Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

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Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by dharmapdx » Thu Mar 16, 2017 9:14 am

Someone commented that it is strange that Tina Turner has a statue of Buddha in this video, because she claims to be a member of SGI and they do not allow statues of Buddha. Someone even said that she would be accused of blasphemy By SGI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIBgVJti5Uo

So, that's got me wondering: why doesn't SGI allow statues of Buddha? I have never seen a statue of Buddha in any SGI publication or center.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Thu Mar 16, 2017 1:09 pm

Its a good question.. I've never seen any statuary related to SGI practice, or NSA (up to 1990), quite a lot of photographic art but nothing buddhism related. NSA and to a much greater extent SGI appear to pare such things from the practice, even to the extent of removing a lot of japanese terms from the publications. The whole slander/heretical thing was prominent in NSA back in the 80's/early 90's- I don't know what Nichiren Shoshu attitudes are these days but that kind of thing has disappeared from common usage in SGI now. I'm sure there are SGI leaders who would comment on such statuary, but certainly not all would and a SGI member is in no way bound to listen to such stuff- people can attend meetings wherever they choose.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by gohonzon » Sun Mar 19, 2017 7:07 am

Answer the question honestly and precisely, quit beating around the bush.
The Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teachings is Legally owned & cared for exclusively by the Nichiren Shoshu Orthodox Temple Priesthood. — vowed Temple members are called "Hokkeko". :applause:

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Sun Mar 19, 2017 8:34 pm

I did to the best of my ability, if you have something to contribute to the answer please chime in.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by dharmapdx » Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:47 am

I found a question-and-answer with Ikeda where someone asks him this. Apparently many SGI centers have pictures of historical American figure such as Abraham Lincoln, but no pictures or statues of Buddha. Ikeda gave a non-answer. He sort of did a Kellyanne, where he incorporated the question into an answer to another question entirely. I suppose a more conventional way to say it is that he himself did "beat around the bush." But I thought it was a good question and I would be interested in the answer if anyone has it.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Tue Mar 21, 2017 2:58 pm

Statues, and any other images on the alter, are
1. Not necessary because all the causes and effects of enlightenment, all the teachings and blessings of the Buddha are embodied in the Gohonzon.
2. Are potential cause of distraction that potentially draw the practitioner to misdirect energy from the Gohonzon.
Their view is grounded in taking the act of practice, each aspect, very seriously.

They don't have Shakyamuni images because any such image would be a provisional image. Also, subscribing to Shoshu views, Shakyamuni for them is 'expired'. Only the True Buddha Nichiren is the true teacher in the latter day.

I have never seen any images of historical figures, even Ikeda, on any Soka Gakkai altar. Their altars are relatively austere in keeping with Fuji tradition. The only time there would be a picture of anyone is during a memorial service and this would be located to the side and in front the actual altar.

Usually, the only picture of a person in the Gohonzon hall would be Ikeda on a side wall about 2/3 of the way to the front.

What members have in their homes... :shrug: what they do these days at SGI centers :shrug:
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:38 pm

I wonder if it might also involve tailoring the aesthetic so it is less foreign to a western audience. My experience with art in member's homes and in SGI community centers is in accord with Q's assessment. The most prominent art I see in community centers are photographs of various Japanese landscapes, some by Mr Ikeda some not. Some have pictures of Mr Ikeda, Mr Toda etc. Some have US landmarks & landscapes.

It could be a Sakyamuni as provisional posture, but I don't recall that proposition being made frequently even back in the NSA days. I don't hear the Nichiren as Buddha at all nowadays- the standard pitch is that Nichiren Buddhism helps people change themselves and thus their environment. When the goshos with Nichiren as bodhisattava Jogyo come up it is generally interpreted from a 10 Worlds/Ichinen Sanzen standpoint ie as Nichiren does we all have the Buddha nature and the issue is uncovering & manifesting it.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Tue Mar 21, 2017 9:08 pm

narhwal90 wrote:I wonder if it might also involve tailoring the aesthetic so it is less foreign to a western audience.
No. Same in Japan.

