On Unity Toward 50K: Why We Need It and How to Get It
Encouragement for Leaders
As we advance toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in September, SGI-USA Youth Leader David Witkowski reflects on certain points to keep in mind to create unity.
To the precious leaders of the SGI-USA, thank you very much for all your efforts in 2017 to foster youthful successors! In December, we gathered more than 14,000 members and guests at our Youth General Meetings. What a tremendous achievement—congratulations!
As we advance toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I’d like to discuss thoughts on unity that I’ve gleaned from SGI President Ikeda’s guidance and participating in recent campaigns.
In 2013, I was appointed youth leader of the SGI-USA. That same year, we embarked on a campaign to introduce 3,000 youth. During a training course to Japan in January, we reported our determination to President Ikeda. Toward the end of our trip, we attended a Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting where the following was announced: “Let’s welcome 16 members from the SGI-USA, where they will introduce 3,000 youth by November 18!” I felt a rush of excitement that Sensei was encouraging us in the strongest terms to achieve our goal. At the same time, I had knots in my stomach, thinking, How can we achieve this?
As 2013 progressed, members around the country, made increased efforts to introduce youth. Come August 1, however, we were still very far from our goal. After a frank discussion among my co-leaders, we drew the following conclusions:
1) Everyone was fighting hard but in different directions. Some focused on men’s or women’s division activities, others study or introducing youth to Buddhism.
2) Those striving for the goal of 3,000 began getting frustrated with those who were not.
3) Communication to leaders striving on the frontlines was poor.
4) Communication among the four divisions was inconsistent. Although efforts were being made for the victory of SGI-USA’s 3,000 youth, very few were communicating regularly to their four-divisional counterparts.
The national leaders vowed to transform these shortcomings and unite as a family, focusing solely on being able to report to our mentor that we achieved the 3,000 youth by the opening of The Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu in November 2013. We achieved 3,000 new youth on November 3, 2013. Nothing could match the joy we felt in fulfilling this promise to Sensei. Not simply because we achieved our goal, but because we did it, together.
Five Points to Create Unity Based on SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance
Why is unity emphasized in Buddhism? It is not simply an organizational imperative. Rather, creating unity is essential to our attaining Buddhahood. SGI President Ikeda writes on this subject:
As long as the fundamental spirit of striving for kosen-rufu demonstrated by the first three presidents pulses vitally in our organization and everyone is united in the spirit of “many in body but one in mind,” the Soka Gakkai will forever possess the great life force of the Buddha who seeks to lead all people to enlightenment.
This vibrant force shines with the great light of compassion that breaks through the darkness of people’s suffering and imparts courage and hope. It resounds with the lion’s roar that vanquishes injustice and steadfastly champions truth. And it inspires immense confidence in all people that they can transform their karma and realize happiness for both themselves and others. (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 76)
Based on this guidance, creating unity is directly related to our personal practice of Buddhism, which enables us to awaken to our Buddha nature. Together, let’s get some practical answers about creating unity based on President Ikeda’s guidance.
1. Creating Unity Directly Connects to the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple
In Buddhism, the oneness of mentor and disciple is not about simply admiring one’s mentor. The key is to stand up with the same vow as the mentor to widely propagate the Mystic Law, together with the Soka Gakkai, the organization carrying out the Buddha’s mission and decree. President Ikeda has said the following regarding the importance of protecting the unity of SGI members:
The oneness of mentor and disciple and the spirit of many in body, one in mind are essentially inseparable principles; they are like the two wheels of a cart. If we do not share our mentor’s heart or spirit to realize kosen-rufu, there will be no genuine unity of purpose among our diverse membership. Nor can we be called disciples who truly embody our mentor’s spirit if we fail to cherish our harmonious community of practitioners and to make continuous efforts to forge and maintain unity. (Learning from the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 203)
President Ikeda makes very clear that creating unity in the SGI goes hand in hand with the oneness of mentor and disciple. Therefore, no matter how highly we regard President Ikeda, when we create disunity in the SGI, we are undermining his vision for kosen-rufu.
2. Co-leaders are a Family of Equals
Time and again, I have experienced that when I’m solely focused on my divisional activities, I can quickly grow distant from my co-leaders, and we stop functioning to support one another. While each division’s development is crucial, most important is for each leadership team to operate like a family, where information flows freely and equally among the divisions, so that everyone can advance with the same mind. When we speak of family, it doesn’t necessarily equate to the men’s division as the father, the women’s division as the mother and the youth as the children. Rather, we are a family of equals, fully vested in one another’s victories.
