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Advancing Kosen-rufu on the Caribbean Islands

Surrounded by the crystal-blue waters of the Caribbean Sea lies one of the most diverse and unique organizations in the SGI-USA. Caribbean Region encompasses 7 chapters spread across 17 countries on various islands. Here, 1,000 members practice from the Bahamas in the north to Suriname at the other end of the Caribbean Sea.

The only SGI Buddhist center is located on the island of Trinidad and Tobago. For that reason, discussion meetings usually take place at members’ homes.

In 1996, on a layover to Cuba, SGI President Ikeda visited Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and met with the only two members living on the island at the time. Although their encounter was brief, they shared a wonderful exchange that has become a prime point for kosen-rufu on the Caribbean Islands.

In April 2012, President Ikeda named the members of Caribbean Region the Treasure Islands Group, indicating their noble mission for world peace.

Today, the members, united with their mentor’s heart, stand as shining pillars of their communities, determined to open the way for kosen-rufu on their islands.

The Unique Mission of the Islands

What is the mission of island communities?

Historically, islands have been at the mercy of powerful military and economic forces, suffering unduly from the privations of war. For this reason, President Ikeda has often chosen islands as the starting point for fresh endeavors, with the feeling that if islands can be transformed into realms of happiness, then it’s possible for the whole world to become happy.

President Ikeda, for instance, chose Hawaii as the starting point for his first worldwide travels for peace in October 1960. It was here that the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, marking the United States’ formal entry into World War II.

In December 1964, he also chose Okinawa, the site of one of the costliest battles during the Pacific War, as the place to begin his serialized novel The Human Revolution. And, on January 26, 1975, he founded the Soka Gakkai International on the island of Guam, the battleground of intense fighting during the Pacific War.

Undeterred by the Vast Sea

Aleshia Bourne, the young women’s leader for Emerald Isles Chapter, shared that it takes her 1 1/2 hours to travel by public transportation to the monthly kosen-rufu gongyo meetings held in Barbados. Many members on the island do not own their own cars, so those who drive pick up members on their way to meetings.

Ms. Bourne was introduced to Buddhism at age 17 by a former teacher, and she is now an attorney in Barbados. As a chapter young women’s leader, she is determined to visit the members of the other islands in her chapter, including Grenada, Guyana, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, all of which require travel by plane. These seeming challenges do not sway Ms. Bourne, who is determined to personally introduce six people to the practice this year.

Pillars of the Community

In Jamaica, a large percentage of the organization’s growth has happened in the last two years, according to Karina Mahbubani, the chapter women’s leader of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. When she started practicing in 2009, only three people were practicing in Montego Bay. Now more than 70 members attend meetings there.

When asked about the reason for their dynamic growth, Ms. Mahbubani shared that the strength of the islands is that everyone knows one another: “The members here become pillars of the community and show actual proof of practicing this Buddhism. Naturally, through showing great benefit of practice, we can share this Buddhism with others as a way to overcome hardships in life.”

Ms. Mahbubani said that while the last two years have been her most difficult, she has used her hardships as fuel to encourage others, helping 10 people receive the Gohonzon in the process. “Every time I share Buddhism with another person,” she said, “it is as if my own suffering vanishes.”

In Montego Bay, Jamaica, the youth are actively chanting to do shakubuku. Many people on the islands are hesitant to learn about Buddhism due to other religious influences, but Ms. Mahbubani doesn’t see that as an obstacle to their growth. In 2020, she is determined to reach 100 members practicing in Montego Bay District.

Advancing Together with the Mentor

In January, Leeward Isles Chapter held a kick-off meeting in Curaçao, an island just north of Venezuela. Through home visits, they reaffirmed the members’ conviction to never be defeated by hardships and to turn all poison into medicine. During the chapter kickoff, one district men’s leader couldn’t hold back his tears when watching President Ikeda’s video.

Together, the members expressed their determination to grow their organization for the sake of peace.

With deep appreciation to his mentor, Louis Foster, the men’s leader of Caribbean Region, is determined to foster many capable people and contribute to the SGI-USA’s goal of introducing 6,000 new youth this year. He acknowledged the many challenges they face, including communicating across hundreds of islands, but with videoconferencing technology, the islands are becoming more united than ever.

In the recent campaign to increase readership of the World Tribune and Living Buddhism, Caribbean Region increased by over 100 readers.

Many islands still have but a handful of members practicing. Each member is truly a precious jewel. And, although they face tremendous challenges, including distance and natural disasters, their spirit to pave the way for kosen-rufu in these “Treasure Islands” of the Caribbean never wavers.

The Caribbean Islands

Peace, Culture and Education: The Purpose of Buddhist Study—Part 2