It’s Soka Gakkai, a part of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. They will chant “Nam miyo renge kyo, etc.”, but only after they set up a little shrine. The little shrine will have some flowers and fruit or something I think, and it will have a little scroll of paper called a gohonzon. People will say, “Oh how fortunate you are! You have gohonzon!” I joined it for a few weeks in college because I was taking Japanese and wanted to meet some Japanese people to try my Japanese out on. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) the only people I met were down and out Americans and the chanting was all in something which I think was more like Sanskrit than Japanese.
Basically, you chant for things you want. If you want a bicycle, chant for a bicycle. If you want superpowers, chant for superpowers. I never took it seriously, although I have to say that even if all you have are a bunch of Americans chanting the Sanskrit or whatever it is, once they start chanting in their deepest most sonorous voices, they sound like a whole lot of male Buddhist monks, even if half of them are women. That kind of chanting though, with fifty or a hundred people, takes place in a hall with mats or whatever, so people can (I think) sit on their heels while they chant. Now I realize that I can’t remember the position we were using. We didn’t kneel, and we didn’t stand, and we didn’t sit, and we didn’t assume the position that Muslims do, so I’m thinking we sat on our heels, but we could have been cross-legged or we could have assumed a yoga position - I just can’t remember.
You’re right, almost nobody understands what they are chanting.
I never saw any great evidence that it did anything, but people ascribed various rewards in their lives to it.
It was in vogue in Hollywood for a while, with a few celebrities (I forget who) who were into it. Maybe it’s still in vogue. This is the first time I’ve thought of it in probably forty years.
I did get one thing I wasn’t expecting which I have fond memories of (which I always forget to associate with the religion), and that is a hike up a mountain. I had never done that before (or since) and the summertime hike was incredibly scenic. The guy who had talked me into joining (he was the group leader and he was looking for converts) wanted to go on a hike up a nearby mountain. I agreed to this and was rewarded with some scenery that was absolutely breathtaking, like a real-life journey up to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. I don’t think I will ever forget that.
Once the people who gave it to me figured out that I wasn’t really interested, they wanted the scroll back in the worst way and they wouldn’t stop bugging me about it until they got it back from me.
Me, I didn’t care about the scroll. I didn’t want to do anything bad to it nor did I want to keep it. I parted with it readily enough, I just didn’t want to meet with them again, and I didn’t want them in the house. Once I gave them back the gohonzon, they lost all interest in me.
If your mom gets a gohonzon, don’t let her throw it away because when she loses interest in it, people won’t leave her alone until she gives it back. If my experience is anything to go by, if she throws it away she’s going to be in a big mess.
When my mom saw the little shrine (this was before I had figured out that I wouldn’t get to talk to any Japanese people), she instinctively exclaimed, “That thing is EVIL!!!” Personally, I just thought it was a little bit embarrassing, but I figured if I could find someone to practice my Japanese on it would be worth it. Ultimately though, it was just a big waste of time.
Sorry if this is kind of rambling account, but I was filling in random memories as they came back to me and I had to jump back and forth.
That’s about all I’ve got.