BEING AUTHENTIC IN AN ABSURD WORLD
Everything I am about to address has been discussed before and will probably continue to be. It is not that these topics are new. It is just my time or my turn to do so because for if I do not some may infer that my silence implies complicity. Point of fact I am directing this to those who visit this blog and have a capacity equal to its latitude. I apologize for its length. It has been gestating for over a year.
After sequestering myself from contact in any form with the Soka Gakkai, or NSA as it was known then in America, other than what effects I observed it had upon my ex wife and our child, I re-engaged myself after 20 years of solitary practice. I was completely unaware of any changes that had taken place. For example, I walked into the now defunct North Hollywood Community Center in 2000 and saw chairs to sit on and no delineation for men to sit on one side and women on the other. I saw for the first time pictures of the Sho Hondo being demolished. When I asked the lady behind the desk what had happen she was apoplectic in describing how the evil priesthood, as she collectively demonized them, had bulldozed that particular Great Secret Law. They were also keeping another, the Dai Gohonzon, all to themselves, and had excommunicated we lay practitioners who followed the organization, now referred to as the SGI, once aligned to the same priesthood. Okay, what’d else I miss as Rip Van Buddhist? And where can I get a handkerchief to wipe off this woman’s spittle?
“All dreamers and sleepwalkers must pay the price, and even the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all. But I shirked that responsibility; I became too snarled in the incompatible notions that buzzed within my brain. I was a coward…
But what did I do to be so black and blue? Bear with me.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
And lest the reader jump to conclusions about where this is headed I will reiterate Ellison; bear with me.
My re-reading of Ellison’s novel was like listening to jazz and I find myself, and my Buddhist belief system, reflected in both. Critical examinations of Ellison’s existentialism have said that his identity as an African-American author and the rallying point it provided eclipsed his efforts of trying to define himself not just as a black man but as an everyman; “trying to find an authentic way of being in an absurd world.” Gordon Marino
One of my favorite comedians is Steven Wright. He is authentically absurd:
I BOUGHT A DOG THE OTHER DAY. I NAMED HIM ‘STAY’. IT’S FUN TO CALL HIM. “COME HERE, STAY! COME HERE, STAY!” IT DROVE HIM INSANE. NOW HE JUST IGNORES ME AND KEEPS TYPING.


For my purposes, which I hope become self evident, I’m going include quotes from a book that contains lectures from Daisaku Ikeda delivered to Americans in America. This is juxtaposed to what I believe is the hijacking of some of his works that were delivered for a specific purpose to a specific audience in a specific country and then given specious titles like “President Ikeda Talks About Soka Spirit” when reprinted out of context. Or this from the introduction to the to the SGI-USA Code of Conduct for Leaders:
And as second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda shares: “The Soka Gakkai is my life. It must always remain an organization of pure faith that exists to accomplish kosen-rufu. We must never stand by and let our precious organization be polluted by impure hearts and minds!” (The Human Revolution, p. 1902).
Technically, it is Ikeda who is sharing in his never-ending narrative. This quote, however, is being used by those in power in the SGI-USA to justify their purposes, a mandatory signature contract between anyone up for a potential leadership position or those already in place.
Here is a quote for my purposes:
“President Toda detested formality. For this reason, as his disciple, I have tried to place foremost emphasis on substance. Formalities are important in certain cases, but mere formality that lacks substance is an evil. Formality is provisional and substance, essential. Formality is conventional and therefore conservative, but substance provides the impetus for progress and development.”
Daisaku Ikeda, My Dear Friends In America
The above issue that Mr. Ikeda addresses is so omnipresent in the SGI-USA it could be approached through many avenues. But I believe the next sentence is the quickest way to the cul-de-sac that they all lead to, and the endemic problems found there:
“Not signing, therefore not accepting the Code of Conduct for Leaders, disqualifies one from leadership in the SGI-USA.”
SGI-USA.
The only justification for the above quoted sentence about the code of conduct is the sentence itself. It is not a choice being handed out, but the illusion of one. The word for that is coercion. It is mandated constraints, which render the substance of the individual second to the signing of the form. Its makers, above the individual, value the form, and all it’s formality.
“If blinded by the mirage of an organization, a leader tries to operate by giving orders and applying pressure, nothing will change, because no spontaneous or genuine power will be generated among the people who make up that body.”
Daisaku Ikeda, My Dear Friends In America
The reasons behind the code of conduct and it’s ancillary enforcer, the mandatory signature form, have been stated by those extolling its merits as protecting the members of the SGI-USA from unscrupulous or misguided people in positions of leadership. I find that ironic. Misguided people wrote it. It does, however, tell one how to act, how to think, and my personal favorite, how to feel about your actions even before you take them.
A DIVERSE ORGANIZATION THAT DOES NOT TOLERATE DIVERSITY
“One who has the courage to speak the truth lives a truly splendid and fulfilling life. In any sphere of society, if one loses this courage and becomes obsequious, one cannot resist exploitation by corrupt authorities.”
Daisaku Ikeda, My Dear Friends In America
Something that hasn’t changed either in the twenty years I was absent nor the last ten I’ve been present, is the size of this formal and orchestrated movement of propagation in this nation. At least, not inside the organization itself. It’s about the same size as it was thirty or so years ago. Maybe even a little smaller. Perhaps that is because it practices exclusivity. It is a diverse organization of people that does not tolerate diversity of behavior. The mandatory signature form is a very good example of this. When the formalized leadership is more concerned with the rigidity of conformity than with substance, then people who have relinquished their substance will find it very uncomfortable to have those around them who have not. Actually, the obsequious people, to use Mr. Ikeda’s word, that have been created will pester those of independence to become like them. If that doesn’t work, they will be shunned. These newly shunned people become invisible. It’s easy to slip out the back door when you can’t be seen.
