Have you ever asked yourself, why practice a religion? Does your religion address your everyday problems?
In this post I’m going to look at Clark Strand’s book Waking the Buddha, which will introduce you to a whole new view of what a religion can be, as practiced by the lay organization of Nichiren Buddhism, the Soka Gakkai International.
About Clark Strand
Mr Strand is not a member of the SGI. He is a former Zen Buddhist monk, a spiritual writer. He is a contributing editor to Tricycle, the Buddhist Review. His sources are the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism, interviews with Gakkai leaders and attendance at many meetings in the organization.
Why I Love this Book
I loved this book!!! Mr Strand made me look at how traditional religion works and how differently religion is practiced in the SGI. I understood for the first time that the SGI view of religion is turning the traditional understanding of what religion is on its head. He says that Gakkai members don’t understand how revolutionary the SGI approach is. I think that’s true.
What is the Difference?
Strand points out that, in traditional religions, there is a split between religion and daily life. In traditional religions, your religion is something you do on retreats, or on a special day, and daily life happens somewhere else.
There is normally a priesthood or some form of clergy which teaches the members and mediates the teachings of the religion. In this way members look to someone else to know more about the teachings than they do. It also encourages conformity in thinking.
The SGI Approach
Spiritual Power is Within Your Life
First the SGI interprets Buddhism to say that the Buddha is life itself. This means that the point of power is within the life of each person, their Buddha nature. Thus every person is connected directly to universal life force and wisdom. Nothing stands in the way of that connection, no hierarchy of institutional mediators, like priests.
A Practice of Self Empowerment
Practitioners learn a daily chanting practice, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to elevate their life state, first, to overcome obstacles to happiness in everyday life, and second, to help others become happy. It is a philosophy of self empowerment.
Discussion Meetings Provide Support
The practice is supported by regular discussion meetings, where each person is given the support, encouragement and understanding to make profound changes in their lives. Each member contributes to the discussion, sharing experiences and teaching others how to use the practice to overcome obstacles to happiness and security. Everyone is encouraged to study and to teach others to the best of their ability.
Does Nichiren Buddhism Actually Work?
Strand points out that in these meetings you will hear the idea of showing actual proof, that you can expect Buddhism to produce tangible results in your life. In every discussion meeting, Buddhism is put to the test. Does it, in fact, make people’s lives better? At any meeting you can hear inspiring stories of how people have overcome problems in their lives using the practice.
In these meetings the split between religion and daily life is healed, as religion is held accountable to produce tangible results in daily life. Religion is not in a retreat but in daily life on the ground.
A New Paradigm for Religion?
Strand says that this is not only a new paradigm of worship for Buddhism but for religion in general. Instead of the members being there to support the religion, the religion is accountable to improving the life of the members.
Read the Book
Go and read this book. Mr. Strand has a unique, exciting, and compellingly original point of view of what religion should be.