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Thursday, April 30, 2020

South Korea a success, US a failure

Awakening to the Lotus Sutra is not equal to Buddhahood

"If it is not the proper Object of Worship (Gohonzon), even though there be no falsehood [even if the practitioner is sincere] it will not form the seed [of Buddhahood]. The Daimoku of the Hommon [Doctrine of the Original, found in the Lotus Sutra] is the seed of Buddhahood. This is because the Eternal Shakyamuni of the Honmon has put his Causal Practices (his myriad practices that lead to enlightenment) and his Virtues of the Effect (the merits of the effect, which is Buddhahood) into the seven characters of Namu Myo Ho Renge Kyo." (The True Object of Worship)

"For this reason, the Great Teacher Miao-lo, in speaking of persons who rejoice on hearing word of the sutra passed along by fifty persons in succession, states: “Probably those who are mistaken in their understanding fail to realize how great is the benefit gained even by a beginner [in the practice of the Lotus Sutra]. They assume that benefit is reserved for those who are far advanced in practice and disparage beginners. Therefore, the sutra here demonstrates its power by revealing that though their practice is shallow, the benefit that results is profound indeed.”5 This passage means that the Buddha was afraid that persons who did not understand the Lotus Sutra correctly would assert that the sutra was preached solely for the sake of persons of wisdom and skill who are diligent in religious practice, those who are of superior capacity and understanding. Therefore he made clear that ignorant persons of this latter age, those of inferior capacity and understanding, by performing a rather shallow act such as rejoicing on hearing of the Lotus Sutra, can gain benefits that are greater than those of the great men and sages of superior capacity who practiced the teachings set forth in the sutras expounded in the preceding forty and more years of the Buddha’s preaching life. Hence he described the benefits to be received by those who rejoice on hearing word of the sutra passed along by fifty persons in succession." 

Therefore T’ien-t’ai in his commentaries rates believers in ascending order as followers of non-Buddhist teachings, Hinayana believers, and those who follow the provisional Mahayana teachings, and stresses that the benefits enjoyed by the lowest group of Lotus Sutra believers* are greater than those enjoyed by any of the other groups. The ascetic Agastya poured the Ganges River into one ear and kept it there for twelve years, and the ascetic Jinu drank the great ocean dry in a single day. But these ascetics of the non-Buddhist teachings with their supernatural powers were a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times inferior to persons at the three stages of worthiness set forth by the Āgama sutras of Hinayana teachings, namely, persons at the stage of ordinary mortals who do not possess even one supernatural power. Likewise, Shāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, and the other Hinayana followers who had acquired the three insights and the six transcendental powers were a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times inferior to those ordinary persons who practice even one verse or one phrase of the Mahayana sutras such as the Flower Garland Sutra, the Correct and Equal sutras, or the Wisdom sutras, although they have not yet cut off the three categories of illusion and do not possess a single supernatural power. And great bodhisattvas who practice the teachings of the Flower Garland, Correct and Equal, or Wisdom sutras so thoroughly that they have reached the stage of near-perfect enlightenment are a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times inferior to those ordinary people of this latter age who have formed even a slight bond with the Lotus Sutra, although they have not yet cut off the three categories of illusion and have committed all manner of evil. All this is made clear in the commentaries written by the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai. - On reciting the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra

*"by the lowest group of Lotus Sutra believers" signifies that there are higher groups of Lotus Sutra believer's, such as Buddha's. To attain Buddhahood, according to Nichiren, one must encounter the Three Obstacles and Four Devils as did Shakyamuni and Nichiren. Therefore, it is inconceivable that all people who initially hear and recite the Daimoku, immediately attain Supreme and Perfect Enlightenment

Another piece of evidence is that Nichiren criticized his own disciples even though they chanted the Daimoku and practiced the Lotus Sutra. The reason is, (correct) faith is first and foremost. The most important practice is the practice of faith:

"The meaning of this passage is that, although you may not hold in your hand the eight scrolls that make up the Lotus Sutra, if you are a person who has faith in the sutra, then all twenty-four hours of the day you are one who “upholds the sutra.” Though your mouth may not utter the sounds of one who is reciting the sutra, if you have faith in the Lotus Sutra, then every day, every hour, every instant you are one who reads all the sutras." -- Nichiren

"The Lotus Sutra, wherein the Buddha honestly discarded expedient means, says that one can 'gain entrance through faith alone.' And the Nirvana Sutra, which the Buddha preached in the grove of sal trees on the last day of his life, states, 'Although there are innumerable practices that lead to enlightenment, if one teaches faith, then that includes all those practices.'

"Thus faith is the basic requirement for entering the way of the Buddha. In the fifty-two stages of bodhisattva practice, the first ten stages, dealing with faith, are basic, and the first of these ten stages is that of arousing pure faith. Though lacking in knowledge of Buddhism, a person of faith, even if dull-witted, is to be reckoned as a person of correct views. But even though one has some knowledge of Buddhism, if one is without faith, then one is to be considered a slanderer and an icchantika, or person of incorrigible disbelief." -- Nichiren

"What is most important is that, by chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo alone, you can attain Buddhahood. It will no doubt depend on the strength of your faith. To have faith is the basis of Buddhism. Thus the fourth volume of Great Concentration and Insight states, “Buddhism is like an ocean that one can only enter with faith.” The fourth volume of The Annotations on “Great Concentration and Insight” explains this: “With regard to the phrase ‘Buddhism is like an ocean that one can only enter with faith,’ even Confucius taught that faith is first and foremost. How much more so is this true of the profound doctrines of Buddhism! Without faith, how could one possibly enter? That is why the Flower Garland Sutra defines faith as the basis of the way and the mother of blessings.” The first volume of Great Concentration and Insight says, “How does one hear, believe in, and practice the perfect teaching to attain perfect enlightenment?” The first volume of On “Great Concentration and Insight” says, “To ‘believe in the perfect teaching’ means to awaken faith through doctrine and to make faith the basis of practice.” -- Nichiren

"...In describing the first, second, and third of the five stages of practice, the Buddha restricts those at these stages from practicing precepts and meditation, and places all emphasis upon the single factor of wisdom. And because our wisdom is inadequate, he teaches us to substitute faith for wisdom, making this single word “faith” the foundation. Disbelief is the cause for becoming an icchantika and for slander of the Law, while faith is the cause for wisdom and corresponds to the stage of hearing the name and words of the truth."

"Both practice and study arise from faith." -- Nichiren

"The blessings gained by arousing even a single moment of faith in and understanding of the Lotus Sutra surpass those of practicing the five prāmitās;..." -- Nichiren

"In this passage of commentary, “subordinate concerns” refers to the five pāramitās. If the beginner tries to practice the five pāramitās at the same time that he embraces the Lotus Sutra, that may work to obstruct his primary practice, which is faith...." -- Nichiren

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

SGI cult speak translation

“Raising one member to become happy is the key to victory” really means, "indoctrinate one person into the Soka Gakkai and we will have a source of free labor and income far into the future. Our salaries and pensions are secure".

Good Question

Is Linda Johnson's [death sentence prosecutor and SGI-USA Woman's Division Leader] argument to put someone to death as passionate as her appeal to raise up one leader for Kosen Rufu? Good question!

Cherrylime koolaide with a splash of cyanide (mentor)

“The fundamental reason for falling into hell can be traced to arrogance, the essence of which is jealousy and contempt for the mentor.” -- Tammy Frazier, SGI Vice National Young Woman’s Division Leader and National Student Division Leader

Nichiren on contributions disappearing without a trace (Sho Hondo, the Grand Main Temple as an example).

