One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I have never doubted the existence of God. Though I have lacked faith in the moment, my belief in a power greater than myself, yet intimately connected to myself, has never foundered. Lord knows I have been angry at God, and each and every time the anger was misdirected, I have always had the steadfast certainty that there is a God, who goes by names and many faces, but a Creator that is love and was there in the beginning and will be there in the end.
Most recently, I have started a faith journey in the Nichiren Buddhist tradition. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Nichiren Buddhism, it is a Buddhist path championed by Nichiren Daishonen, a 14th century Japanese monk that espoused the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddartha Guatama) and taught that the Lotus Sutra, the last Sutra developed by the Buddha and taught by him in his last three years of life, was the highest form of Buddhist thought and was the most direct path towards enlightenment.
In fact, unlike other schools of Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that one can reach Nirvana and the end of the cycle of birth, death, rebirth and suffering in a single lifetime through study, faith, and practice, which is embodied in chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the translation of which is "I dedicate myself to the mystical law of cause and effect as expressed through sound." Basically, what you do comes back to you.
Now, in attending local meetings in Harlem and gongyo at the Cultural Center, I have met amazing people, and I have met zealots. Zealots from any faith path are a huge turn off to me no matter how noble the faith or how pure the intentions. Zealotry only exists in the context of dogma, and, officially, Nichiren Buddhism is non-dogmatic. Meaning, it is a faith without a moral code of conduct, as the code is embodied in the choices made by each individual, and, jointly, an individuals salvation is also a personal responsibility--there is no magic prayer that can be said to a deity that will result in absolution and evolution, your forward movement is your responsibility.
Many of the people I have met in SGI, the lay organization of Nichiren Buddhism, are former Christians that either were turned away from the faith through the hateful or hurtful acts of its adherents or failed to find meaning in Christian worship for themselves. Officially, Nichiren Buddhism is atheist in practice but accepting of those that believe in a higher power. By atheist, I do not mean that Nichiren Buddhism denies the existence of God but it believes that whether or not there is a God a person may find Nirvana through their own works and faith and practice. Indeed, Nichiren Buddhism is based on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha who did, indeed, believe in gods.
Officially, in its writings, SGI welcomes people of duel faith. Unfortunately, I have encountered one too many people that have been disdainful or discounting of my choice to continue a faith in God. I personally believe that the teachings of Christ and the teachings of both the Buddha and Nichiren Daishonen are in accord. The Christ and The Buddha both taught personal responsibility. Both taught that you are responsible for your own salvation and your own actions. It is only the Church, created as a temporal agency with an eye towards power and control, that created an external path of salvation that is dependent on the Church.
SGI members know first hand how an institution can corrupt a faith, which is why in 1991 SGI was excommunicated by the Nichiren Buddhist priesthood for refusing to bow to an institution that claimed hegemony over a faith's teachings. It is saddening that some individual members of SGI practice a personal dogma that attempts to undermine the faith choices of other practitioners walking the same path.
Thankfully for every overzealous individual I have met in SGI, I have met 10 others that are perfectly willing to allow me to understand God and my spiritual practice, including the incorporation of Nichiren Buddishm, in my own way.
I believe in God, and I believe in the power of nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I do not see them as mutually exclusive, and I do not see any conflict in my Christian upbringing which has been critically examined and critically deconstructed through my own faith practice and the new faith practice I have found in SGI Nichrien Buddhism.
Zealots of any kind are welcome to keep their puritanism to themselves. There are no gatekeepers in Nichiren Buddhism and those that I have found that have espoused a dogma and cultishness that has no place in Nichiren Buddhism need to reflect on their faith instead of trying to manipulate that of others. I am a Christian Buddhist, and I plan to continue that faith journey without permission from anyone.
God bless us everyone, and may the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and Shakyamuni Buddha guide our steps.