Sign this paper!, recite this pledge!, do the ceremonial handshake!, flash your gang hand sign! Human beings are tribal to their core. Always have been, I suspect we always will be.
Some things are coming to a head as it were, in SGI-USA. First was the Mentor Disciple relationship. Well, it wasn’t really the thing itself, rather it is the suddenly increased, nearly frantic usage of it. Now it’s everywhere and while official publications and video productions avoid telling us that Daisaku Ikeda is OUR personal mentor, no one is stopping the culties from doing so at meetings both large and small.
This and another issue are subtle to be sure. As I’ve stated before Mentor and Disciple is a viable concept, and something that needs to be reflected on in each of our lives. Are we truly seeking out the teachings of Buddhism or are we “making up our own stuff”? M/D is at the very heart of Buddhism as Greg Martin states, but really M/D is at the heart of every religion equally. In it’s simplest form M/D has to do with our own willingness to learn from another person.
Being dictated just who that Mentor is on an organizational level is another thing altogether. Subtly different, it is in fact worlds apart. When we are told who our Mentor is and to whom we have that relationship, we have clearly taken a big step down the road to true cultdom. The Mentor and Disciple relationship is becoming a vow of obedience, and a pledge of ultimate conformity. Conformity is something that the Japanese culture revolves around at it’s deepest core, but not so with our American culture.
Regardless of what our critics say about SGI being a cult, currently we are not identified as a cult in the public eye. Unfortunately so much of what is happening right now may change that for the future. Once we are perceived in the same ranks as Scientology and the Moonies, we will be unable to change that perception – ever.
This Code of Conduct is another frightening thing for me. Code of Conduct is a long time coming in SGI and I applauded it along with the New Leaders Handbook. SGI addressed issues that have long been ignored. The code of conduct signature form bothered me at first, but I wasn’t sure just why. The Code itself basically says that leaders can’t be assholes in the name of Buddhism and SGI. Who but an asshole would disagree with that?
Yet that one sentence – that one brief little sentence, again as subtle as it is, changes everything. It makes the Code of Conduct “something else”. On page 45 at the bottom of the third and final paragraph;
“Not signing, therefore not accepting the Code of Conduct for Leaders, disqualifies one from leadership in the SGI-USA”.
Not signing, therefore not accepting… You’re either with us or against us…
Only the Sith think in absolutes…
Who wrote this? What jackass decided it was necessary or even acceptable to put in this particular sentence? Was it discussed with the SGI-USA legal staff? As I fear, much of these decisions are being made by rank amateurs and those without real world experience in such matters. Even a greater fear is that many of these new policies are being invented by those truly possessing a cult mentality. SGI is still recovering from the 90’s, if you haven’t noticed, and there aren’t lines full of those waiting to take on leadership positions.
I had a long and profitable career in the Corporate world. Being in corporate, as it were, there were many things I had to sign. Confidentiality agreements became common place in the 90’s. They not only said I couldn’t disclose company technology but also routinely stated that if I invented something really cool while I worked there, the company owned it. These weren’t much of an issue really, we all knew that if in fact we came upon some new technological breakthrough, we’d quit first, invent second. There were lots of ways around those sorts of thing.
Also routine were forms stating that we’d received such and such form, read it and understood it. These almost always had to do with legal issues such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination and drug use. These also were no real problem. I had read it, I did understand it. More importantly we signed these things for the simple reason that we wanted to keep our high-paying, well benefited jobs, and there were plenty of people out there who WOULD sign them in order to have those jobs.
No form I ever signed ever said however “by signing you agree you will not shoot meth during working hours. NOT signing it implies that you are shooting meth during working hours”. Or by not signing this form you are admitting you are a racist, sexist bastard intent on destroying the company. There was always a real choice in these matters. The consequences were apparent, none the less there was a choice. “With us or against us” is never a choice.
Wally George was a patriotic American conservative radio and television commentator. He coined the term “Combat TV”. I watched a few episodes back in the 80′s when they aired. In a 1983 show Wally demanded that pacifist Blase Bonpane prove his patriotism on national TV by standing up and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – right there, right then. Blase refused and ended up overturning Wally’s desk before storming off the show.
This is a major and critical feature of living in the USA, we don’t have to prove our loyalty to anyone, anytime.
The truth is that I personally support and agree with the Code of Conduct and I prove it through my continued appropriate conduct toward my members. I will however elect not to sign a form that is truly no choice as I am a Buddhist and an American.
Faith in the Gohonzon of the Lotus Sutra does not equal loyalty to SGI-USA, and faith in general does not equal obedience. If we forget those simple realities we ALL will cease to be Buddhists, and in truth will become “something else.”

