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Expanding Our Ties at the July Youth Gatherings

Houston. Photo by Joey Liao.

In July, the youth will hold divisional gatherings across the country to commemorate the founding of the young men’s division (July 11, 1951) and the young women’s division (July 19, 1951). The World Tribune spoke with SGI-USA Young Women’s Leader Amelia Gonzalez and SGI-USA Young Men’s Leader Shota Okajima about these gatherings and how every SGI-USA member can be a protagonist.

World Tribune: Thank you for speaking to us about the July young women’s division friendship gatherings and young men’s division outings. What is the spirit behind these activities?

Amelia Gonzalez: In a recent essay, Ikeda Sensei wrote about the small-group women’s meetings that were taking place in Japan in June. He said that these meetings were “designed so that … participants can come together and engage in one-to-one dialogue.” He continued:

They are informal, openhearted gatherings where members can be themselves, bringing inspiration and happy smiles to everyone with the joy and hope radiating from their lives. They are gardens of beautiful harmony in diversity, exemplifying the Buddhist teachings of “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” and “illuminating and manifesting one’s true nature.” (June 16, 2023, World Tribune, p. 3)

This is the vision we have for our young women’s division friendship gatherings in July. They will be held on the chapter level so that we can create small, informal spaces for the participants to be themselves, deepen friendships and feel the warmth of our Soka family. 

Shota Okajima: The young men will have outings on July 8 or 9 across the country. As young men’s leaders, we wanted to create something exciting to refresh our faith and develop camaraderie among the young men. What better way to do this than to hang out together outdoors!

Actually, under second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s leadership, a young men’s training group was formed called the Suiko-kai. They decided to have an “open-air” gathering—a camping trip—where they would seek guidance from their seniors in faith. In volume 24 of The New Human Revolution, Sensei recalls of that day: 

“Standing at the foot of the lighthouse rising from the cape at Choshi, I said to those Suiko-kai members: ‘My friends, you must become the lighthouses of society, Japan and the world. I tell you here and now, not just the Suiko-kai but the entire Soka Gakkai has the mission to become a lighthouse illuminating the world’s darkness.’” (pp. 325–26)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many young men lost touch with their Buddhist practice so we are making an effort, together with the men’s division, to reconnect with them in person and empower them to win in their daily lives toward our July gatherings.

WT: This year, the SGI-USA has a goal to welcome one precious youth in each district. What is the significance of these July gatherings toward this goal?

Shota: These outings are an opportunity to share Buddhism with countless others! It is a kickoff to a summer of shakubuku. We are encouraging young men to invite their friends so that they can experience what the SGI is about! 

But I think it’s not just an opportunity for youth. It’s an opportunity for every SGI-USA member to challenge themselves to share this Buddhist practice with someone. After the meetings, our goal is that every guest is immediately connected back to the district.

We decided that our theme is “Make a Fresh Vow and Advance,” inspired by the “To My Friends” article in the June 8, 2023, Seikyo Shimbun. It reads: 

Men’s and young men’s division

members who shine as champions
of kosen-rufu—
show actual proof at your workplace
and in your communities! 
Make a fresh vow and advance, beginning with your exuberant

This feels like a crucial transition period for the young men. If we can win in the month of July, we can make a fresh leap forward!

Amelia: Yes! We want to break free from the fears and doubts that can consume us and enjoy doing shakubuku, which is happiness itself! These meetings are about getting to know others and doing shakubuku together. I have confidence that through the joy that every attendee feels, we will naturally inspire others to start practicing Buddhism for themselves.

I recently visited a young woman who was really suffering. I asked myself, What can she do to become happy? She can share Buddhism with others! I asked her to make a list of her friends and challenge herself to invite them to meetings. 

Then I thought, So many people are struggling! How can we awaken each person to their vow to share Buddhism so that they can win in their lives and transform their sufferings? In The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, Sensei says:

When you realize your great mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth and dedicate your lives to kosen-rufu, the sun that has existed within you since time without beginning will begin to shine forth. All offenses you have committed in past lifetimes will vanish like mist, and you will embark upon wonderful lives permeated by deep joy and happiness. (revised edition, p. 274)

Awakening to our mission to help others form a connection with the Mystic Law helps us to transform our sufferings and bring forth the sun in our lives!