Its a Nikko (Fuji) lineage thing.
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Tue Mar 21, 2017 9:35 pm

Yeah agreed, I just ran into another aspect of that reading J.Stone's Moment Of Death. She observes disagreement among the Hokkeshu possibly dating back to the 1200's/1300's with respect to funerary practices and talismanic use of gohonzon therein, and objects of worship in general, the Fuji school taking the position that the gohonzon is the sole object of worship and not to buried with the deceased. However I didn't get a connotation from her paper that Fuji schools were eschewing statuary because Sakyamuni was viewed as provisional- though either way it seems Nikko didn't much like the statuary.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:33 pm

narhwal90 wrote:it seems Nikko didn't much like the statuary.
IIRC, he didn't approve of transferring gohonzon onto wooden planks, either. :shrug:

The statue issue seems to be more nuanced. IIRC, the problem is, many people cannot distinguish one Buddha statue from another, let alone a provisional Shakyamuni from the Original Buddha. It appears Nikko discouraged statues because of the possibility of confusion. I asked a priest once and he suggested that it's to avoid conceiving of the Buddha in anthropomorphic form.
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by dharmapdx » Wed Mar 22, 2017 12:22 am

Queequeg wrote: They don't have Shakyamuni images because any such image would be a provisional image. Also, subscribing to Shoshu views, Shakyamuni for them is 'expired'. Only the True Buddha Nichiren is the true teacher in the latter day.
Bingo! Thank you! LOL. :namaste:

I'm pretty sure this is the answer I was trying to uncover. I'm pretty sure that THIS is the main reason you don't see traditional images of Buddha at SGI meetings. And this is most likely why Ikeda was evasive and changed the subject: this is a very radical perspective. If my memory serves me correctly, Shoshu and SGI are the only organizations that have this perspective. I don't mean to sound rude or condescending; this is a sincere question I have: I wonder why they don't just rename their religion "Nichirenism." Then again, Shakyamuni is the name of merely one specific "Buddha," so, never mind…. LOL

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by dharmapdx » Wed Mar 22, 2017 12:31 am

Queequeg wrote:
narhwal90 wrote:it seems Nikko didn't much like the statuary.
IIRC, he didn't approve of transferring gohonzon onto wooden planks, either. :shrug:

The statue issue seems to be more nuanced. IIRC, the problem is, many people cannot distinguish one Buddha statue from another, let alone a provisional Shakyamuni from the Original Buddha. It appears Nikko discouraged statues because of the possibility of confusion. I asked a priest once and he suggested that it's to avoid conceiving of the Buddha in anthropomorphic form.
That's actually a very good and interesting perspective.

I guess I just heard that it would be considered "blasphemy" to have an image of Buddha, and I just didn't see how that made sense.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:06 am

The "blasphemy" thing hearkens back to the old NSA new member days, all other schools were heretical we were of the true Buddhism of Mappo etc. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some old-timers still have opinions along those lines. This thread was on my mind in the SGI discussion meeting tonite, held at a good friend of mine's house. I was the only person who mentioned Nichiren by name, others referred to our shared buddha-nature but that was about it, the balance of the conversation was about human revolution, daimoku to provide the basis of changing poison to medicine and related topics. I get the "Nichirenism" argument in a way- the SGI focus is so myopically focused on his material yet on the other hand references to him are formalized and generally static and typically only appear when introducing a gosho for study- nothing like the critical & free-ranging discussion and scrutiny found on this forum for example.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:54 pm

If you really want to know where SGI ideas and practices come from, I would suggest getting on ebay and collecting old NSA Quarterly. That stuff is heavy. What SGI seems to be now is the radically dumbed down misinterpretation. If you wonder why old members seem rigid, its because they were actually taught the meaning of MRK beyond the slogans. They were taught, what the teaching is and is not. Their understanding is deeper and its not just because they've been practicing a long time, but back in the day, study actually was study, not, "Let's read this short passage and talk about how it makes us feel."

I invite anyone interested to go look at Fraught with Peril - read the blogs by Robin Beck and Chris Holte. Google Charles Atkins. Peruse Nichiren's Coffeehouse. Those guys learned Buddhism in NSA back when study was serious. What you'll find is their struggle with Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu doctrines at deep levels. They were able to raise questions at those levels because they were actually taught about those levels of practice.

Even here at DW, the guys who were around in NSA are quickly identifiable. They know their stuff. We may disagree, but at least we're speaking on common ground.

