your next door neighbor, Abraham, out in his yard with his son tied up on the BBQ and a knife praying to what he believes is the voice of god, I’d hope you’d call 911-Gabriel and stop him. How about holding down a 13 year old girl to mutilate her genitalia at a cutting party in South Pasadena, CA? Okay with you? We just ask you to respect our beliefs.
Taking a picture of a Nichiren gohonzon seems pretty tame next to that, but while it continues, along with so many other non-Buddhist issues, it asks the practitioners to dumb down in order to practice. It reminds me of the efforts to get Intelligent Design, the new term for Creationism, taught in public schools along with evolution as an equal theory. Sorry, all theories are not created equally. Evolution does not explain the creation of life. It does explain its diversity. Religious believers have a tendency to fill any gaps in the evidence with their belief du jour by the use of reductionism. So if your trying to teach biology and you come to a gap in the chain of events, that gets filled with “and here a miracle happens”, so you can stop asking why, how, where and when. Stop asking questions. Respect our beliefs. Dumb down.
Well I didn’t start practicing Buddhism to become dumb and dumber. But if I want to stay connected to the SGI, I must become so. Here’s a footnote: that young girl who spoke to me about my feet at that first meeting burned her Gohonzon a year or so later out of frustration.
Buddhism Based On Actual Proof
Well since “life philosophy” is now “Big Ass Religion” maybe they should change “actual proof” to what it really is: “subjective anecdotes”.
It has been said that there is no separation between body and mind. No dualism in Buddhism. I always wonder why Daisaku Ikeda was always quoting from some of the major players in Western Christian thinking. Turns out he’s a dualist just like them. Cartesian dualism in fact. Something continues after the mind and body is no more. Same as Christianity.
We in the SGI still think of karma in terms of Brahmanism, (post Vedic which became Hinduism), or Jainism: linear karmic causality. All these pre Buddhist notions of karma pretty much said the same thing; you got what you earned so good luck next lifetime. That created the immense caste system we see in India today. Buddhism came long and redefined karma but the notion of karma predates Buddhism. Buddhism redefined karma to make it “transcend-able” (a metaphysical catch-all term) in the existing lifetime and not some future rebirth. It also collectivized it. Instead of each person manifesting individual consequences of causalities, Buddhism states that we are all part of a cosmic pool of karma and existence. The one big illusion we keep getting trapped into is thinking of ourselves as separate individuals and that what we manifest is from some individual cause “we” made. In other words, we get hung up on the Alaya or eighth level of consciousness and what we are striving for is the ninth level, or Buddhahood where we loose our sense of self and realize that there is no such thing as individual karma. (Good luck with that thinking by the way, all you enlightened ones)
All that having been said the question still needs be asked:
What is your actual proof of the existence of karma beyond the expression from divined authority?