Interview

“We Are the Starburst”

Determined to respond to SGI President Ikeda's call to raise capable successors, the members of Berkeley Chapter welcomed 42 people to the SGI-USA last year.

Noble mission—SGI members of Berkely Chapter. Photo: Debra Williams.


“In the beautiful swirling galaxies found throughout space, there is an astronomical phenomenon known as a starburst, during which thousands or hundreds of thousands of massive stars are all born at once . . . There are also periods in the momentous advance of kosen-rufu when great numbers of capable people suddenly burst on the scene. And this is what we are presently seeing happen. Now is the time for each one of you to think of yourself as the president of the Soka Gakkai and stand up to shoulder full responsibility for kosen-rufu.” —SGI President Ikeda, Oct. 31, 2014, World Tribune, p. 4
Photo: Mahi Takazawa
Photo: Mahi Takazawa

SGI-USA Berkeley Chapter had always had a handful of members who consistently introduced others to the practice. But the question was: How to enable each member to experience the joy of sharing Buddhism and its infinite benefits?

Beyond a numerical goal, the chapter’s four-divisional team wanted to build a dynamic culture of propagation, in which each person shared Buddhism as part of a complete practice. Last year, they took to heart SGI President Ikeda’s urgent call:

“Time is of the essence! With the sun in our hearts, let’s take the first step toward dynamic development!” (tentative translation, Jan. 1, 2015, Seikyo Shimbun, p. 3).

“I was able to manifest a profound happiness and hope that I had never felt before.”

Drawing further inspiration from President Ikeda’s admiration and connection with the University of California, Berkeley, located in Berkeley Chapter’s area, a core group of students and youth members vowed to make tremendous efforts to share Buddhism in their community. Calling their efforts the “Starburst Campaign”—referring to President Ikeda’s guidance in which he likens the emergence of capable people to the astronomical phenomenon known as a starburst—Berkeley Chapter last year welcomed 300 guests to their propagation activities. Among them, 42 received the Gohonzon and became SGI-USA members, including 32 capable youth.

Photo: Zak Douglas
Photo: Zak Douglas

What were their keys to victory?

1. Victory in the morning:

Members throughout the chapter chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and studied together every morning, seven days a week.

2. Flash Intro-to-Buddhism meetings:

In addition to weekly chapter intro meetings and monthly intro meetings at the University of California, Berkeley, the members organized spontaneous meetings at their guests’ convenience.

3. Monthly encouragement:

Every month, the chapter organized encouragement calls with national and territory leaders for the members. A monthly online newsletter and social media served as platforms for sharing faith encouragement and members’ propagation victories.

4. Starburst Academy:

Informal new members meetings were held to impart the fundamentals of Nichiren Buddhism and the spirit of shakubuku.

Photo: Mahi Takazawa
Photo: Mahi Takazawa

Ryan Berg, Berkeley Marina District

I received the Gohonzon during the “Starburst Campaign!” As a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, who served during wartime, it was difficult feeling real joy. But after joining the SGI, I was able to manifest a profound happiness and hope that I had never felt before. I feel deeply grateful to my sponsor for introducing me to Nichiren Buddhism. I introduced my older brother and three of my friends to the practice, which ignited my spirit to share Buddhism with others. My mother even chanted with me! Through the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I have begun changing our family karma, and creating tremendous good fortune now and for generations to come. Also, the friendships that I have made with fellow “starburs-ters” have been very meaningful to me, because I had been praying for an abundance of friends in my life. My heart will eternally echo the words “thank you” to each person who contributed to this campaign, and also to Sensei and the SGI!

Michael Anthony, Berkeley Marina District

The youth generated great excitement with their starburst phenomenon! Their spirit convinced me, “We can do this!” What joy and pride I felt when I was able to introduce Ryan Berg, my fellow veteran of war. Ryan then introduced four youth to the practice, including his brother. The starburst movement continues on as our timely mission!

Jeanette Bokhour, Strawberry Creek District

Because of the “Starburst Campaign” and the spirit of our youth, I was able to bring my dear friend, who was in the final stages of his life, to a meeting. Hearing the chanting affected him deeply, and he remembered it for days after. As he was slipping away, I was able to chant beside him once again. He looked at me and smiled, and I knew it reached him. He departed quickly, without signs of pain. I am so grateful for our campaign and for all the tremendous efforts of our youth. It is impossible to know all the benefit we are receiving from our activities, but in the crucial moment it becomes clear!

Roberta Giordano, Berkeley Marina Lions District

The “Starburst Campaign” taught me how to act with lightning speed, which for me is to determine that everyone can receive the Gohonzon and we can ensure that everything will happen swiftly based on prayer and dialogue!