kubrawi People How the practice of Nichiren Buddhism sustained Tina Turner for 50 years

How the practice of Nichiren Buddhism sustained Tina Turner for 50 years

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Tina Turner performs onstage during the 50th annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on Feb. 10, 2008, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images))

(The Conversation) — When Tina Turner, often referred to as the “Queen of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” died at her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland, on May 24, 2023, at the age of 83, headlines the media praised both. his dynamism as a performer and his many professional achievements. What many did not know is that for the past 50 years, Turner had practiced Soka Gakkai International’s Nichiren Buddhism.

The Soka Gakkai is a Nichiren Buddhist lay organization that was founded in Japan in 1930. Today, the international organization is known as Soka Gakkai International, or SGI. This form of Buddhism was popularized in the United States through the organization known today as SGI-USA. Turner was introduced to the organization by Valerie Bishop, a woman whom her first husband, musician Ike Turner, hired to work in his recording studio.

Turner’s Buddhist practice initially developed in the context of his first marriage and continued throughout his solo career. He provided inspiration for some of his final career projects.

As a scholar of Buddhism in South Asia and in the US, I have closely studied the career of African-American artists who practice Buddhism. Tina Turner, in particular, sought to teach Buddhism through her writings and later through her records.

Turner’s early religious life

Turner was born on November 26, 1939, and raised in the Nutbush, Tennessee community. His family was Baptist and he worshiped at both Woodlawn Missionary Baptist Church and Spring Hill Baptist Church. Sometimes they also attended a black Pentecostal church near Knoxville, Tennessee.

As I found out while doing research for my next book, “Dancing in My Dreams: A Spiritual Biography of Tina Turner”, Turner’s religious influences extended beyond the forms of Afro-Protestant institutional religion. In his memorieshappiness becomes you”, Turner describes the deep and mystical connection her grandmother had with nature, suggesting that her grandmother was steeped in the more mystical tendencies of southern black religious culture.

In 1957, she met ike turner. After she initially joined her band as vocalist, they eventually formed a musical partnership under the name The Ike & Tina Turner Revue.

Ike and Tina Turner pose for a portrait in 1961.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image

The duo achieved chart success with songs like “A Fool in Love”, “River Deep – Mountain High”, “Proud Mary”, and “Nutbush City Limits”. Although publicly successful, privately frequently abused ike Tina Turner.

Introduction to Buddhism

Turner was introduced to the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism in 1973. Nichiren Buddhism is based on the teachings of Nichiren, a Buddhist monk who lived in 13th century Japan. At the center of Nichiren’s thought was the conviction that the The Lotus Sutraa Mahayana Buddhist text, was the highest of all the Buddha’s teachings.

A Japanese painting showing a man in the center with two dancers on either side.

Nichiren Daishonin Buddhist monk disguised as a rich man, center, being entertained by artists.
Images by History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Nichiren taught that chanting the title of this scripture in the form of the mantra-like phrase “Nam myoho renge kyo” was the way in which all people revealed their inherent potential to awaken and achieve Buddhahood. Furthermore, Nichiren taught that doing this practice would have a profound social impact by making the The highest teachings of the Buddha, the foundation of society..


Chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

How Nichiren Buddhism became popular

Members of the Soka Gakkai began arriving in the United States in the 1950s. As these members were primarily Japanese-speaking and geographically dispersed, they initially had limited success in their efforts to propagate Nichiren Buddhism in the US. It changed in 1960 when, under the leadership of the Soka Gakkai’s third president, Daisaku Ikeda, an American branch of the organization was formally established.

With his guidance, they spread the basic Nichiren Buddhist practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. before an inscribed scroll called the Gohonzon. They taught that doing this practice would lead to “human revolution”, a gradual process of inner transformation and empowerment.

It is SGI Nichiren’s Buddhist understanding of personal empowerment and human revolution that seems to have initially attracted Tina Turner. in a 2020 Tricycle Magazine Interview, Turner explained: “When I began to study the Buddhist teachings and chant more, it led me to take responsibility for my life and base my choices on wisdom, courage and compassion. Not long after I started singing, I began to see that the power I needed to change my life was already within me.”

In the ’70s, changing her life meant parting ways with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in 1976 and divorcing Ike Turner in 1978.

A revival fueled by SGI Nichiren Buddhism

After their divorce, Turner struggled as a solo artist before her well-known career resurgence with 1984’s “Private Dancer” album. Platinum albums and sold-out world tours followed. accredited turner every success to your Buddhist practice.

His practice would be narrated in two autobiographies: the first, “me, tub”, published in 1986; and a second, “My history of Love”, published in 2018. His practice is also represented in the 1993 biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and recorded on the 2009 interfaith album “Beyond: Buddhist and Christian Prayers” and on stage in the musical “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”

Through all of these projects, Turner made it clear that her practice of SGI Nichiren Buddhism sustained her for the past 50 years.

(Ralph H. Craig III is a doctoral student in religious studies at Stanford University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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