Going independent?

Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 5:44 am

For a few years now, I've been trying to make a-go-of-it at a Nichiren temple. The sensei has always been supportive, and it has been wonderful to be involved with an authentic Buddhist temple that was founded by Japanese immigrants (as opposed to Middle Class Americans who are being "trendy"). But there has always been an underlying sense of tension that I just can't fathom. After two years of trying to cope with it, I have decided to cut back severely on my attendance, about once a month, whereas at my peak I was there twice a week. I'm even toying with the idea of leaving the temple permanently.

What has chased me out is internal drama in the political structure of the temple. I've found that, oddly, my practice of Nichiren Buddhism is more successful on my own. Many people at the temple aren't that interested in Buddhism, and, ironically, it was rubbing off on me…. Oddly, I got the message at one point that it is abnormal for me to be so interested in Buddhism. I think this is because the temple, like many US Buddhist temples, is ultimately a cultural/social club for Japanese Americans. In fact, I often got the sense that the "sanctuary" area (where the Butsudan is) ultimately is a museum piece full of ancient artifacts that are, at best, "curious" to the temple members.

I guess I needed a temple so I would feel that what I'm doing is "real." This is a real religion. And I've had wonderful experiences at the temple (was given a Gohonzon, for example). But I find so many aspects of the temple political system distracting, even stress and anxiety producing. It's gotten to the point where it's counter-acting what it's intended to do. I mean, when you feel on the verge of a panic attack when entering a Buddhist temple, it's probably a sign that it's time to go….

Not sure what exactly I'm looking for here. Has anyone else experienced something like this? (It's just baffling to me that I like have to leave the temple due to tension concerning things other than the practice of Buddhism; I mean, it's not doctrinal disagreements that are causing me to leave…. I suppose it's also baffling to me why anyone would attend a Buddhist temple if they aren't interested in Buddhism.)
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Re: Going independent?

Postby Wayfarer » Mon Jul 14, 2014 5:53 am

As a general observation, religous organisations often become corrupted, or at least loose sight of their raison d'être, for various reasons. My own involvement with Buddhism has been far less centred on any specific organisation or temple, partially for that reason. I am generally very wary of organisations. In any case, I would say that if you're experiencing such levels of anxiety, it is a clear signal to disengage from it. I think, if you can possibly find it, a better approach is to try and form a dharma group of like-minded people who wish to study. If you can find a teacher who is willing to be part of it, so much the better. But I certainly wouldn't feel too much trepidation about leaving a centre that is causing this kind of stress. Remember we are in some sense called to be 'refuges to ourselves'.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby LastLegend » Mon Jul 14, 2014 6:58 am

A Buddhist temple has become a place for social activities. Every Sunday people bring vegetarian food to the temple with their family and kids. They participate in chanting or reciting. They like the peaceful atmosphere but most are not really serious practitioners, in my opinion.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:20 am

LastLegend wrote:A Buddhist temple has become a place for social activities. Every Sunday people bring vegetarian food to the temple with their family and kids. They participate in chanting or reciting. They like the peaceful atmosphere but most are not really serious practitioners, in my opinion.


Very accurate in my experience. But I will "up" you one with regard to the temple I'm referring to…. Family participation is dwindling. The older generation isn't being replaced by the younger generation. So, often, rather than families meeting for lunch after service, there are often homeless people who show up for a free meal…. Sometimes they don't even bother to attend the service at all. I have nothing against homeless people. But it's awkward to attempt to carry on conversations with people I have nothing in common with, some of whom are struggling with mental disorders, and some who are outright aggressive. Nevermind the issues of personal hygiene…. It has led to quite a few bizarre and extremely awkward experiences. I have nothing against homeless people; and though it is preferable, it's not mandatory that one bathe. But at the very least one could at least be somewhat interested in Buddhism if one is going to go to a Buddhist temple, homeless or otherwise?

Wayfarer wrote:As a general observation, religous organisations often become corrupted, or at least loose sight of their raison d'être, for various reasons. My own involvement with Buddhism has been far less centred on any specific organisation or temple, partially for that reason. I am generally very wary of organisations. In any case, I would say that if you're experiencing such levels of anxiety, it is a clear signal to disengage from it. I think, if you can possibly find it, a better approach is to try and form a dharma group of like-minded people who wish to study. If you can find a teacher who is willing to be part of it, so much the better. But I certainly wouldn't feel too much trepidation about leaving a centre that is causing this kind of stress. Remember we are in some sense called to be 'refuges to ourselves'.