"In the same way, the donations made by people today may seem impressive, but they are offerings of fiefs won in battle, or of wealth gained by heedlessly oppressing the people. Though these gifts appear to be great acts of devotion to the Buddha, not only will the people who offer them fail to attain Buddhahood, but their contributions will vanish without a trace."

The Sho Hondo Grand Main Temple is the most noteworthy example! It has disappeared without a trace.

"Again, even if one does no harm to others and honestly strives to make offerings, there will be cases in which one does not attain Buddhahood. To illustrate, if one plants good seed in a bad field, the seed itself will be ruined, and one will in turn suffer loss. Even if one is sincere, if the person to whom one makes offerings is evil, those offerings will fail to produce benefit; rather, they will cause one to fall into the evil paths." - Nichiren

Offerings to the Soka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda, and the high salaried top Japanese senior leaders only benefit them, not those offering alms. Nichiren on contributions disappearing without a trace (Sho Hondo as an example).

Sokia Gakkai members vainly pursuing breakthroughs in their lives

"After asking ourselves these questions, we came up with a question for our region’s central focus for this campaign: “If Sensei were to come to LA North on October 2, what breakthrough would I share with him?” This is the question so many youth are now asking themselves." -- The disciples of Daisaku Ikeda

The Lotus Sutra on pursuing breakthroughs:

"World-honored One! After the extinction of the Buddha, in this land where the transformed body of the World-honored One exists, we will widely preach this sutra. Wherefore? [Because] we also wish to obtain this truly Great Law not cherishing bodily life nor vainly pursuing breakthroughs in our lives." -- The original disciples of the Buddha from the most distant past, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth [Lotus Sutra Chapter 21]

I force SGI members to take responsibility for their words

Under the guise of unofficial spokespersons, the SGI has their low level leaders and members do their slander and dirty work for them. This way they can distance themselves later should their surrogates disgrace the SGI through their ignorance, smear tactics, and failures in Buddhist debate.

On the contrary, every disciple and believer of Nichiren is an official spokesperson for the Lotus Sutra, Buddha, and Nichiren Daishonin. There can never be an official and an unofficial perspective as long as one is indeed a disciple and believer of Nichiren. Actually, there is not an an official and unofficial SGI perspective. If you are an SGI member and disciple of president Ikeda, you represent the SGI whether SGI labels your view official or unofficial. Do not be fooled. They can’t have it both ways. We will force them to take responsibility for their words and deeds.

One faith or a diversity of faiths?

History and current events prove that a diversity of faiths is the path to war. Nichiren Daishonin and his disciples are correct in advocating the one exclusive faith and practice of the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren versus a Nichiren Shu priest

First some background:

The Nichiren Shu priest Ryuei advocates the Chinese Hua-T'ou [Zen] method as useful for attaining enlightenment:

Nichiren's on Zen:

"Zen is the teaching of devils." 

Shut up and drink the Koolaid

"...if the slightest illusory idea lurks in the depths of one's life, prompting one to accept the claims of those who denounce the Soka Gakkai, this is entirely reversing the correct order of things. Such a mind is immersed in illusion or ignorance, which develops into a cause to experience the sufferings of hell and closes the path to one's enlightenment." --Daisaku Ikeda

David responds:

"So, the mere act of "accepting" the claims of "those who denounce the Soka Gakkai" is the act of "a mind immersed in illusion or ignorance"...which develops into a cause to experience the sufferings of hell and closes the path to one's enlightenment."

We are relieved of the responsibility to judge arguments against the Gakkai based on their merits. Simply to accept an argument against the Gakkai, any argument, no matter how well documented, is the result of our own ignorance and instantly sends us to hell while closing the path to Buddhahood.

Anyone who even considers criticism of the Gakkai based on the evidence offered has already condemned oneself to Hell. The only path to enlightenment is absolute unquestioned and unbridled support for any action taken by the Gakkai.

Existential question buried deep inside every SGI member

Am I closer to SGI President Ikeda than he is?

Paintings of Nichiren

Illustrated Abridged Biography of Kôsô

(Kôsô go-ichidai ryaku zu, 高祖御一代略図)

Publisher: Ise-ya Rihei (Kinjudo)


Nichiren, also known as Kôsô, was a Buddhist priest who lived from 1222 to 1282. He has had various miracles attributed to him and founded the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, of which Kuniyoshi was an adherent. The prints in this series are each about 10 by 14 inches (25 by 36 centimeters), a size known as ôban.

Title: Nichiren converting the spirit of a cormorant fisherman on the Isawa River in Kai Province (Kai Isawagawa ugai bokon, 甲斐国石和川鵜飼亡魂化導)

Scene: Nichiren, seated on a rocky shore, is praying for the repose of the soul of a cormorant fisherman in a boat below

Robinson: S6.1

Schaap: 17.1 

Title: Komatsu Moor in Tôjô on December second, 1264(Bun'ei moto juichi gatsu juichi nichi toijo Komatsu-hara, 文永元十一月十一日東條小松原)

Scene: Nichiren using the power of his prayer beads to foil an attack by Tôjô no Sayemon Komatsubara in 1264

Robinson: S6.2

Schaap: 17.2 

Title: The star of wisdom descends on the thirteenth night of the ninth month (Kugatsu jusan yoru i chiboshikou, 九月十三夜依智星降)

Scene: An apparition of Buddha appears to Nichiren in an old plum tree

Robinson: S6.3

Schaap: 17.3 

Title: The prayer for rain on the promontory of Reisan in Kamakura in 1271 (Bun’ei hachi Kamakura Ryozen ga saki ame no inochi, 文永八鎌倉霊山ケ崎雨祈)

Scene: On a promontory over the ocean, an attendant is holding an umbrella over Nichiren after his prayer for rain was answered

Robinson: S6.4

Schaap: 17.4 

This is from a set reproduced in the 1930s by Robert O. Muller from newly cut woodblocks. The text in the right margin has been removed. 

Title: At Komuroyama on July 4, 1274 (Bun’ei juichi go gatsu nijuhachi nichi Komuroyama chushi ishi, 小村山法輪石)

Scene: Nichiren keeping a rock thrown at him suspended in the air

Robinson: S6.5

Schaap: 17.5 

Another state of the above design 

Title: Apparition of the seven-faced god at Minobu Mountain in September of 1277 (Kenji sannen kugatsu Minobuzan shichimen kami jigen, 健治三年九月見延山七面神示現)

Scene: While Nichiren was conducting services, a dragon in a dark cloud emerged from the body of a woman who had disturbed his devotions.

Robinson: S6.6

Schaap: 17.6

NOTE: Robinson translates the title of this print as “Apparition of the seven-faced god at Minobu Mountainin October of 1277”, but the print clearly reads “September” (九月). 

Title: The defeat of Mongol army in 1281 as prophesied by Nichiren (Koan yonnen kojo rieki mo, 弘安四年上人利益蒙虎軍敗北)

Scene: Ships of the invading Mongolian army were battered by a severe storm, and the survivors were easily vanquished by the Japanese soldiers.

Robinson: S6.7

Schaap: 17.7 

Another state of the above design 

Yet another state 

Title: At Execution Ground of Tatsunokuchi in Sagami Province (相州竜の口)

Scene: Nichiren’s life is miraculously saved when rays emanating from the sun shatter the sword of his would be executioner.

