I just received the April 2010 SGI Quarterly, a glossy magazine that supplements Living Buddhism. You probably know what it is. Reading through it, I did discover some peace-seeking/humanitarian/ecological initiatives sponsored by SGI or particular SGI members. I shall just quote the titles of some of the articles:
"Creating Stablity" by E. Penioso Pernites, Phillipines and Japan
"Peace Proposal: Steps Toward a Nuclear-free World" by D. Ikeda
"Action for Nuclear Abolition" (to "raise awareness about the necessity for nuclear abolition in the run-up to the 2010 Nuke Non-Prolif Treaty Conference to be held in NY")
"SGI-South Africa Receives Gandhi Award"
"Art Exhibitions in Malaysia"
"Faith and Development in Southeast Asia"
"Ikeda's Center's Dialogue Forum on John Dewey"
"Recycling Trash for Groceries" SGI in Singapore
"Haiti Relief Efforts" (lists SGI's financial contributions to Haiti since earthquake)
"At the Parliament of World's Religions"
"Seeds of Change in Italy"
I am quoting these titles because the accompanying articles indicate some positive things SGI is doing in the world. I feel the need to be fair. If anyone has another view of these particular activities please communicate them. Is it possible that SGI is aware of its image and has been trying to make positive changes? If hope this is the case.
Certainly SGI is aware of its image -- and is trying to make changes. To its image. The SGI Quarterly is nothing more than PR to polish SGI's image. It doesn't mean that SGI is making any real changes. SGIKeda is a master of PR and the positive spin. Even the tiniest things can be blown up and spun to make SGI look good.
1. One example is in Polly Toynbee's article about Ikeda's so-called friendship with her grandfather, historian Arnold Toynbee. Ikeda apparently visited Arnold Toynbee a couple of times when Toynbee was elderly and ill. Out of those few visits, Ikeda (or his ghostwriter) spun a book and a tale of a so-called "lifelong" friendship. The Toynbee family says that this wasn't so; Ikeda was NOT a friend of Arnold Toynbee. Arnold Toynbee had visited Japan many times and had many Japanese friends -- these friends apparently knew nothing of this so-called friendship with Ikeda. Toynbee had not visited Ikeda in Japan, nor included Ikeda in social occasions.
2. I remember going to the Boston Convention in the summer of 1988. We were staying at Worcester College, on campus; school was out for the summer. We were rehearsing for the parade one evening, when it started to rain and we heard thunder in the distance. Our leaders allowed us to go inside one of the buildings. I thought little of it, until a few weeks later when I was home reading the World Tribune. There were articles about the convention and one quote caught my eye. I don't remember the exact wording, but it praised our leaders for their "compassion" and "wisdom" in allowing us to go inside during the storm! Even then, I thought WTF!!!??? You go inside when there's rain and thunder, even a dog knows that!
3. As others have already pointed out, what SGI actually gives for charity is the tiniest percentage of its net worth -- but oh, SGI publications trumpet those tiny donations as if they were a fortune. I also remember being in SGI and being told that giving charity to the less-fortunate was not Buddhist compassion. Real Buddhist compassion, my leaders said, was getting the less-fortunate to join SGI so that they could change their own bad karma. We were told to give money to SGI rather than any charities.
4. SGI also wastes a lot of money. Their own AND other people's, including taxpayers. That member who wanted to donate $180,000 to name a park gate after Ikeda? Ikeda's fancy house at the Malibu Training Center? All that money spent on conventions and "Rock the Era"? That money could do so much more elsewhere -- micro-loans for impoverished women to develop small businesses, mosquito nets so that poor third-world kids don't get malaria, after-school programs for at-risk kids. SGI has spent a fortune on its Soka Charter School in Massachusetts -- and it turns out, it's only duplicating science and technology programs that already exist for successful students. The Soka Academny just plans to discard those students who can't keep up academically. They'll be tossed back into underfunded public schools, no help for them! Let them eat cake.
5. All those meetings, discussions, art exhibits, conventions -- that's SGI general members and lower-level leaders doing hours of unpaid work, and senior-level leaders taking the credit. A lot of hoopla...but when it's over, what's changed? Could those members have spent all those hours doing other things that are equally, or more valuable?
6. Awards? WHO is giving the award, and why are they giving it? I could make up some fancy trophy or certificate and say that I'm going to give my best friend "The Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award" from the Tsukimoto International Peace Foundation. It might sound impressive, but what would it really mean? Not much.
7. There certainly may be SGI members who are involved in innovative projects in science, the arts, education or ecology, and SGI is certainly happy to take the credit for their accomplishments. But let's face it, there are a lot of nonSGI members who do those things too...and the SGI members might actually be achieving more if they weren't spending so much time on SGI activities.
I recently received my college alumni magazine. It too was a beautiful, glossy magazine, full of stories about all the wonderful things that my fellow alumni are doing -- writing books, creating art, public health projects in impoverished areas, groundbreaking research on the human brain-- and I don't think any of these people are even SGI members. My alumni magazine, like SGI Quarterly, is happy to take credit for its alumni's/members'/ successes! You hear nothing in either publication about those who have not succeeded... the prevailing thought is, "Well, it's their own damn fault that they're failures."
8. Ikeda's peace proposals -- he's been writing them for years, why don't we have world peace yet? Nuclear disarmament is all very well to talk about, but it's a bit more complex than, oh, let's just respect life and put down our weapons. And the terrorists are also going to be delighted to do this? Kim Jong Il and Al Quaida are going to read Ikeda's peace proposals and just say, "Oh! Peace is a good thing! I never knew that! Let's just destroy all our weapons and be friends!"
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/13/2010 10:57PM by tsukimoto.