New Year’s Blog

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1990 marks a crucial time in the history of American Nichiren Buddhism. It was in that year that Nikken Shonin, then the Highpriest of Nichiren Shoshu, excommunicated Daisaku Ikeda and the other leaders of the Soka Gakkai International. As with most important events this one would prove to be mutli-layered and dimensional.
One of the things this did was to provide an umbrella for many very disgruntled members and former members of the Soka Gakkai to hide under. The “Temple Group”, as SGI would later refer to the Nichiren Shoshu (NSS) lay-movement would take on a distinct identity in later years, though in those first few years after the split, the temple was mostly populated by those who simply could never get along in SGI, and those who left because of something some leader said or did that they could not reconcile.
In my recollection, living and practicing in the Sillycon Valley of the San Francisco Bay Area, we had only one or two families disconnect from SGI in order to remain with the Temple, which was Myoshin-ji in Pinole, California. One such family’s mother, we learned later, had aspirations for both her sons to enter the NSS priesthood. This seemed curious to me then, and more so now, as few American’s had even the slightest clue what was involved with entering a Japanese Buddhist priesthood, or if even such a thing was possible. The Father soon was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to leave the family to seek rest and recuperation in peace with a relative. Looking back, as they were a Hispanic family, I also recall that they had come from Catholic backgrounds and this may have accounted for the priesthood fixation, as it has with many Americans who have, since 1990, sought refuge with NSS under the care and authority of the priests.
What is not openly discussed is the actual history of events, moods and subtle nuances of time as it passed during the 90’s. Our “Soka Spirit” movement, which would become a significant movement within the SGI Youth Division, took many years to form. The temple incident was strictly a hush-hush and taboo discussion topic and was not openly discussed for many years after it happened. American SGI had no precedent to learn from in dealing with such an event, and virtually no appreciation for it’s importance in later years.
Only now in this last year has discussion surrounding the events of the actual beginning of this conflict begun to be openly discussed. The schism between the priesthood and the SGI came to a initial peak in 1979. At that time Pres. Ikeda stepped down, in true Japanese fashion, from his position as President of the Soka Gakkai, and was moved laterally to the Soka Gakkai International. In fact I learned a few years later in a personal discussion with Mr. Yoshimachi, an SGI leader of some weight and importance, that at that time Pres. Ikeda clearly did not feel he had the support from the membership to stand up to the already authoritarian priesthood.
All of these events are poorly recorded, and even my recollection of them is jaded by my personal geographic location and my own individual perspective. No one seems interested in recorded actual events, not without strongly slanting them to one advantage or another. As I have stated in previous articles, the Japanese are habitual liars and lying is an historical part of their cultural heritage.
There was another phenomenon particular to the post-1990 excommunication – the appearance of other Nichiren sects. Interestingly, even today few SGI members understand the proliferation of separate and individual Nichiren traditions. Few SGI members began practicing with an interest in Buddhism at all, rather the desire to experience the benefits of practicing Nichiren’s Buddhism.
The ranks of Nichiren Shu swelled slightly as many of the drop-out Gakkai members claiming to want to have nothing to do with politics and in-fighting between the SGI and NSS sought refuge there. Other sects which previously had minimal presence, such as Honmon Butsuryu Shu and Kempon Hokke appeared in the form of cyber sanghas, groups which only existed as internet forums with members communicating only by way of e-mail and messaging via USENET forums such as alt.religion.Buddhism.Nichiren.
Today yahoo groups and other forums have proliferated in a myriad of different forms all claiming some correct version of Nichiren faith. These have always interested me, for many reasons. The most significant curiosity has to do with the very nature of sangha itself, as the word is used in Buddhism.
Sangha: Sanskrit; a term for the Buddhist monastic community.
I was reminded recently by a post from a Nichiren Independent on one of the many such discussion forums to which I am subscribed, of the implications of practicing Buddhism in cyberspace. The post had to do with a request for experiences to be shared. For anyone not familiar with Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism, the cornerstone of the SGI is the discussion meeting. In the discussion meeting it is the personal experience or testament of the benefit of one’s practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo that stands as the pillar of every successful discussion meeting.
Needless to say a cyberspace Buddhist sangha cannot share their experiences in the same fashion as in a face-to-face discussion meeting, rather experiences must be written and posted on a forum. This negates much of the most important qualities of sharing an experience – the non-verbal communication, enthusiasm and other personal human qualities that go hand-in-hand with sharing a personal story.
