There is a Japanese Lady at work who does the laundry. She is very sweet and often gives me food. Can't argue with that! She is also a Buddhist. Not knowing that I and Room Mate were on this steeple chase she began giving me Buddhist literature - magazines, newspapers, etc. At one point she mentioned they have a meeting on Wednesday nights where newcomers were welcome. I talked to Room Mate and we agreed it would be worth the experience, even though I had nerves about attending something so UN-Christian. This would be the farthest from mainstream that we had ventured on our steeple chase.
Surprisingly, my Best Friend caught wind of our steeple chase and decided he wanted to get in on the action. Best Friend is a life-long evangelical/fundamentalist Christian, and I did not think he would be interested in this venture. He is an evangelist at heart and maybe this was a way for him to get an inside look at another religion so he would be better able to witness to them in the future?
Japanese Lady told us all to meet at the K-Mart parking lot and then we would carpool from there. Room Mate was the first of the three of us to arrive and while he was waiting for us he was accosted (in a very friendly way) by Japanese Lady's friend who had also come (Other Woman). She told him how excited she was about us coming because they need more men in the group. She told him how much Buddhism had meant to her and her life.
Best Friend and I arrived and we got in our cars and drove down the boulevard for about a mile before pulling into a plaza, like a strip mall. Certainly wasn't the ornate temple I was expecting. We walked in to what was like a storefront and inside it was a plain space with white walls and red carpeting. A small entrance way opened up into a long rectangular room with folding chairs in rows to about half way back. At the front on the stage there was something encased like a shrine.
We were some of the first people there, and it seemed to be very disorganized. There were some technical issues with a video or something. There was one guy who seemed to be in charge (Guy in Charge) who had a wife who was actively bustling about as well. Eventually things began and the three of us were allowed to tell why we were there. Then we did some short readings out of meditation books. They let us do some of the readings.
Each of us had a Buddhist mentor sit next to us to help us through things. I had Japanese Lady. Best Friend had Guy in Charge. And Room Mate had a lovely young woman. (sly)
Then we got down to the main event.... chanting. The guru who started this branch of Buddhism several hundred years ago taught that by chanting the Chinese name of the Lotus Sutra (Nam Myoho Renge Kyo) a person's spirit could become aligned with the universe and good things would happen. He had also selected two chapters from the Lotus Sutra that he deemed worthy of being chanted as well. (He believed that the Lotus Sutra was the highest expression of Buddhist wisdom and enlightenment ever.)
We started for about 5-10 minutes chanting "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" over and over and over and over again. Guy in Charge's wife was leading the chanting and was seated on the stage with her back to us, facing the shrine thing. At first it felt awkward to be repeating these syllables over and over. However, the group found its rhythm and began accenting the first syllable, "Nam," with a higher tone and more volume, so it became somewhat sing-songy.
Then we switched gears and chanted the two special chapters from the Lotus Sutra. Everyone had books to read from, and there were English syllables written under each Chinese word. We chanted page after page of these chinese words which said who knows what. Most people there did not understand Chinese either, but that didn't seem to matter. Just by chanting the words the vibrations will go out into the universe and good will result.
After we were done chanting there was some interaction with us newcomers. Best Friend made some joke about this is what it feels like to be evangelized, since Guy in Charge had been very involved in helping him through this experience. Then there was a bunch of talk about a video. Apparently, the problem with the video system that was being discussed in the beginning was that the DVD itself was missing, and now there was further discussion about where it could be. The DVD was to give us an introduction to this particular branch of Buddhism. Since the DVD could not be found we all relocated to the back end of the rectangular room and sat in a circle of chairs facing each other. By this time a few more people had come and all told there might have been about 15-20 of us. There was quite a mixture of races and ages.
The conversation was a mixture of us rookies asking questions, and the regulars telling about how much this chanting practice had improved their lives. Best Friend said, "So let me get this straight... there's no God?" He was assured this was correct, and that as adults we are responsible for our own lives.
It was a lively discussion, and at different times various regulars monopolized the conversation and there was a struggle for group control. (Odd for Buddhists?) Guy in Charge generally had the final word about what we were doing, although he sat next to a guy who knew a lot of the details of the history of this sect, and deferred to him several times to explain one or another of our questions in greater detail than any of us wanted, or understood. The overall theme, whatever the question or confusion, was, "Just try it." Try chanting every day and you will see the good things start to happen. Verify it for yourself. One lady was honest enough to say that she had been following this path for a year and was still waiting to see the good stuff come.
Then the meeting broke up and we newcomers were accosted (in a friendly way) by various people thanking us for coming, asking if we would be coming again, piling us up with literature. Me and Room Mate stepped into the small book store for a minute and looked around.
Outside on the sidewalk Other Woman started talking to me about how great this all was, and how much it had helped her. She had been a Hindu, but had difficulties with the caste system. She liked the fact that Buddhism held everyone in the same regard. She also said that I had a "Buddha spirit." I always knew I was holy, but having the Buddha spirit?? woo hoo
After several minutes of Japanese Lady and Other Woman doing their best to get us to promise to come again we all got in our cars and left. In the car we discussed how surprised we were that they were so evangelistic in their approach. Best Friend said, "When they said there was no God, I knew right then they were on the wrong path." (By the way, about a month later he gave me a Christian pamphlet to give to Japanese Lady. I couldn't bring myself to do it, as it was loaded with scripture and would only hold weight with someone who already believed the Bible was the Word of God.)
I'm glad I went. It was an interesting experience. But the whole notion of chanting syllables that you don't understand in order to align yourself with the universe strikes me as just plain wacky!