Robinson: S6.8

Schaap: 17.8 

Title: On the waves at Kakuda on the way to Sado (Sashu ryukei Kakuda nami o me, 佐州流刑角田波)

Scene: Nichiren calming a rough sea with a prayer on his way to exile in Sado

Robinson: S6.9

Schaap: 17.9

NOTE: The Lotus Sutra (namu myôhô renge kyô) can be seen in black script on the surface of the water. 

This is another edition of the above print. 

Title: Tsukahara in Sado Province in the Snow (Sashu Tsukahara setchu, 佐州塚原雪中)

Scene: Nichiren traveling in the snow at Tsukahara on Sado Island where he was exiled

Robinson: S6.10

Schaap: 17.10 

This is the second state of the above design, which is one of Kuniyoshi’s most famous. It lacks the horizontal line that demarcates the horizon in the first state (above). 

This is yet another state that lacks the subtle shading (bokashi) seen in the previous image. 

“Robinson” refers to listing in Kuniyoshi: The Warrior-Prints by Basil William Robinson (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1982) and its privately published supplement.

“Schaap” refers to listing in Heroes and Ghosts: Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi by Robert Schaap (Hotei Publishing, Leiden, 1998).

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Daisaku Ikeda/Soka Gakkai offers no gratitude to Nichiren on this auspicious day

April 28, 2020
Even when we can't see one another
or meet together, our hearts are
connected, one to one.
Now, more than ever, let's come up
with creative ways to strengthen
our solidarity.
Tentative translation of "To My Friends" published in the Seikyo Shimbun, based on President Ikeda's recent guidance.
(write tmf.daily[at] for daily mailings)

28 April 1253

Declaration of the Lotus Sutra[edit]

"According to one of his letters, Nichiren returned to Seicho-ji Temple on 28 April 1253 to lecture on his twenty years of scholarship.[60]:246 What followed was his first public declaration of Nam(u) Myoho Renge Kyo atop Mount Kiyosumi. This marked the start of his campaign to return Tendai to the exclusive reliance of the Lotus Sutra and his efforts to convert the entire Japanese nation to this belief.[43]:233 This declaration also marks the start of his efforts to make profound Buddhist theory practical and actionable so an ordinary person could manifest Buddhahood within his or her own lifetime in the midst of day-to-day realities.[61]

At the same event, according to his own account and subsequent hagiography, he changed his name to Nichiren, an abbreviation of Nichi (日 "Sun") and Ren (蓮 "Lotus").[42]:34 Nichi represents both the light of truth and the Sun Goddess, symbolizing Japan itself. Ren signifies the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren envisioned Japan as the country where the true teaching of Buddhism would be revived and the starting point for its worldwide spread.[62]

At his lecture, it is construed, Nichiren vehemently attacked Honen, the founder of Pure Land Buddhism, and its practice of chanting the Nembutsu, Nam(u) Amida Butsu. It is likely he also denounced the core teachings of Seicho-ji which had incorporated non-exclusive Lotus Sutra teachings and practices. In so doing he earned the animosity of the local steward, Hojo Kagenobu*, who attempted to have Nichiren killed. Modern scholarship suggests that events unfolded not in a single day but over a longer period of time and had social, and political dimensions.[60]:246–247[30]:6–7

Nichiren then developed a base of operation in Kamakura where he converted several Tendai priests, directly ordained others, and attracted lay disciples who were drawn mainly from the strata of the lower and middle samurai class. Their households provided Nichiren with economic support and became the core of Nichiren communities in several locations in the Kanto region of Japan." - Wikipedia

*Hojo Kagenobo, the Samurai warlord of the parish was so enraged that Nichiren's teacher had to ferry Nichiren through a secret passageway out of the back of Seichoji temple and Nichiren narrowly escaped down the back of the mountain. The very first moment he declared Namu Myoho renge kyo, his life was placed in mortal danger. Next to the Christians in Japan, the Nichiren believers have suffered the most martyrs in the history of Japan. The Soka Gakkai has had ONE martyr in their entire ignoble history. This proves that they are not the true descendants of Nichiren.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Our healthcare system sucks...

8.7m population
65.2m annual visitors
1.1m annual visitors from China
12,000km from Wuhan
Covid-19 cases to date: 57.1k hospitalized
Covid-19 deaths to date: 17.5k deaths

Hong Kong:
7.5m population
65.1m annual visitors
51m annual visitors from China
900km from Wuhan
Covid-19 cases to date: 1,037, of which about 900 were imported from US/EU
Covid-19 deaths to date: 4, all of which happened in early February before they worked out how to treat it

The Covid 19 pandemic is due to leaders such as Putin, Xi, Pelosi, and Trump

Famine [and pollution] is caused by greed according to Buddhism. Pollution also leads to famine and filth. Filth leads to plague. Our leaders are greedy, both Democrats and Republicans and it is they, according to Nichiren, who caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nichiren on the superiority of Shakyamuni Buddha over Amida Buddha

"But because of this book by Hōnen, this Nembutsu Chosen above All, the lord of teachings, Shakyamuni, is forgotten, and all honor is paid to Amida, the Buddha of the Western Land. The transmission of the Law [from Shakyamuni Buddha] is ignored, and Medicine Master, the Thus Come One of the Eastern Region, is neglected. Attention is paid only to the three Pure Land sutras in four volumes, and all the other wonderful scriptures that Shakyamuni expounded throughout the five periods of his preaching life are cast aside. If temples are not dedicated to Amida, then people no longer have any desire to support them or pay honor to the Buddhas enshrined there; if priests are not practitioners of the Nembutsu, then people quickly forget all about giving those priests alms. As a result, the halls of the Buddha have fallen into ruin, scarcely a wisp of smoke rising above their moss-covered roof tiles; and the priests’ quarters have become empty and dilapidated, the dew deep on the grasses in their courtyards. And in spite of such conditions, no one gives a thought to protecting the Law or to restoring the temples. Hence the sage priests who once presided over the p.15temples leave and do not return, and the benevolent deities who guarded the nation depart and no longer appear. This has all come about because of this Nembutsu Chosen above All by Hōnen. How pitiful to think that, in the space of a few decades, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people have been deluded by these devilish teachings and in so many cases confused as to the true teachings of Buddhism. If people favor what is only incidental and forget what is primary, can the benevolent deities be anything but angry? If people cast aside what is perfect and take up what is biased, can the world escape the plots of demons? Rather than offering up ten thousand prayers for remedy, it would be better simply to outlaw this one evil."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Money talks and BS walks

Despite the opposition from the entire town, Soka Gakkai built their culture center on 53 hectares of land in the pristine town of Caledon Ontario. It opened in 1996.

They paid $5.3 million for the land that was worth ~ 899 thousand. At the time, they had only 1500 mostly Japanese members.

