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Cult or Culture (part 3)

March 22, 2012

First, I had to take off my shoes and place them on a wooden shelf in a room with nothing else but a whole bunch of other shoes…no coats or hats…just shoes. Now, how weird is this? I thought. Then we were off to what I learned was called the main Gohonzon room. It was an auditorium, with rows and rows of chairs, where an enormous black lacquered cabinet trimmed in solid gold, nearly reaching the room’s high ceiling, was parked at center stage.

The majestic box, I learned was called a butsadan, housed a long scroll covered with Japanese characters, called the Gohonzon. Everyone entering or leaving the room seemed to revere this Gohonzon. People bowed to it and whispered something in its direction before sitting or standing to leave. I forgot all about my shoe abduction when gazing at the glitz of the altar, smelling the tranquil aroma of burning incense, hearing the rhythmic sound of many voices slowly chanting the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, by twinkling candle light and watching how everyone’s gaze was fixed inside the elaborate box. It was hypnotic.

When we sat down everyone seemed to know me even though I had no idea who anyone there besides Evelyn was. “Hi! You must be Evelyn’s shakabuku!” Each one said to me with excitement in their voice, not whispered as in a church worship voice, but matter of factly and audibly spoken as others continued to chant all around us. “No. I’m Rouge.” I told them all, feeling the need to use my respectful church whisper voice while thinking what in the world is a shock-uh-boo-coup?

I was introduced to lots of people. Everyone was glad to meet me and everyone had some kind of prestigious title. I met the Chapter so and so, and the District blah blah blah, and the Area whatchamacallit, and all sorts of chiefs and honchos…whatever they were. More people came to sit with us. Each one was more delighted than the last, to meet me, honored actually. It was as if I was the perfect bone marrow match for a deathbed relative and my being there symbolized my willingness to donate.

That was the first red flag. It bugged me a little, a lot actually, but in that quiet way when you know, that you know, that you know something is not quite right but you don’t know precisely what it is, so you dismiss it.  But it turned out I was not as bugged as I was fascinated by the multi-sensory stimulation of the evening. Incense and altars and socks, oh my!  I had never seen or experienced anything like it. We began to chant and… TO BE CONTINUED

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