3. Report, communicate and discuss!
In the midst of taking action for kosen-rufu, communicating with others amplifies the positive results of our efforts. Below are three simple ways to do this practically:
1) Report about faith activities, any requests from members or important news to your direct line leader (e.g. a district leader reporting to a chapter leader about a recent meeting).
2) Communicate organizational direction and guidance, or any important information, down the line (e.g. a chapter leader communicating to co-leaders and district leaders).
3) Discuss with your co-leaders about specific issues, how to make activities successful and how to best encourage members.
About communication, President Ikeda says:
For any society or organization—and particularly for the Soka Gakkai, which is working for kosen-rufu—communications and reporting must be carried out without delay.
As our mission in the Soka Gakkai is to lead people to the path of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, how we interact with and respond to members can directly affect their happiness. Therefore, I would like you to aim to communicate or make reports promptly and accurately in any situation, so that you can then offer appropriate guidance and encouragement in a timely manner. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 26, p. 131)
4. Jumping In to Support
Observing the results of a certain organization that is struggling can easily lead us to simply judge and give reasons why they aren’t winning. Falling into this trap on numerous occasions, I am all too aware of the unhappy result on the other side. In The New Human Revolution, President Ikeda provides clear guidance on this tendency, addressing leaders making judgment calls about chapters that are stagnant:
Hearing this input, Shin’ichi Yamamoto looked at the two vice general directors and asked sharply: “And what have you, in your capacities, done to help those chapters?”
• • •
“Senior leaders who sit back and do nothing while members struggle—commentating on which chapters are strong and which are weak as if watching a baseball game—are no more than cheap critics. Those who make no effort themselves but look down on others from on high while making irresponsible comments, have been poisoned by bureaucracy.” (NHR-8, 22)
Based on this guidance, if we feel ourselves falling into this trap, some things we can do are: to chant for the victory of the particular organization and its members; discuss ideas with the leaders to help expand the organization; and take action by personally encouraging the members, inviting people to meetings and making efforts to introduce others to Buddhism.
5. Communicate the Same Message
Each of the four divisions focusing on different activities and striving toward different goals may seem natural, but this stifles their potential. In my case, when promoting a youth activity, I have tended to simply communicate with the youth, while ignoring the men’s and women’s divisions. While everyone may sincerely be making efforts for kosen-rufu, they won’t be effective. This situation can be called “unintentional disunity.” President Ikeda gives an example:
“The chapter leader might say, ‘I’d really like to see our chapter concentrate on study.’ But if the women’s leader then says: ‘Study without practice is abstract. It’s pointless if we don’t try to introduce others to this Buddhism,’ the members will be left feeling bewildered.
“This is a prime example of disunity. Although each statement fits Soka Gakkai guidelines, the apparently conflicting guidance will only confuse the members. This is because the leaders haven’t tried to harmonize. If they were in sync with one another, they could naturally express the above points more constructively.
“If, for example, when the chapter leader says, ‘Let’s promote study,’ the other leaders were to say, ‘Yes, and because we study to support our practice, let’s also chant [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] and share Buddhism with others,’ no one would be confused. The statements don’t conflict; they complement each other.” (NHR-3, 13–14)
To avoid unintentional disunity, some things we can do are: to set one or more clear goals that all four divisions can unite around; discuss and decide on a campaign message for all four divisions; continue sharing the united message with leaders and members until everyone has a clear understanding of the organizational direction; and ensure that each divisional activity contributes to advancing the overall organizational goal.
Creating unity can be one of the most daunting challenges. It is a challenge, however, that we take on based on faith in the Gohonzon. Therefore, with powerful prayer to the Gohonzon, there is no person or group of people that are impossible to unify based on the Mystic Law. Toward our 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in September and beyond, let’s take on this unity challenge and together enjoy the victory of gathering 50,000 youth!
Five Points for Creating Unity
1. Creating unity starts in front of the Gohonzon and making an unshakable vow with our mentor.
2. Meet with your co-leaders on a regular basis to chant, reconfirm your primary goals and discuss how to achieve them. View your co-leaders as a family of equals.
3. Report, communicate and discuss as a family across divisional lines.
4. Jump in to support one another and share in the joy of victory, together.
5. Communicate the same message about your activity guidelines so that members throughout your organization can unite their efforts in the same direction.