Nichiren Buddhism gains traction locally
Post Independent Intern
Paula Valenti was first introduced to Nichiren Buddhism roughly 35 years ago, while she was living in Los Angeles.
Raised as a Catholic in Argentina, she gave the new religion a try but moved on after a few months. Fast-forward five years and Valenti had returned to Argentina, where she was reintroduced to the specific branch of Buddhism. This time, it stuck.
“Everybody gets in touch with Buddhism in different ways,” said Valenti of her journey. “We practice to transform our lives. We call it human revolution, and everything is energy. We are little universes, each of us, and we have the potential to achieve anything we want.”
When Valenti moved to Glenwood Springs three and a half years ago, she said she was surprised to find only three or four people practicing Nichiren Buddhism and no form of Buddhist community center, which she said are common in bigger cities.
“In big cities, there are meetings every day,” Valenti said. “When I came here, I was looking for a place [to practice], and there was nothing. I decided I’d start talking to people, and little by little I started having people interested, so I started having meetings at my house.”
Since then, Valenti has helped established two Nichiren Buddhist groups in the Roaring Fork Valley. One meets in Carbondale every Wednesday evening, and the other meets at Valenti’s home in Glenwood Springs twice a week.
Nichiren Buddhism, which is a specific branch of the larger Buddhist religion, was developed in the 13th century by Nichiren Daishonin, a Buddhist monk from Japan. After intensive study of the Buddhist sutras, Nichiren decided the Lotus Sutra contained the key to enlightenment.
Valenti explained that the main difference between different branches of Buddhism is the path to Buddhahood, or enlightenment. Buddhahood is one of 10 life conditions, which also include Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven, Learning, Realization and Bodhisattva.
In Nichiren Buddhism, Buddhahood can be attained by chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” which is the Japanese translation of the title of Lotus Sutra and is also identified as the fundamental expression of the law of life.
“Life is not fixed,” Valenti said. “You don’t get there [to Buddhahood] and stay there; we go through the 10 conditions all day long. When you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, your life condition stays in the higher states. It’s a very personal experience, and it’s a very direct way to enlightenment.”
During her biweekly meetings, which Valenti translates between English and Spanish, locals interested in Nichiren Buddhism participate in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, followed by recitation of the Lotus Sutra. Open dialogue and basic lessons follow, exploring concepts such as the 10 life conditions.
Currently, about 20 locals are attending the Nichiren groups in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, and Valenti said they are always looking for new members.
Last month, she helped organize a Buddhist celebration to spread the word about Nichiren Buddhism at Veltus Park. About 50 people from across the state gathered for a potluck meal and live music, and informational newspapers and magazines were distributed.
Valenti said the event was a success, with members of other Nichiren Buddhist groups from Denver, Grand Junction and Montrose in attendance, in addition to interested locals. She hopes to organize at least two more festivals before the end of the year.
“We went in with a goal to get eight new people, and we have eight new people coming to our meetings now,” she said. “Our main goal was to attract youth, and right now we have two young people attending meetings.”
As Nichiren Buddhism begins to gain traction in the Roaring Fork Valley, Valenti encourages locals to explore the religion.
“There are probably three or four people in the area who have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for 40 or 45 years, and the rest of the people just began in the last few years,” Valenti said. “They’re seeing if it works.”
While discussing her religion, Valenti also stressed the concept that Buddhahood is a life condition, which every human being possesses regardless of religion.
“We don’t chant or pray to anything outside ourselves,” Valenti explained. “Most people come from another religion with something outside, so for a lot of people it’s a hard concept to understand. You have to take responsibility for your own life, because there’s nothing up there. You have to decide what to do with your life and take action toward that.”
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