Soka Gakkai International-USA (SGI) is one of the most diverse Buddhist communities in the United States. With more than 500 chapters throughout the country, the Bozeman chapter is a drop in the worldwide SGI community bucket, which is composed of 12 million individuals. In their first meeting in the SUB Wednesday, Sept. 7, student Madeline Zidack began the meeting by explaining the basic history of Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Buddhism. The practice, based on core Buddhist principles such as respecting basic human dignity and their interconnectedness, has a special emphasis on the power of chanting and manifestation. Zidack walked the audience through centuries of Nichiren Buddhism, explaining the belief that each person contains an innate Buddha nature which can be brought out through daily chanting and meditation.
SGI-Bozeman members come from all walks of life. Young and old, local and international, SGI-Bozeman members have bonded over Buddhism and the ways it has changed their lives. They have been meeting in community member Rebecca Barney’s apartment but are aiming to bring the basic principles of Nichiren Buddhism to MSU. The excitement was palpable while they chatted, waiting for the meeting to start. After explaining the history, members described their experiences with SGI. Some recounted their life of “complete and utter destruction”: hard drugs, abusive relationships, homelessness and jail. Others talked about social anxiety, and the exhausting pursuit of success. In one case, a graduate student at MSU has used chanting as a way to balance his workload and sanity. In Barney’s case, a stranger wrote the key chant: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” on a paper bag and told her to chant for a job, which she got within a few days. In every case, SGI, and chanting, was a major tool trying to turn their life around. Later on in the meeting, the audience participated in chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” and listened as more experienced members chanted portions of the Lotus Sutra.
According to the October 2013 edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, mantras hold a greater capacity in reducing trait anxiety than any other normal or alternative treatment or meditation and relaxation practices, and according to 47 studies analyzed in JAMA Internal Medicine, meditation helps manage anxiety, depression and pain. Zidack said, “Students are in such a pivotal point in their lives where it is essential that young people realize the power that we have to influence our own lives and peoples’ lives around us … to realize that we have the power to change ourselves and humanity as a whole. Literally. Nothing short of it.”
Members practice chanting both alone and in groups. Barney explained, “Discussion meetings happen in people’s homes. We have our personal practice, but part of our practice is to share this with other people and to teach people about Nichiren Buddhism. In order to do that, it’s helpful to have dialogue together.” SGI-Bozeman’s goal is to create a campus club, but they currently hold discussion meetings off campus. Students interested in joining can email Barney at email@example.com.