Herbie Hancock and Nichiren Buddhism
Well, back in 1972, my band was playing music that required a very intuitive sense. It was an avant-garde approach to playing jazz. So it was very much in the moment and spontaneous. We had structure, but it was a very loose structure. So we went though a period when we were vegetarians because we would keep trying to find things that would help the flow of the music. I was very open at that time.One night on a certain tour in mid-1972 we played a club in Seattle, Washington. It was a Friday night and the club was packed. We were all exhausted because we had only gotten a couple hours of sleep because we had been hanging out all night before. But we could feel the energy in the air—these people were really into this far out kind of music. They were ready for it. I asked the band to play "Toys," a song that I’d never called to play, which starts with a bass solo—acoustic bass, which is the softest instrument in the band by its very nature. Un-amplified bass.
So the bassist Buster Williams starts playing this introduction. And what came out of him was something I’d never heard before. And not only had I not heard it from him, I’d never heard it from anybody. It was just pure beauty and ideas and—it was magical. Magical. And people were freaking out, it was so incredible what he was playing.
I let him play for a long time, maybe 10, 15 minutes. He just came up with idea after idea, so full of inspiration. And then I could feel myself waking up just before we really came in with the melody for the song. And I could tell that the whole band woke up, and there was some energy that was generating from Buster. We played the set and it was like magic. When we finished, many people ran up to the front of the stage and reached up their hands to shake ours. Some of them were crying they were so moved by the music. The music was very spiritual, too.
I knew that Buster was the catalyst for all of this, so I took him into the musicians’ room, and I said, “Hey, Buster, I heard you were into some new philosophy or something and if it can make you play bass like that, I want to know what it is.”
So, that was when he first told me about Buddhism and about chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo , which is the primary thing we do. It's the sound of the essence of everything. So, that was the beginning.
Then what happened?
I asked him some questions. I’d ask him one question, but his answers answered five or six questions that I already had in my head. Even though I had read some books on Sufism and Eastern thought, many of those things that I had read just brought up more questions than they did answers. This was the first time I was hearing something that was giving me simple answers to questions that answered more than one thing that I had in my mind. It all seemed to kind of tie together and work in such a beautiful way.
I mean, having been brought up in the Christian tradition, I had my own spin on Christianity. And most people that I knew that were Christians had their own spin on it. But what he was telling me sounded like my own personal take on religion and the way to look at things. And I said, "This sounds like what I always believed in anyway. I thought I was the only one." He said, “No, there are, you know, close to 20 million people that believe the same thing.”
I was kind of startled when he talked about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo being the law of the universe. The idea of cause and effect, which is what Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is about, made sense to me. I’m a guy that’s always been attracted to science—and cause and effect is what science is about. But I said, "I can’t just believe that chanting the sound is going to do something, so I don’t see how it could work for me."
He said, “Oh, you don’t have to believe it. It’s a law. So, if you just do it, it’ll--you’ll see the effect in your life. It doesn’t depend on you having to believe it first.”