Two students sat in chairs, each with hands folded together as they moved plastic beads between their hands and melodically chanted
"Nam Myoho Renge Kyo," at first chanting softly, but getting louder and faster until their voices filled a meeting room in a corner of the Student Union.
SJSU student Emily Butts said chanting is active prayer to penetrate the universe.
“It's active prayer, you sweat sometimes,” Butts said as she removed her scarf.
For thirty minutes they chanted, facing the Gohonzon, with 10 empty chairs behind them in the small room.
Butts, president of the Soka Lions said Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is what they chant as part of the "Lotus Sutra."
Soka Lions, a Buddhism club on campus, is part of the Soka Gakkai International, a worldwide Buddhism network.
Butts, also a senior occupational therapy major, said she practices the "Lotus Sutra," the second-to-last teaching that Buddha taught before he passed.
“Basically, (he) said, ‘Look, we all need to work together and this is how we do it,'” Butts said. “We have to transcend difference so we can focus on our treasure tower which is the human body, which is the human spirit.”
She said the significance of the lotus flower in the "Lotus Sutra" is that whether the flower is in murky water or clear water, the flower seeds and blooms.
Butts said it represents human life because the situations around us, clear or murky, determine what happens in our lives.
“Literally, I’m devoting myself to take responsibility for every action that I make," she said.
Bobbie Washington-Butts said
her daughter Emily has always been a determined person.
She aid Emily was born determined and has always been responsible.
Meg Faix, a junior occupational therapy major and Butts' friend, said she met Butts in a class a year ago and on the first day, she decided to sit next to her because Butts seemed like a confident, friendly, smart and warm person.
Butts introduced her to chanting and Buddhism after they started to become good friends when Faix was going through some difficult times and had to make some hard decisions in her life, Faix said.
Practicing Buddhism is almost like demanding clarity in everything you do to fulfill her mission as someone who is ready to contribute to the future of the universe, Butts said.
Whenever she chants their phrase, "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo," Butts said she feels fearless instead of feeling afraid.
"(Butts) said 'Just try chanting this,'" Faix said. "She explained it to me and it helped me see clarity with what (I was) going through."
She said Butts was a big inspiration to her and encouraged her to listen to herself and not to rely on what other people think, rather, to find the answers within herself.
Faix said she found chanting helpful, and since then she has been going to Butts' weekly chanting sessions at her house.
Minako Nishiyama,vice president of Soka Lions and a graduate student in environmental studies, said when she first met Butts through a mutual friend she was impressed by Butt's energy.
“Emily always had really good energy and inquisitive mind,” Washington-Butts said. “In my heart I always knew she’d be a wonderful person, and a lot of that had to do with my beliefs and her dad’s beliefs."
Washington-Butts said she and her husband never forced Buddhism on their children but their faith assured them that their daughter would be a wonderful person.
Butts said she was born into Buddhism and is referred to as a "fortune baby" within the Buddhist community.
Washington-Butts said if a parent practices Buddhism, their children are called "fortune babies" because parents will turn to the Gohonzon and chant to overcome the obstacles they face while raising children.
Butts said the Gohonzon is a replica of one's enlightened life.
“That’s why they are called fortune babies, because they make the parents go chant,” she said.
Washington-Butts said she didn't choose to force Buddhism on her children because growing up, she was free to choose her own faith.
Butts said her father was raised as part of the Holiness Church in a spiritually rigid community, and her father left home at 13.
He dabbled in Islam, but he was invited in the 1970s to chant and he has been a Buddhist for 40 years.
Washington-Butts said she was raised as part of a conservative Christian African Methodist church, and as a child was really involved until the pastor shot and killed a member of the church when she was a teenager.
“It destroyed my heart,” Washington-Butts said. “I didn't practice anything after that, until I met Buddhism.”
Butts said her mother was drawn to Soka Gakkai International because of the art
“There is an artistic component in what we do because you have to be able to express yourself, and art is the best way to truly feel free and show who you are as a person,” she said.
Through Soka Gakkai International, Butts said she was introduced to dance through Mystic Flavor, a hip hop group for young adults within the organization.
“That was my start into being in a performing group, so I even learned how to perform through the SGI,” she said.
Butts said after a while, she stopped doing the activities through Soka Gakkai International, but when unfortunate events happened, she reevaluated her involvement in the practice.
“It was six people in one year that passed away: Four were shot and killed and two were family members (who died from illnesses),” she said.
Butts said after those events, her faith gave her the comfort to turn to the Gohonzon and chant.
“It wasn’t about seeing if it works," she said. "I knew that I would feel better and, so I just kept doing it and doing it.”
Nishiyama said Butts has shared some of her personal struggles with her and the Soka Lions.
Whenever she is faced with difficulty, she said she will chant as a means to turn the negative into a positive.
As a young adult, Butts barely graduated from high school and had no plans to go to college.
“At that time, hopelessness was a big factor in regards to who (I’d become),” Butts said. “I became a dreary person — (I) didn't put much effort into things except for dancing.”
As a young adult, she said she surrounded herself with people who were only concerned with making money, drinking and smoking, and she did the same.
Butts danced professionally for 10 years, and traveled to Chicago within Soka Gakkai International and with outside groups.
“She fell in love with Chicago, absolutely fell in love, and I encouraged her to go out in the world,” Washington-Butts said. “Go find out who you are.”
She said while Butts was in Chicago, her Buddhist practice really developed.
Washington-Butts said although Butts was doing well and dancing in Chicago, she really wanted her to finish her education.
When she came home and was determined to start over in 2010 and go to college, her mother was really proud of her.
“She met someone who was an occupational therapist in Chicago and when she came home that’s what she wanted to do,” Washington-Butts said. “Everything I knew Emily had, she proved it when she came back home.”
Butts said before she knew what she wanted to do, she spent a lot of time living in the shadows of others.
“Now I look back, and I remember being around a lot of people who didn't think they were going to live past 24, and when I surpassed 24 and still continue to grow, I’m like ‘Wow,' I adopted that ideology as well,” Butts said.
Butts said her Buddhist practice has made her confident in who she is and that she can express what she feels from the heart.
“I think she’s really friendly,” Nishiyama said. “I am a new student, an international student from Japan, and I don’t have many friends in America and on campus, so she has helped me connect with new people on campus.”
Butts said after meeting many people she has realized that faith is important and for her, and her Buddhist faith has made her concrete with understanding that if she wants something go after it.
“One of the epiphanies that I had was: 'Faith is faith,'” Butts said. “I used to see people from different philosophies and different religions having such a wonderful life, and I realized the reason why is because of their faith, it’s their faith that makes them stronger, and I wanted that through what resonated with me, which was Buddhism.”
Butts does a very good job explaining Buddhism and her experience with it, Faix said.
I've never felt like she's pushed (Buddhism) on me or made me feel uncomfortable," Faix said. "I think that’s a good way to introduce religion to people who haven’t been involved with religion because it doesn't intimidate them."
She said Butts has helped her through some difficult situations and she hopes their friendship lasts.
"(Butts is) very beautiful inside and out, the way she caries herself makes me want to be around her and be in her presence," Faix said. "I hope that she's always in my life, and she definitely spreads the benefits she's seen from chanting."