Interview

Returning to the Heart of the Soka Gakkai

Youth district leaders share their thoughts on the one-hour discussion meeting format.

Doral East District, DORAL, FLORIDA. Photo: Akihisa Tsunekawa.


With the purpose of returning to the heart of the discussion meeting and our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth to share Buddhism, the SGI-USA Central Executive Committee introduced two ways to make the district more relevant to members and guests starting in September 2015. These include shortening the meeting to one hour, to give ample time for Q&A with the central figure and to give time for quality discussion afterward.

VANESSA ROMERO

Photo: Ken O'Ferrall
Photo: Ken O’Ferrall

Rancho Cucamonga District Young Women’s Leader
Upland, Calif.

This new format has helped our meetings become more intimate, getting straight to the heart of what we want to discuss. They’re geared toward guests more than before, giving our friends a chance to learn about the main ingredients of our practice like chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon and hearing about the actual proof in people’s lives. Teaching others about the practice together with the district always refreshes my perspective and inspires my own faith.

Previously, when our district meetings were longer, I always had to rush off to my next thing, but with the one-hour format, I feel comfortable to stay after and share my struggles and victories with fellow members and guests. Hearing other people’s struggles motivates me to chant for them too. A few of my family members have been ill and after meetings, the men and women are always encouraging me and asking how my family is doing. I enjoy sharing my words of gratitude to the members for chanting for my family, because their health is getting better.

It’s very uplifting to spend an hour in the meeting, and then spend 30 minutes to catch up with fellow members and get personal guidance from other leaders. Now, I often leave the meetings in a much higher life state than when I arrived, and I realize how fortunate I am to be part of such a group of people!


RYAN HARRISON

Photo: Masako Kimbara
Photo: Masako Kimbara

Sea World District Young Men’s Leader 
San Antonio, Texas

With the new meeting format, we are seeing a lot more growth in our district than last year, and our discussions are more spirited and on track. Each member has a chance to contribute to the discussions, and they leave refreshed and energized. I sense that they are opening up more.

We always turn our focus toward the guests and transform our meetings into intro-to-Buddhism gatherings. The first person who received the Gohonzon in our district this year came to a discussion meeting where I spoke with him during the post-meeting time. Learning from the example of SGI President Ikeda to treasure the person in front of you, I sincerely listened to what was in his heart, and encouraged him to join the SGI and receive the Gohonzon. After connecting with other members, he continued to open up about his life and expressed that he wanted to receive the Gohonzon right away! In this new format, three guests have already joined our district this year.

In 2011, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and since many of our members have experiences of overcoming serious illnesses, I’m able to receive personal encouragement from them during the post-meeting time. This inspires me even more to ght my illness. I ask those members how they were able to be victorious against all odds, and they share with me guidance from Sensei and Nichiren Daishonin that helped them.

Today, I’m 90 percent better, and I’m very appreciative of the members who helped me in my darkest times. Now I can eat, drive and take care of myself, which I couldn’t do before. Because of their support, I’m able to experience the great joy of sharing Buddhism in my city.


CARINA TONG

Photo: Marc Giannavola
Photo: Marc Giannavola

Cobble Hill District Young Women’s Leader
Brooklyn, N.Y.

When the new meeting format was announced, there was anxiety about how the district would receive it. At the time, as district leaders, we took to heart SGI President Ikeda’s guidance about the importance of preparation and determined to unite to make the meetings a success. Before, there was less preparation of the contents of the meetings, and our gatherings were becoming routine.

Now, we ensure that each member is more prepared with their appointed task and allocated time. For example, we ask our members to write and send us their experience beforehand so that we can fully support them. We also make detailed plans about upcoming activities and invite a central figure two months in advance. The 30-minute Q&A with a central figure has been a highlight of the new format, helping members revitalize their practice while offering a space for guests to freely ask questions about Nichiren Buddhism.

As part of our planning, we also share with the central figure what members are generally challenging, so they can be better tuned into the daily lives of the members and offer the most appropriate guidance. A few of our members were able to have large breakthroughs by asking questions about issues that have been holding them back for some time. With members refreshing their practice and guests joining our district, we’re definitely experiencing expansion. We’ve had three people receive the Gohonzon this year and recently achieved our long-cherished goal of becoming a Champion District! It all came down to our determination and unity as leaders to prepare the most encouraging meetings, based on the new format, that every member can enjoy!

 

(p. 10)