Most internet users, I believe, perhaps haven’t spent sufficient time “doing the math” of what cyber communication really is. One of the most important things to consider is that without a human being relaying a personal story, the reader is left only with words printed on a computer screen. In order for a persona to be present, the reader must create said persona from their own mind. In essence without knowing the person who posted the experience, the essence of the individual “saying” the words is actually a creation of the reader’s mind, not a true representation of the writer.
This reality sheds what I feel are catastrophic realities on all Buddhist cyber sanghas. In the Soka Gakkai, a difficult aspect of practice in our organization is dealing with all sorts of people, including people we would normally not associate with. We have a cross-section of our US population with representatives of all ethnic racial peoples, peoples of all sexual preference and those from every imaginable life-experience. This makes the SGI a truly international sangha and it is from this wide-based personal association that many inconspicuous benefits arise.
Compare this to the earlier Buddhist sects to come from overseas, such as the American Buddhist Churches of the Nembutsu sect which were present in the US at the end of the 19th Century, and later the esoteric and intellectual American Zen movement. Nichiren Shu made it’s advent in Hawaii much earlier on, shortly after the turn of the Century. All of these groups however and specifically the Buddhist Church were centered around the Japanese community and were virtually 100% Japanese. In this respect their sangha was actually a cultural shelter more than an active Buddhist community.
The cyber sangha, I believe, is destined to the same fate, merely existing as a shelter for the “socially challenged” rather than those sincerely seeking the benefit of sincere Buddhism practice. I do not call a curse on the Nichiren Independents – quite the opposite I wish the best of results from anyone who seeks to embrace the Gohonzon and Daimoku of Nichiren, as well as his writings and teachings.
In SGI there is a bifurcation of Buddhism, in my interpretation. There is both Nichirenism, and the tradition of the Gakkai itself in the form of daily practice, it’s educational tradition and other aspects that are distinctly unique to both the Soka Gakkai and the legacy of the three Presidents. The sooner SGI members come to fully understand this divisional synergy, the better off they will be in the future.
Soka Gakkai has, after 1990, come to recklessly throw about the term “orthadox Nichiren Buddhism”. Many of us parrot such slogans as “just as Nichiren teaches”, and “return to Nichiren’s Teachings”.
Orthodox is a hard word and one that has a specific and narrow meaning. I cringe every time this word is used at a Gakkai meeting. I understand it feels good to say it, but our Buddhism is far from orthodox. I hope that as the years unfold we will come to both understand the difference between our Buddhist practice and orthodox Nichiren Buddhism, as well and the inevitability that all things evolve. Orthodox can all too quickly come to mean “stuck” in many ways.
Having spent a considerable amount of time studying the writings of Nichiren, as well as the traditions of other sects, it has become clear to me, since just after our split with Nichiren Shoshu, that its teachings are neither orthodox nor even historically accurate. Additionally it must be made clear in the Soka Gakkai that we still largely attempt to uphold this aberrant form of Nichiren’s Buddhism.
There are Nichiren traditions that fit the label “orthodox”, and Kempon Hokke comes immediately to mind. We in the Soka Gakkai should understand that we are a lay movement, not a traditional Nichiren Sect. SGI members should come to realize that one aspect of the events of 1990 is that we can be free and not enslaved by the authority of a twisted and fantastical tradition, one which more closely resembles the Catholic Church rather than a true Buddhist tradition.
More importantly as Soka Gakkai faithful we are not each obligated to study Nichiren’s teachings in an academic and scholarly fashion. Everyone should strive to find their niche. For those of us who do wish to study, the time has come to begin to sort out that which is real and discard that which has been invented to serve ulterior agendas.
SGI exists to provide a path for every person to become happy through the practice of Nichiren’s Buddhism. Our tradition is one of personal practice and a community which is broad and varied. Whether we like it or not, not everyone who encounters SGI will remain. For those who are fortunate to be able to practice in SGI, we need to make study and personal practice our own personal responsibility and take ownership of our personal understanding of the teachings of Nichiren. Until this happens our Buddhism will in affect be owned by someone else.
Happy New Year
Rev. Greg

Dear John

5 comments

Dear John;
You have been kicked off of Zadankai.
Sorry.
Thing is you see Zadankai is for SGI members only. Obviously you were left on for many years after you announced your resignation from SGI because you had been a member and were still contributing. However this last year your only contributions have been negative, and counter-production in any stretch of my imagination.
Truthfully if you had continued to contribute in a constructively critical fashion that would have been one thing – however your knowledge, understanding and opinions of SGI have become outdated, and instead of writing your own posts you basically have just sarcastically supported other negative posts from SGI members.
I’m not mad at you, it was just time for you to go. With you on Zandakai I felt it was not really practical to invite new and hopefully contributing SGI members on. Hope you understand.
We can still be friends though, right?
Greg