Anyway, in the beginning it was benign, no pressure and I felt, wow, I'm among really caring people.
It was a film featuring Ikeda that got to me. It seemed incredibly over the top by any standard.
-- people getting up on the stage and talking about good fortunes that happened to them as a result of donations to SGI.
I still went to homes and chanted, but I was feeling increasing pressure to get the magazine. I was told by a senior member to chant for the money for this.
. They wanted you to bring someone new to the meeting -- some membership driving going on.
About a week ago I had a disturbing conversation with my neighbor, who told me that my belief in God would not help me and that if I didn't chant my life would never improve.
I was discovering that my friend's life was all SGI and that seemed to be her whole reason for living.
I feel embarrassed and a bit angry. I've always felt myself smart and I felt I could spot a cult a mile away, pyramid schemes were never able to get me because I always check everything.
By the way, she had pics of all three SGI presidents on the wall and lots of pics of Ikeda on a very elaborate alter. She calls Japan or another SGI member for every move she makes in her life, which I had also found disconcerting.
And the only thing I want to ask here is why, even after so short a time, and with my Catholic faith intact at this point, am I feeling guilty or a feeling that something bad is going to happen to me now because I'm not chanting. It's very disconcerting.
Kitty, what you are describing sounds so very familiar. I have not been to an SGI meeting in over two years and it sounds like nothing has changed. They're so kind and encouraging at first and then it starts. The over-the-top videos glorifying President Ikeda, the pictures of him on or near the altar, the pressure to subscribe to the World Tribune and Living Buddhism magazine (as well as buying Ikeda's books). The members giving "experiences" about how they made financial donations to SGI and then wonderful things (often financial and material gains) happen as a result. The membership drives. The pressure to bring guests to meetings. The fortune-telling: "Oh, you have all this fundamental darkness and you will never improve your life if you don't chant/participate in more SGI activities" mindset. The way so many members let SGI take over their lives totally -- spending hours on chanting, enormous amounts of time on SGI meetings and activities, not making a decision without getting "guidance" from SGI leaders -- many of whom are not necessarily qualified to advise anyone on anything.
I have heard of people being told that they shouldn't take antidepressants -- that that was "not showing enough faith." Instead, they were advised to treat their depression by chanting more daimoku and doing more SGI activities. I have also heard of an SGI leader who had diabetes. What with her job, family, and all the SGI activities, she was finding it difficult to eat meals at regular times, cook healthful meals, and exercise as she needed to do to control her blood sugar. Her leaders' guidance was that she needed to do MORE SGI activities --- that this would help her "break through her fundamental darkness" and control the blood sugar. Sorry, but this is just appalling! If you are not a trained health care provider -- and familiar with the individual's medical history -- you have NO BUSINESS giving this kind of advice!
I can also relate to your fear that something bad will happen to you if you don't chant. I've felt that. I also have felt that something bad could happen to me if I questioned or criticized the organization. Why? I am an intelligent person who questions things. How did I get into SGI, and how did I get this particular fear?
Well, it's definitely easier to be manipulated if you are in crisis. Before I joined SGI, my then- fiance had decided he didn't want to marry me, and I had also been fired, after several tense months of trying to please a difficult new boss. My ex, and my career had meant everything to me. I was just heartbroken -- no hope, no self-confidence. People told me "Oh, you'll find a better job and a better guy." That didn't help. I didn't WANT anyone else. I didn't want a different job. I wanted my old life back -- and I couldn't have it! I was in the worst pain I'd ever been in. And then my friend begins inviting me to SGI meetings, and people are telling me that I can chant for anything, I can be happy, I can get anything I want. Maybe some little voice in me said, "Come on, this is not realistic." If the voice said that, I wasn't listening. I didn't want to hear it. I was just desperate for the pain to stop.
The SGI members always seemed so kind, and hopeful. SGI just did not fit my stereotype of a cult...I guess I thought of cults as being more like the Moonies or Hare Krishnas. You went off to live with them in a commune, followed very extreme religious teachings, dressed in an unusual way, ate a vegetarian diet, gave up all of your freedom and personal property, married whoever they told you to, even if he was a complete stranger. You did whatever work they told you to do. That, to me, was a cult. I'd have run away so fast from anything like that. With SGI, you didn't have to renounce the world -- on the contrary, leaders encouraged you to be IN the world, as a good student, employee, neighbor, family member. You could be gay, straight, single, or married; you could pursue the career of your choice. You lived in your own apartment or house, in the city, country or suburbs--whatever you wanted and could afford. Nobody told you to shun nonmembers. You didn't have to become a vegetarian. Nah, it couldn't possibly be a cult.
As time went by, I noticed more and more things about SGI that bothered me -- but I told myself "Nothing's perfect...your family's not perfect, but you still love them and they're still your family. There are still things I like about SGI -- I shouldn't let the few things that I don't like bother me too much. Maybe I'm just too critical." Until I got to the point where there were just too many things -- and I could no longer ignore them.
But why the fear? I don't know. Certainly SGI TELLS you that -- that your life will fall apart if you quit chanting, quit SGI, or even question it. They say it, but WHY do we come to believe it? I think that people are influenced by those around them, much as we'd like to think we're so independent. You can be smart and independent and still yearn to fit in with those around you, to be loved, accepted, respected.
I also wonder if the chanting doesn't have something to do with it. I can go to extremes, sometimes, either being depressed and lethargic, or anxious and hyper. Chanting seems to put me in the middle -- where I can be calm and energetic and focused. I think that chanting actually affects my brain, in a positive way. For that reason, I have not given it up. John Knapp has posted on culteducation.com -- he's counselled people who've gotten heavily into chanting and meditation. He has said that chanting and meditation can also make a person more easily influenced, more inclined to suspend his or her more linear critical thinking, like hypnosis. Makes sense. What did we do at SGI meetings? Chant a lot. And then we'd hear "experiences," and all this talk about the wonders of Ikeda and SGI, (and, by extension, how bad life would be without them.) Perhaps the chanting primed us to believe the SGI propaganda more deeply than we would have otherwise. Especially if you went to several meetings a week, as many of us did in the late eighties, when I joined.