Dear Mystical Seekers of Happiness:

A new flap in religion in America these days is Sokagakkai. This irrational, existential Nichiren Buddhist sect, famed for its phenomenal growth in post-war Japan, now claims a membership of 30,000 families in all fifty states, with California leading the way. Its appeal to thoroughly modern but incurably religious Americans is its promise of immediate spiritual and material happiness. All one has to do is say a four-word prayer, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, preferably 3,000 times a day, advises international president Daisaku Ikeda.

I attended a Sokagakkai meeting—a kind of Buddhist “sock-it-to-me-time”—in a home about two thousand samurai-sword lengths from the U. S. Capitol. There thirty people—yellow, black, and white—knelt before the Gohonzon to recite their daimoku (the four-word prayer). The Gohonzon, an envelope-sized paper scroll inscribed with the Chinese characters for Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and enshrined in a fancy cabinet, is their object of worship. Recital of the prayer assures one of enlightenment, financial success, physical healing, protection from violence (even in traffic accidents), eventual unity with the spirit of the universe, and, for now, joy, joy, joy!

Most of the evening was devoted to Shakubuku, the proselytizing session. First we had a time of happy songs led by a Nisei woman who used a fan for a baton. To the tune of “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” the faithful sang, “I’ve Been Goin’ to Shakubuku.” Then the articulate leader called upon members to explain the movement’s history and practices. (“Don’t worry about understanding. Begin saying the prayer and see how faith in the Gohonzon affects your life.”) Next came testimonies of personal blessing (happiness in a new ...

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