Re: Former SGI members
Date: January 22, 2009 08:25AM
Welcome, Dasutari -- nah, we're friendly, nobody is going to burn you at stake. I myself was a member and leader in SGI for many years, and there are things that I liked and now miss about it. For me, there were just too many bad things mixed in with the good. For you, the good outweighs the bad.
SGI groups certainly CAN differ greatly -- depending on who the leaders and members in that country, state, or town are. There are groups who've been ruthless and cruel, dismissing good members simply for having a different opinion. My group would not have gone that far. I think I would still be welcome to participate in my local SGI chapter if I wished. Most members and leaders would be polite to me -- but my questions clearly made them uncomfortable. Likewise, I was uncomfortable, having questions that nobody wanted to me to ask. So, I chose to leave. If I had belonged to a group where we could discuss different viewpoints, I'd probably still be a member.
YOUR group may be very nice -- but that doesn't mean that there are not bad things going on elsewhere. In some areas, Soka Gakkai members have harrassed Nichiren Shoshu members who were on their way to meetings or services. There are SGI groups that have expelled members who have criticized SGI and/or President Ikeda. There were cases, one in California and another in Texas, where SGI members were married to or living with a member of Nichiren Shu (which is another Nichiren sect -- similar doctrine to the Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu, just not following the high priest or Ikeda.) Well, the Soka Gakkai in those areas refused to allow Soka Gakkai meetings at those members' homes. The Nichiren Shu member was not recruiting -- but to the Soka Gakkai leaders in these areas, Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu members are a threat -- and not to be associated with.
Your leaders will NEVER tell you about these things. SGI suppresses things like this, that make them look bad. Ever hear of the IRG? Probably not. They were SGI members who organized a few years back, wanting reforms in the SGI -- for the organization to actually be more open with members about the SGI's finances and give members more say in running the organization. Of course, those members got expelled too, and SGI has suppressed any mention of them. A Japanese man named George Williams was the SGI-USA national leader when I joined in the late 80's. (We were actually NSA, Nichiren Shoshu of America then -- this was before we split with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.) Williams actually had a Japanese name, but changed it to "George Williams." Anyway, he was quite popular, and worked hard for the organization -- and then suddenly he just disappeared too, and nothing was ever mentioned about him again. Why? If he did something wrong, why can't it be discussed? He is still alive -- if he just wanted to retire, again why not just tell people that? Why pretend that he never existed? Many say that his real crime was that he was just too popular, and his popularity threatened Ikeda.
As for chanting and the Lotus Sutra -- yes, I still read the Sutra, chant daimoku and do gongyo. I love the Sutra's message that all have the Buddha nature and are worthy of respect. I love the clarity and peace of mind that I can get from daimoku and gongyo. As for what people chant for --- I don't care, I think it's their business. You may start out by chanting to get rich, or find a good-looking girlfriend, or for a bag of marijuana...whatever. If you keep chanting, I think that these things will become less and less important to you.
I can't say that I'm sorry I joined. I appreciate that I could learn about chanting and the Lotus Sutra. But I also can't say I'm sorry I quit...I should have done it sooner. I couldn't live with the Ikeda worship, the Nichiren Shoshu feud and the no-question mindset.
It's true that nobody is perfect -- not Ikeda, not Gandhi, not Lincoln, not Martin Luther King Jr. I wouldn't mind Ikeda's faults -- if the organization didn't keep insisting that I must accept him as my mentor. In fact, some leaders insist that if you DON'T accept him as your mentor, you will never attain enlightenment! What do your leaders say about that? How does that fit with "Do not seek this Gohonzon outside of yourself?" and "Follow the law and not the person?" Certainly Ikeda has helped to spread this Buddhism -- but he has also allowed or encouraged it to become a personality cult for him. The emphasis on him, in my opinion, distracts members from what they should be focusing on -- the Lotus Sutra, and the daimoku. He is wrong, and nobody is willing to call him on it.
As for the pope, I was a Catholic for the first thirty years of my life (not a very good one, obviously) -- and really, though the church teaches that the pope is infallible in certain matters -- few of the Catholics I know really buy into that. Mostly, they accept what they like, ignore what they don't. Most of the Catholic women I know use birth control, and most Catholics that I know would also like to see married priests. The Catholics that I know question and debate various issues in a way that I wish that my Soka Gakkai chapter did.
Was I brainwashed? How about my former SGI friends who are still there and loving Ikeda? Are they? I don't know. There WERE things I loved about SGI; I did choose to stay for many years. On the other hand, it was only after I left that I saw how influenced I had been by some of the things that leaders told me. On some level, I did buy into things like, "If you leave, or criticize SGI or Ikeda, or question things, bad things could happen to you." I didn't realize that I had -- but I did. I did not see this happen to me -- but all of a sudden, when I began to question, WHAM, I got hit with a big wave of anxiety, like "I can't say this. I shouldn't even be thinking this." Where did this anxiety, this belief that I wasn't even aware of, come from? I too was an idealistic young woman who just wanted to contribute to her community and have a better life. My practice of this Buddhism HAS helped me to do that -- but at the same time, I ended up learning some bad things too, this "If you criticize or question, something bad will happen to you."
I don't know, I guess I can compare involvement in a group like SGI with a long-term relationship with a person. You meet someone, or discover a group and you become interested. You see them more, and your interest increases. You come to really like or love the group or person, and want to make a commitment. You commit yourself and you're delighted with your decision...you think that you will always be that happy. Yet, as time goes by, you perhaps see that this person or group does and says things that you find hard to accept. You see things that you didn't see before. There are problems, differences...perhaps you work them out and love your person or group all the more. Perhaps you can't work things out..., but they've been so much a part of your life for so long, it's hard to leave. Maybe you stay where you are, not really happy, but not miserable enough to leave. Or perhaps you finally reach your last straw, and you just can't stay anymore, even though it's painful to leave someone or something that's been part of your life for so long. You feel both free and sad when you leave. You talk about the involvement and see that it may have been good for you in some ways, bad for you in others.
I don't know you, Dasutari, so I couldn't possibly say if you are brainwashed or how your involvement with SGI will affect your life. I can't tell you what you should do, except think and question, which you already do. I'm not even certain that I'll never go back -- if the organization changed to cut out the Ikeda worship and Nichiren Shoshu hate and allow questioning -- I just might return. I appreciate that you posted -- reading others' posts and writing my own helps me to understand my own thoughts better.