Keys to Lively District Discussion Meetings
“Discussion meetings, which are a microcosm of the Soka Gakkai, must therefore abound with experiences of members gaining great benefit through faith.”
The following are excerpts from SGI President Ikeda’s guidance in volume 18 of The New Human Revolution (pp. 252–57). President Ikeda appears as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.
The Soka Gakkai was promoting a new activity this year  called “Human Forums,” the aim of which was to create a place where people could come together and engage in heart-to-heart communication based on a sense of autonomy, freedom and equality. In other words, it sought to restore human dignity to a fragmented and alienated society through the establishment of a spiritual network.
Discussion meetings were designated as the venue of these forums, which were set in motion under the guideline of “hold meetings that promote human development.”
Discussion meetings, study of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, introducing others to the practice and personal guidance are the four pillars, the main components, of the kosen-rufu movement. Discussion meetings, in particular, as the place where the other three components are carried out, serve as the foundation of everything.
Discussion meetings are a microcosm of the Soka Gakkai, an organization dedicated to building a network of ordinary citizens. They are forums where people of all ages come together in friendship, where experiences in faith are shared, Nichiren’s writings are studied, and people’s questions are answered. They brim with joy, determination and the desire to deepen one’s faith. The Swiss philosopher Carl Hilty said: “Associate with the people and learn from them. True ideas lie in the people.”
Discussion meetings are places where people inspire and support one another. As such, they are the main battle fields of kosen-rufu . . . In [a] dialogue, Shin’ichi Yamamoto said that the process of deepening one’s faith occurs through life-to-life exchange, or the mystic principle of responsive communion, and stressed that discussion meetings are the venues of such interaction.
Discussion meetings are places where people inspire and support one another. As such, they are the main battlefields of kosen-rufu.
Comparing Soka Gakkai activities to the flow of a river, he likened personal guidance and efforts to promote friendship in the wider community to tributaries, and discussion meetings to the mainstream into which every other current flows.
Through the series of articles titled “On Discussion Meetings” appearing in the Seikyo Shimbun, Shin’ichi offered various perspectives on how to hold successful discussion meetings, which were an important Soka Gakkai tradition.
. . . Shin’ichi emphasized that, no matter what the circumstances, it is the determination of the central figure that decides everything.
. . . Shin’ichi said that even if only one person shows up at a discussion meeting, it is important for the central figure to give his or her all to talking about Nichiren Buddhism with that person. Doing so, he stressed, is the conduct of a Buddha. He also said it was crucial to speak in a way that encourages and inspires members, remembering that “the voice carries out the work of the Buddha” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 4).
Shin’ichi further spoke of the importance of visiting members at their homes in the period before and after discussion meetings and of offering personal guidance. The discussion meeting actually begins with the central figure or main organizer offering members encouragement and guidance so that they will attend their local meetings. Such one-to-one interaction enables leaders to hear the members’ wishes and opinions. They can also get to know the members’ strengths and interests, as well as learn about their problems and the benefits they have received through faith. Putting this information to use in planning discussion meetings and getting members involved in them serve to make such activities fulfilling and rewarding for all.
Encouragement following discussion meetings is also very important. Leaders should thank members for attending, praise the comments they made during the meeting, listen to their feedback and invite them to attend the next meeting. Asserting that the success of a discussion meeting comes down to everyone’s unity, Shin’ichi urged not only leaders but all members to take full responsibility for them.
Nichiren writes, “Teach others to the best of your ability, even if it is only a single sentence or phrase” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 386). It is crucial that every participant in a discussion meeting feels as though he or she is the central figure and can talk confidently about the joys of faith and the greatness of Buddhism . . .
A men’s leader who ran into Shin’ichi at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Tokyo immediately asked, “Sensei, is there a secret to holding lively, hope-filled discussion meetings?” . . .
Shin’ichi replied: “There’s no special secret for making a discussion meeting lively. Having said that, however, I think a meeting’s success lies in how many people share experiences of gaining benefit through faith. People who share their experiences brim with joy and energy. That feeling communicates to everyone else, and the joy spreads until the entire meeting becomes positive and vibrant. As a leader, it’s important to be firmly determined and to take action to ensure that each member receives benefits. This may seem like a long and roundabout way, but it is really the direct path to bringing real energy and life to discussion meetings.”
Receiving benefits through faith is testimony to the truth and correctness of Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai. As Nichiren writes, “Even more valuable than reason and documentary proof is the proof of actual fact” (“Three Tripitaka Masters Pray for Rain,” WND- 1, 599). Benefits create joy and hope. Discussion meetings, which are a microcosm of the Soka Gakkai, must therefore abound with experiences of members gaining great benefit through faith. Looking intently at the man, Shin’ichi then said: “First, you need to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly, exert yourself wholeheartedly in Soka Gakkai activities and accumulate your own benefits through faith. Then joyously share your experiences with others.
“It is also crucial to foster fresh talent. An organization with enthusiastic new members will not stagnate. In other words, I hope you will focus on introducing Buddhism to others and helping them deepen their faith and develop their lives. To avoid falling into a rut, you cannot be passive. You need to take bold and courageous action yourself.”