"Search Results Web results I hate SGI. I hate Soka Gakkai International (SGI) - narkive

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Soka Gakkai, like the Moonies, were a hyperpatriotic American cult in the late eighties

Soka Gakkai International/Formerly: Nichirin Shoshu of America (NSA) - Buddhism American style cloaking itself in super-patriotism, Nicherin Shoshu Of America is part of an evangelical buddhist secty gaining adherents worldwide with a guarantee of happiness through chanting. Sounds pretty harmless, right? Cult-watchers and ex-members don t think so. Date: Sunday, October 15, 1989 Section: Boston Globe Sunday Magazine Page: 18 ff. By Daniel Golden, Globe Staff Florence Hadley, principal of the David A. Ellis School in Roxbury, had never heard of the New Freedom Bell. Nor was she familiar with the organization that was exhibiting the bell in schools across the country. But when her school was offered a chance to host the facsimile of Philadelphia s famed Liberty Bell, she responded the way any patriotic American would. I just thought it was a super idea to have the children see a replica of the Liberty Bell, she says. The Ellis needs all the positive things it can get. As it happens, the offer came one day this past spring from Tamara McClinton, an Ellis parent who dropped in at the school office to tell Hadley about the bell. Hadley felt a bit bewildered that McClinton kept referring to the group sponsoring the tour by the abbreviation NSA, as if the principal should have known what it stood for. McClinton herself was an NSA member. Hadley finally asked what the letters meant, but the answer was a jumble of words that made no sense to her. Still, she was impressed by the documents McClinton showed her: letters from school administrators and elected officials thanking NSA for bringing its bell to their districts. What better opportunity could there be for children to learn about the Constitution? So Hadley invited pupils from five other elementary schools and prepared for a star-spangled celebration. All of the schools were provided with copies of a pamphlet that teachers could use in their classrooms or children could bring home. Entitled The New Common Sense, after Thomas Paine s plea for American independence, the pamphlet urged children to buy American products and listed a California phone number and publisher, the World Tribune Press. It did not mention NSA, whatever that was. The bell arrived at the grounds of the Ellis School at 9 on the misty morning of June 13. It sat on a flatbed truck in a makeshift enclosure decorated with mayoral proclamations, the NSA insignia, the We the People logo of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution, and red, white, and blue bunting. Accompanying it were dozens of people, blacks and whites, with neat haircuts and glowing smiles. The men were dressed as Minutemen and carried American flags; the women wore frilly Betsy Ross petticoats and caps. Clean-cut and all-American, they looked like a group George Bush could embrace. Local television stations and newspapers were on hand to cover what was the perfect media event: colorful, punctual, well-organized, and uplifting. State Rep. Gloria Fox made a rousing speech, and 800 children rang the bell, 30 of them at a time tugging the rope. Boston School Superintendent Laval Wilson rang it, too, with a perplexed look. He was later spotted asking several Minutemen what NSA was. I really don t know anything about that group. I was just in the bell- ringing ceremony, he says. Had Wilson pursued his inquiries, he would have uncovered a sobering irony and a lesson in how any group can co-opt American patriotic symbols. He and other guests were helping a controversial Japanese religious organization in its quest to seem familiar to Americans. NSA stands for Nichiren Shoshu of America, the United States affiliate of an evangelical Buddhist sect that is gaining adherents worldwide with a sunny, simplistic guarantee of peace and prosperity through chanting a Japanese phrase. By cloaking itself in Old Glory, NSA may have become the fastest-growing religious group in this country. Yet cult-watchers denounce it, and ex-members distribute newsletters warning that its practices and all-absorbing lifestyle can amount to brainwashing. The New Freedom Bell is one of many patriotic devices that NSA uses to establish credibility as an American organization and solicit endorsements from politicians and civic leaders. That strategy seems to be succeeding. NSA literature displays congratulatory letters from then-Vice President George Bush, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Mayor Raymond Flynn, and Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, among other potentates, and Sen. John Kerry was a featured speaker at NSA s convention in New York City in 1986. NSA stole the show at Bush s inauguration in January by displaying on the Washington Mall the world s largest chair a 39-foot-high model of the chair that George Washington sat in as he presided over the Continental Congress. The Guinness Book of World Records has twice cited NSA for assembling the most American flags ever in a parade, although in one mention it misidentified the group as Nissan Shoshu, confusing the religious organization with the automaker. NSA is one of the largest destructive cults in the country, says Steven Hassan, a former member of the Unification Church and the author of Combating Cult Mind Control. They like to talk about peace and democracy, but their beliefs at the core are antithetical to that. Like all other cults, they espouse wonderful ideas and worthy goals. The question is, what are they doing to meet those goals? Are they just espousing them to recruit people, to gain money and power? The difference between a cult like NSA and an aggressive religion is that the religion tells people up front who they are and what they want. NSA s parent organization is Soka Gakkai ( Value-Creating Society ), a lay religious group dedicated to spreading the teachings of Nichiren, a 13th- century Buddhist monk. One of several groups that filled the void left by the discrediting of the traditional Shinto faith after World War II, Soka Gakkai has an estimated 10 million members in Japan and collects more than $1 billion in donations annually. It also founded Japan s third-largest political party: Komeito, or Clean Government. Although charges of violating the separation of church and state led Soka Gakkai to cut formal ties with the party, it still remains the power behind Komeito. The price of Soka Gakkai s political prominence has been recurrent scandal. Its leader, Daisaku Ikeda, stepped down as its president in 1979 after being accused of everything from wire-tapping the home telephone of a Japanese Communist Party official to arranging for his mistress to be nominated by Komeito for a seat in the Diet. He remains president of Soka Gakkai s international wing. Recently, Komeito members have been linked to a bribery scandal plaguing the Liberal Democrats, Japan s ruling party. This past July, workers pried open an old safe in a Yokohama waste dump and discovered $1.2 million in yen notes. The money belonged to Soka Gakkai. Beleaguered at home, Soka Gakkai has looked abroad, establishing chapters in 110 countries. Wherever it goes, it identifies with local traditions. For example, its wing in England bought a country estate that includes among its attractions a cedar tree planted by Winston Churchill, as well as a statue of King George III one man who presumably would have declined to ring the New Freedom Bell. At Taplow Court, members of NSUK (Nichiren Shoshu of United Kingdom) regularly put on Elizabethan plays and traditional country fairs. NSA was Soka Gakkai s first overseas chapter, and it remains the largest. Established in 1960 by a Japanese immigrant who changed his name to George Williams, NSA at first appealed mainly to Japanese-Americans. Today, Williams remains the head, and most of his top aides are of Japanese descent, but the rank-and-file membership is diverse. According to a 1983 NSA study of its members, 45 percent are white, 24 percent are Asian, and 19 percent are black. Only 16 percent of members who joined in the 1980s were Asian-Americans. (According to the study, 60 percent of members are female.) Kevin O Neil, president of the American Buddhist Movement, says NSA has been more successful than any other Buddhist sect in attracting Americans who are not of Asian descent. O Neil s organization includes all of the 366 Buddhist sects in America except NSA, which refuses to join on the grounds that it alone preaches the true faith. When people get very involved in NSA, they won t associate with people who are Buddhists but not in their sect, O Neil says. Then they talk about world peace and coming together. That, I find, is a little culty. NSA claims a membership of 500,000, which is almost certainly an exaggeration; O Neil believes the actual figure is about 150,000. Based in Southern California, NSA has gained a reputation as a Hollywood religion because of celebrity members such as singer Tina Turner, actor Patrick Duffy, and jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock. But it boasts an East Coast following as well, including about 4,000 people in New England. Obviously, we re growing in terms of numbers, says Gerry Hall, an aide to Williams. And it s pretty solid. There s a second generation. What s great is to see that it s not just the baby boomers did this thing and