Thank you for the response. I find that what I would like to have at the temple, I actually can find on this forum. I can ask questions on this forum, and then receive a polite response. It has often happened at the temple that I ask a question and get yelled at! On a good day my questions just get ignored outright.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Mon Jul 14, 2014 4:04 pm

Society is less religious in general. Those needs that religion filled in the past are being replaced with other things, things that in many or most cases are poor replacements. People want unconditional love, in the west, we used to get that from the Christian tradition, now with that gone we project this human need onto people. People are flawed, this is a huge burden to place on someone, we even invent the strange, irrational, and potentially extremely harmful notion of the "soul mate", I cringe when I hear that word.

I am not an expert, but I suspect that there might be some degree of "authenticity" from the middle class western trendies you mention, and less authenticity from the ethnic Buddhists because for those born Buddhists, Buddhism is the establishment, uncool, lame sauce. I have seen documentaries where Middle Easterners note how seriously western converts to Islam take their new faith. And when it comes down to it, as "non native" Buddhists, trendy, fashionable, hipsters, perhaps we should, as horrible and bad as it sounds, stick to our own kind? We are in fact trying to establish a Sangha in a culture that has only just come into contact with Buddhism, our Buddhism will not be the same as it has been for thousands of years in the old world.

Are the hipster Buddhist sanghas really that crappy? So much worse than social clubs for ethnic minorities? Just curious, I am quite the independent...
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Through passion, I gain strength.
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Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.-The Sith Code
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Re: Going independent?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Jul 14, 2014 4:18 pm

Great post.

I don't think they are, they have their own set of problems, but the devotion from "hipsters" can be quite genuine, IME. I also think you are 100% spot on about the adopted vs. inherited religion thing. Personally, I like sangha that are 'mixed' westerners and native practitioners the best.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:16 pm

You know, that's an interesting point. I've been to some SGI meetings, and I noticed the white Americans taking Buddhism far more seriously than the Japanese Americans at the nearly 100-year-old Nichiren Buddhist temple. I'd never thought of it that way, but yes I guess for Asians, Buddhism is the establishment.

Whatever the case, at the Nichiren temple, the religion itself is something of an artifact and I'm seen as some kind of aspergers-like weirdo for taking it seriously. That's not what I'm looking for, and it's certainly not good for my self esteem.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby Queequeg » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:31 pm

The hardest part of being independent is being independent. Wayfarer referred to being our own refuge, but in my experience its easier said than done. But who ever thought Buddhist practice was easy?

Buddhism is radical - one of the core practices is constantly weening ourselves off of attachments, constantly putting ourselves in the uneasy experience of being on the razor edge of this moment - in the full context of cause and effect, of course. :smile: I like how Etienne Lamotte characterized our experience with sunyata as developing a tolerance for it. Not having a community makes the Buddhist endeavor more difficult in many respects. Not having a regular community to find comfort in, however, just eliminates one more thing you'd have to temper attachments to.

Count yourself fortunate. :tongue:
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Re: Going independent?

Postby markatex » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:33 pm

Queequeg wrote:Not having a community makes the Buddhist endeavor more difficult in many respects. Not having a regular community to find comfort in, however, just eliminates one more thing you'd have to temper attachments to.

Count yourself fortunate. :tongue:


I live about 3 hours from my temple, and only visit about once a year. Sometimes I wish I had a local community for support, but other times I wonder if I could deal with the drama & conflict that inevitably crops up.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Mon Jul 14, 2014 10:26 pm

Queequeg wrote:Not having a regular community to find comfort in, however, just eliminates one more thing you'd have to temper attachments to.

Count yourself fortunate. :tongue:


Thank you. The truth is, though, that I haven't found comfort in "the community" in a long time, if ever. What I've found comfort in, is having access to a priest from Japan and a temple set up by Japanese immigrants. "Authenticity" is the key word for me. But it's been at the expense of my own personal practice. How authentic is it to be at a temple where I feel like a weirdo for taking Buddhist seriously?
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Re: Going independent?

Postby rory » Tue Jul 15, 2014 12:17 am

I'm independent Nichirenista, like T'ang era many practices buddhism independent, but there are online Nichiren sanghas and ones you can affiliate with from afar with genuine priests, I know of Kempon Hokke Shu and Homon Butsuryu Shu, these Japanese priests are believers, and they have these sanghas for Westerners so maybe that would work out for you.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby markatex » Tue Jul 15, 2014 12:20 am

nichirenista wrote:Thank you. The truth is, though, that I haven't found comfort in "the community" in a long time, if ever. What I've found comfort in, is having access to a priest from Japan and a temple set up by Japanese immigrants. "Authenticity" is the key word for me. But it's been at the expense of my own personal practice. How authentic is it to be at a temple where I feel like a weirdo for taking Buddhist seriously?