It demanded an attention span far longer than 140 characters and eschewed the trite, long before the "Let's make Buddhism fun and relatable" (said with the grating enthusiasm of a high school cheer leader) phase. Back in the day, you were likely to go to discussion meetings and the senior leading would look you in the eye and impress upon you that life is utterly serious - "life and death," they'd say (I distinctly remember David Kasahara at one early Sunday morning YMD meeting, after Danny Nagashima's spittle spraying enthusiasm, bringing on a hush, reminding everyone the seriousness at the heart of that fanfare, talking about "your life". He could pierce to your heart and remind you what serious matters are at hand.) Serious as f'in cancer.

I heard a dharma teacher once say, "If as a Westerner Buddhism does not offend your sensibilities, you're not understanding it." And yet, that is exactly the threshold the post-schism SGI seemed to retreat from. Making things understandable and relatable, unoffensive to our given sensibilities is fine for an opening, but if that becomes the goal, then the effort is pointless. This sensibility is a poisonous impulse encouraged and cultivated in our present culture. It undermines the challenge required to actually refine the mind; it lays the ground for our echo chambers and mutual affirmation communities. It mires us in our ignorance within a room of mirrors. Our ignorance concatenates and proliferates.

Even "Human Revolution" has been defanged. "Human Revolution" was about being willing to offer even one's life for the Dharma - to go to prison, and die there for the sake of the Dharma. Instead its reduced to an ego-serving application of Cause-and-Effect.
When the sentient beings become
Sincere, mild, and receptive,
And, wanting wholeheartedly to meet the Buddha,
Are willing to give unsparingly
Of their bodies and lives,
Then I, together with the sangha,
Will appear on Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa.
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The reasons I left are many, but the devolution to pandering frivolity is one of them.
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:57 pm

I know very little of Nichiren or SGI, but that was a great post QQ, and really much of what was said could apply to Western Buddhism in general.
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:44 pm

Cheers, JD. As I alluded, I think this is a shortcoming of the broader world we live in. That would make sense then that this affects all Buddhist communities in the West.

I'm 43. (I think you're about the same). It seems like there is a distinct difference in how people younger relate to the world. And I don't think its just me getting old complaining about kids on my lawn. I'm among the last generation of people in this world who got through high school without any significant personal tech. The most advanced thing we had were beepers. Computers were little more than fancy typewriters. We read actual paper newspapers and magazines and books. Had to wait for things to physically reach us, wait for shows to air and program the VCR. If you were supposed to meet up with people and they didn't show, you had to tolerate uncertainty. We had a whole lot more time that we had to fill with nothing but our thoughts. I think it makes us and older people different at the cellular, neurological level.

Aside, just to follow up on my post above - I don't want to sound completely down on SGI. It has its place and I'm glad its out there.
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Wed Mar 22, 2017 6:24 pm

views are views for sure.

I agree that quite often the SGI presents a buddhism-lite sort of face, yet Mr Makaguchi & Mr Toda's experience in jail because of their commitment to practice is stressed as an ideal, as are the stories of propagation in the old days in Japan when people were accused and arrested because of gakki activities. In the SGI human revolution <is> taught as life and death- people grappling with disease, addiction, crisis etc are encouraged to be steadfast and use the practice & share the results. I have never been asked to discuss what I "feel" about a gosho, in the discussion meetings I attend gosho are read, attendant study commentary as well, and people discuss how the topic relates to their experience.

But I'm not sure I'm inclined to give the old-timers a pass just because they came up thru the "old school" when they say things to a zen practitioner like "Zen is cold & impersonal" (which was related in a discussion meeting recently by the old timer in question) and not in jest because they have a suitable rapport for teasing a friend who practices Zen. I'm not a fan of the rah-rah soka spirit stuff either, it was a huge turn-off back in the day- and it tends not to happen now. As an example, on sunday I supported a tri-state area "Champions of the New Era" youth division meeting- (and the way SGI names things still grates on me to this day). ~1100 people attended, hordes of kids- a dozen or so people of various ages received gohonzon, several experiences were shared from the podium and one played from a recording. The experiences showed people betting on their practice to transform themselves.. not life and death this time but sometimes betting on the practice in small ways is important too. It was raucous and more like a concert (props to 'gohonzon' on this one, there WAS dancing this time- all the kids on stage) But there was no spittle spewing or cheerleading that I recall so well from similar events in the old days.

