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Brandon Zatt's Response to Forbes

To: Editor, Forbes Magazine

From: David Johnson
SGI member since 1973
New York

August 29, 2004

Dear Editor:

I'm writing to take exception to the article "Sensei's World" by Benjamin Fulford and David Whelan, dated September 6, 2004....

My biggest criticism of the article is that is poorly written... in that it makes no clear conclusions and offers only "shadowy" implications rather than actual accusations... It is also about as "fair and balanced" as a Fox News report on Kerry...

As a 31 year member and often vocal critic of the SGI, I know from my own experience that your implications are largely unfounded and unfair...

The article starts off making a valid point... In America, religious institutions rake in billions of dollars and are under no obligation to account for any of it.... which is a possibly frightening reality...

It then continues... "Soka Gakkai is a shadowy case in point"... The word "shadowy" sets a dark and sinister tone... a good choice, considering you couldn't start the piece off with "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Then you refer to our excommunication from Nichiren Shoshu by saying:
"...A nasty split from Nichiren Buddhists set off a cycle of alleged violence, blackmail and intimidation. Soka Gakkai members in Japan have been charged with illegal wiretapping and breaking into private databases..."

We are still Nichiren Buddhists...we were kicked out of a tired and moribund sect which tried to exert a medieval control over the membership using doctrines which demand total obedience to the High Priest... we've spent the last 13 years casting off remnants of old traditions and superstitions... and the Japanese Tabloid press has had a field day.... but if you check the court records you'll find that these charges have almost always been thrown out of court, and are harrassment-type litigation... of course, with ten million members, there will be a few bad eggs... Gakkai members are not immune to criminal acts... but these acts did not involve the Soka Gakkai, so far as I am aware...

You then present Ikeda as a megalomaniac by quoting him as having said "I am the King of Japan!" and more, some forty-some years ago... 

I must ask you to confirm the reliability of your souce... sounds crazy to me... maybe he was drunk at the time... or pissed off and being facetious... I can only say it is at odds with everything he's written in modern times...

You then use rabid "anti-Gakkai" website owner Lisa Jones' definition of "Many in Body, One in mind" as meaning: "...You have to make sensei's [teacher's] heart your own. You have to fulfill [Ikeda's] dreams instead of your own,"

Horse manure...!

"Many in body, One in Mind" means that we, as Buddhists, celebrate a wide diversity of opinions and lifestyles... and we are independent individuals who respectfully differ with each other on both organizational and doctrinal issues... We transcend those differences to promote the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism and support each other in the practice of this philosophy... which, we believe, is our way of helping to create world peace... while working alongside those of other faiths in the pursuit of common global interests...

We are not "slaves" of Daisaku Ikeda... our mission is not to fulfill his dreams... the key to our enlightenment is not to be found in "Sensei's heart", as you imply... Nichiren Buddhism is about individual empowerment… "enlightenment" is self contained...

Ikeda said in 1990: "The purpose of Buddhism is not to create dupes who blindly follow their leader... it is to create people of wisdom who can judge right and wrong on their own in the clear mirror of Buddhism..."

This is the kind of Buddhism we practice today in the Soka Gakkai... 

Yes, we did go over the top in the seventies with our adulation of Mr. Ikeda... quite frankly, some of us thought the man pissed ginger ale... we were a product of cultural misunderstandings between the Japanese origins of this sect and the "tuned-in,” "spaced-out" spiritual baggage of our culture here in the states... but that was then... this is now...

Today the SGI celebrates diversity... we welcome dissent and lively discussions of issues... we do not fawn over Mr. Ikeda... I personally have written letters taking exception to certain of his statements. Still, most of us admire Ikeda's determination and demeanor... but this is a case of "emulate, not adulate"...

Yes, Soka University has not been completely successful as a "nonsectarian" institution... this is mainly a remnant of the vertical, Japanese-style organization style that still partly cripples the SGI here in America... yet as the organization matures in America these instances of clumsy cultural errors will fade away...

Finally, your article does make one accurate and important point… it says:
"...The veil that surrounds the nonprofit world, especially religions, ensures that only the outlines are visible..."

I wholly support voluntary public disclosure of the finances of the Soka Gakkai... I believe most American born leaders and members feel the same way... we have nothing to hide... I call upon the Soka Gakkai to do exactly that... and I believe that a large contingent of members is working toward that goal... There are, however, cultural barriers to the effect that asking for accountability is considered offensive in some Japanese quarters... Once that "veil" is lifted the world will see that, however wealthy we may be, the Soka Gakkai has nothing to hide... and if we do, we'll fess up to it like any respectworthy institution...

Although your article may help push the SGI in that direction, which is a good thing, it remains unfortunate that you chose not to include the voices and opinions of current practicing members in your article... had you done so, you might have allayed the unfounded negative implications contained therein...

I invite you follow up your article with one a bit more balanced...

Thanks

David Johnson

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