Site Visit: Soka Gakkai International USA. By: Jennesys Valdes

At first, I thought that this project would be very difficult for me due to the fact that I am a practicing Catholic. So, when I decided to attend a Budhist ceremony, I though it would be tremendously difficult for me to actually comprehend their religious viewpoints and beliefs.

For my religious visit I decided to go to Soka Gakkai International USA. When I walked up to the building, I found it very odd that the structure looked so modern and blended so well with the Miami architecture. I was extremely nervous when I realized that to get in; I had to ring a doorbell for the people inside to buzz me in. My stomach turned when I entered the building, expecting to immediately feel out of place. When I walked inside I was shocked due to the fact that it was not what I expected at all. It appeared to look like an office building. I went up to the lady at the front desk and I was, to my surprise, instantly welcomed. I’m glad that it was easy to enter the building and that the first person I saw helped me feel at ease.

When it came to biases, I did not feel any exclusion whatsoever. I expected to be treated differently because of both my gender and age. But, when it came to me being such a young female compared to the others at the ceremony, I did not feel any indifference amongst the other individuals during the ceremony. I felt as if they wanted me to be apart of it more and feel the same way they did as they chanted away the words “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. Age did appear to be an issue at first because I was invited to attend a youth services for girls, but afterwards I was explained that if my mind was mature enough I could be seated with the adults.

During my experience at the Buddist center I felt that not once, was I overlooked or felt deceived. The members were gladly open and available to discuss certain experiences with me, having just met them. On another note I never expected them to be so welcoming I had encounters with several believers of Buddhism and they were open about their lives and why they chose Buddhism as their religion and their were others that taught me how to chant. Besides being given access to the rituals I was also given full access to roam around the building and get a feel for the true culture that they embodied on a daily basis. I also got to take a look through the bookstore they had on site and I observed how interesting their books were and how they all had a true meaning and they all related to the Buddhist views.

What impacted me the most during my visit was definitely how open and welcoming the people were during my experience. They all seemed very eager to see my interest in the religion. In conclusion, I personally enjoyed my experience and I feel that it has helped me to become more open-minded to religion.

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