By Bob Hasegawa, Las Vegas
WWW.AmericanGongyo.Org is my website which has free downloads of (1) a pronunciation guide written in intuitive American English and (2) the line-by-line audio CD (Mp3) tutorial along with moderate and regular speed individual Gongyo . A new member or guest can progress from knowing nothing about chanting to complete competency in regular speed Daimoku and Gongyo recitation. Established members can improve their Gongyo pronunciation, rhythm, and tone. The Daimoku and Gongyo recitations are by an YWD graduate of both the Soka High School and Soka University in Japan. You can have total confidence that the pronunciation, rhythm and tone are correct. The recitations are uncontaminated by my Americanskyisms.
Many people have learned or improved their Gongyo using these tools. The website is getting about 19 unique visitors a day. I personally have distributed about 1000 hard copies in Vegas and at FNCC. Soon, every new member in Vegas will get the guide and CD with (or before) the Gohonzon. But of course, most members know nothing about the site. Please visit the site and spend some time downloading the pronunciation guide and CD/Mp3 audio tutorial. There is also a written International English guide for SGI members who speak non-American accented English. If you like the product, make some copies for your fellow members. I’m working on Spanish and French editions, and other site improvements. I only ask that the product be given away free.
When we think about it, the only Gohonzon recipients still around are those who learn and do Gongyo. 990,000 Gohonzon were handed out by NSA/SGI in the United States. Only 100,000 members are locatable, with 50-60,000 active. President Ikeda says : “Some people seem to be active for awhile, but eventually disappear from our movement for kosen-rufu. Almost without exception, such people are negligent in their daily practice of gongyo. Those who neglect doing gongyo will eventually lose their ability to grasp any points of faith or to accept guidance, no matter how great it may be.” Daily Guidance, Volume Three, page 168.
For Americans, learning Gongyo is difficult because it is written in a Latin based language called Hepburn Romaji. Americans with knowledge of a romance language have a better learning experience. However, English speakers are the only SGI members who have to learn Gongyo in a foreign language. The French, Koreans, Mexicans, Italians etc. learn Gongyo in their native languages.
American Gongyo is written in intuitive American English and includes the official SGI Hepburn Romaji text. For example, line three of Gongyo is written: “Hoben pon. Dai ni.” American Gongyo writes line three:
Ho-ben pon. Dai ni. (Romaji)
Ho Ben pone. Dye knee.(pronunciation clues)
As in corn “pone” (pronunciation notes)
The audio download recites each line of Parts A and C twice. This allows students to get the pronunciation, rhythm, and tone exactly right. The individual rather than group format for the slow and regular speed Gongyo eliminates mispronunciations present in all group recitations. For downloading to Mp3 or CD, please GET HELP from a friend of the help desk for your computer system. It’s not that difficult and you can do it.
When I started chanting in 1969 at the University of Illinois, I liked to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and saw no reason to learn Gongyo. My sponsor, Relentless Frank, finally convinced me to do Gongyo by saying that Daimoku works better with Gongyo. Knowing some Spanish, I zipped through in three or four hours.
Later, working as a lawyer in Chicago, actually doing Gongyo in the morning was a challenge. At times I would get half way through and have to leave for work. One morning I found myself driving down a snow slick expressway, eating a donut, drinking a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, adjusting my lawyer costume and finishing Gongyo. Something had to change. I could wake up earlier or chant faster. The then YWD national leader came to Chicago with Mr. Williams. Running late, she entered the small Gohonzon room at the Lawrence Avenue Kaikan as morning Gongyo was nearly finished. She whipped out her Gongyo book and produced a quiet blur while turning pages like Superman. She caught up with the rest of us. I witnessed the seven-minute Gongyo and fell in love.
Waking up earlier was not an option. I worked ten hours a day, did NSA stuff until midnight, ate dinner then went on a date Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I never got to seven minutes but ten was obtainable.
When I moved to Vegas in 1979, life became easier. I lived about 15 to 20 minutes from work. Still morning Gongyo remained a challenge. With more time, I became lazier. Sometimes I would go home for lunch and do morning Gongyo. My wife of that era was Japanese. She patiently corrected my Gongyo and taught me the origin of Hiragana/Romaji Gongyo pronunciation (which is pure Japanese, by the way, not Chinese or Sanskrit).
Fast forward to a few years ago. I wrote President Ikeda a letter saying that I knew for sure that the format for Gongyo was not sacred because it had been changed in my lifetime; Gongyo needed to be shorter, maybe just A, B, and C; more time could be spent chanting Daimoku; only 5% of the people receiving Gohonzon still practiced; part of the reason is Americans will quit doing things they are not good at; they are not good at learning or doing Gongyo. I said my piece but received no immediate reply. A year later, Mr. Wada, SGI General Director and the #2 behind Sensei, visited Vegas. He called me into the guidance room. Mr. Wada, his translator and me. He said that President Ikeda had read my letter and liked what I had to say. Change would come in time, be patient. Mr. Wada gave me treasured gifts from President Ikeda. About a year later, Gongyo became shorter.
Even if Gongyo were to become shorter, Americans have a lot of trouble mastering Gongyo. In teaching Gongyo, I started writing American English words under the Japanese Romaji words. “Myo” became “ Me yo” because in Japanese “Myo” has two sounds in one beat, “me” and “yo”. After a year or two, I finished A, B, and C and handed out copies locally. B was eliminated so the job became easier. My early versions were met with a nearly universal yawn. Of course my reaction was defensive. After a long honest chanting session, I came to the conclusion that my product will be accepted when I had distilled out enough errors. Many people helped by suggesting words, making corrections and providing encouragement during dark days.
I rented a recording studio and made the audio CD with a suburb young woman doing the heavy lifting. As the project stands now, it is pretty useful and accepted by almost everyone in Vegas, including new members and the top leadership. The pioneer Japanese women like it because the audio CD is “perfect” and new people actually learn good Gongyo, pretty fast. I guess they are tired of hearing crappy Gongyo but are too polite to say anything. Richard Sasaki, SGI leader for Oceania, has exported it to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands. They like it, according to Mr. Sasaki.
In the process of developing American Gongyo, I had to stand-alone. Of course I did not want to stand-alone. I want to relax and watch T.V. I wanted people to say this is the greatest thing since pork fried rice, and then do all the work. Life just doesn’t work that way. The project needs constant refining, promotion and dissemination.
You introduce a friend to our practice. Next, you teach Gongyo. But how do you teach Gongyo correctly? What if you are not sure of your own Gongyo? What if you are sure of your Gongyo but wrong? A leader says “yo” instead of “kyo” ( key yo). Is that right? (No, it isn’t.) American SGI members face these questions everyday and will have to have a correct, reliable, available and free answer. The need will only grow as more people join. Please, try American Gongyo. Thank you for your attention, Bob Hasegawa