The Spirit of SGI Youth Training Groups
Long before the sun rose, and in the predawn chill, the first Ikeda Youth Ensemble performers arrived at venues across the country on September 23 to prepare for the long-awaited 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival. There to greet them were Soka Group members, directing traffic by the light of street lamps, while the Byakuren Group directed performers inside, with warm, reassuring smiles. At local SGI centers throughout the country, Gajokai members had staffed centers steadily throughout the campaign, overseeing the safety of the centers and members attending activities.
In our confusing times, the youth training groups shine as beacons of light, overflowing with the spirit to sincerely and selflessly serve humanity. They carry out their duties with the same spirit as Nichiren Daishonin and the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents, who have devoted their lives to protecting the essential teachings of Buddhism and supporting the development and victory of its practitioners.
SGI President Ikeda once said:
It has been my determination to become the roof of the Soka Gakkai. A roof has to withstand scorching heat, rain, storms and heavy snowfall. But if that’s what it takes to be a true bulwark for others, then it’s worth it. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 149)
But does the legacy of the mentors of Soka, fighting behind the scenes to protect and encourage the members, conclude with them? The essence of the Lotus Sutra is the principle of the oneness of mentor and disciple—a shared struggle to accomplish the Buddha’s primary wish to make all people “equal to me, without any distinction between us” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 70).
This means that SGI members don’t simply look to Nichiren, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda as mentors to be revered from afar. Rather, it means to study their teachings and actions, and strive to put those lessons into practice in our lives, workplaces and society.
In the final installment of the “Vow” chapter of the 30th and final volume of The New Human Revolution, President Ikeda states, “As long as there is a core of youth—no, even a single true disciple—we will achieve kosen-rufu” (November 9, 2018, World Tribune insert, p. 8). This is exactly how the mentors of Soka have striven to foster the SGI youth.
The Purpose of Youth Training Groups
The SGI youth training groups exist to foster individuals who can take full responsibility for the kosen-rufu movement. These groups exist not simply to be trained in specific functions, but rather to develop young people who can cultivate the same perspective as the mentors of Buddhism, and learn how to use their lives to deeply encourage the participants of an SGI event. What’s more, by challenging themselves to support activities behind the scenes, these youth develop abundant fortune and treasures of the heart that form the bedrock of their faith.
Byakuren and Soka Group
The Byakuren Group and Soka Group support large-scale SGI events behind the scenes. They arrive at meeting places well before the start of the program to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together and prepare. The Byakuren Group functions to greet participants, assist with seating and support conferrals of the Gohonzon or awards, in addition to other roles. President Ikeda has said of the Byakuren Group:
You take the lead behind the scenes, diligently working for the brilliant success of our meetings for kosen-rufu. Your hearts are filled with the deep and lofty prayer that there be absolutely no accidents, while your actions are driven by a strong sense of responsibility to bring hope to many people day after day. (January 31, 2003, World Tribune, p. 3)
With this same spirit, the Soka Group direct the movement of people at the venue, set up for meetings, moving podiums or instruments on and off stage, and so forth. In addition, Soka Group members actively study about Nichiren and the three presidents’ struggle for justice to be prepared to speak out against those who try to take advantage of the Soka Gakkai Buddha.
The Gajokai was established on February 1, 1971, as the Soka Gakkai shifted its focus from building Nichiren Shoshu temples to building many more Soka Gakkai centers, where members could carry out activities.
Their responsibilities include: opening and closing the centers; ensuring the cleanliness of each room, including the restrooms; ensuring the fire extinguishers are working; and being prepared for a fire or natural disaster, in addition to many other functions. President Ikeda composed the following poem to the Gajokai:
named by my mentor
strive to be foremost
people of courage.
(February 6, 2009, World Tribune, p. 5)
Ikeda Youth Ensemble
The SGI-USA Ikeda Youth Ensemble, which was founded by President Ikeda on September 22, 2010, is composed of the training performance groups: fife and drum corps, brass band, taiko, dance and chorus.
Similar to the spirit of the behind-the-scenes training groups, the Ikeda Youth Ensemble members save money for instruments and lessons, and carve out time to practice amid their busy lives, with the sole wish to impart hope and courage to members through their performances. They commit themselves to these groups for several years, aiming to improve their skills, support the development of their juniors and build a world-class performing group.
Develop Profound Character
Through these strenuous efforts, these youth strive to develop into disciples who can fully inherit the baton of kosen-rufu from the mentors of Soka, and create a foundation of unlimited good fortune for themselves, families and communities. As a youth of 28, President Ikeda wrote the following determination in his diary:
Unless I strive to cultivate my character, I will not become a great and capable general. I must advance, striving each day in practice and study, based upon faith, to become a person of great insight. (A Youthful Diary, p. 306)
The youth of the SGI who join these training groups, strive to take on the challenge of self-development as President Ikeda did in his youth: to become people who are dedicated to fighting for the happiness of their fellow SGI members, and to bring about an age where all people can live with dignity and respect.