faded away and their kids won t follow in their footsteps. It s genuinely a family religion. The Ellis School parents who belong to NSA include not only McClinton, a news editor at WGBH-TV, but also Roslyn Parks. Parks is executive director of the Black Cultural Exposition, which is scheduled for the Hynes Auditorium later this month. Among other events, it will feature a film, The Contemporary Gladiator, written and produced by a karate expert who belongs to NSA. It is the story of a karate champion who chants for victory. Parks credits her chanting with curing a heart ailment that she says would otherwise have required open-heart surgery. She sings in an NSA chorus at parades and festivals. As a black American, I thought I wasn t from this country, she says. I was from Africa, and they forced me here. It wasn t until I joined NSA that I developed a sense of patriotism. Some of my friends who are into blackness are saying, What s with you, girl? I say, This is our country. There are things to be proud of. Howard Hunter, who teaches Asian religion at Tufts University, opens a desk drawer and pulls out a photograph of a young man with his scalp and eyebrows shaven, sitting cross-legged before a hut in Thailand. Not so long ago, Hunter says, that young man was a Tufts student and fraternity brother. That s the fear of Americans, that their children will wind up looking like that, Hunter says. And it s manifestly clear that nobody who joins NSA will end up looking like that. They don t renounce the world. Not only does NSA outdo the Daughters of the American Revolution in patriotic fervor, but it also bears a message tailored to the American dream. Most Eastern sects seeking a foothold here urge renunciation of earthly pleasures, but NSA preaches that material gain is a pathway to spiritual enlightenment. Whether its materialism derives from Nichiren, which NSA s critics dispute, it sounds conveniently like Horatio Alger. They re linking into the deepest cultural themes, economic gain and patriotism, says sociologist David Bromley of Virginia Commonwealth University. Then, too, many aspects of NSA the revivalist fervor, the use of testimony to sway doubters, faith healing, and disdain for other sects bear less resemblance to traditional Buddhism than to Protestant fundamentalism. Recognizing that NSA s future depends on avoiding bad publicity, its officials have learned from the mistakes of the Unification Church, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and other groups stereotyped in the public mind as cults. For example, NSA recruiting methods are persistent but discreet. Although members occasionally hand out cards in airports or outside restaurants, they mainly proselytize friends, neighbors, and co-workers. And, unlike some groups viewed as cults, NSA does not abduct members from their families, deprive them of food and sleep, seize their possessions, or prevent them from quitting. Nor does it avenge itself on its opponents, like a California group that put a snake in the mailbox of a critic. I haven t heard a suggestion of high-pressure tactics that remotely resemble some tactics we ve seen in other groups, says James White, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina and author of a book about Soka Gakkai. They are just as entitled to have a place in the American religious spectrum as anything else. If it gets you through the night, and it s not personally or socially pathological, I don t see anything wrong with it. Yet, to ex-members and anticult groups, NSA s flag-waving smacks of Rev. Sun Myung Moon s God Bless America tour in 1972. They say NSA achieves the same goals as more notorious groups but with greater subtlety. Rather than kidnap members from relatives, NSA instills a hostile attitude toward nonbelievers, they say, and schedules so many group activities that family ties fade. While it does not coerce contributions from members, it encourages donations with the philosophy that the gift will be repaid tenfold in their own lives. And its fundamental credo that chanting brings good luck conveys a psychological threat, according to former members: If you stop, bad things will happen to you. You don t go to an ashram, you don t wear different clothes, you aren t a vegetarian, says one former NSA member who asked not to be identified. It s all an internal mind-set. Once you ve got that, you can be anywhere on earth and still be a dedicated believer. That s why I think the telltale signs of mind control should be taught in the schools. A lot of people say, Well, they joined because they had personal problems. It s blame the victim. Everyone has personal problems. The key is, they wouldn t get involved if they knew the danger signs. I could kick myself. How come I didn t see it? But I didn t know what to look for. Few of the hundreds of schools where NSA sought to bring its bell in the past school year knew what to look for, either. And only two a public junior high in a New York City suburb and the United Nations School in New York City spurned the offer. It s very seductive, says Sylvia Fuhrman, the secretary-general s special representative for the UN school. All these glorious photographs. Their brochures are as polished and beautiful as National Geographic. But the more we checked into it, the less we liked it. Nowhere can you find who is footing the bill. That s what alerted me. I thought of poor souls being enticed into it. Arhythmic, high-pitched wail emanates one summer evening from a large conference room on the ground floor of an inconspicuous two-story South End building, the NSA center in Boston. Inside, the room is mostly bare of decoration, with white walls and white track lighting. At the front stands a wooden altar encasing a sacred scroll, called a gohonzon. It contains passages and characters from the Lotus Sutra, a holy Buddhist text, in the handwriting of the high priest of Nichiren Shoshu in Japan. Nichiren himself carved the first gohonzon in a block of camphor wood. On the left of the altar is a framed photo of the controversial Ikeda, who remains president of Soka Gakkai International. On the right is an American flag. Led by Robert Eppsteiner, NSA s only salaried staff member in Boston, about 150 people sit facing the gohonzon, chanting passages from the Lotus Sutra. Many of them follow the passages in booklets, and some wind beads around their fingers. It is a multiracial group, and there is no conformity as to dress: Some members are in T-shirts, while others have come straight from work in their suits and ties. A large proportion are mothers with babies, awaiting a meeting of the young mothers group later. Such subgroupings characterize NSA s structure. Not only is it organized into units of increasing size, from districts to headquarters and joint territories, but members are also aligned by age and sex. The men s and women s divisions are for adults over 35, while adults under that age are placed in young men s and young women s divisions. After they finish reciting the Lotus Sutra chapters, the members chant the phrase that is the bedrock of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism: Nam myoho renge kyo, or Devotion to the Lotus Sutra. By repeating this phrase for a minimum of an hour a day, members claim to reach harmony with the universe. Fortune comes their way: a job, good health, a spouse, even a parking space. You can t doubt their sincerity, although a nonbeliever might suggest other explanations for their success: coincidence or new-found self-confidence. Members may become better employees and win raises and promotions simply because they absorb the Japanese values of punctuality, loyalty, and teamwork. Nichiren taught devotion to the Lotus Sutra with monolithic firmness . . . , according to Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America, by Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin. This radical simplicity and unity, focusing all down to a single intense point, is the secret of Nichiren: one scripture, one man, one country, one object of worship, one practice, all potentialities realized in one moment which is the present. The NSA center contains a music room, where members practice for bell- ringings and concerts, and a bookstore, where they buy everything from candlesticks and NSA baseball caps to books by Ikeda. Members venerate Ikeda as a crusader for peace, and their devotion has made him one of the world s best-selling authors. Eppsteiner ushers a reporter upstairs, past a framed letter from Sen. Edward Kennedy praising a recent NSA peace festival, and into his office. Raised as a Reform Jew, Eppsteiner joined NSA in 1969, when he was a student at Boston University. A Brookline neighbor introduced him to NSA, and he soon found that chanting made him feel good and improved his grades. He has made eight pilgrimages to the Nichiren Shoshu head temple, near Mount Fuji. It s rare for someone to start practicing who s seeking Buddhism. They re not. They re seeking a way to improve their lives, he says. If you set yourself up as different from society, that creates more barriers. Unlike some other groups, we don t hang out our shingle as Buddhists. Politely, Eppsteiner controls the reporter s access. He picks members to be interviewed and sits in on the conversations. Later, he calls frequently to check on the progress of the article and to request that members last names not be used. The members selected by Eppsteiner to be interviewed include a former child psychologist, who now chants