I'm 50 and I see plenty of tweens, teens, young adults in SGI doing just fine using the practice to make their lives better, studying the gosho, doing activities, involved with lots of things. I do activities with some of them. All the electronics and maddening social network habits are there in full force but I don't see kids nowadays as more annoying and difficult than I was at that age. They are certainly more comfortable in their own skin than I was.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Wed Mar 22, 2017 9:09 pm

narhwal90 wrote: yet Mr Makaguchi & Mr Toda's experience in jail because of their commitment to practice is stressed as an ideal, as are the stories of propagation in the old days in Japan when people were accused and arrested because of gakki activities.
I'm going to pick on you a little here.

Makiguchi and Toda did not go to prison because of their Soka Kyoiku Gakkai activities. They went to prison because they refused to enshrine the Imperial talisman in their home Butsudan. In terms of hokke gyoja, it was a very direct practice - they refused to compromise the Essential Teaching. Soka Kyoiku Gakkai and Soka Gakkai were expressions of their faith - their faith was not expression of Soka Gakkai values. There is a significant nuance there. Somewhere along the way, Soka Gakkai became the standard, became the beginning and end, and in the process, the practice of the Lotus Sutra was subordinated to the organization.

Ikeda was arrested at some point for his Soka Gakkai activities. He wasn't locked up for very long. But note the difference was him advancing Soka Gakkai, not the Daimoku directly.
I have never been asked to discuss what I "feel" about a gosho, in the discussion meetings I attend gosho are read, attendant study commentary as well, and people discuss how the topic relates to their experience.
How the passage being studied relates to your experience is sharing your feelings.

Contrast with study where the meaning and intent of the text is the focus and the individual experience is not. Do mathematicians consider their experience relevant to a formula? There is a level to Buddhist study that is technical like math. Buddhist terms have meanings without relevance to a particular person's experience. The point is of course to apply these teachings, and discussing application can be helpful, but not when that is pretty much all you do. To actually use these teachings, you actually need to understand what they are, not how you relate to what you think they are.

This balance in favor of "how the lesson relates to me" is the hall mark of the approach to education these days. Its not surprising that this approach figures in American Buddhist communities.

Part of the problem with SGI is that frankly, there aren't many people who actually have anything more than the buzz word level understanding of Buddhism. When all you read is Ikeda's articles and the organization publications without actually following up and looking at the sources, you're not getting much. As much Dostoyevsky as you get from reading the dust cover or, at best, the cliff notes. That is what I saw in SGI. Maybe your area is different, in which case, I hope more follow your example.

What I commonly saw was the uninformed leading the even more uninformed through perfunctory reading of the study material in the latest Living Buddhism, and then, as a substitute for a substantive discussion, a survey of people's reactions, for the sake of generating some discussion.

There is plenty of good will in SGI. There is plenty of teaching on diligent and persistent effort to achieve your dreams. There is also a massive shortage of informed teachers which puts a ceiling on the place. And actually, instead, there is a strong tendency to look at important aspects of Buddhism as arcane (without actually understanding what is being discarded), deep study as either unnecessary or too difficult, in favor of a peppy materialism, and I mean that at multiple levels.

Like I said, I enthusiastically think it has its place. I also think it has severe limitations, especially for those who seek a deeper dive into Buddhism.
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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by narhwal90 » Thu Mar 23, 2017 2:39 am

I'm not trying to convince you of anything- you are clearly far better informed about the historical details of NSA/SGI than I, but I would offer that everything, including the SGI, is more complicated than an assessment such as that can convey. But wrt the study techniques now else is one to understand the gosho other than trying to relate it to one's own experience by way of definitions, implications, interpretations? The discussion is not "does it make you feel icky or not" but more like "these are how the 3 obstacles and 4 devils have manifested in my own mind to interfere with my practice". If you could give an example of the more sophisticated sorts of study methods you mention I'd much appreciate it.

OTOH I whole-heartedly agree that the usual presentation of study in SGI is too brief and too simple for my taste, but the surface presentation was also like that in NSA back then I was practicing alongside a lot of 1st gen members. There were then and are now more deeply focused study groups & publications that members can choose to engage with.

