Around the SGI-USA

The District Is the Core

Central Executive Committee Report

Celebration—SGI-USA members rejoicing at the September Kosen-rufu Gongyo Meeting at the Philadelphia Buddhist Center, Sept. 12, 2021. Photo by Jonathan Wilson


Alex was on the verge of quitting college when a young men’s leader, Mark, began leaving notes on his door. At first, he threw them away. But one day, he opened one; it was an invitation to chant together.

When they met up, Alex noticed sticky notes near Mark’s altar and saw his own name. It had specific goals for him to stay in school and to grasp Ikeda Sensei’s heart.

“I remember leaving and thinking, Gosh, if people like that exist in the world, I shouldn’t run away from that,” said Alex, who stayed in school and today is an active men’s leader with a family of his own. “I should be in the same orbit.

The Soka Gakkai spirit to treasure the individual resides in the district. And the question of how to nurture districts as the embodiment of such ideal human fellowship was the centerpiece of the SGI-USA Central Executive Committee’s (CEC) final quarterly conference this year.

In the daylong virtual conference, held Sept. 25, the CEC had extensive discussions rooted in the themes of “The District Is the Core” and “Propagation Renaissance.” The CEC voted to approve activity guidelines for 2022, and the SGI-USA Executive Council, the highest decision-making body, affirmed the CEC’s decision.

A fresh round of leadership appointments.

The conference opened with General Director Adin Strauss announcing a fresh round of leadership appointments for the men’s division:

Rex Taylor, who has served as a vice national men’s leader since fall 2013, will continue in his role as SGI-USA Military Group men’s coordinator and will also serve as a vice men’s leader for Los Angeles North Coast Lion’s Roar Zone.

Jason Berg, who has been the Central Territory men’s leader since fall 2016, will continue in his role as the Chicago Zone four-divisional leader.

Wisely and harmoniously advance another step.

In a message to the conference, Ikeda Sensei encouraged the SGI-USA to strengthen its unity of “many in body, one in mind,” as the members wisely and harmoniously advance another step. “I am praying earnestly for the health and longevity, safety and tranquility, and the happiness and victory of each one of you, members of my American family,” he said.

The District Is the Core

At the start of the conference, Mr. Strauss relayed an episode in The New Human Revolution in which a member shares that, since the institutions that make up a society are themselves composed of human beings, if anything requires reform, it is human beings themselves.[1]See The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, pp. 198–99.

More than just an annual activity focus, the idea of shifting the focus of the SGI-USA organization and community to the frontlines is rooted in the conception that districts are places where countless people can be empowered to transform their lives and thereby change our society.

“I believe when we put this point into practice, the course of kosen-rufu in America will change,” Mr. Strauss said.

“The question I have been posing to myself is: What kind of human revolution am I willing to undertake in parallel with this new direction for the SGI-USA?” he continued.

Since the districts will continue to meet virtually for the time being, part of the CEC’s discussion focused on ways to invigorate the discussion meeting, such as: a focused, four-divisional effort to visit members before and after the discussion meeting; providing the district team with more options for study and introductory material; offering a monthly video experience as an option; empowering the district leader to give closing encouragement after Q&A time; and, wherever possible, ensuring the future division members have a role in the discussion meeting.

Beyond the monthly meeting, the CEC members discussed an increased focus on developing groups as the key to better member care.

Grassroots efforts—SGI-USA members of Somerville District gather for a virtual district discussion meeting, March 21, 2021.
Grassroots efforts—SGI-USA members of Somerville District gather for a virtual district discussion meeting, March 21, 2021.
A ‘Propagation Renaissance’

In April, the SGI-USA introduced the “Hope Champion” initiative to acknowledge and give a sense of mission to the many guests who have been consistently practicing Buddhism without the Gohonzon during the pandemic.

SGI-USA Youth Leader Olivia Saito shared that, at every discussion meeting she’s supported recently, she’s met at least one Hope Champion. “They have a burning desire to practice and want to know when they can receive the Gohonzon,” she said.

Ms. Saito said that going forward, our organization must do everything it can to ensure that new members continue their practice, viewing the Gohonzon conferral not as a conclusion but rather as the start of a new journey in member care. Put succinctly, Ms. Saito stated, this shift includes refocusing our message from: “Do you want to receive the Gohonzon” to “Do you want to start practicing Buddhism with the SGI?”

“How do we initiate a movement in America in which members are encouraged to share Buddhism with others and ensure that the individuals who start practicing can do so based on understanding the profound power of the Mystic Law, receive great benefits in faith and fully experience the care and support of the members of their district?” she asked.

Based on the lessons gleaned from these guests, the CEC members agreed to strengthen the benchmarks for receiving the Gohonzon. They include: attending three in-person and three virtual district-level discussion or study meetings and sharing a faith experience at a district-level discussion or study meeting or at a kosen-rufu gongyo or Sunday morning encouragement meeting.

Amid the pandemic, the Sunday Soka Spirit meeting has served as a primary platform for members and guests to gather for faith encouragement. The CEC members voted to refocus the Sunday morning encouragement meeting to “Soka 2030,” using it as a platform to highlight and confirm activities and encourage members and guests to return to the districts, with the spirit Nichiren Daishonin relayed to a disciple: “I entrust you with the propagation of Buddhism in your province.”[2]“The Properties of Rice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1117.

‘Everything begins with prayer.’

In closing words, SGI-USA Women’s Leader Naoko Leslie touched on October as publications promotion month, focusing on the mission of the World Tribune and Living Buddhism to serve as a source of courage and hope, guiding people to happiness. She then cited an episode from The Human Revolution, in which second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda spoke of the newspaper’s purpose to enable people to form a connection with Buddhism.

Newspapers are supposed to be mirrors of society, but the average paper reports only accidents and tragedies. I am well aware that the world is an unhappy place, but these papers do not suggest at all how to make it any happier.

The Seikyo Shimbun, however, does write about how one can become happy. It also carries articles about how to view social phenomena from the perspective of Buddhism.[3]The Human Revolution, p. 1676.

Ms. Leslie then shared a sneak preview of Sensei’s study lecture in the November 2021 Living Buddhism, in which he speaks about the power of prayer, stating in part:

Prayer in Nichiren Buddhism means making a vow to win without fail. Everything begins with prayer. I myself have begun every great effort for kosen-rufu with prayer. Whenever I faced difficulties, I challenged them with prayer as my foundation, chanting wholeheartedly and overcoming them one by one.[4]November 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 60.

Ms. Leslie encouraged the participants to return to the original spirit and purpose of the publications. “Today, everyone needs something positive and uplifting to read. So, let’s help everyone access our publications!”

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

Notes   [ + ]

1. See The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, pp. 198–99.
2. “The Properties of Rice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1117.
3. The Human Revolution, p. 1676.
4. November 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 60.