You were promised a campfire tale, so throw another Vanya on the bonfire, it might smell rank, but it burns good. Let us proceed. Not long ago by Rip Van Winkle standards, disaster struck me and I became disabled. I was diagnosed with severe PTSD. The best diagnostic explanation I have come across came from another vet when he said “Buddy, the cheese fell of my cracker.” The only thing that kept me going was Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, and some wicked gallows humor.

I moved to the Veterans Administration campus as a refuge of sorts. The VA, found housing for me just a mini click away. I settled in without a stick of furniture and just a few personal things, as I had thrown everything I owned, all my old writing, and personal stuff into a dumpster. My logic there was that all of it was crap – especially the writing! Clearly, something was very wrong with me. Why would an ordinary peaceful man like myself roam the most dangerous neighborhoods at night with a concealed hunting knife? Confessing that to my therapist didn’t sound nearly as much fun as it was doing it. I think I did it because I couldn’t feel anything. I was numb inside. My weight had dropped from 210 to 156 pounds. Unconsciously, I was starving myself to death. Bad idea and the worse Atkins Diet ever!

Building 103-7 is the mental health center where the VA keeps the broken and unstable of war and life. As you can imagine, there are a lots of meds being dispensed there. Some of these guys are insane from their buddies being ripped apart or from their own killing. The rest were victims of life and brain chemistry. I was living just spitting distance from there, and was becoming friends with them – at least the ones that brought that 1000 mile stare down to couple hundred yards. There was a lot of cheese on the floor there.

I was kindly asked if I was thinking of doing that anymore, and of course, if I gave the wrong answer, I’m zonked! Ha ha! It’s time for 103-7, some stupefying medication, and some old school care from Nurse Ratchet. Red flags were everywhere. “Are you feeling suicidal? Homicidal?” My therapist asked. In the words of Jimi Hendrix, “Blah blah woof woof.” So, I said, “No, doctor, I’m fine…I won’t be doing that anymore. Maybe I need to see you a couple times a week.”

My therapist looked at me and said, “You ever heard of suicide by cop?

“Yes, I have.”

“How is what you’re doing any different?” he asked.

The answer that flashed into my mind, wasn’t the one that I gave. I was numb, I blamed myself for my wife’s death, I had lost the will to live. Beneath the surface in my unconscious there was a beast..let’s call him Id, or how about Mr. Iddy. I had actually realized that I was trying to kill myself by flaunting danger, but the bigger problem was that I was prepared to take someone with me, as in fighting to the death. Where in the hell did that come from?

I went home and locked my door. I hid my hunting knife under my pillow like a good little grunt, and turned off the lights in my apartment and lit a small candle. My cat and I sat there in silence day after day and night after night, month after bloody month while I waited for my name to be called for a compensated work therapy program. I only went outside for appointments and food. I holed up with a radio, reading the Lotus Sutra, chanting, and meditating by candlelight.  Even my cat thought I was nuts.

Tired now…will return…

It may take a while before anyone reads this post as it has been so long since I last wrote. Fact is, a great deal has happened since you heard from me last. All of it is good.

My faith and practice have become so beautiful and deep. It was the Lotus Sutra that led me through the rabbit hole. There were many characters and constantly shifting realities. Thank goodness for all that acid I took back in the day, because I knew that the past could not hurt me, the future is mutable, and the present is the only place and point of peace, Thought projections, reality tunnels, and let me confirm, that this threefold world, is NOT what it appears to me.

There are many tales to many tales to tell…stoke the campfire friends, it’s gonna be a long night.

On March 30, 2011, I was informed that I had been expelled from the SGI. Expelled, banished, excommunicated, exiled, kicked to the curb, kicked in the mani jewels, given the bums rush, sent to the glue factory, and given a good old sectarian wedgie – it all adds up to the same thing. The enlightened leadership had summarily cast me into the Soka version of the bottomless pit to slowly, but surely sink into the hopeless hell of incessant suffering – or so they think…In the words of satirical bodhisattva, Alfred E. Newman, “What, me worry?”

I can’t help but be reminded of life happening to all of us – members of the SGI and all the rest of us. I have known the most celebrated senior leaders dying in horrific agony or their children dying young. Earthquakes, tsunamis and radiation don’t discriminate who they kill next. I have witnessed many long practicing members in perpetual poverty and agony with no resolution. No religion, belief, or practice will make you immune to the sufferings of life and death. That is why the Buddha’s last words were reputed to be that “Decay is inherent in all composite things. Work out your own salvation with diligence.” Over the last five years, I realized that life happens to all of us and it is foolhardy to proclaim that a member facing obstacles is expiating karma, while those practicing in other sects are being punished. Shame on all of you whom ignorantly judge in that way. I reflect back to my grandpa who said, “Don’t think your own shit don’t stink,” after all, I helped clean the bathrooms in Louie Armstrong Stadium in 1976, AAO, baby!

