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It’s the Way to Go

Golden memory—Dave Welch (third from right) with young men’s division members in Los Angeles, July 1992. Photo courtesy of Dave Welch.

The World Tribune interviewed men’s division member Dave Welch, of Aliso Viejo, California, about his experiences as a youth supporting behind the scenes. Dave was a member of the Gajokai, a young men’s division training group that oversees the security and operations of Soka Gakkai facilities.

World Tribune: Thank you, Dave, for sharing your story with us. As a youth, you were in law school and also driving hours between San Diego and Los Angeles to support meetings as a Gajokai member. What was going on at that time?

Dave Welch: I did my first Gajokai shift when I had been a member only for a couple months. Originally, maybe, it was a selfish thing. Frankly, I knew my parents were going to freak out if they knew I was Buddhist. So I said, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to commit and do it all the way.” 

But as I met more people, I realized: This is where it’s at; I get to help people. Right away, your whole life condition transforms to reflect that feeling.

Fast forward, I was working full time during the day, doing law school three nights a week and doing SGI activities another three or four nights per week when my young men’s leader asked me to be the national Gajokai leader. He didn’t know I was in law school; I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think I would make it through. 

I answered, “Yes, I’ll do it!” I didn’t want to make any excuses.

I was doing shifts in San Diego and also driving up to LA to do shifts and to organize Gajokai activities.

WT: What kind of challenges did you face while you were a Gajokai?

Welch: I have a million experiences—times that I was able to assist in protecting the community centers and the members. And, looking at it from afar, objectively, the whole experience was difficult. It was an internal battle with myself that I had to face. 

But I never felt like, oh man, I can’t handle this. It was a happy time. In the middle of difficulty and challenge, I enjoyed it. 

WT: That’s incredible! Whatmotivatedyou to have that spirit?

Welch: I really believed—and still do—that it’s appreciation. Knowing everything Ikeda Sensei does for us, I wanted to contribute. In my little way, doing these activities was a direct opportunity to contribute to kosen-rufu. It sounds grandiose, but I really felt that. 

My determination was to just do the best job I could. I never wanted to be late; I never wanted to miss a shift. I wanted to do everything I could to protect the members.

It always felt like an opportunity, never an obligation. 

And it’s a lot of fun—I mean, not fun like you’re on the beach, but you understand your role, and it’s very satisfying to help people. 

WT: Looking back, how did your Gajokai training benefit you? 

Welch: There are so many benefits. It is the way to go. The easy stuff: I’m prompt with everything. I’m able to organize my life, commit to something and not let the chaos of my daily life sway me from my commitments. Not that there wasn’t any chaos; there was a lot. But this training allowed me to never be swayed from my vow. I did these shifts many times when I was suffering tremendously, alone, discouraged. But I never missed a shift.

I mean, Nichiren Daishonin says it: “Unseen virtue brings about visible reward” (“The Farther the Source, the Longer the Stream,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 940).

I estimate I’ve done up to 3,000 Gajokai shifts. This activity was essential to my development. That’s how I became a lawyer; that’s why I was successful. I never gave up. I passed the bar exam on the first try, even though I was working and doing all these activities. I got the result.

There is no way I could do the things as a lawyer that I did without my training in the Gajokai. I’ve dealt with some crazy cases, situations with insane pressure that I navigated because I have this training. Fortune all comes out at the crucial moments. 

WT: What advice would you give to the young men’s division members? 

Welch: I would encourage everyone to join behind-the-scenes groups. Doing these activities is the best way to supercharge your practice, your benefit, your growth. They tell you when you’re in the youth division that “you develop fortune” when you support meetings behind the scenes. But you can’t see if it’s really true or not. You can’t see the future, right? I’ve been around the block a little bit, so I can attest that every cause you make comes back to you. So, do as many shifts as you can. Do it all the time. It will pay off. Like an investment, after many days, weeks and years of Gajokai, just as Sensei teaches us, the fortune is huge, like a giant tree.

And develop that sense of camaraderie with the other youth supporting with you. Those are real good friends. Because you come to understand each other so well, they’ll encourage you in different ways outside of what you hear in the meetings and leaders’ encouragement. Your friends won’t let you give up.

Everything Sensei says about this behind-the-scenes activity is true. He always recognizes people behind the scenes. It’s a lot of work, but the real reward comes from doing it. That is my advice: Never stop doing it. Ever. 

August 18, 2023, World Tribune, p. 9

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