VIEWPOINT: My Experience with IRG
I have been online since January 1995. I have found many ways to occupy my time on the computer: engaging in debate with Nichiren Shoshu members, building various websites and participating on SGI members’ email discussion lists. It was on one of those lists that I first encountered the Independent Reassessment Group and its members.
The IRG members said that their purpose was to reform the SGI-USA. Naturally, this was a very attractive idea. Who doesn’t want to work for reform — to continually make things better? To do this, the IRG were preparing proposals to present to national leaders at Central Executive Conferences. Right off, that seemed kind of backward to me. From the beginning of my practice, I had learned to make changes in myself, my group, and my district first.
The IRG people on the email list wanted to befriend everyone. If an SGI member had problems with his or her local organization or didn’t agree with something in an SGI publication, then the IRG people encouraged more and more heated discussion about these issues. I saw that they were really encouraging dissatisfaction.
Finally, some topics came up, and I couldn’t resist responding. The IRG members were saying that Nichiren Shoshu had never changed its doctrine, but that SGI had. When I challenged that idea, they introduced a list of unverifiable “quotes” from SGI President Ikeda — quotes supposedly from speeches that had never been published in English! I was surprised to find that it was the same list of unverifiable quotes that was being used by Nichiren Shoshu members on the newsgroups.
One thing that really bothered me about the IRG people was that they seemed to have no respect for the SGI, even though they continually protested that they did. They would talk about how much they loved the SGI organization, but if anyone wrote some outrageously slanderous thing about our organization, no matter what it was, they agreed with it. After a while, the IRG people set up their own email list. Since I wanted to learn more about this group, I asked to be subscribed. At first, the actual IRG Board members numbered only six people. One person was no longer active with SGI; another later disassociated himself entirely (becoming “independent”). All of them were from California. Later, under criticism that they were unrepresentative, two non-Californian members were added. The “independent” IRG Board member resigned and began bestowing copies of a Nichiren Daishonin-transcribed Gohonzon that he found in a book. He sent a copy to anyone who wrote him an email requesting one.
This IRG email list was open to any interested person, including members of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren Shu, Kempon Hokke and “independent” Buddhists. For some reason, IRG members felt that the ideas of avowed enemies of the SGI were worth considering in trying to improve the SGI-USA organization. Also, all emails on the list were open for anyone to read. This meant that any complaining that was done (and there was plenty!) was available for use by Nichiren Shoshu members to defame the SGI on the newsgroups.
Some hardcore temple members got plenty of ammunition from that email list, reposting the emails with titles like "SGI Leaders Are Corrupt.” These temple members seemed happiest about attacks on President Ikeda posted to the IRG list. For example, one person wrote, responding to one of President Ikeda’s speeches in the World Tribune: “It could have come from George Orwell’s book 1984, or some of Hitler’s early propaganda against the Jews. Anyone who follows that kind of pap better be prepared to drink Koolaid.” Another person wrote about one of President Ikeda’s speeches, “This sounds exactly like Communist propaganda — Reminds me of Fundamentalism.”
Naturally, the temple people on the list were fawning on those who made these remarks. Many of them wished “that all SGI members were like you.” I could bear it no longer and had to speak up to bring some common sense into the conversation. Those like me, who did this, were labeled “true believers” in a derogatory sense — it was said that we never questioned anything or thought for ourselves. Under all these attacks, it was hard to keep going.
I also noticed that I was usually the only one quoting the Daishonin’s writings on the list. When others did, they often quoted the Daishonin out of context. One time, another member there was trying to convince me that the SGI was wrong about the temple issue, and that the Daishonin wrote in “The Embankments of Faith” to forgive our enemies. This didn’t sound like anything I had ever read in the Daishonin’s writings, so I checked her quote. To my amazement, I discovered that she had pieced together sentence fragments to come up with her quote.
She had come up with: “However, slander can be either minor or serious, and there are times when we should overlook it rather than attack it. The adherents of the .... should be refuted. But without great wisdom it is very difficult to differentiate correctly between their doctrines and the teaching which Nichiren expounds. Therefore, at times you might be well advised to refrain from attacking them, just as I did in the RAR [“Rissho Ankoku Ron”]. Whether or not we reproach another for his slander, it is difficult to prevent him from committing a grave sin ... Reprove a person for acting against Buddhism when necessary so that both of you can forestall the consequences of slander. THEN, YOU MUST FORGIVE HIM.”
Actually, the above is a series of snippets out of seven paragraphs from the “The Embankments of Faith.” The parts left out add up to exactly the OPPOSITE message. For example, it says: “In the Nirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni states, ‘If even a good priest sees someone slandering the Law and disregards him, failing to reproach him, to oust him, or to punish him for his offense, then that priest is betraying Buddhism. But if he takes the slanderer severely to task, drives him off or punishes him, then he is my disciple and one who truly understands my teachings.’
“This admonition forces me to speak out against slander in spite of the persecutions I face, for fear that I might become an enemy of Buddhism if I did not.”
And: “If we see or hear a person commit slander and make no attempt to stop him even though he could be saved, we betray our great gifts of sight and hearing and so commit an act of utter mercilessness.
“Chang-an wrote, ‘If you befriend another person but lack the mercy to correct him, you are in fact his enemy.’ The consequences of this offense are extremely difficult to erase.”
And after the “you should forgive him” part, the next sentence actually reads, “The point is that even minor slanders can lead to serious ones, and then the effects he must suffer would be far worse.” (“The Embankments of Faith” is pp. 157-60 in The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, and pp. 625-27 in The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin)
I continued to stay on the IRG list. I tried to respond with logic, empathy and common sense to the daily attacks on the SGI, SGI leaders, President Ikeda especially and myself for even being there. I’m sure it was uncomfortable for many IRG list members — it can be upsetting to hear the truth.
Again I ask, if reform were truly their objective, why didn’t the IRG members start with the organizational base of the SGI — contributing to the members and district meetings? That is the place to make changes that will make a difference, not on the Internet. And our fellow members are those who we should be working with toward this aim, not the enemies of the SGI.
Because complaining is encouraged, because the slanderous comments of Nichiren Shoshu members are welcomed and highly regarded, and because lies are perpetuated on the IRG list, my concern is that the IRG is ultimately functioning to draw people further away from the true practice of the Daishonin’s Buddhism.
— Kathy Ruby, Washington, D.C.
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.