Let there be no mistake, I was saddened by the news of my expulsion, but not very surprised. I’ve been somewhat outspoken since my days at BuddhaJones and now FWP. Let me just say, being excommunicated three times is an exclusive club – it’s not that easy. Let us count the ways: twice by NST and now by the SGI. I’m not sure if even the learned Dr. Rogow can claim that.

When we were excommunicated for the second time by NST, I told my wise old father about it. His answer has stuck with me to this day. He said in his finest Chicago accent, “Have you lost any sleep over it?” My answer was, “No!” He went on to say, “You know Chuckie, you were raised Lutheran. Dat old Martin Luther was excommunicated too, and look what he did! Don’t let any religion get dare meat hooks into you. Just make da sign of da double cross and run like hell.”

The telephone notification of my expulsion was precipitated by my innocent attendance of a district meeting near my apartment last February. It had been about five years since I had attended a meeting, and frankly, I was lonely and missed my friends. I just wanted a place to park my butt and chant with others, as I had been in an extreme, self-imposed isolation, since January 2010. The members were glad to have me there and share my recent experience of my wife’s tragic passing. The leaders were happy to see me, thinking that if I returned, it would benefit the members. I was happy to see all my old friends again and some new faces…so I attended a meeting…what could go wrong?

I suspected that when the top brass learned of my attendance, all hell would break loose. Call it intuition, or rather, let’s call it 36 years of trained observation on how cruelly the SGI deals with those who publically question the organization or deviate from their doctrine. I instinctively knew that to the plaza powers that be, I was persona non grata to the tenth power times 1000. I never received a letter, although I was informed that one had been written. I never received a visit or phone call from the leadership in Chicago or LA, even though I have known most of the big shots and pioneers for thirty plus years. Perhaps they thought I wasn’t worth the effort or maybe they thought I would infect them or maybe refute them. Either way, it showed a real lack of class, which, unfortunatley, I’ve come to expect.

Ironically, my excommunication has proven to be the singular most positive, liberating, empowering, and educational experience of my life. Why is that you ask? Simply put, my faith was renewed. I went back to the Lotus Sutra to gauge my words, conduct, and spirit. I found abundant room for improvement and the Buddha’s promise of salvation for common people like me. In the same way, I used the Lotus Sutra to view Nichiren’s words, actions, and spirit. I then used the Lotus Sutra (and Gosho) like a radiologist’s magnifying glass to peer into the SGI as well as their core doctrines. The flaws were very conspicous. As a slow learning dumbass, it only took me thirty years figure it out in 2005.

My conclusion is elementary: Taking refuge in the eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, believing in the lifespan of the Thus Come One, and believing in the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, trumps following illustrious mentors, or belonging to any self-ordained sect. I realized that it is better to be exiled as a yenless disciple of Shakyamuni, than to be president Ikeda’s right hand lacky.

What did I do to get excommunicated? I’m not sure it was just one thing. Please understand, I hold no animosity toward the SGI’s decision. Even though I may have been viewed as a parasite in the bowels of the lion, I cannot help but regard this action as another good example of deluded thinking and group paranoia. I posed no danger to the SGI or the members. I just wanted my beloved friends of the SGI to use critical thinking skills based on the actual words of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren’s writings on the order of devotion. It goes like this: Shakyamuni is true and eternal Buddha and the Lotus Sutra is supreme among all of the Buddha’s teaching. The authentic Gosho augment the Lotus Sutra. The storehouse of Shakyamuni’s lifetime of teachings are embodied in the Gohonzon, and Nichiren gave us the daimoku to praise this and awaken ourselves. Even though President Ikeda may be a great man and a prolific, wise writer, one must never confuse where their devotion and loyalty must be as a Nichiren Buddhist. Nichiren’s own order of devotion was to Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutra, and the Gohonzon which embodies both. Someone switched that order of devotion, and for that reason, my excommunication is actual proof of true Sansho Shima, and for that, I thank the SGI!

Here’s what I did to get the boot:

Wrote more than a few unflattering blogs about the SGI and their doctrines.

Stated on my blog at Phantom City that I rescinded my membership in the SGI over the organization’s insistence of the leaders signing a loyalty oath to president Ikeda.

Obtained the templates for Nichiren’s Medicine Gohonzon, distributing a total of three Gohonzon.

Gave myself the Buddhist name of Gakkoren (Moon Lotus) and announced the inception of Modern Buddhism and the Order of Jakkodo.

Out of all these so-called offences, the only one I regret is my half-ass  establishment of Modern Buddhism and Jakkodo. I regret it not because Modern Buddhism and Jakkodo isn’t a good idea. I regret it because I was not strong enough at the time to deal with the obstacles that besieged me. I have regained my strength now. The magnitude of what I have faced will be revealed in my next blog.

I close this long over-do but underwhelming post with deep thanks for the many healing prayers sent my way, as well as the nasty little smirks of “You got what you deserved.” And I know there were a few from the big shots. However, I do thank the SGI for thirty plus years of membership, in what I still believe is a wonderful social network of friends and mutual support. I thank those senior leaders who decided to expel me for enabling me to renew my faith in the Eternal Buddha and the Lotus Sutra. Thank you all.