Are you saying that authenticity= being from Japan?
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Re: Going independent?

Postby markatex » Tue Jul 15, 2014 12:26 am

I'm extremely, um...apprehensive, to put it diplomatically, of "online sanghas." Seriously, the internet seems to magnify the worst qualities in people. Have you ever read the comments on a news article? I remember E-sangha fondly and signed up at this forum after its demise, but other than that, I retired from online Buddhist forums a long time ago and it was definitely for the best.

If you find that Nichiren Shu is a good fit for you doctrinally, I'd say find a different priest to work with if this one isn't a good fit, even if you have to maintain contact from afar. If you're being yelled at and ignored at your current temple, there's no reason for you to go back. I wouldn't.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby dsaly1969 » Tue Jul 15, 2014 1:00 am

I didn't catch where you are from -but I wanted to add my two cents. When I left SGI it was for primarily doctrinal reasons (and shakabuku focus), I'm just more mainstream in my interpretation of Buddhism. I have found some of the issues you bring up at various Japanese Buddhist temples - not all - and some I think depends on the individual congregation. For example, my experience at Nichiren Shu in Los Angeles was very similar to yours (aging population, little to no involvement by younger members, and primarily cultural in focus) - in this case I think the minister there was trying to "turn the ship" as he was getting some small influx from former SGI people. But he later was transferred. But I have heard of other Nichiren Shu sanghas that are very active. I have seen this also with other "denominations" like Jodo Shinshu (Shin) too.

When I first got involved in Rissho Kosei-kai, the sangha in Los Angeles had been going through a similar problems. But I just moved back into the area and I find that they have done successful outreach into the primarily Hispanic population around them and now have diverse membership in ethnicity as well as age, a revitalized youth program, new members formally joining RKK and having Installation (of the Honzon) at their homes, and weekly Dharma study groups. RKK as an organization also continues to have an online sangha as well.

I know another local Japanese Buddhist temple with a new minister who is also looking at trying to make changes in inclusivity and activity while also dealing with the penchant of the Board to resist change - they are generally older members who financially provide most of the support for the congregation and thus pay the minister's salary. But there are efforts being made and it also seems like the Board now is coming up with ideas (this is a good thing!). I think it depends on where the congregation is "at" - perhaps yours is on "hospice" mode?

While I disagree with SGI on the doctrinal distinctives they inherited from Nichiren Shoshu, there is no denying that they have created some of the most active and vibrant sanghas out there which meet the needs of many of their members.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:06 am

markatex wrote:
nichirenista wrote:Thank you. The truth is, though, that I haven't found comfort in "the community" in a long time, if ever. What I've found comfort in, is having access to a priest from Japan and a temple set up by Japanese immigrants. "Authenticity" is the key word for me. But it's been at the expense of my own personal practice. How authentic is it to be at a temple where I feel like a weirdo for taking Buddhist seriously?


Are you saying that authenticity= being from Japan?


I don't think it's radical to believe that a form of Japanese Buddhism is most "authentic" if it is taught by someone who grew up in the tradition in Japan.

I'm not saying other types of Buddhism from other countries aren't authentic. I'm saying Nichiren Buddhism is Japanese, and so someone from Japan is probably more likely to know it better in its original context. This is what I was looking to the sensei for. I don't think this is too off-kilter, is it?
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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:16 am

markatex wrote:If you find that Nichiren Shu is a good fit for you doctrinally, I'd say find a different priest to work with if this one isn't a good fit, even if you have to maintain contact from afar. If you're being yelled at and ignored at your current temple, there's no reason for you to go back. I wouldn't.


You know, you make a lot of sense here. In retrospect, I can't believe I held on for as long as I did....

I am trying to not get too specific, because I am afraid that maybe some people who know me may read this. But then, if they do, what would the consequence be? I've already decided not to go back that often anyway, and am contemplating not going back at all anymore.

I should make the following clear: the sensei has been helpful and kind.

What is a struggle is the very unusual dynamic at the temple. The person who yelled at me is not the sensei nor even a member of the Japanese American congregation who grew up in the temple. The temple has come to be dominated by someone whose father is a Nichiren Buddhist of a different denomination. If I read between the lines, it seems like a "Love Me, Daddy" effort on the part of this person; "See, I'm trying to be interested in your religion, daddy...." And this person is very bossy and conduct themselves as though they are the sum-total of the temple. This person, by the way, isn't even of Asian descent, which makes for a very unusual dynamic. You have a congregation of people with a wounded sense of their cultural identity, some of whom were born in internment camps, being bossed around by someone who doesn't seem very sensitive to the matter. At one particular "social hour," said person sat at the table and loudly and casually blurted out, "A lot of people here were born in internment camps! He was (pointing at the person). She was (pointing at the other person)." This person I refer to is so socially awkward that I wonder sometimes if they have mild autism.

