This profile was last updated in 2006
Soka Gakkai International in the United States (SGI-USA) sprouted roots in Orlando soil in the same manner as it has in other cities across America. In the 1960’s Orlando was host to many Japanese war brides who became the founding women of SGI-USA in the Central Florida area. SGI’s initial group of believers has since grown to over 400 members in the territory of Orlando with separate districts, groups, and chapters comprising the total number. During this growth period, many fellow believers from other states across the nation relocated to Central Florida to assist with further development of the group and it’s efforts to enhance society and culture.
SGI-USA Orlando is currently in the process of establishing a community center for the Orlando area which they project will open in the near future. In the meantime, discussion meetings, study meetings and gatherings are held in members’ homes and rented public facilities.
At a District meeting, where members from various districts are represented, a visitor can experience the vital presence of SGI-USA in Orlando. The meeting begins with the members chanting the famous Nichiren Buddhist tradition’s Hommon-no-Daimoku, the true invocation, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”. However, their particular method of chanting may become startling to the first-time visitor as this phrase is chanted in unison at an astonishingly rapid pace by a large number of people for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. Over and over and over again, the phrase is repeated to what becomes a sing-song rhythm. When members have to pause for breath, the rhythm is continued by others until they rejoin perfectly in sync without missing a beat. Bells sound in the background of the chanting chorus and each member continually rubs their prayer beads. When the chanting ceases, different members take turns telling personal stories of hardship and suffering or reiterate the purpose and meaning of Nichiren’s Buddhism in their lives.
The ethnic composition of the group is widely diverse consisting of Asian, African-American, American, and Hispanic representation. All age groups are represented as well as children.
Activities and Schedule
SGI-USA Orlando upholds a monthly activity schedule whereby on the first Sunday of each month the World Peace Prayer Meeting is held. On the second week of the month, there is a Study Meeting, and the third week holds a variety of activities for different groups such as elementary-age children, high-school age children, and separate men’s and women’s groups. On the fourth week, Discussion meetings are held at member’s homes or in a neighborhood facility. Regarding their specific meetings, John Benson, a local lay leader, comments, “Our activities center on Discussion meetings and Study meetings at people’s homes. These meetings are multi-ethnic and although the primary language spoken at the meetings is English, we also have occasional meetings in Japanese and Spanish according to the needs of participants.” Keeping in line with the central aim of all SGI activities to promote humanistic dialogue based on Buddhist principles, Benson relates, “The main quality of our activities is the tolerance of people and their customs with respect to diversity. Our discussion meetings focus on real life issues facing each of us who are struggling to live a life of value in modern society.”
In addition, SGI-USA has established the Florida Nature and Culture Center, a 125-acre retreat center and nature preserve in 1996 which aids the process of upholding Nichiren beliefs of respect for the environment.
SGI-USA Orlando will continue to embrace ideals about bringing people together in mutual efforts of global concern through the Nichiren Buddhism’s main focus of faith, practice and study. In conjunction with all SGI-USA members, the Orlando group practices the Buddhism of Nichiren “for their personal happiness, and equally, for the development of a humane and peaceful society.”