WT: Many people struggle to feel confident about the future of the world. How do you feel these meetings will impact our communities and society?

Amelia: Our reality is challenging. Recently, as you may have heard, New York was inundated with smoke from the wildfires in Canada. As a result, children and the elderly were advised to stay indoors and everyone to wear masks outside. It felt like COVID all over again. I realized that our society is not necessarily going to improve on its own. As Buddhists, we don’t just hope things will change. We make it our mission to change them!

The informal gatherings that we are holding are, as Sensei said, “an active embodiment of the culture of peace” (June 16, 2023, World Tribune, p. 3). We are determined that every person attending our meetings will leave knowing that they have a mission to become happy and help others do the same. If every person felt that way, how different would our world look?

We are creating spaces where people can experience joy, in spite of the realities of society. Gatherings filled with human warmth and joy are the only way that we can actively work to create a new reality. By participating, we are all contributing to peace. 

Shota: I visited a young man the other day who just graduated from college and had been feeling really lost. He had a connection with his young men’s leader who supported him during his high school days, so he reached out to him. He was encouraged to do a Gajokai shift, and he felt so much hope afterward. He has since decided to take action in his personal life based on his renewed life condition. 

Undoubtedly many youth feel lost, but these personal connections are what enable us to come back to faith and create a path forward. We are strengthening our ties as comrades in faith so that we can support one another to build a new future for ourselves and for our communities. 

Amelia: That’s so true. Our ties are the strength of the Soka community. 

I met a young woman who was introduced to Buddhism many years ago. Recently, she encountered it again, and she was immediately connected to a district. The members have been so warmly supporting her that she started chanting for her husband to also connect to the SGI so that he could experience the same care. We can never underestimate the power of support and care for others.

My determination is that every young person attending our friendship gatherings can feel the irrepressible joy of awakening to our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

Shota: I’m determined that each young man discovers the joy of sharing Buddhism with others and has a personal breakthrough in their life! Thank you for your support in advance!

What are your determinations toward our July youth gatherings?

Steven Smith
Laurel, Maryland

Since I started really practicing Buddhism, my family has noticed a change in me. Some could benefit from this practice, and they’ve taken an interest. I want to share more. Supporting others helps me see past my problems and move forward.

Apoorvee Sawhney
Oakland, California

My goal is to foster an authentic space where everyone can unleash their innate Buddhahood to become beacons of hope for society. This gathering launches my victorious journey in Denver, my next place of mission!

Eiji Toda
Portland, Oregon

I deepened my conviction through a youth event earlier this year. Several young men stood up as a result. Now I will become indispensable at my workplace while fighting to expand our joyful friendships where young men awaken to their Buddhability!

Tiye Sheppard
New York

I’m challenging my fears by introducing my friends to Buddhism, because I want to see them become truly happy! I will hold a joyful gathering where everyone feels safe to express the obstacles they’re challenging.

Peter Parr
Tempe, Arizona

For all the members who have supported me, I want to pay it forward by raising successors. I’ll transform my financial karma so I can show young men that, with Buddhism, they can live the life they want.

Sally Park
Austin, Texas

As I’m applying to medical schools, I’m determined to believe in myself 100% to become the best Buddha doctor, awaken the sleeping bodhisattvas in my chapter and hold a meeting that leaves everyone feeling encouraged, hopeful and truly alive.

David Uffner
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Toward the outings, I’m encouraging my guys to identify and overcome something in their lives. For me, it might be negligence. Whatever is holding us back from getting excited, from calling guys up—crush it and move forward! 

Kaitlin Hutchcroft
Galesburg, Illinois

I want to continue developing compassion for myself and others, expand our beautiful community of bodhisattvas and conduct a meeting where each attendee leaves feeling empowered by the joy of the Mystic Law!

Friendship Gatherings

Who: Young women and nonbinary members and guests from junior high and high school to age 33

What: Informal friendship gatherings held at the chapter level

When: Anytime between July 10–15 or July 23–30

Where: Please contact your leader for more information on your local meeting.

‘Make a Fresh Vow and Advance’

Who: Young men and nonbinary members and guests from junior high and high school to age 33

What: Young Men’s Division Outings (outdoor activities) held at a chapter, region or zone level

When: July 8 or 9, 2023 

Where: Please contact your leader for more information on your local meeting.

July 7, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 6–8

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