History of Nichiren's Coffeehouse

CampRoss-ji-ha Hokke-shu
by Don Ross

Within one year of when the "priesthood issue" erupted in 1991, 1/3 of my district went Hokkeko or Independent [1/2 of the SGI members in Lake County, CA]. I was a YMD district, then chapter leader during that time. And because 4 out 5 of the outgoing membership was gay, I was pulled in to help out, to try to reach these people, who became my friends, and to discover the root causes.

My history with the Gakkai has been anything but smooth. I was officially banished twice from NSA from 1986 to 1990 because of my HIV status. So when all this erupted, I went to the temple myself and listened and read everything they had on the issues from their point of view. Clearly, it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but I chose to support the Gakkai, because I saw it as the most viable vehicle for kosen rufu. I determined in my heart at that time that I would fight from within the [then] NSA for reform until I could do no more.

For five years I traveled through the mountains of northern California to talk to people about the issues: Gakkai, Hokkeko and Independent alike. It took me years to really hear what they saying, to open my eyes to the slander of the ongoing Temple Wars... but I advocated for reform based on what I learned from them and am happy to say that to this day, the Redword Empire remains a bastion of Gakkai liberalism. If I had remained living up there, I probably NEVER would have left the SGI. I still consider them my friends and family.

Anyway, I fell in love in 1996 and moved to southern California, to the lovely and warm Sandy Ego, err... San Diego. Six months after arriving here, I was appointed a leadership position without ANYONE saying a single word to me. After ripping a new asshole for the top MD leader after that Kosen Rufu Gongyo, I took on the assigned task, but I never really had my heart in it.

It was right about this time [1997] that I went online for the first time and began playing with webpages. I came up with the name Nichiren's Coffeehouse, as a play on the West Coast trend for coffeehouses. [I can't hardly survive without my morning mocha now! ;-] Anyway, for the first year of it's existance, it was a single webpage in Geocities with SGI and Nichiren Shoshu links only. At the time, there were many websites which were purported to be SGI but were NShoshu, and visa versa. I sought to clarify the truth by linking both sides of the issue, in their own words. I am a firm believer that the truth will always emerge. Sometimes one needs to wait a little while, but in time, the truth always reveals itself.

Slowly I began to link to the other Nichiren Schools as I found them, but there weren't that many out there, so it was just one long list of links, broken up by Sect. I sort of read their webpages, but I was totally devoted to the Gakkai, so I didn't really contemplate the differences, until later...

During this time, my love and passion was participating in the Study Department and I began to lead bi-monthly discussion mtgs on PI's Lectures on the LS. I had the opportunity to travel all over San Diego County, meeting many wonderful people.

In many ways, San Diego had been saved from the worst of the anti-Nikken fervor, because there was no temple movement here to speak of. My first couple of years here, it was rarely spoken of which was sort of nice, but I would still urge us to talk about it every so often, because I felt people prefered to be an ostrach on the matter.

In my opinion, the turning point in the Temple Wars was when HP Nikken Abe tore down the ShoHondo. I saw a great outpoor of emotionalism both in my local org and on the internet. I witnessed a great wave of hate erupt in the minds of the people and it seemed to me like everyone got right behind the campaign to chant a billion daimoku to close all Nichiren Shoshu temples in the USA. I was appalled. I refused to even touch those daimoku cards. I cannot and will not support the destruction of any religion! I understand the emotional attachments people had to the ShoHondo, but it is just that, attachments. I knew I must speak out against the slander I was witnessing. I could not remain silent. I had do something!

In February 1999, I was turned on to IRG, the Independent Reassessment Group by a mutual friend. I drove up to Long Beach several times to meet with the committee at Andy Hanlen's home. For a time, I lent them my webmaster skills and my voice.

My basic experience is that the SGI line leaders are generally good people with big hearts. However, it is my opinion that the biggest organizational problems lie at the very top, and are mostly cultural in nature. Therefore, I aimed my full effort for reform toward the internet community, to affect some sort of change on a nationwide level, in a one last ditch effort before I would [figuratively] retire to Mount Minobu.

As I began to talk about Buddhism online with people of various faiths, I was forced to looker deeper at the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and it's myriad interpretations. For a time, my head spun by the implications of what I was reading and learning about the depths of this buddhism. In June 1999, I experimented with chanting the full seven characters of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, and have never gone back to the contracted daimoku, except with a few friends. I also received my own copy of the Prayer Gohonzon at that time from a temple in Japan via Bruce Maltz and a few other friends in various sects. At the time, I was the first Gakkai member to have one of these and only the third person in this country to own a copy of this particular Nichiren Mandala. It was also during this time that I found myself in growing doctrinal disagreements with fundamental Nichiren Shoshu and SGI doctrines. I do not believe in the myth of the DaiGohonzon. I do not believe Nichiren was a Buddha. Nichiren himself identified the Eternal Buddha as Shakyamuni of the Life Span Chapter. I can agree with the concept that all people are potentially Buddha, and maybe even that all people are Buddha just a they are with all of their defilements, but I will NOT hold one person above the rest: not the historical Buddha, not the Great Teacher Nichiren, not Nikken Abe, not Daisaku Ikeda.