At this particular temple, there have been moments that have been very moving and meaningful for me. But there have been moments -- usually regarding interacting with the homeless who show up for a free meal, or the Caucasian person who has commandeered the temple -- that are taxing beyond belief.

In retrospect, the situation is sort of baffling. And I kind of can't deal with it anymore.... (The person I refer to above, who has sort of taken over the temple in an attempt to ingratiate themselves to their father, announced one day during study of the Lotus Sutra that they aren't interested in studying the Lotus Sutra and that they aren't interested in this dogma. I looked at this person and thought to myself, "Then why are you here?" Obviously, to please their father. It's unusual, at best.)
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Re: Going independent?

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:02 am

You have had a lot of very good advice already, nichirenista, but I just wanted to comment on something you said a while ago:
…. Family participation is dwindling. The older generation isn't being replaced by the younger generation. So, often, rather than families meeting for lunch after service, there are often homeless people who show up for a free meal…. Sometimes they don't even bother to attend the service at all. I have nothing against homeless people. But it's awkward to attempt to carry on conversations with people I have nothing in common with, some of whom are struggling with mental disorders, and some who are outright aggressive. Nevermind the issues of personal hygiene…. It has led to quite a few bizarre and extremely awkward experiences. I have nothing against homeless people; and though it is preferable, it's not mandatory that one bathe. But at the very least one could at least be somewhat interested in Buddhism if one is going to go to a Buddhist temple, homeless or otherwise?

I sympathise, but I had to laugh, too, because I have a very good friend who is a devout Christian and is deeply attached to a very high-church (candles, incense,robes, latin services) Anglican church in a wealthy suburb of Melbourne, a city of 4 - 5 million people. And your experience parallels hers in every respect - homeless people and all. :lol:
I've got to give her credit, though, for her response: she willingly works to help the homeless, cooking and serving for the breakfast programme every Sunday.
:bow:

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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Tue Jul 15, 2014 8:20 am

Thank you. I volunteer at a soup kitchen and food dispensary site for homeless twice a week.

Here is an example of how bizarre it got with regard to the homeless people who show up at the temple. One man who looks like Michael Moore (that is, bearing no characteristics that most people would say are feminine), scared the women at the temple when he started using the women's bathroom. Despite the fact that he has undergone no reassignment surgery, this disheveled person decided he was a woman.

After service one Sunday, we were told that we would have a lecture about LGBT rights. This homeless person and a social worker sat at the head of the table and began to lecture us all about how we are all bigots. Some homeless people cannot afford reassignment surgery, and so it was bigoted of the elderly Japanese-American ladies to attempt to exclude this transgendered person from their bathroom. (This person would sit at the table and openly talk about their genitalia.) Halfway through the lecture, I stood up and mentioned that my sister came out of the closet when I was 10, my mother is a member of "parents and friends of lesbians and gays," and I even marched in a gay pride parade once. I then said that this wasn't the place for this topic, and I left.

It was later revealed that this homeless person was suffering from a psychological* disorder, and had a history of causing trouble at Buddhist temples throughout the city. After threatening to break all the windows at the Nichiren temple, this person was understandably banned from the temple. This person had already been banned from several other temples as well.

That's just the tip of the iceberg…. So bizarre in retrospect.

(* note. I'm not saying that being transgendered is a psychological disorder. This person was revealed to be schizophrenic.)
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Re: Going independent?

Postby shaunc » Tue Jul 15, 2014 8:53 am

I've been reading this thread. Nichiren instal you have to ask yourself why you practise Buddhism. If peace of mind is one of the reasons, I dare say you're not getting much of it at that temple. My advice would be to practise independently & at the same time shop around for another temple.
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Re: Going independent?

Postby nichirenista » Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:29 am

Thank you. The reason I practice Nichiren Buddhism is because I feel empowered by it. The services themselves at this particular temple were always wonderful. Just being in the sanctuary area is calming for me. Or at least it was.... It was a dream come true for me at first. Then aspects of it turned into a bizarre nightmare. I don't mean any disrespect to the sensei. The sensei was doing the job of the sensei, but could not control the mentally ill homeless people and the socially awkward congregation members. I mean, it almost reads like fiction. It was a sense of rapport with the sensei that made me hold on. But that's not enough at this point. I probably should've left long ago, which most people end up doing at this extremely small temple. I will probably be back on a monthly basis, but I'm leaning toward weaning myself entirely….
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