three hours a day for guidance because she is in the midst of a career change; a Boston College instructor who teaches a course in Buddhism and says that every year a couple of her students join NSA; and a fourth-year medical student who is an intern at Boston City Hospital. Katherine, the medical student, glows with enthusiasm as she talks about NSA, which she joined six years ago, after dropping out of medical school. I was practicing chanting for a year before I went back, she says. I was told I had a snowball s chance in hell of getting back in. But I chanted and I got in. I was a different type of student. I had been critical. I didn t like the courses, I didn t like the professors, I didn t like my fellow students. When I got back, I applied the Buddhist concept that your environment is a reflection of you. What I learned is that, if they say 99 things that are worthless and one that s important, wouldn t it be a shame if you missed that one thing? Wouldn t it be great if everyone lived by that rule? At BCH, Katherine sometimes must work 24-hour or 36-hour shifts in surgery without sleep. After 18 hours, while other interns eat dinner, she slips into a bathroom to chant. You know the burnout syndrome, she says. You give and give and give, and you re on empty. Chanting is a way to build up your tank. Asked if she could ever be so exhausted that chanting could not revive her, she says, I believe it s limitless. Besides young mothers, a newly formed group of 40 teen-age girls is meeting tonight, and their session is like a pep rally. After singing an NSA ditty, The Renaissance of Peace, they applaud and shout, Hip, hip, hooray! Then they quiet down to hear testimonials from several of their peers. A 14-year-old from Quincy says she was depressed by petty jealousies among her schoolmates until she marched in the NSA contingent in the Bunker Hill Day parade this past April. I was higher than the sky, she says. I no longer needed my friends attention as a source of happiness. I relied on President Ikeda s words to challenge the obstacles of friendship. A high school senior from Dorchester chanted for a close friend who used to deal drugs. Gradually he s given up selling drugs and now works at an honest job, she says. Her ambition is to go to college and have a happy family. She concludes, I know, if I keep chanting, I can t miss. Talking over lunch at a Manhattan restaurant, every so often Mary still refers to NSA as we. And, on request, she can shift into her old recruiting voice: Do you know the benefits of chanting Nam myoho renge kyo? But it s been a year now since she quit NSA and underwent four days of deprogramming. Now, she says, she knows that it s just another cult. At the urging of a friend, Mary attended her first NSA meeting in 1982, when she was studying to be a classical musician. She felt right at home. After the first meeting I felt that the people were ones I would have chosen as friends. And there was no racism or social class discrimination. Nobody cared. To this day I m still impressed by that. Her commitment strengthened when she chanted for a job to support her violin studies and was hired at her first interview. But for Mary the ultimate proof was spiritual rather than financial. The young women s division of NSA to which she belonged was giving a concert, and the division leader asked her to join the chorus. She was reluctant I didn t see what joining an amateur chorus had to do with Beethoven but she agreed. Rehearsals were grueling, and the singers chanted during breaks to replenish their energy. When the great day arrived, all of the other divisions showed up to help with lighting and to hand out programs. And then, on stage, Mary had what she thought was a religious experience. Now she believes it was the result of fatigue and sensory overload. Here I am singing, she says. I was transformed by the atmosphere. At that moment I thought that was what Buddhism was all about. I had no doubts. From then on, Mary threw herself into NSA activities and advanced in the organization. She was chosen to attend a youth division meeting with Ikeda in San Diego, and for weeks she awoke at 5 every morning to go to the New York community center and chant to prepare herself for the trip. Rising in NSA meant more responsibility to contribute money and recruit members. Her initial investment had been meager: $17 for a gohonzon, and subscriptions to two publications of NSA s World Tribune Press: the weekly World Tribune ($4 per month) and the Seikyo Times ($4.50 per month). Soon she was buying candles, incense, and Ikeda s books. Then she was honored with an invitation to join a committee of people who gave a minimum of $15 a month to NSA. By the time she left, she was contributing $50 a month. NSA dedicates February and August to shakubuku, or recruiting. In those months Mary scrambled to meet recruiting goals posted on the community-center altar for new members and subscribers. Desperate, she bought extra subscriptions herself and invited complete strangers to meetings in her home. It makes you so uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden, she says. You chant your butt off. If you think you won t make a target, you sweat it out in front of the gohonzon. Immersed in NSA, Mary neglected the rest of her life. She quit practicing the violin because she had no time for it. She rarely saw her parents and forgot their birthdays. She lost a six-year relationship with a man she loved and felt no pain. For me, it was like a leaf falling off a tree in the fall. The frantic pace undermined her health, and she began having dizzy spells on the subway early in 1988. Assured that they were trivial by her NSA leader, she redoubled her shakubuku efforts that February. On March 1 she collapsed, with what was later diagnosed as low blood sugar and a depleted adrenal gland. Her parents brought her home and invited former NSA members to talk to her. She is grateful for the counseling, she says, because members who walk out on their own and don t receive any support often remain confused and depressed. Today she is healthy and studying music in graduate school. You feel, while you re in NSA, that people on the outside have a boring life, she says. You have a consuming passion. If you do great chanting, and then go in to work, it s a great feeling. It seemed very heroic. But what is the trade-off? You go in at 20, and if you get out at 30 you see what you missed. The hardest part about being out is realizing, I could have done this five years ago. NSA gives people hope, Mary says. For people who have no other hope, that s something. But you have to decide, would you rather have hope or truth? Maybe, if I had a terminal illness and there was nothing to lose, I might chant myself. But it s a false hope. Like Laval Wilson, James Conway admits knowing little about NSA s beliefs and practices. But the chairman of Charlestown s Bunker Hill Day parade has done more for NSA s public relations than just ringing a bell. At Conway s invitation, NSA began sending its contingents of brass bands and fife and drum corps to the Bunker Hill Day parade in 1973. In 1975, NSA gave Conway and his wife and two children an all-expenses-paid trip to its convention in Hawaii an extravaganza featuring a historical drama about the Revolutionary War and a tribute to George M. Cohan, all on an artificial island built for the occasion. It was, like, a quid pro quo, Conway says. Conway has repaid that quid with more quos. When NSA officials needed approval for a bicentennial parade against the traffic from the Prudential Center to City Hall in 1976, Conway introduced them not only to the traffic commissioner, who okayed it, but also to several city councilors. NSA members gave leis and pineapples to the councilors, including Albert (Dapper) O Neil. O Neil brought the delegation into Mayor Kevin White s office, where they posed for a photograph with the mayor. They may have some kind of a religion there, but that doesn t faze me, O Neil says. I think there s some Buddhism there, I think. They re very patriotic people. There s a lot of people in this country, I don t see them honoring the flag, I see them burning the flag. NSA s relationships with Conway and O Neil typify its assiduous courting of civic leaders. It doesn t run front groups like the Moonies, says Cynthia Kisser, executive director of the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network, a nonprofit group dedicated to informing the public about cults. You don t see a concerted effort to interfere in the political process by running candidates. What you see is a tremendous public relations attempt with these parades and the bell, going around to the schools, and getting the keys to the city from the mayor. This strategy appears to have been handed down from President Ikeda, who rivals the pope for pictures taken with world leaders. Ikeda has met with the late Chou En-lai, Henry Kissinger, Edward Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, and Manuel Noriega, who was an honored guest at an NSA convention before his drug connections were widely known. Ikeda also burnished his image by giving $500,000 to the United Nations, which awarded him a peace medal and granted consultative status to Soka Gakkai, NSA s parent organization. According to NSA s Gerry Hall, the purpose of NSA s pursuit of politicians is twofold: to encourage members by showing them that important people sympathize with their aims, and to induce the politicians themselves to try