It was during this time that I began to focus a lot of my time surfing the web to study Nichiren Buddhism and linking everthing I could find. I eventually broke it down into smaller pages at my visitors' requests, and it has been growing byte-by-byte on a daily or weekly basis ever since.

Three weeks after I received my Nichiren Gohonzon, then General Director Fred Zaitsu showed up on my doorstep unexpectedly for a home visit. Just to be clear here, I have never been a senior leader, and this was my first conversation with the guy. We debated doctrine, and discussed the evolving doctrines of the SGI. At the end of the conversation, I respectfully resigned my position as a group leader because I could no longer support the SGI's positions. However, I didn't actually leave the Gakkai until a few months later...

Shortly after I shared online about the new Mandala I had acquired from Japan, people began to ask me how they could get one, but at the time, it was next to impossible for Gakkai members to do so. After much daimoku and discussion with some of my Independent friends, I decided to make copies of the Prayer Gohonzon available to Gakkai members on a limited basis. I asked NO ONE's permission. I made my first Gohonzon on my 15th anniversary of when I received Gojukai, on 8/25/99. Boy, did the waves splash on both sides of the Pacific Ocean when I announced to the internet what I was doing! 'Til this day, the single greatest number of visitors to the Coffeehouse in a single week, was the last week in August 99, right after I put the Prayer Gohonzon online.

By November of last year I realized it was time for me to move on with my life and go Independent for many more reasons than I have shared here. My primary reason for this choice was to make it easier to spread the Prayer Gohonzon. As a member of the SGI, I was viewed with mistrust by almost everyone. Furthermore, I was seen as a heretic within the org.... So, I simply followed my heart.

To celebrate my Independence I had lithographed 1000 Prayer Gohonzons of various sizes for the Independent Movement. Strangely, it is been mostly the Gakkai who have come to me, mostly quietly, sometimes publicly, requesting Gohonzon. Their average number of years of practice is 20+. It has already transcended most buddhist sects in the USA. There are even a few Nichiren Shoshu members who own one... From talking to some others who are also giving them out, we estimate that 2000 people are chanting to them in America [by the end of the year 2000], about 500 of whom are active Gakkai. I find this especially remarkable in that this Gohonzon only first appeared here in America 1-1/2 years ago! This could never have happened if I had retained my membership in the Gakkai. It is because of this that I still consider myself a Friend of the SGI, but NOT a member. We each have our own unique mission.

I was not the first person to put Gohonzons online. I simply gathered the images I found, then categorized and displayed them according to their sectarian affiliation. Last year too, an Independent friend of mine obtained some old photo copies of the GohonzonShu. I remember the first time I laid my eyes on them. Page after page after page of Nichiren halographs seared into my brain. I knew I had to have them for myself. I chanted for a year and a half as a friend in Japan searched for it for me.

By the begining of this year, the desire had formed in my heart to share ALL of the Great Mandalas inscribed by Nichiren with the entire world. By this past summer, I still had not obtained my heart's desire, so I decided to make a cause in the right direction. I got a friend to make me photocopies of most of the copies [of copies] of the GohonzonShu for me to scan to put online. They were not very good quality, but they were [mostly] good enough to read. Within one week of putting these online, I got an email telling me the new 1999 edition was on its way from Japan. Once I received it, I went out and bought a top of the line scanner and proceeded to become the first person to put online ALL of Nichiren Daishonin's authenticated Mandalas.

In the gosho, The True Object of Worship, Nichiren explicitly names the people and deities who should be represented in the Gohonzon. However, Nichiren actually inscribed many different characters from the Lotus World over the course of his Gohonzon inscribing career, ALL of which came from the Lotus Sutra world of medieval Buddhism. Most of the beings represented come directly from the Lotus Sutra, but some do not. For example, Fudo and Aizen do not appear anywhere in the LS, but they were commonly worshiped in the esoteric Lotus World of Taimitsu [Tendai] and Tomistsu [Shingon]. These two siddham appear on nearly every Nichiren Gohonzon. Mahavairocana also appears on a few of his Gohonzon.

Also, if one looks closely at this pivotal gosho, NO WHERE does Nichiren explicitly state that the Great Mandala MUST be a calligraphic representation. That interpretation can certainly be read into it, but it just that, an interpretation.

