Raising Youthful Successors—Why It Matters
Frontline leaders say its about lifetime youthfulness and a breakthrough practice.
The SGI-USA is gathering 50,000 youth in 2018 under the banner of SGI President Ikeda’s philosophy of humanism and respect for the dignity of life to make an unequivocal statement for peace. As a major milestone toward these gatherings, young men’s and young women’s general meetings will be held throughout the country in July (see Youth General Meetings).
The World Tribune discussed with several frontline leaders the importance of developing the youth in this historic effort to gather “50,000 Lions of Justice,” addressing the premise, “Raising youthful successors—why it matters.”
World Tribune: Thank you for taking time to talk with us. Why does raising youth matter to you?
Charles Sarceda (district men’s leader in Los Angeles): One of the reasons that my wife and I began practicing Buddhism is that we had so many struggles with our own children. Their lifestyles were dangerous, and it was SGI youth activities that saved them. As a family, we changed our destiny. Why does is matter to me? Supporting the youth in Highland Park District is like repaying my debt of gratitude to the SGI for supporting my children. When I look at my son compared to the other young men here, the only difference is that he had the opportunity to be cared for. We’ve had 17 new youth join our district this year. I want to raise them as my own kids.
Dianne Fletcher (district women’s leader in Memphis): For me, my activities to support the youth in my district give me energy and a positive attitude that carry over into my work as a caregiver. The other day, I spent six hours in the emergency room with a woman I’m caring for, and her husband commented on how I handled everything with a great deal of patience, respect, compassion and the never-give-up spirit—all that I gain from helping the youth division in their campaign. The youth truly give me hope and strengthen my ability to face my own struggles and expand my life.
WT: As a Many Treasures Group member, what’s your motivation?
Mary Smith (chapter member care advisor in Chicago): SGI President Ikeda’s whole life has been geared toward raising successors. As a Many Treasures Group member, I feel that today’s youth are our successors. If we can’t support and lay the foundation for them, everything we fought for will be for nothing—we can’t allow that. When I started practicing Buddhism in 1974, my leaders would encourage me that, if I sincerely chanted for the success of any campaign for kosen-rufu, I would realize my personal dreams, too. As a brand new member, I couldn’t see how one plus one could equal a million. But as I challenged myself to chant for the success of a campaign, my life did change. In fact, I’ve overcome cancer four times, and I’m prepared to face and overcome my next challenge, whatever it may be. I ask myself, How else can I polish my life to support the youth and how can I attract more of them to this wonderful practice?
How are you sharing about this goal in your local organization?
Leslie Leuders (vice district women’s leader in Woodland Hills, California): For me, as soon as I read President Ikeda’s words in the Oct. 7, 2016, World Tribune, where he says—“Promise with me to work hard over the next two years with our fellow members around the world to expand our network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth”—I thought, All right, I’m with Sensei! But I see that there’s a disconnect among some members.
I try to connect them to the campaign by sharing how they can achieve their own personal dreams by putting their heart and soul into the 50K youth gathering. I’m also challenging myself to introduce youth to the practice as much as I can—even when, at times, I feel hesitant. I want to change my life to the core and break through whatever is trying to hold me back in life. As a result, I have introduced many youth guests and am determined that at least five of them will receive the Gohonzon this year. Right now, we have nine youth in our district, so I’m talking to them, supporting the district members and chanting for everyone to awaken to their mission for kosen-rufu.
WT: What would you share with someone who wonders what’s in it for them?
Talmadge Brown (chapter men’s leader in Atlanta): I didn’t have the privilege and honor of raising my four children due to the many hardships I faced as a young man, so when I encountered this Buddhism at 32 years old, I began chanting to turn that karma around. I found the opportunity to make many causes for my own family by fostering youth in the SGI, and that’s why I feel so strongly about the “50,000 Lions of Justice” youth gathering.
Today, I have a great relationship with each of my children, and they’re doing well. I chanted that my children would care for one another, and that prayer has been realized. Now, every single day, I pray that I can use my life to contribute to the success of the kosen-rufu movement, and I believe that raising the youth right now is the only way to ensure that.
WT: What are some ways you support the youth?
Dianne: Everything begins with prayer. When I first became the women’s district leader for Cooper Young District in 2015, there were only two of us and no youth. I had never been in a district where there were only two members before. The men’s leader and I decided to treat it like a campaign as far as making goals and a plan, and chanting together. Our prayer was to increase our membership, with many people receiving the Gohonzon, and to welcome many youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth! Soon enough, they started appearing in our district, and today, we have a total of five active youth.
Talmadge: A few months ago, there was only one active young man in East Dekalb Rockdale Chapter. We now have six active young men, and they hold core meetings every Thursday at my house. I also support with transportation for any youth activity the young men might have. If they call me and I’m available, it’s done. My idea is to keep them active through my own actions and example.
The core young men also do Gajokai and Soka Group (SGI young men’s training groups), and I also support the members behind the scenes as men’s division security—the Golden Pillar Group. Although I’m 60 years old, I am truly honored that the young men refer to me as an “older YMD”!
WT: How encouraging! In The New Human Revolution, President Ikeda writes about the idea of “lifetime youthfulness,” saying: “I don’t regard youth as being restricted to any chronological age or even physical youth. The true glory of youth, as I see it, is in preserving the convictions of youth with sustained passion up to the very moment of death . . . It is very important to me to retain that kind of ‘lifetime youthfulness’; I hope I never lose that essential youthfulness of spirit” (vol. 22, p. 53). Can you share any keys to raising youth?
Charles: At the beginning of the year, all the district leaders in Highland Park District determined to help one friend receive the Gohonzon. By the end of January, each district leader was successful in doing so. From there, guests continued to appear one after another. Because we led the way, everyone in the district has been supportive of our efforts to introduce many new youth to Buddhism. And 17 new youth have joined this year so far.
Mary: Every Wednesday and Friday, our Many Treasures Group members chant at the Chicago Culture Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the success of the gatherings. As a member care advisor, it’s also my privilege to home visit and listen to the members, and warmly encourage them that no prayer goes answered. If a youth member needs a ride, I take them. It doesn’t matter where or how many. It’s only a matter of when.
WT: What is your vision for your city toward the 50,000 gathering?
Dianne: I want to bring the youth of Memphis this positive philosophy so they can overcome their struggles. So many of our youth lack hope. Recently, a prominent activist group asked SGI members to come speak at a multi-faith event and we presented on the concept of changing karma into mission. They loved it! We then taught the 40 or so people there how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and it was a hit!
Our district is determined to bring 20 youth to the “50,000 Lions of Justice” gathering next year, and we are chanting to introduce five more youth to the practice this year! Through these important youth gatherings, we are determined to see a transformation in our city.