Response to the SGI Reform Group Declaration 

Dear SGI-USA member,

You may have recently received something entitled a "Declaration" from a group who call themselves the SGI-USA Reform Movement. This is NOT an SGI-USA group. Rather than actual reform, the effect of this group is to encourage complaint among SGI members and to enable them to feel comfortable with leaving SGI. This group has existed for a few years under the name Independent Reassessment Group (IRG). 

Someone who has a problem with his or her district chief is approached and sympathy is offered. The problem is portrayed as a larger pattern. Next, alternatives are presented: practicing alone or with a different sect. Dozens of unwary members have left SGI after interaction with this group. 

This is not to say that SGI doesn’t need reform; indeed, the organization is reforming itself all the time. Ask someone who has practiced for twenty years whether the organization has changed in that time. It has already changed significantly and will continue to change. To be alive means to continually change and grow. 

Responses to some of the points in the Declaration: 

1. Autonomy 
SGI-USA is financially independent from the Japanese Soka Gakkai and from the international organization. This has been true for several years. In terms of making decisions, SGI-USA now makes all decisions about SGIers in the U.S. 

Of course, the SGI-USA is an important part of the international organization. We enjoy unity with all SGI groups, though flexibility is always necessary for local customs, etc., We are all practicing the same Buddhism, and our unity is very important if we are to accomplish anything. 

2. Adulation of The Leader
This is a direct attack on President Ikeda. He is a constant target for abuse from Nichiren Shoshu, Japanese tabloids, etc. The website at documents and refutes some of this slander. 

Any judgement about adulation (adulate: To praise too highly or flatter too servilely) is in the eye of the beholder. Many SGI members gain great encouragement from reading President Ikeda’s guidance and give credit to him. Others find encouragement elsewhere. Admiration for President Ikeda is not a requirement for SGI members or leaders. The Daishonin wrote to rely on the Law and not on persons. 

Presidents Makiguchi, Toda, and Ikeda formed the basis of what our organization is today. They are our founders. Should we ignore and suppress their roles in our history? Then SGI would be accused of covering up something! 

President Ikeda wrote (in the March 1990 Seikyo Times): 

"All people are equal. There are absolutely no distinctions of superior and inferior among human beings. Differences of position in an organization are temporary and provisional. They are no more than an expedient means for enabling all members to practice joyfully and become truly happy. 

"Therefore, a leader in an organization is not someone who stands above others but one whose role is to serve and support everyone else. This is something that the second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda used to explain by saying, 'Leaders are servants of the members.' In a sense, a true leader of kosen-rufu is one who is determined to sacrifice himself for the sake of the members. 

"If leaders are under the illusion that they are somehow great or superior to others because of their position, their attitude goes against the Buddhist spirit of equality. 

"In this connection, I would like to emphasize the importance of fostering an atmosphere where members feel free to speak their minds to leaders and say what they feel has to be said for we are all equally good friends (zenchishiki) who are dedicated to the same cause." 

Are these the sentiments of someone who supposedly desires adulation? 

3. Soka Spirit/Temple Issue
The split with NST has been traumatic for all SGI members. However, it is not a "temple war." This derogatory term does not fairly describe it. If SGI’s refutation of NST slander constitutes a “war,” then Nichiren Daishonin must be Rambo. 

Nichiren Daishonin was never reluctant to speak out against slander; in fact, he believed it to be an act of mercy. The Gosho "The Embankments of Faith" reads: 

"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. The most important thing is to continually strengthen your compassion to save others from their own slanderous nature." 
4. One-True-Sect Rhetoric 
The view expressed here is that all Buddhisms are the same; that there is no essential difference between Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren Shu, and SGI. How wrong this idea is! 

Hundreds of Japanese sects chant Nam Myoho-renge-kyo. What makes SGI different? It is its single-minded purpose of practicing for oneself and others the goal of the Bodhisattva (from the 16th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra): 

"At all times I think to myself:
How can I cause living beings 
To gain entry into the unsurpassed way 
And quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?" 
As Nichiren Daishonin wrote in the "The Fourteen Slanders" Gosho: 
"However, there is a difference if one chants the daimoku while acting against the intent of this sutra."
Without the correct intent, benefit is impossible. Without the correct intent, one’s practice becomes an endless painful austerity, and there is actual proof of this. Investigate Nichiren Shu’s websites for yourself; this sect was recently described as the “Travel and Tourism” Nichiren Sect. It’s all about visiting a fancy temple, marveling at the ornate altar, and hitting the gift shop. 

This doesn’t mean that Nichiren Shu or Nichiren Shoshu should be eradicated from the face of the earth. SGI respects freedom of religion. However, as practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, we have to provide information and correct misunderstandings. 

5. The Undemocratic Leadership Structure 
This sounds like an important American idea, but it’s uncertain if the most popular person would really make the best leader. Can you imagine people campaigning to be Region Leader? 

SGI-USA has already reformed the process of choosing leaders there are term limits, a review process, and many avenues for discussion and input from all levels of the membership. This is all contained in the Leadership Training Manual. If it’s not in practice in your area, then work to make it so. 

6. Financial Disclosure 
Financial disclosure is an important issue to Americans and SGI is steadily moving toward it. To a Japanese, it is insulting to ask about financial disclosure; because of that, it has taken a while to even discuss this in the organization. But it is being seriously discussed now. 

If you have doubts about SGI’s financial management or any other rumored indiscretions, you might want to visit Tabloid lies and rumors about financial mismanagement have long been used to slander SGI and President Ikeda. 

7. Publications 
SGI-USA’s weekly publication, The World Tribune, has to serve and inspire SGI-USA’s widely diverse membership. To that end, it conducted a survey of its readers a few years ago, to see what which publication material they wanted to see most often. The top answer was President Ikeda’s guidance. In response, the WT now includes lots of PI’s speeches. Those who dislike the current content of the WT may be in simple disagreement with the majority of WT readers. 

We have to respect the opinions of others, even when they’re not our own. 

What happens to the people who become associated with this "reform group"? As their complaining natures are nourished and grow, many of them cease doing SGI activities and lose contact with SGI. Many of them begin to practice independently (with no organization). Many join with other sects, such as Nichiren Shu.

In contrast, a real reformer is someone who sticks with SGI and works hard to become "the change you wish to see in the world." A real reformer reforms the tenets of his heart first, to become happy no matter what. Becoming the “Buddha of Absolute Freedom,” such a person can accomplish anything. It is my determination to make SGI the most humanistic organization a platform from which we can widely spread the teachings and I’ll do it starting with myself, my group, my district, etc. As we become the happiest, most capable people, then naturally others will stand up. A self-appointed “reform group” is not the way to go. 


Copyright Kathy Ruby 2002. May not be quoted without written permission.

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