Interview

Growing with Joyful Unity

District Profile: Harvard-MIT District

Cambridge, Massachusetts. © iStockphoto.com / DenisTangneyJr


If you’re in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a Thursday night, you’ll find SGI-USA members chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and, afterward, in deep discussion about faith. And you’ll hear laughter—lots of it. Situated between the two Ivy League campuses of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the last few years, this district has seen tremendous growth, becoming a Champion District in 2014, 2015 and 2016. So far this year, the district has welcomed 17 new members.

What has been key to this district’s growth? Let’s hear from the district leaders and find out!

Harvard-MIT District members gather following a district discussion meeting, May 206. Photo: Steve Greene.
Harvard-MIT District members gather following a district discussion meeting, May 206. Photo: Steve Greene.

 

Q: WHAT IS THE KEY TO THE SUCCESS OF YOUR DISTRICT?

 

Cherese Ross
District Young Women’s Leader

DSC_1963A: There are two things I would say: united prayer to foster capable, responsible individuals; and communication.

Uniting around our goals is key. Also, communication is an essential aspect of our growth. Obviously sincere prayer is important, however I didn’t realize the magnitude of how important communication would be—to always communicate with the members, my co-leaders and my own leaders. Sometimes I’ll talk to members of my district multiple times a day! Study is also very important to me, especially when visiting the young women. It is important to be well prepared and ready to encourage whomever I meet.

I received the Gohonzon in February 2014, and with faith, practice and study I have transformed my entire life. I have had many profound experiences and am committed to doing my human revolution. When I was asked to be the district young women’s leader in January this year, I immediately asked, “Do you think I’m ready for that?” I had a lot of doubt and fear regarding balancing being a mother of two, a wife and a district leader.

I sought guidance from a senior in faith who encouraged me to pray to be able to be an amazing leader, while being the best mom and wife, and to chant to treat my family members as members of the district as well. That completely changed my view and my environment. Not only is our district growing, I feel confident and capable in supporting the young women while still advancing in my daily life.

Most of all, I am deeply grateful to be practicing with the young women in Harvard-MIT District. They are such amazing people and inspire me in so many ways!

Keila Alleyne
District Women’s Leader 

Keila_newphotoA: Everyone feels safe, and there is no judgement. I received the Gohonzon in June 2006, and my first major benefit was attending the makeup school of my dreams in New York City. In 2008, I returned to Boston to continue my passion. Using my SGI training and basing myself on faith, I now have my own lipgloss and lipstick line, have worked on film festivals and was recently featured in two major magazines.

In 2012 after my father passed away, I felt like I couldn’t leave the house, because I was so depressed and devastated. I pulled out some energy from inside me and went to the district discussion meeting. Tanya, who hosts the meetings at her beautiful home, was standing in the doorway with a smile and embraced me. I felt so safe and loved. Everyone there knew it was difficult for me to be there. I’ll never forget this.

One passage from SGI President Ikeda’s guidance that inspires me is: “When we change, the world changes. The key to all change is in our inner transformation—a change of our hearts and minds. This is human revolution. We all have the power to change. When we realize this truth, we can bring forth that power anywhere, anytime and in any situation” (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 38).

I’ve learned that unity is based on my human revolution—my inner transformation—and my relationship with my mentor, President Ikeda.

Our district meets consistently at Tanya’s house every Thursday night. Our spirit is to make each meeting an introduction-to-Buddhism meeting. And if there’s a fifth Thursday in the month, we’ll do an extra “intro” meeting.

Many members attend the planning sessions for the discussion meetings. We unite in prayer to ensure a joyful discussion meeting, and then we have an open dialogue for the first 30 minutes about what the members are going through.

Then, using that month’s Living Buddhism, we plan the meeting based on what the members are seeking. We try to get as many members, especially the newer members, involved in presenting and giving experiences. Everyone is filled with joy.

I’m really excited for the next adventure for Harvard-MIT district and for my own life.

Members in a focused discussion, burning with a seeking mind to study Buddhism, June 2016. Photo: Deepanjan Das.
Members in a focused discussion, burning with a seeking mind to study Buddhism, June 2016. Photo: Deepanjan Das.

Joe Elias
District Young Men’s Leader 

Joe Elias_IMG_1018[1]A: Being a member of this district has been an incredible experience!

I started going to meetings at Harvard-MIT District out of curiosity. My girlfriend at the time was an SGI-USA member, and I wanted to learn more about her Buddhist practice. I was very skeptical about organized religion, but was struck by the overwhelming generosity and sincerity of the members. Their dedication and brilliance kept me coming back. Even when my relationship ended, the members kept encouraging and studying with me. I received the Gohonzon in May 2013.

Even though the members in our district are so different and work in various fields—there are scientists, artists, lawyers, engineers and human rights advocates, just to name a few—we are united by the common goal of kosen-rufu, which makes our dialogues so fulfilling. Our district is now bursting at the seams! Many people join, because the members are so encouraged and reinvigorated by their personal experiences. Everyone has such incredible experiences with their personal practice that we feel naturally inclined to share Nichiren Buddhism with our friends and families.

Based on my experience, I always advise young men to join the Soka Group and Gajokai Academy. The training you receive there is applicable to all aspects of life, and it’s free!

Carlos Duque
District Men’s Leader

DSC_1984A: There’s so much joy, and everyone’s jumping to bring guests to our meetings.

Through taking on leadership in this district, I’ve learned how much personal transformation it takes to unite with others. Once we as leaders come to a consensus, even if at first I might have had a different opinion, I decide to support our collective decision 100 percent and take action to ensure victory. It takes a strong spirit and deep faith to trust others, and this has helped me polish my insecurities, arrogance and fears. We meet as district leaders at least once a week to chant and talk about how to improve the district.

In addition to my roles as a lawyer, husband, and father, as a district leader, I try to visit two or three members a week, so that I am personally meeting with each men’s division member at least once a month. I also visit the young men’s division members. I am so happy to see people use their practice to transform their suffering and circumstances.

We’re determined to be the number one district in the SGI-USA by making sure that new members are completely supported. In order to do this, we’ve established two functioning groups with a number of unit leaders in each group so that every single member in the district has someone who is chanting with them and helping them break through. My goal is to create a district that is like a “sturdy” ship, where each member can withstand the storms and hardships that arise throughout the course of life based on a deepening understanding and conviction in Buddhism.

Five Keys to Our Victory

1. Having a united prayer for capable people and more people in the community to become happy.
2. Each district leader feels responsible for our own human revolution based on the oneness of mentor and disciple.
3. Ensuring that each member of the district is being supported in faith, based on personal encouragement.
4. Dynamic planning meetings and actively involving new members in meetings.
5. Sharing the joy of faith!

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