From my studies on the Gohonzon, it appears that every being mentioned in the Lotus Sutra appears on one or more authenticated Nichiren halographs, except one, Avalokitesvara, a.k.a. Kwan Yin [ch.] or Kannon Bosatsu [jap.], who has a whole chapter devoted to him/her [Chapter 25]. Further, Nichiren was unusually quiet in regard to this most popular of bodhisattvas. He neither refuted nor supported the very commom practice of calling upon her name, saying in effect, that the other chants associated with the Lotus Sutra are fine, but chanting Namu Myoho-renge-kyo encompasses all such practices and, therefore, they are unnecessary.

Why didn't Nichiren include Avalokitesvara on the Great Mandala?

Here I can only speculate. The practice of calling upon the name of Kannon Bodhisattva had long been prevelant in Japan since at least the early Heian period and it was especially popular among the common people. In fact, the most oft recited passage of buddhist scripture in Mahayana Buddhism [Tendai, Chan, Pure Land & some Nichiren schools] is the verse section of the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. However, with time this bodhisattva became associated with Amida Buddha and s/he is still commonly seen flanking Amida. Personally, I think Nichiren avoided the use of Kannon in order to distance his teachings from the emerging strands of Pure Land Buddhism of his day.

For myself, I have chosen to reincorporate Kwan-yin into my three dimensional Gohonzon. For example, right now, I have on my altar three statues. The 8" golden Buddha from India meditating directly below the NMRK inside my butsudan represents the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha within the Treasure Tower. He is flanked on either side of my altar by a two foot standing antique Thai Buddha which I use to represent Taho Buddha on one side and a 15" standing Chinese Kwan-yin to represent the Sangha on the other. This I think of as my Drag Queen Bodhisattva. ;-}

I am sure some are wondering at this point, why would I want to put statues on my altar when the Gohonzon Mandala contains everything within itself, or rather, within our self/no-self? My only real answer is that is a personal exploration of myself through buddhist practice. I will try to explain.

When I practiced in the SGI, my ideas about the object of worship were as narrow as the average member. However, after I began chanting to my new Nichiren Gohonzon for a few months, those walls melted away and I became open to listening to the various concepts of a 3D Gohonzon. After a time, I become comfortable with the idea and so I decided to experiment. I began to seek out an appropriate statue of the Buddha which I could relate to. I bought a book which catalogued and gave pictures of most Buddhas and bodhisattvas, so that I could tell them apart and understand their symbologies. Fortunately I live in big city and a gay neighborhood to boot, so there are MANY buddhist statues to choose from. It is VERY trendy in San Diego right now. I looked and looked and looked... trying to find something that matched my taste and my pocket book, still it was not an easy task.

I bought my first Buddha in October 1999 in a store called Buddhahead in my neighborhood. They specialize in Southeast Asian Buddhas, mostly from Thailand. It is a FABULOUS store to walk thru with golden buddhas standing almost as tall as myself throughout the store and wonderful treasures everywhere one looks. I found my standing Thai Buddha tucked away in a corner. It is made of teak and appears to be old. It suspect it was on a family altar at one time. I looked it over and then drove away. But I didn't make it a block before turning back to look at it again. Still I walked away, it was more than I wanted to spend, but I liked the Buddha... I went home, couldn't get it off my mind, and so I drove back an hour later and bought it, and brought it home and enshrined it to the right side of my Gohonzon. I chanted with it in various configurations to see how it felt inside of me. It was a good experience, all in all, but I knew it wasn't exactly what I was looking for...

So I continued my search for a Buddha to grace my Treasure Tower and found what I was seeking in the bookstore of my neighborhood Ch'an temple, an 8 inch brass Buddha from India with the earth witness mudra [representing Shakyamuni attaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree]. In traditional Nichirenshu doctrine, when this Buddha is enshrined in front of the Gohonzon, it becomes a representation of the Eternal Buddha of the Life Span Chapter.

I have thus created for myself a multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, interfaith representation of the Lotus Sutra: my GoHonzon. Namu Myoho-renge-kyo, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, Don

Search | Buddhas | Discuss | Gohonzon | Gosho | HonmonButsuryuShu | Independent | Inmates | KemponHokke | Kishimojin | Lotus_Sutra | Nichiren | NipponzanMyohoji | NichirenShoshu | NichirenShu | Pilgrimage | Prayer | Queers | RKK | Reiyukai | Ryuei.net & Dharmajim | SGI | Shichimen | Stupas | Sutra_Library | Tales | Tantric | Tendai | Theravada | WebRings | Women | Zen | Misc.

Updated 3 December 2000

Welcome to LotusSutra.net!