chanting. NSA is usually too tactful to proselytize dignitaries directly, although a Boston School Committee member at the Ellis bell-ringing was invited to an NSA meeting. But NSA officials hope that their patriotism and swelling ranks of voting-age members speak for them. So far, no politicians on the national scene belong to NSA, but some local ones have converted. State Sen. William Owens (D-Roxbury) admits to chanting and owning a gohonzon, although he says he remains a member of New Hope Baptist Church. NSA officials say that the group stays out of American politics. It does not endorse candidates or hold candidates nights. Yet it intruded on the electoral process from 1984 to 1986, when it gave a total of $13,700 to the gubernatorial and mayoral campaigns of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in violation of a California statute prohibiting tax-exempt religious groups such as NSA from making political contributions. After the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported this past spring on one of the contributions, Bradley s campaign committee returned the money at NSA s request. Bradley and another Californian, US Rep. Mervyn Dymally, have taken junkets financed by NSA and Soka Gakkai. Bradley and his wife attended NSA s 1985 convention in Hawaii. Soka University in Japan, which was founded by Soka Gakkai in 1971, paid for recent trips by Dymally to Tokyo and Seoul. Last year, Dymally read a statement into the Congressional Record praising Ikeda as a man whose life has been completely devoted to youth and world peace. When NSA receives an endorsement, it makes the most of it sometimes too much. For example, the Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution sanctioned the New Freedom Bell in 1987 with the understanding that NSA would give the bell to the city of Philadelphia. When it turned out that Philadelphia did not have a site ready for the bell, NSA decided to exhibit it in schools where a teacher, aide, or parent was a member and could arrange an entree. Disturbed by this unexpected use of its logo by a religious group, the commission considered revoking recognition of the bell but found no legal grounds for the action. NSA is using that as a shoehorn to get in the schools, a commission official says. Any project taken into the schools has a captive audience. There s a potential for using schools as a recruiting ground for their movement. Although Soka Gakkai and NSA don t seek scholarly attention as assiduously as political endorsements, they know how to woo academics. Again, they are following the example of Ikeda, who has published several books of conversations with eminent scholars, such as the late historian Arnold Toynbee, and frequently donates books to European universities. Under Ikeda, Soka Gakkai has also published several antiwar books containing reminiscences of Japanese survivors of World War II. When Daniel Metraux began researching his doctoral thesis on Soka Gakkai, he agreed to let its officials read the manuscript for factual errors. In return, the organization gave him interviews and access. The thesis portrayed Soka Gakkai as harmless and peace-loving, and when Metraux expanded it into a book, Soka Gakkai found him a Japanese publisher. Now Metraux, who is a professor at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, works as a consultant for Soka Gakkai. They make you feel very important, he says. Celebrity entertainers, too, enhance NSA s image. Patrick Duffy, who plays Bobby Ewing on Dallas, was introduced to NSA in 1972, at the age of 22, by his future wife. At the time, he had recently ruptured both vocal cords, and his dream of an acting career seemed unattainable. Chanting as best he could, he regained his voice. Marriage, children, and stardom followed. As of yet, to this day, I still don t know how it works, marvels Duffy, sitting in the Culver City office of his production company, Montana Power Inc. Duffy, a midlevel leader in the NSA organization, has chanted all but eight days in the past 17 years. The benefits are guaranteed, he says, and any members who fail to experience them either do not chant enough or don t count their blessings. I can understand, but not with complete sympathy, someone leaving NSA, he says. Back in Charlestown, Conway is still smoothing NSA s path. When the group considered buying a former school building in Allston-Brighton recently, he wrote a letter of support to the neighborhood council. He also invited NSA director Williams to be the featured speaker at the Bunker Hill Day exercises this past April, an honor traditionally reserved for Massachusetts politicians. Williams couldn t come his fill-in was state Rep. Richard Voke, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee but NSA sent the New Freedom Bell and 200 flag-waving members to the exercises. The next day, NSA participated in the Bunker Hill Day parade for the first time since 1975. NSA s contingent, which was paid expenses only, included a brass band, a fife and drum corps, 80 dancers dressed as sunflowers, a 40-member drill dance team, and 300 gymnasts, who formed a human pyramid five stories high. God, it was impressive, Conway says. As for NSA s Eppsteiner, he was pleased, too: There are members who say, You know, my first experience of NSA was seeing it in the Bunker Hill Day parade. When District 15 of the Machinists Union decided to put its headquarters in New York City s Union Square on the market last year, it had trouble finding a buyer. The highest bid was $2.5 million half what the union believed the building was worth. Then, one day, NSA officials visited district president Hans Wedekin. Not only did they agree immediately to his $5 million price, but they paid for the entire amount by check. Now the attractive five-story brownstone is an NSA community center. It was the fastest deal I ever made, Wedekin says. In the past two years, NSA has pumped tens of millions of dollars into buying properties in more than a dozen American cities ranging in size from New York and Baltimore to Eugene, Oregon, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. By its own count, NSA now has 55 community centers, five cultural centers, six temples, and three training centers. The most expensive purchase this year may have been a $3.2 million property in San Francisco. The school in Allston- Brighton that NSA recently looked into is assessed at more than $2.2 million. Few of NSA s properties are mortgaged: It usually pays the whole sum up front. Where does the money come from? According to NSA, these purchases are financed by its regular income subscriptions, bookstore sales, and the like and special campaigns. Although members are not required to contribute to these campaigns, they are encouraged to improve their self-discipline by setting a substantial donation as a target and then meeting it. It may be suggested to challenge yourself, see if you can give, says Al Albergate, a former Los Angeles Herald Examiner reporter who is NSA s public relations spokesman. In this practice, you do get back more than you give. Jean, the former child psychologist in Boston, says she decided to use last year s campaign to raise money for the New York center as a challenge to live within a budget. So she took a second job as a waitress and donated the income from it to the campaign. Cult-watchers and ex-members argue that NSA exploits Jean and others like her. What makes matters worse, they say, is that members think NSA s expansion depends on their sacrifices, when it is actually subsidized by Soka Gakkai in Japan. Not only does Soka Gakkai collect huge sums from donations and bequests, but it also owns rapidly appreciating Tokyo real estate and an art museum. Its extravagant bids for Western art have helped fuel the spectacular rise in art prices in recent years. Eager to preserve NSA s all-American image, its officials deny that it is funded from Japan. But they do not dispute that Soka University in Tokyo, an offshoot of Soka Gakkai, has made one expensive investment here that should benefit NSA. In 1986 the university bought a 248-acre estate in Calabasas, California, from the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religious cult, for $15.5 million. It far outbid the federal government, which wanted to turn the site into the centerpiece of a national recreation area. The location is intended for a four-year, liberal arts university. So far, Soka University/Los Angeles offers only English classes for visiting Japanese students. A short walk from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California, this modern four-story office building has the air of a bustling corporate headquarters. Nowhere in the lobby of NSA s national headquarters do you see the word Buddhism; instead, visitors are greeted by a large map of the United States, with yellow lights marking where the New Freedom Bell has visited. Upstairs are offices of the World Tribune, which has a national circulation of 120,000 more than the better-known Washington Times, controlled by the Unification Church. An eight-page weekly, the Tribune covers Ikeda s history-making meetings and reprints his speeches. It also contains testimony about the benefits of chanting from NSA members around the United States. To reach new immigrants, the last page is printed in a foreign language, with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish alternating from week to week. Just down the street is a storefront office that houses NSA s spin-off companies, including