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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 71 |summer 2006 he observed efforts both to preserve the essential spirituality and intention of the SGI, developed in Japan by Japanese, and to form new modes of expression adapted to the particular culture. In the U.S., SGI has succeeded in attracting African-Ameri- cans and Hispanics, in contrast to most Buddhist groups and traditions. The SGI’s emphasis on empowerment, community, patriotism, and the liberalizing spirit of inner transformation have helped to generate broad interest in this movement. Simi- larly, in urbanized Singapore, the movement is made up prima- rily of Chinese people who are attracted to its dynamism and ideals, such as optimism, happiness, personal empowerment, and social responsibility. In Brazil, the story of SGI’s adapta- tion and success is linked to its stimulation of self-esteem, hope, responsibility, and achieving personal ends. “Benefits from practice are inconspicuous,” says Seager, “but highly tangible: improvements in speech, conduct, and grooming, all of which contribute to their sense of well-being, their happiness, and their upward mobility.” Seager is a talented writer and provides vivid impressions of his encounters, interviewees, and journeys. The book contains endnotes, a helpful glossary of Japanese terms, a bibliogra- phy, and a detailed index. The narrative style, which contains autobiographical elements, may have prevented Seager from attempting more analysis and offering more theoretical insights. Seager is trained as a comparative historian of religions, and I wondered why he did not go deeper with his discussion of the tension between the preservation of tradition and the innovative adoption of a transplanted religion. How much “Japaneseness” is possible in Brazil or the U.S., and at what point will the SGI become co-opted by society and deprived of its “empowering spirit”? What can we infer from other globalized religions with regard to the tension of preservation and acculturation? Also, Seager classified the SG as an expression of “Buddhist modernism,” applying a term from the late Buddhologist Heinz Bechert. What exactly, however, does he imply by “modern” or “modernist” in the case of Japan, and does this apply also for the U.S., Singapore, and Brazil? Furthermore, modernity not only has the supposedly positive side of happiness, freedom, and liberty, but also the dark underside of suppression, mass exploitation, and gargantuan world wars. Finally, Seager convincingly argues that much of the dyna- mism and appeal of the SGI is related to the idea of personal and communal empowerment. This is an important point and presents a new perspective on the movement, which now has about twelve million members worldwide. It would have been worthwhile to compare the approach of the SGI with other grassroot movements of empowerment, such as Ambedkar Buddhism in India and Christian Liberation Theology in Latin America. What is specific to the SGI, and what is common to such movements of empowerment? And, don’t religious empowerment movements inevitably violate the separation of religion and politics, a reproach critics voice against the SG-Japan? Despite these minor reservations, Encountering the Dharma successfully achieves its goal of stripping away the remoteness and strangeness of Soka Gakkai spirituality for those unfamiliar with it, and sheds some intelligent light on the appeal of the movement. no chicken no eye no ear no nose Zafus, Inflatable Zafus, Tilt Seats, Books, Smile Cushions, Zabutons, Pe ace Benches, Meditation Te ch Support and more. www.zafu.net 1-888-267-5366 CUSHIONS FROM THE SOUTH Ad was created in collaboration with ROADWORKinc.com SEEING CLEARLY may require more than a single view. Buddhadharma offers the best Buddhist teachings available from a wide variety of traditions – Theravada, Zen, Vajrayana and others. Deepen your understanding, enhance your practice, and keep in touch with the wider Buddhist community. Try a one-year (four issues) subscription at the introductory price of $19.95 (US). Get a FULL REFUND if you’re not satisfied with your first issue. call TOll-FREE 1-877-786-1950 Fax: 1-902-423-2701 www.thebuddhadharma.com Introductory pricing for one year (four issues): US $19.95, Canada CDN$29.95, international US$29.95 VISa or Mastercard Buddhadharma The PracT i T ioner’s QuarT erly Many Buddhists, One Buddhadharma Get a FULL REFUND if you’re not satisfied with your first issue. -FREE 1-877-786-1950 : 1-902-423-2701 www.thebuddhadharma.com Introductory pricing for one year (four issues): US $19.95, Canada CDN$29.95, international US$29.95 or Mastercard dhdhd