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Fortifying the Foundations of Society

Raising future leaders with the readiness to protect others.

San Francisco. Photo by Ben Cady.

With all things, whether at work, sports or in the arts, understanding something theoretically differs from hands-on experience. Training is what brings knowledge to life.

This is equally true for our Buddhist practice and our efforts for peace. That’s why Ikeda Sensei established the youth behind-the-scenes training groups: Byakuren, Soka Group and Gajokai. In The New Human Revolution, vol. 24, “Vigilant Safeguarding” chapter, Sensei (appearing as Shin’ichi Yamamoto) explains: 

Youth have a mission to take the initiative to protect others. Without learning such lessons, egotism prevails and society is corrupted from its foundations. Training young people to serve society and the people is one of the major roles of the Soka Gakkai. …

Shin’ichi Yamamoto believed it was time to place even greater emphasis on fostering youth. In the coming century, those youth would assume primary roles on the main stage of kosen-rufu. They would also carry on the Soka Gakkai spirit and become core individuals who would protect the organization’s members. (p. 101)

With this in mind, the SGI-USA youth division inducts a new class every year into the Byakuren group and the Young Men’s Division Academy, which trains inductees in the Gajokai and Soka Group.

This April and May, graduation and induction ceremonies were held for the respective groups. The following are messages from the SGI-USA youth leaders and determinations from the 2024 inductees.

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

by Amelia Gonzalez Tesch
SGI-USA Young Women’s Leader

This year, we welcomed 341 new Byakuren members across SGI-USA. Thank you very much to the women’s division members for your tremendous support.

While I may not be able to meet every Byakuren member, I am certain of one thing: Every single one of them is most respectworthy. And it’s my hope that—together as members of the young women’s division—we feel that way about ourselves no matter what.

Over the years, I’ve come to see how Byakuren has been critical in developing my faith. When I was 18 and was asked to join the training group, I honestly didn’t see the need for it. Greeting members and standing with a smile just wasn’t me.

But when I did my first Byakuren shift, I quickly realized how difficult it was to greet everyone with a smile, regardless of what I was going through that day. It wasn’t about me, my shortcomings or some mistake I had made earlier—it was about developing the capacity to support others and focus on solutions.

Sure, there were days when I wondered why I was waking up early on a Sunday or driving an hour to my local Buddhist center. But with each shift, I developed this pride that I was learning to treasure others and, in turn, my own life. Sensei said that even if no one recognizes our efforts, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the universe surely do!

Let’s be confident in our Buddha nature and mission—and be able to say with pride, “Sensei, look how happy I’ve become!”

by Kylee Browning
Columbia, S.C.

I’m grateful that I found Buddhism last year because I was going through tough times. I never had any guidance on how to live life, and I got caught up with bad people and made poor decisions out of disrespect for my life. I felt like my true self was buried under all of my struggles.

I realized that you can’t just push through by yourself. You need the tools, support and know-how to navigate life. I joined Byakuren for that reason—to find strength and confidence in myself and have that support toward establishing a new foundation in my life.

What I want most is a happy, loving home. I have a 4-year-old daughter and am currently going through a divorce. This training group is a place where I can practice compassion and patience, so I can always bring those qualities back home to my daughter. 

I’m already starting to see how things line up in my life when I support others. For example, certain circumstances and people that were harmful to me have naturally moved out of my life. I’ve put my passion and career working with wildlife on hold to make more money for my daughter, but I’m starting to feel confident that I can work my way back to that passion.

The future is certainly unknown, and I know there’s no straight line forward. But I’m ready to see where my Buddhist practice takes me. Those who have struggled the most can become the happiest. I truly believe that.

Dallas. Photo by Hoss McBain.

by Shota Okajima
SGI-USA Young Men’s Leader

Joining the Young Men’s Division Academy in 2017 changed the trajectory of my life. During that time, my confidence was shaken by the reality of my hockey career ending. It was through the academy that I rebuilt a new foundation based on a bigger purpose.

I’ve gone through training as an athlete, but there’s nothing quite like the training provided in the SGI. Ours is based on respecting the dignity of life and creating a harmonious world. Caring for others and engaging in dialogue, while it may sound easy, require spiritual strength.

I see the anxiety prevalent in young men. The reality of our world is definitely concerning. It’s precisely why we need to develop the inner strength to navigate the times and become people who can create unity and safeguard life. At the same time, we need to show actual proof in our daily lives—coming back to the basics of winning in the morning, winning at work and mastering time.

Ultimately, our goal with the Young Men’s Division Academy is for each inductee to develop pride and confidence in their unique mission. We are great leaders in training—for our workplaces, families, friends and our own happiness.

To the 281 inductees in our 2024 academy: Let’s lead society to new heights! Let’s become trusted people who demonstrate the greatness of our philosophy and mentor through our behavior! And to the men’s and women’s division members supporting these young men: Thank you very much!

by Levelt Filsaime
Las Vegas

I discovered Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and experimented with chanting before I knew about the SGI community. I was looking for a way to change and grow. I felt unfulfilled at work, and what I wanted most was to repair my damaged relationship with my brother.

When I finally found out about the SGI and made it to the Buddhist center, I was welcomed by a young man there. He invited me to join a discussion meeting happening that night, where I immediately felt this camaraderie with everyone.

Since then, I dove into my Buddhist practice and SGI community. Even my dad, a former preacher who was hesitant about my new Buddhist practice, commented that I’ve been glowing lately. I feel it; there’s this new conviction in my life to face my fears and move forward.

When I was introduced to the Young Men’s Division Academy, I thought of my busy work schedule and wondered how I was going to do it all. But remembering the young men who greeted me each time I went to the center and the difference it made, I wanted to do my part.

Through this academy, I hope to develop into a leader and a better brother. Rather than complain about work, I want to give my 100% and focus on ways I can improve. I want great relationships with my family and to encourage my younger siblings to chant with me.

As for bigger goals, I want to give back to Haiti, my family’s country of origin. I was fortunate to receive a great education because my parents fought for it, but with the country’s current challenges, not everyone has that privilege. I feel a sense of responsibility to help establish schools and contribute to their future.

June 7, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 8–9

Raising the Future

With Great Reverence and Respect, Thank You