Freedom Music. Its musical, This Is America, the New World, was performed on September 6 in the 2,605-seat Boston Opera House. Sixty miles east of Santa Monica, among vineyards and fields in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, is a more serene place. It is one of the six temples of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism in the United States. There are no bells, flags, or photos of Ikeda in the chapel here, just a gohonzon on an altar, surrounded by candles, an incense burner, gold lotus flowers, and a drum to accompany the chanting. Nor are there any visitors this morning, only the chief priest, Yosei Yamada, and his assistant. Yamada is one of NSA s 11 priests in the United States; next year the number is planned to increase to 13. He officiates at weddings and funerals, and new members come to the temple three times a week to receive their scrolls. But he also has plenty of time alone to study Buddhist doctrine and the English language. Asked if he marches in NSA parades, Yamada smiles and says, The priests are on another kind of mission. The contrast between the busy headquarters and the isolated temple perhaps explains how a legitimate Buddhist sect can be so deeply into patriotism and public relations. Simply put, the lay organizations have as much power as the priests. It is as if the Knights of Columbus determined the policies of the Catholic Church. Although Soka Gakkai and NSA are lay groups, they instruct members and spread the faith. But the priests, the guardians of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, do not proselytize and have little contact with members. Some members never see a priest after they receive their scrolls. Over coffee in his sitting room, Yamada explains that this unusual situation has its roots in the writings of Nichiren, who believed that all other Buddhist sects were heretical and urged his followers to evangelize nonbelievers. Since the Nichiren priesthood was never numerous enough to propagate the word, it relied for centuries on a lay group, Hokaiko, which acknowledged its subordinate role. But Hokaiko was weak. Today it has perhaps 100,000 members worldwide. Despite practicing the same religion as Soka Gakkai members, they have become second-class citizens in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Soka Gakkai did not start as a religious group. It was founded in 1930 by T. Makiguchi, an educational theorist. Soon Makiguchi s interests shifted to religion, and he offered to associate his group with Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Recognizing that Soka Gakkai was more energetic than Hokaiko, the high priest agreed. When Soka Gakkai s membership skyrocketed in the 1945-52 period, known in Japan as the Rush Hour of the Gods because of the proliferation of religions, the priesthood found itself overwhelmed by the size and wealth of its lay organization. Financially, the arrangement between the priesthood and Soka Gakkai benefits both sides. Every new member must pay a donation for a scroll, and the money goes to the upkeep of the temples. Even so, many priests have been unable to tolerate Soka Gakkai. In the late 1970s, 180 Nichiren Shoshu priests in Japan a third of the priesthood there as well as the chief priest in New York City protested what they viewed as glorification of Ikeda and a misrepresentation of Nichiren s teachings to emphasize materialism. The priests in Japan were excommunicated, and they sued for reinstatement. According to Yamada, a Japanese appeals court recently ruled against them. Rev. Kando Tono, the New York priest, was recalled to Japan under pressure from NSA. He says he was not excommunicated because Soka Gakkai did not want to test the issue in United States courts. He now takes care of Hokaiko members in London and New York. If you start criticizing Soka Gakkai, you jeopardize your situation as a priest, he says. But they distorted the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism so it would appeal to nonbelievers. Yamada and other priests became concerned last year that NSA was recruiting people indiscriminately, without regard to whether they were truly committed to Buddhism. He could tell this was happening, he says, because not only were more people coming to the temple to receive their scrolls, but more were coming to give them back. In a typical week he would give out 300 gohonzons, but 20 would be returned. After consulting with the high priest in Japan, the priests met with NSA leaders, who agreed to be more careful. Now, Yamada says, he distributes only 200 gohonzons a week, and hardly any are returned. Listening to Yamada, one is struck by the thought that perhaps the interplay between priests and lay leaders may underlie NSA s back-and-forth history. NSA went from frantic flag-waving in the mid-1970s to a period of retreat and study, and now it s back to glitz again. When lay leaders go too far, the priests rein them in; but if recruitment then falters, the laity reassumes control. One might even say that NSA shifts back and forth from religion to cult, depending on who s in charge. As his visitor leaves, Yamada says that he will soon devote his afternoons to studying Christianity. Right now, I can t understand the people s mind, especially Western people, he says. I don t understand the God which is taught in Christianity, the creator. If Tom Wolfe saw this spectacle of affluent professionals chanting to a Japanese scroll, he might call it Buddhist chic. Shoeless and sweaty on a sticky summer night, 25 people are crammed into a living room on the top floor of a fashionable Cambridge three-decker. The room is decorated with Oriental art and the inevitable Ikeda photo, but furniture is sparse, and most guests sit on the floor. The focus of their worship hangs in a wooden altar in one corner, against a background of pink paper and silk cloth, illuminated by a spotlight. Like any of the dozens of weekly NSA meetings in the Boston area, this one is not primarily an opportunity for members to practice their religion. They have their own gohonzons at home. Its main purpose is recruitment. Several members have brought friends along, and everything is arranged for their comfort. You can spot the newcomers: the shy woman in the back of the room; the fellow staring intently at the group leaders explaining the evening s agenda; and the man on the couch who lets the woman next to him wind beads around his fingers and trace the words of the chant for him in her prayer book. Reluctantly, he mumbles the words. When the chanting ends, a member stands up to talk about The Nine Levels of Consciousness, an aspect of Buddhist doctrine. His lecture soon segues into a plea to the newcomers to try chanting. As a professor for 25 years, he says, he had the unmitigated arrogance to reject anything that seemed irrational. But he was wrong. The only way to understand it is to chant yourself, he says. After a while, as ludicrous as it seems, you can t deny the power and the influence. A patriotic song follows his discourse. Members hold up posters on which lyrics are printed so first-timers can follow along. For the baby boomers here, the words carry overtones of President Kennedy s inaugural address. What can I do, America, to make you proud you gave me birth? they sing. I ll be the one to say, America, what can I do for you? Next come the testimonials. Bill, a computer software manager, tells the group that he wasn t sure whether he could finish an important job on time, so he got up early every day and chanted at the Boston community center. As it turned out, the software was ready on schedule for the first time in the history of his company, and Bill was promoted. Nancy confesses that chanting helped her through the emotional anxiety of her engagement and the discovery of a malignancy in her mother s colon. I realized, no matter what happened to my mom, I was still going to be tremendously happy on my wedding day, she says. Everything turned out for the best: The weather was perfect for the wedding, and an operation revealed that her mother s tumor was not spreading. Now an NSA leader asks if anyone at the meeting is a guest. Since the man on the couch slipped out during Nancy s talk, there are only two left: the shy woman and Mike, who is attending his third meeting. The leader tells them that the real purpose of the meeting is to introduce them to Buddhism. Do they have any questions? The woman is silent. Mike, a hard-headed type, wants to know how long he must chant before getting results. The leader says it depends on the intensity of Mike s chanting. Whether you believe in it or not is not critical, he says. Faith is not initially required. Mike doesn t seem satisfied, and the leader recounts his own conversion to Buddhism. He hated his boss, but two days of chanting led to a reconciliation. Mike perks up. So it happens really quick, he says. Mike has a final question: How does NSA improve chances for world peace? The leader says that NSA members in Argentina and England chanted to end the Falklands War. As more members join, he says, their chanting will be powerful enough to stop any war. The newcomers are encouraged to receive their scrolls at the Boston community center the following Sunday, and the meeting breaks up. Members surround Mike to ask if he will join NSA. I m still investigating it, he says. But I've started chanting. RABELL;09/18 LDRISC;10/20,23:29 NSA2 -" From Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind Resource Center