Before the Discussion Meeting, Thorough Preparation Is Key
Core principles for improving the district discussion meeting.
In September 1968, SGI President Ikeda initiated a discussion meeting revolution to strengthen and refresh this core activity of the Soka Gakkai, stating, “Ever since [founding Soka Gakkai] President Makiguchi’s time, the heart of the Soka Gakkai could be found in that forum” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 13, p. 144).
Toward Nov. 18, 2018, the SGI-USA is also striving to strengthen the front lines—our district activities—by focusing on the four pillars of kosen-rufu: discussion meetings, shakubuku, study and personal guidance (see 50,000 Determined Youth). The ultimate aim is for each member to live a happy, fulfilled life and help others to do the same. This is the direct path for building a solid foundation for a peaceful society that upholds human dignity and respect for life.
Starting from this issue, this series (to be published the first Friday of each month) will offer front-line leaders core principles for improving the district discussion meeting. Since one key to creating a successful discussion meeting is thorough preparation, this first installment centers on this topic. See you on the front lines!
With deepest appreciation,
Adin Strauss, SGI-USA General Director
Discussion Meetings—An Open Forum for
Dialogue and Propagation
The following episode is from volume 13 of The New Human Revolution. SGI President Ikeda appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.
The Soka Gakkai discussion meeting, where members and their friends could participate in a frank exchange of ideas, represented an open forum for dialogue and an arena for introducing people to Nichiren Buddhism. It was a place where people could experience the Soka Gakkai firsthand and gain an accurate understanding of the organization. As long as discussion meetings were enriching and abounded with energy and joy, kosen-rufu would never cease to advance.
In recent years, however, less and less care had been put into discussion meetings and their overall content was starting to grow stale from force of habit. It was this state of affairs that prompted Shin’ichi [Yamamoto] to launch a complete reformation of this important activity.
“It is important to talk with each member, give them confidence and show them the way to happiness.”
As a first step, on Sept. 18, he wrote the following daily guidelines on the blackboard at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters: “Leaders must always strive to promote inspiring discussion meetings. It is important to talk with each member, give them confidence and show them the way to happiness.”
He then said to the headquarters staff members nearby: “From today, let’s initiate a discussion meeting revolution. Let’s work together to create the best meetings ever.”
One staff member then asked him, “Sensei, what is the key to holding an ideal meeting?”
“I’m considering addressing that very point at the next headquarters leaders meeting, but the fundamental principle is clear,” Shin’ichi replied. “Everything is determined by the firm resolve of the meeting’s central figures as well as the invited leaders.
“The original purpose of the discussion meeting was to serve as a forum for Buddhist dialogue and propagation. Both [first Soka Gakkai] President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and [second] President Josei Toda put enormous effort into thoroughly responding to any inquiries from guests. With absolute conviction, they would offer logical explanations as to why Nichiren Buddhism was the correct teaching and what constituted the path to true happiness. In this way, discussion meetings were at the forefront of the struggle to spread the Mystic Law. The first and second presidents also did their utmost to encourage their fellow members who came to a meeting, wanting to give them hope and confidence. Inevitably, those who attended such gatherings would leave feeling invigorated.
“In other words, the success of a discussion meeting wholly depends on the central figures’ determination and capacity to provide persuasive explanations to members and guests alike, to bring them joy and inspire them to further deepen their faith. It is crucial that leaders have the awareness that the discussion meeting is the arena of their actual struggle.” (pp. 145–46)
Preparing for the Discussion Meeting
The following points are taken from The New Human Revolution.
1. Call to confirm members and guests.
“In preparing for a meeting, leaders should share responsibility for communicating to the members and encouraging them to come to the activity, doing their utmost to ensure 100 percent participation.” (vol. 13, p. 148)
2. Pray sincerely for the meeting’s success and convey unshakable conviction in faith to the members.
“It is essential that leaders in charge of a discussion meeting pray sincerely to the Gohonzon for its success, and that they attend the meeting filled with unshakable resolve and confidence. No matter how interesting their speeches or presentations may be, if their words lack conviction in faith, they will fail to touch the participants’ hearts.” (vol. 13, p. 149)
3. Visit and encourage members before the meeting, especially those who cannot regularly attend activities.
Promoting activities together with those who regularly attend meetings is simple, but this in itself will not enable Nichiren Buddhism to spread . . .
“The network of life-to-life bonds that is the Soka Gakkai was built through the efforts of individuals to visit and personally encourage their fellow members. Just as a broad interwoven nexus of roots that sink deep into the earth supports a mighty tree, it is the consistent and painstaking actions of members to offer personal guidance at the grass-roots level that hold up the Soka Gakkai.” (vol. 8, p. 91)
In the next installment: Setting the agenda and schedule.