Local Philadelphia chapter of Sōka Gakkai (創価学会), an international organization with large membership founded in 1937 in Japan. It is derived from Japanese Nichiren Buddhism, but often considered a "new religion."
Based on observation during several visits to the downtown center and to district meetings in N and NE Philadelphia, the demographic breakdown of the attendees is approximately 50% African American, 30% Latino, 10% Caucasian, and 10% Asian. The majority of people were in their 30s or older. Each session at the downtown center could attract as many as 200 people.
SGI teaches that the Lotus Sūtra is a positive source of energy that transforms all suffering into happiness. They believe that all sorts of positive outcomes in a person’s life can come from the chanting of the mantra “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” By chanting, a person can be completely healed from any mental or physical illness. When asked specifically how this chant can improve one’s health, each interviewee had their own interpretation and shared their own experiences. One stated that the body could respond to the sound vibration produced by chanting the mantra, thus releasing negative energy which can cause physical or mental distress. Another shared with us her belief that by chanting the mantra with the intention of helping her mother recover from a neurological disorder, the chanting allowed her mother to find the best doctor and the best treatment that made her recovery possible.
Interviewees reported that they begin each practice by setting an intention about
something they would like to achieve in life (such as health, money, career goals, or good health). They stated that chanting has become a very important part of their life, and that they believe their devotion and daily practice are key to attaining enlightenment and everything else they set their mind to achieve.