Re: Former SGI members
Date: December 04, 2008 07:31AM
Rangdrol, thanks for sharing your story. You left SGI shortly before I joined, in 1987. SGI, in the eighties, was certainly in its manic phase. Activities every night of the week, intense pressure to do 'street shakabuku' (ie, go up to complete strangers on the street and ask them if they knew about Nam myoho renge kyo,) quotas for the number of 'shakabukus' (new converts) you were supposed to get. Many of the long-term members seemed crazy to me, hyper and brainwashed, and if this frantic pace had continued, I don't think I'd have stayed as long as I did.
Things did calm down a bit in the later eighties, and I actually enjoyed some parts of my practice. I like chanting, and some of the Gosho and the Lotus Sutra, and I enjoyed some of the activities. Many of the members and leaders could be very nice (though I discovered later that the niceness vanished pretty fast if you questioned or disagreed with them.) I felt torn sometimes, between liking some parts of the practice -- and being bothered by many aspects of the organization. Then the whole priesthood issue came up, SGI's split with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. I found myself questioning even more and feeling more alienated from my fellow members. Was something wrong with me -- or with them? I often wondered. There were periods where I wouldn't go to meetings at all, and then I'd miss it and go back for awhile, until I got tired of the bull again and quit going. In the latter years of my practice, I was going back less and less. It's like the song, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" I couldn't decide.
In 2006, I had a medical emergency, becoming very sick with appendicitis on a holiday weekend. My doctor told me that I needed to get someone to drive me to the ER ASAP. Well, my family doesn't live in my town, and many of my friends were away. I was making calls, feeling sicker and sicker, and finding nobody home. I was so scared! The doctor said I didn't need an ambulance, so I didn't want to call 911. I finally reached some SGI members. They did not have young children, they had no plans to go away for the holiday weekend, and they weren't working that weekend -- and they STILL could not be bothered to help me! One of the woman, a leader for many years, actually said, "It's not convenient for me to help you today." I couldn't BELIEVE this! I just couldn't believe it! I called a taxi, went to the ER, had the scan and was diagnosed with appendicitis. The hospital arranged an emergency appendectomy immediately. Obviously I survived -- but my tolerance for SGI's bull did not! Maybe the surgeon removed it along with my appendix!
After the surgery, I just felt grateful to be alive. Later I thought about my so-called friends' actions, and I was just outraged and shocked. These people had known me for years, told me many times how much they loved me, talked endlessly at meetings about how important it was to 'open our hearts to others." What a crock! After my discharge, as I was recovering at home, who helped me? Not any of my so-called SGI friends. No, it was my neighbors, people with no particular religious affiliation at all! There were just so many things that had bothered me about SGI throughout the years --- the over-audulation of Ikeda, the hatefulness toward other sects of Buddhism, the 'magical thinking' (chanting is the answer to everything, leave or criticize SGI and you'll have bad luck), how you are attacked if you question your leaders. So I didn't leave JUST because of their refusal to help me. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. I think that the last thing that kept me in that organization was believing that the members were nice, if flawed people, who cared for me. I so wanted to believe that. When I realized the truth, that nobody really gave a damn about me -- it was easier to leave. So really, I have to consider the appendicitis -- and the members' unfeeling response -- a blessing in disguise! It forced me to see what I should have seen earlier, and do what I needed to do -- leave, and not look back. When you finally see the truth, there's freedom in it! The appendicitis also made me realize how precious life is ---it can be over suddenly, when you least expect it. After the surgery, I realized I didn't want to waste any more of my life following someone else's ideas of what I should do.
One of these people who refused to help me left a message on my answering machine a few months later. The message? Did I want to attend a special weekly meeting to chant for nuclear disarmament. I laughed and deleted the message. It was so crazy! Save the world and leave the friend to die on the kitchen floor! These middle-aged adults reminded me of some children I knew! The kids talk about cleaning up the world and stopping pollution, yadda yadda -- and drop their candy and gum wrappers all over the park! And when I say, "You know, if you want to clean up the world -- this park's part of the world too," they look so surprised. Ah, children! They love the idea of having some grand, world-saving mission; it makes them feel so important -- but it's such a bother to do the little, nitty-gritty but necessary things that are in front of them.
My neighbors acted so surprised when I kept thanking them for helping me during my recovery. One of them said, "Oh, anyone would help a sick neighbor or friend." Well, no, not everyone would. But I think that's the difference between them and my so-called SGI friends. My neighbors were mature adults and the "real deal." They didn't need to be saviors of the world. They don't talk all the time about how compassionate and spiritual they are. They do what needs to be done, without all this, "oh, how wonderful we are!' that you hear constantly in SGI. My neighbors have grown up; some of my former SGI friends probably never will. This whole experience really made me see how being in a cult for years can keep a person childish, following someone else, dreaming grand dreams, while being clueless and insensitive to the people around you.