Alyson Hansen PhotogAlyHansen
Jul 4, 2019 at 12:01 AM
Editor’s note: This is part two of a series exploring the different religious services offered at Fort Bragg. If you are a member of a religious community that would like to be featured, please reach out to Alyson Hansen at ahansen@theparaglide.
It’s what Nichren Buddhism and Soka Gakkai International (SGI), is centered around. Nichiren Daishonin, a 13th century Buddhist reformer, revealed this phrase is the law that surrounds the universe and life. Translated as “Mystic Law of cause and effect through the Buddha’s teaching,” it’s how SGI services are started.
Attendees hold their prayer beads and chant the phrase over and over. The beads are wound around hands in an infinity symbol.
“The beads represent your body or your life.” said Shea-Ra Nichi, distinctive religious group leader (DRGL). “It really just means your holding your life in your hand. If you look at it from the top you’ll see the three prongs, which represent your head and your arms. The bottom prongs are your legs. The beads are held crossed in a figure eight which means life is eternal.”
One hundred and ninety-wo countries around the world practice SGI. The U.S. branch is called SGI-USA, and according to the organization, 3,000 neighborhood discussion groups exist across the country.
According to Nichi, 60 people at Fort Bragg are practicing SGI-USA Buddhists. The group that meets at Pope Chapel are mostly military wives and retired military
SGI-USA separates its members into geographical districts, and each district holds smaller weekly discussion meetings. Three larger meetings are held throughout the Fayetteville area each month and on the last Sunday of each month, a study meeting is held at a hotel in town.
The third Saturday of every month sees the Fort Bragg group meeting at Pope Chapel, where they discuss Buddhist practices they may have been reading up on, or talking to people interested in following the faith. Newcomers are always welcome and the group will explain various aspects of SGI-USA to those who have questions.
SGI-USA is just one type of Buddhism. It’s predicated on the premise that all are equal and that all can possess the ability to achieve Buddha-hood, the state of enlightenment and happiness.
For the SGI Buddhist, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the path to that enlightenment. Nichiren explained this in his writings, “When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one
is called a Buddha.
“This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality.
“Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”
SGI-USA members pray twice a day, polishing their “mirrors” by chanting, once in the morning and once in the evening. The goal is for each member to live to their fullest potential, no matter what the task.
To the SGI-USA member, the lotus flower is a powerful symbol. Lotus flowers grow out of swampy, dank areas, but are beautiful flowers when fully bloomed. Every member begins as a seed and works to grow their way out of the “swamp” to become their best selves. According to Nichi, it is a practice of ordinary people helping others and themselves to be happy.
Chaplain (Maj.) George Tyger, 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, is the chaplain sponsor of the Buddhist group at Fort Bragg. He ensures that the community has the resources to allow them to worship.
“The buddhist community here is really established and has excellent lay leaders and is a great community of people,” he said. “I want to make sure they have the resources they need so they can practice their faith.”
Tyger recently took over the sponsorship of the Buddhist community, a responsibility he as a chaplain takes seriously.
“This is why we have chaplains in the Army,” he said. “We exist to ensure the free expression rights of everybody. We don’t pick and choose for people. I would encourage people no matter what their faith background is to visit a community with another faith background. Make friends of other faiths.”
Buddhist meetings are held on the third Saturday of every month at the Pope Chapel.
For more information about Buddhism, reach out to Shea-Ra Nichi at