Originated from Japan, The Happy Science faith is becoming popular with a number of youth probably hopeful of benefiting from the community service programmes offered like scholarships.
I arrive for the Happy Science Sunday gathering a few minutes into the service. The congregation is reciting a prayer from small black books that are distributed on the long comfortable pews made of sponge and maroon leather.
I count 30 people in the nice spacious auditorium, but more people keep trickling in as the service proceeds, to about 70. Parents bringing along their children the same way it is in other traditional religions.
A large glowing gold statue of El Cantare, their god, on three stacked platters, also in gold, stands directly in front of the corridor that goes right through the centre of the hall. Two large flat screens are hanging up on both sides of the statue. I notice a CCTV camera on the top right-hand corner of the hall. The faithfuls finish the recitation followed by a quick head bow before El Cantare.
The church members are your ordinary Ugandans, your Mama Ivan who lives in a two-roomed-neighbourhoods sort of people, decently dressed in ankle-length outfits and men who are well-kempt but with no overtures of the rich and famous.
Soon enough, a group of about four 20-something girls quite noisily make their way in. They sit near the back and throughout the service, a chinwag flows from their direction, low enough not to hear exactly what they are discussing but loud enough to distract other people.
The leader, Tomohiko Nakagawa, who gives me his business card after the service that reads “Branch Manager of Happy Science Uganda”, now tells the congregation about how to become members. I later learn that Mr Nakagawa became a member of the faith when he was a university student. “I find that through my guardian angel, I find the guidance of life. I also find the true meaning of life in Happy Science,” he said of his spiritual life.
All it takes he preaches on, is reciting a certain prayer which awakens a guardian angel who from then on, acts as a guide in every area of life. A person can then proceed to become a complete disciple by devoting to Budha, Dharma and Sangha, three other significant deities in this faith. Nakagawa explains that other levels of piety exist to the point where a person is able to cast out demons.
We actually get to watch a video explaining these details again, probably, to make the faithful understand it better. It is translated in Luganda.
Casting out demons
The Happy Science teachings centres on the fact that our souls are born light and free but that as time goes on, they get caked with the ‘dust’ of daily living.
The Happy Science faith believes in casting out demons and evil spirits too. And Mr Nakagawa explains how this is done. “Making the sign of a cross like this,” he says while demonstrating with his right hand, “puts all the demons on the cross. And when you make the sign of a star, and put your palm in the centre, this will send the evil spirits back to hell.”
Another video clip, this time of cartoons, is shown to explain exactly how demons are sent out. In the movie, someone is sick, and the demon is cast out. Nakagawa explains that 80 per cent of sickness is from evil spirits and as thus, they need to be cast out.
It is time for offertory and special prayers. Those who need special prayers for issues like health, economic prosperity and success are to put their money on a yellow piece of cloth while there is another place for ordinary offertory.
A lady, in her mid-20s probably, takes off her shoes to step on the pulpit, and takes the money before the statue of El Cantare, humbly bowing her head before and after placing the money there. El Cantare is believed to be the supreme god whose name means, the beautiful land of light and earth and he is believed to be the source of all life who embraces humanity and life on earth.
According to the faith, El Cantare is the highest of all gods that exist in different religions. It is believed that he has lived in six other people since the beginning of time including the founder of Buddhism. He is now re-incarnated in their worldwide spiritual leader Master Ryuho Okawa.
The service ends, just like that, and when their leader invites new people who would like to join, six people go forward. But my questions linger and I can hardly wait till the end of the service to have them answered. For instance, there has been nothing about the service that would make me want to join, so why are people joining?
Why they are here
I do not wait for long, right after the service, I chat up the bubbly group of the four girls to understand why they are here. They are friendly and easy-going, students of Multi-Tech, a business college in town. “A friend told us about it in 2009,” one offers when I ask them about how and when they joined. “And we find it interesting.”
What really is interesting, I ask, and don’t your families have a problem with you joining “some foreign faith”? “No,” is their chorus answer. Julie Zawedde says her parents are Catholic, but they have no problem with her joining Happy Science.
Even then, “Happy Science does not exactly encourage you to leave your religion. It is okay to go the mosque or your church; this religion does not restrain you.” But I keep pushing to understand their motivation. The others are Beatrice Nambajjwe, Jackie Nalumu and Brenda Nanteza.
“Well, they give study scholarships and we have applied hoping to get. They pay for you wherever you want to study but you have to attend prayers every Sunday,” one gives me the answer I had been unconsciously looking for. Another cheeky one adds that sometimes they get transport and that there used to be lunch after service but that the numbers have grown and this is no more.
I corner another man, George Mugerwa, who is fellowshipping with them for the first time. He is here with his three children and says a friend, Douglas Lubanga, (whom I get to talk with later) invited him to come. Mugerwa, a freelance driver, says he prays at Robert Kayanja’s Rubaga Cathedral.
Soon enough I discover that he too is here because of the scholarships. “They give scholarships from secondary school and educate a child till university where they have exchange programmes in countries like America and Britain,” he informs me.
Later when Nakagawa explains to me how the church manages to finance the programmes. “As you can see, people here do no give a lot of money. But we have the largest religious organisation in Japan and developed countries like the US and we cooperate with them for donations. We also publish very many books and get a lot of money from them,” he says.
In one of the booklets I am given, it is indeed indicated that Happy Science does a lot of community projects like giving scholarships and these followers probably want to take advantage of this.
But doesn’t this make them crafty seekers of the opportunities that come with this faith rather than the faith itself? Trust Ugandans, the desperation has probably driven them this far; willing to do anything that will guarantee a livelihood.
It is only the dreadlocked Lubanga who tells me, “I like it and would not be here if I didn’t. It is so beneficial to humanity and has no scriptures, just actions,” is his curt answer.
I leave Happy Science with a heavy heart. It would be some consolation to know that these people are fully convinced about this faith and its benefits but that most are probably here for the possible financial opportunities it comes with is really heartbreaking.