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Q: Why do we sing songs at SGI meetings?

Members celebrate the opening of the SGI-USA Brooklyn Buddhist Center with joyful singing, New York, May 4. Photo by MASAYUKI TSUJIMURA.

Singing songs rouses people’s spirits, bringing forth the hope and joy that reside in their hearts.

Since the early days of the Soka Gakkai, members have created songs to give expression to their vow to widely spread the ideals of Nichiren Buddhism and lead their friends, family and those around them to happiness.

SGI President Ikeda says: “We in the Soka Gakkai . . . forge ahead to the sound of our resonant voices lifted in song. Those who love singing have happy hearts. Indeed, it could be said that if you can sing cheerfully, you have already won” (March 27, 2009, World Tribune, p. 4).

Singing songs at SGI meetings is not about doing so with superb voices or perfect singing techniques. Rather, we sing songs to express from the depths of our heart the determination to break through our own struggles and the joy of helping all those around us create lives of absolute happiness. Joining in song with such a spirit helps lift us up and unite with fellow members.

Songs Rouse an Undefeated Spirit

During the summer of 1978, when tensions with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood were intensifying, President Ikeda composed some 30 songs to offer hope and courage to members across Japan and around the world, knowing that they would soon face major challenges to kosen-rufu.

He writes:

Since music is soothing as well as liberating, wherever there is song, there is growth. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda used to say, “Wherever people have prospered throughout history, song could always be heard.” In the SGI, too, as long as we cherish music and song, our organization will continue to develop. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 60)

In April 1979, due to the machinations of priests and a small group of scheming leaders, President Ikeda resigned as third Soka Gakkai president to protect the members. Following this, a number of restrictions were placed on his activities by Nichiren Shoshu priests. For instance, he could not speak at meetings, and no reports of his activities could be reported in the Seikyo newspaper.

Undeterred by such restrictions, he found various ways to bring joy to the members, for instance, learning to play the piano and performing for them. His performances, he says, were “infused with a prayer for all present to develop into brave and resolute people of faith who would lead lives blooming with happiness like the cherry trees in springtime” (June 14, 2019, World Tribune, p. B).

The “Wonderful Sound” of the Universe

Music and cultural activities are deeply rooted in our Buddhist practice. Returning to the Lotus Sutra’s 24th chapter, “The Bodhisattva Wonderful Sound,” we find the story of an awesome bodhisattva named Wonderful Sound who plays beautiful music on a multitude of instruments to express the great benefits of practicing the Lotus Sutra.

While Shakyamuni had already declared the essential teaching earlier in the sutra’s 16th chapter, Wonderful Sound reaffirms this teaching through sound and beauty, representing the importance of cultural expression in Buddhism.

President Ikeda affirms how our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the ultimate song of life, writing:

The entire universe is playing a “wonderful sound.” The universe itself is a symphony of life, a chorale sung by all beings and phenomena—a serenade, a nocturne, a ballad, an opera, a suite. The universe performs all “wonderful sounds.”

The foundation of this is the Mystic Law. It is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Therefore, reciting the sutra is essentially a wake-up song that causes the sun to rise in our hearts, as well as a nocturne, a “Moonlight Sonata” that illuminates our hearts with the light of the moon.

Reciting the sutra is like reading a poem. And chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like singing a musical masterpiece. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 44)

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