74processionWin08SISTER CLARE CARTER seems like other kindly Buddhist nuns I’ve encountered along the way, just not quite. Her face and manner are warm and open as she welcomes the peace activist Paula Green and me into the old converted barn she shares with two monks and uncounted squirrels in Leverett, Massachusetts. She talks with Green, a friend who lives nearby, and me about this and that in an endearing Boston accent that makes me wonder whether she might have joined one of the Catholic orders dedicated to service had her life unfolded differently. There isn’t a nanosecond of awkwardness or unfriendliness, no hint of the gap between her life and mine. What I’m noticing, I think, is the mindful formality that isn’t there.

Over a cup of tea at her house before we came here, Green told me to expect kindness. “They are very humble and embracing of others,” Green said of Sister Clare and the other two members of this outpost of the Nipponzan Myohoji, a small and little-known sect of Nichiren Buddhism. “There is tremendous selflessness, which is very moving,” Green said. “There is no pushing people to do this or believe that.”

Green told me she’d gotten to know Sister Clare and her brother monks in 1983, when they moved onto donated land to build the first Peace Pagoda in North America. Back then she was so impressed by the gentle, nonconfrontational way the head monk dealt with initial opposition in the surrounding community that she invited the tiny order to sleep on her floor while they got the barn ready and cleared land.

“I was very drawn to their commitment to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons, to their vows of poverty and simplicity, and to their very strong political beliefs in social change,” she said. Admitting that their practice of chanting and drumming doesn’t take her as deeply as the Vipassana, or insight, meditation she practices, Green credited the monks with getting her going in her own peace work by showing her what serious commitment looks like.

As Green says goodbye to Sister Clare to head off to the airport and her own kind of peace work, I note the offerings stacked around a dimly lit room: boxes of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese, jars of peanut butter, protein bars. In his collection of dharma talks, Tranquil Is This Realm of Mine, Nichidatsu Fujii, the sect’s Japanese founder (who died in 1985 at 100) writes, “Those who are successful at Nipponzan are those who do not mind a life in poverty, for whom food is not an issue.” What to have for dinner was clearly not a big subject of debate here.

Ordained as a monk at nineteen years old, Fujii became an ardent disciple of the 13th-century Japanese sage Nichiren, who taught his followers that they could realize the whole of the Buddha’s teachings by chanting thedaimoku, the seven syllables of the title of the Lotus Sutra—or more precisely, “Veneration to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law”—Namu-myoho-renge-kyo.

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