I have no idea what the numbers are exactly, but for arguments sake let’s say that for every member that continues to practice under the SGI-USA umbrella, there are more, many more, who have left. Now some of those no longer practice at all. Some still practice, as I did, solo. Some come back only to leave again. I personally know people who have a Gohonzon enshrined that they are reluctant to chant to and equally reluctant to take down. So again for arguments sake and based on the fact that somewhere around 800,000 Gohonzons have been handed out in America, and there are 50,000 to 150,000 active in the SGI-USA today, let’s figure this out. Ex-members who still practice, practice part time, or don’t practice at all out number the organizational members around 8 to1. That’s a conservative estimate both ways.
IN MY HOUSE THERE IS A LIGHT SWITCH THAT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. EVERY SO OFTEN I WOULD FLICK IT JUST TO CHECK. YESTERDAY I GOT A CALL FROM A LADY IN GERMANY. SHE SAID, “CUT IT OUT.”
Steven Wright
What would happen if all these invisible people suddenly became visible? What if at every district meeting there appeared a proportionally appropriate number of ex members who for some reason decided to re-engage? If you have a district of 40 members on paper where 10 people usually attended meetings, what if suddenly there were 20 extra people? And what if when the person leading this supposed meeting referred to Daisaku Ikeda collectively as “our mentor” as most of the top leadership do, and suddenly 20 non-obsequious hands were raised protesting that decision being made for them? I believe that protest is at the crux of what Nichiren terms Kosen-rufu and Daisaku Ikeda calls human revolution. Telling people, however, who their supposed mentor is, is not the same as leading them to an arena of discovery.
“TO BE A HERO YOU NEED TO LEARN TO BE A DEVIATE BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING AGAINST THE CONFORMING OF THE GROUP.”
Philip Zimbardo TED-How people become monsters or heroes.
“YOU NEED THE DEVIATE TO TELL YOU WHEN YOU’RE BLOWING IT.”
Lenny Bruce
The movie Gandhi has many great quotes. Here are just two:
Brigadier: You don’t think we’re just going to walk out of India!
Gandhi: Yes. In the end, you will walk out. Because 100,000 Englishmen simply cannot control 350 million Indians, if those Indians refuse to cooperate.
Gandhi: We think it is time that you recognized that you are masters in someone else’s home. Despite the best intentions of the best of you, you must, in the nature of things, humiliate us to control us. General Dyer is but an extreme example of the principle… it is time you left.
What if instead of marching TO the sea to make salt in protest, a half a million invisible Buddhists re-engaged and marched FROM the sea to a building on the corner of Wilshire and 6th in Santa Monica. And what if when they got there, they exclaimed, “Cut it out.”
Of course the very nature of autonomous thinking makes such a gathering highly unlikely. Richard Dawkins postulates in his book The God Delusion that the very nature of atheists makes them nearly impossible to organize. Being independent they see no need to formalize a group that exists to expound the fact that something that they do not believe in does not exist. Like cats, free thinkers are independent. It would be like trying to herd cats. But what if?
And since we started with the absurd, is it too absurd to think of the Soka Gakkai USA as the mire, the bog, out of which blossom the flowers of Kosen-rufu?
I wish there were still the obvious cultural diversity issues, like men sitting on one side of the room and women on the other, so that there wouldn’t be this superficial illusion of how much we’ve changed. (Please note I’ve included myself as part of this organization) I have several people with whom I share these issues and from whom I have sought council. Some are within the SGI-USA leadership and some are not. Some are not Buddhist. I have the good fortune to call them my friends. Not one of them actually needs a position or a label to engage with people in a helpful compassionate way. One of them did once comment that because of the culture of origin it might take 500 years for this Buddhism to incorporate itself into American society. At times I think this extreme. At other times the cynic in me thinks this optimistic because there has been no room at the top for any other version. It has been orchestrated shut and there will be no tolerance for any deviation by deviates. But another of my good friends appeals to me with hope and says we are all deviates for each other: blossoms.
Speaking of orchestration, I’ve got to share the new SGI-USA Men’s Division flag and mottoes.
SGI-USA Men’s Division Mottoes
 as
Proud Disciples of SGI President Ikeda
“America’s Roaring Lions,
Turn Winter into Spring”
“Disciples, Advance Triumphantly
with Stalwart Resolve”
“Lion Kings of America,
Seize Resounding Victory”
January 2, 2009
Daisaku
I’m so disappointed. I was hoping, absurdly so, for “Interrupting Cow Carpe ‘Moo!’ Diem”. I’m not anything like a lion. In fact lions aren’t anything like the human qualities we attribute to them. Lions function by their evolved animal instincts. They roar. They procreate. They eat Christians. Being an instinctual beasts they don’t discriminate between belief systems and would find Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists just as tasty. The males also kill all the progeny of the previous male when they take over a pride. Unlike humans, lions don’t have the capacity to be proud when they do it.
The flag? Well, it speaks for itself. Volumes. But it doesn’t speak for me. One of my friends, Julie who actually gave me permission to use her name, said the only thing missing on it was a penis. I guess they had to draw the line somewhere. So here it is. And a hardy “Sieg Heil” to us all!

SGI-USAMDFlag2009