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Buddhist temple places blame for Sept. 11

A Buddhist temple in Flushing is circulating pamphlets suggesting that practices by a rival Buddhist group and moral decay brought about the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

The October issue of Emyo, the bimonthly newsletter of the Buddhist temple Nichiren Shoshu Myosetsuji at 143-63 Beech Ave., discusses the views of the High Priest Nikken Shonin. It was distributed to the nearly 2,000 members of the temple in early October.

“Viewing these things from a broad perspective, it is disregard for our correct Buddhism that has given rise to various heretical Buddhist teachings functioning as poison, and as a result many people are suffering,” Shonin was quoted as saying in the newsletter.

The pamphlet, which was written in Japanese and translated into English, goes on to say that “terrorism in the United States is the omen of world war .... The slanderous members of the Soka Gakkai must truly fear this punishment.”

The Soka Gakkai sect of Buddhism split from the Nichiren Shoshu sect nearly 10 years ago, and the two groups have had a tumultuous relationship since. Both sects focus on chanting. Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism emphasizes the importance of the priest, while Soka Gakkai Buddhism sees the priest and the laity as equal.

Rev. Jisei Nagasaka of Nichiren Shoshu Myosetsuji would not comment on the pamphlet.

A member of the Nichiren Shoshu temple in Flushing who wished to remain nameless expressed her distaste at the stance of the newsletter.

“The article is saying that Americans and other Buddhists are responsible for what has happened to our country,” said the member, a 23-year-old woman from the Upper West Side. “This is exactly what Jerry Falwell did, and the whole world was outraged.”

The member referred to the comments by the Christian fundamentalist, Rev. Jerry Falwell, when he appeared on Pat Robertson’s television show, “The 700 Club,” on Sept. 13 and blamed certain segments of U.S. society for making the country vulnerable to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“The pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle ... I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen,’” said Falwell, who later apologized for his remarks.

Christine Franklin, 40, also of the Upper West Side, was considering joining the temple until she read the article.

“A friend was telling me about the religion, and it sounded very interesting to me,” said Franklin. “But after I read that article, there was no way I would join. They sounded like maniacs, more or less.”

Franklin added that she thought it was the same type of fundamentalism that is practiced by the Taliban, the theocratic government of Afghanistan that is thought to harbor, Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ethan Gelbaum, director of the Soka Gakkai International New York Cultural Center in Manhattan, said he had read part of the pamphlet.

“It was unbelievable. It completely lacked any sense of compassion,” said Gelbaum. “Two of my friends died in the tragedy. It’s a rather callous approach.”

Gelbaum described Soka Gakkai Buddhism as “amazingly diverse.” The sect is not traditional Buddhism; priests do not have to shave their heads and can perform same-sex marriages. Gelbaum estimated that almost 20 percent of the sect’s New York members are African-American.

While Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists worship in temples, Soka Gakkai Buddhists practice their religion in cultural centers. According to Gelbaum, the sect is hoping to open a center in Queens sometime soon, most likely in Forest Hills or Kew Gardens.

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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