Its going to be an interesting time for the SGI when Mr Ikeda passes away. Back in the NSA days there was a "critical 3rd generation" concept that we discussed in terms of the 3rd generation of Nichiren's disciples being the make-or-break for the future of the sect. I think the same test applies here; we will see how much its a cult of personality vs a Lotus school.

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Re: Why doesn't SGI use statues of Buddha?

Post by Queequeg » Thu Mar 23, 2017 5:23 pm

narhwal90 wrote:I'm not trying to convince you of anything- you are clearly far better informed about the historical details of NSA/SGI than I, but I would offer that everything, including the SGI, is more complicated than an assessment such as that can convey. But wrt the study techniques now else is one to understand the gosho other than trying to relate it to one's own experience by way of definitions, implications, interpretations? The discussion is not "does it make you feel icky or not" but more like "these are how the 3 obstacles and 4 devils have manifested in my own mind to interfere with my practice". If you could give an example of the more sophisticated sorts of study methods you mention I'd much appreciate it.

OTOH I whole-heartedly agree that the usual presentation of study in SGI is too brief and too simple for my taste, but the surface presentation was also like that in NSA back then I was practicing alongside a lot of 1st gen members. There were then and are now more deeply focused study groups & publications that members can choose to engage with.

Its going to be an interesting time for the SGI when Mr Ikeda passes away. Back in the NSA days there was a "critical 3rd generation" concept that we discussed in terms of the 3rd generation of Nichiren's disciples being the make-or-break for the future of the sect. I think the same test applies here; we will see how much its a cult of personality vs a Lotus school.
I'm not trying to convince you of anything either. Just pointing some things out. I'm not making anything out to be simple - you and I have discussed SGI plenty. You can do a search of my posts here at DW and you will find I hardly paint SG or SGI in a simplified, black and white picture.

On study, here is what I saw when it follows the model you're talking about. Discussions get derailed because people start talking about their "three devils and four obstacles". The 10 minutes allotted for study is taken up by someone talking about their boss who just keeps putting them down. The person leading the meeting themselves often don't know anything more than what was just read, so they're in no position to guide the discussion, and in any event, you don't want to just cut someone off talking about a dilemma in their lives.

I once brought a friend to a discussion meeting and his impression was that it was a self-help group with some trappings of Oriental exoticism. I had to shrug and agree with him.

So what would a real study program look like? For one, they'd set up a seminary, or offer some seminary program at one of the universities to ensure that the deep spiritual and knowledge tradition is maintained and disseminated through the community. For the example of what kind of person they want to turn out, look to Nichiren who was himself a learned scholar in addition to being a vigorous practitioner. Look to his disciple, Nikko, who actually did go and establish a seminary. There are your models for a study program.

At the local level, it would look like many other religious institutions - services for the general membership with some edifying sermon (this is more or less already done), and then more focused study programs with guidance from someone actually qualified to teach and help others (someone who,say, went through the seminary program), with a curriculum ranging from lectures to seminars to reading groups. With an elevation of learning across the organization, the discussion meetings, the engine of SG, would also be elevated.

In Japan, they sort of have these kinds of programs, with teachers who actually have gone through study department training. In SGI-USA, there is nothing like this. And actually, what I've seen is antagonism toward such kinds of programs from the leadership. So, instead, you have people in senior positions just making it up as the go along - "Karma is just a metaphor." ???!!!! A very prominent leader who headed the SGI-USA study department actually taught that.

So the problem is, there are no teachers. The community is led by people (mysteriously) appointed to positions of leadership because they have certain qualities - they're around all the time; they've been practicing a long time; they're dependable; they're good people persons; they enthusiastically toe the line and don't ask impertinent questions of their seniors.

The lack of a real study program is a chicken and egg, but the result is unmistakable - a very shallow intellectual environment. What are the three pillars? Faith, Study, Practice. If one of those is lacking, all three are lacking.

For some people, SGI is enough. For others its not. I'd say to someone for whom it is not:

You won't fall off the face of the Earth if you venture out, and instead, you will find a world of possibility.

A discussion of the next phase of Soka Gakkai could be interesting.
“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”
-Henry Miller

"Language is the liquid that we're all dissolved in.
Great for solving problems, after it creates the problems."
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