Dear Bayside District Members

  December 28, 1999

Dear Bayside District members,

I want to thank you for all the joys and sufferings we've been through together. I would like you to know that I will never betray our friendships that we made over the years of my practice. That's why I am standing up now to honor those relationships, and will continue to speak out for justice within the SGI-USA. 

On December 21 I was dismissed from my position as Bayside District WD leader by receiving a certified letter in the mail. President Ikeda has been telling us, from as far back as 1990: "… in the organization for kosen-rufu, we have to clearly say what must be said." In the spirit of Sensei's guidance I have been speaking out for change. For this I have been denounced by the leaders and dismissed. Although in the letter they sent to me I was accused that my "behavior has been inappropriate", I stand behind everything I've said and every action I have taken over the past year. I did it for your happiness and to protect the organization. The same experience that I have just had can happen to you as well.

"The Daishonin writes, 'Anger can be either good or evil' (Gosho Zenshu, p. 584). Being fired up with anger toward evil and injustice constitutes good. When we no longer have this blazing anger toward iniquity, it is a sign that we have lost our commitment to justice and truth. It signals our spiritual death. There is no benefit, no joy, no happiness in the hearts of those who are spiritually dead. To fight passionately against injustice, to rebuke, attack and condemn it to the end-this is Buddhism and the correct path of humanity." (Sensei's guidance: Oct. 29 World Tribune, from the 38th Headquarters Leaders Meeting, held Oct. 7)

I want to wish you and your families the most happy holidays and a wonderful New Year as we enter the new millennium.

All the best,

Alma Orenstein

December 8, 1999

To the members of Bayside District,

At the time of the neighborhood reorganization December 1997 I joyfully accepted the new challenge of WD District Leader. From the beginning we worked tirelessly to harmonize cultural differences and create a family atmosphere. My determination was that we can all work together 
for kosen-rufu in our community. I joined the SGI because I believed in the high ideals it professed and felt this organization had the ethical code and noble vision to actualize a peaceful society. President Ikeda recently said: "If our leaders stop fighting against evil and injustice, merely putting on a great act of giving guidance, occupying themselves solely with protecting their own interests, it is a sign that their faith is bankrupt". He also said "All that a human being should fear is how justice will judge you…. It is deplorable if youth stand by and condone the behavior of those who arrogantly hold their fellow citizens in contempt, who have no scruples in twisting and misrepresenting historical facts-who are authoritarian to the very core. It is up to you, the youth division members, the SGI youth, to change the way things are." Sensei said: "The most important things in faith are the Daishonin's teachings and the Soka Gakkai spirit. To protect them, you may have to strictly admonish people in senior leadership positions. There is nothing to be afraid of."
The purpose of this letter is to make the members aware of some of the events that have occurred during this year, in the spirit of purifying and protecting our great organization.

At the district meeting March 25 I was giving opening words and then planned to introduce the People's Representative Committee to the district as I had mentioned to my co-leaders. I showed the "Victorious America" paper and invited members to the information meeting being held. My MD chapter leader Richard Morgan then immediately stood up and said that this is not sanctioned by the SGI, which caused the members to gasp in shock because they trusted me. I explained in response that the ideas of the People's Committee are all based on Sensei's guidances and that Mr. Kasahara and Jim Corwin had given a verbal public approval last September, 1998, to try this on a voluntary experimental basis within Bayside/Flushing chapter [Sensei's guidance: "In the matter of adapting systems to suit local needs, I also believe flexibility to be the most effective approach, as long as the maximum number of members is allowed to participate in organizational control." Sensei also said: "Mr. Makiguchi insisted that the constituent members of a body or organization must direct the actions of the leaders."]. Then Sang Ok Jo, the YWD district leader, said "it's not true, I just spoke to Mr. Kasahara, he doesn't agree" and that I am going against the leaders. The facts are that the announcement for the trial of a grassroots committee was part of the public apology given to Stan and Mary Zir at 4 region level meetings where they gave this committee the green light. Both Mr. Kasahara and J. Corwin indicated they thought it was a good idea. (The committee was originally Mary's idea that grew from neighborhood activities in 1998 because incidents remained unresolved. In actuality there was a group of people in our chapter, including myself, who had presented ourselves as an "ad-hoc committee" to the area to resolve issues between Mrs. Ihara and other leaders within the chapter. After the public statement some members worked together to develop this into a more concrete form in order to present it to the members, all level leaders were aware of this). Queens Area Vice MD leader Richard Witkowski was leading the meeting but he said nothing. Mary, WD vice chapter leader, intervened that we should get on with the meeting, which occurred, but at that point the members were looking at me not only as a liar but also as a person doing some kind of anti-SGI activity. After the meeting WD vice chapter leader Diane Martin told me Richard Morgan made a mistake to say what he did and she just spoke to R. Witkowski who agreed it was "inaccurate and inappropriate" and he would talk to R. Morgan. When I telephoned R. Witkowski later on he told me the same thing and that he felt "there was nothing wrong with what I said" and that he had already spoken to R. Morgan. However a couple of members who had felt very comfortable with my encouragement stopped talking to me.

Within a week to two weeks after that the "open letter" was sent out to the members addressed from the BQLI regional and area leaders. It stated that "members of the representatives committee" are forming a "self-governing body … not the same as the SGI-USA". This is completely false as is clearly stated in the essay: "The committee acts as addition, not a replacement, to the current organizational structure." And "committee members" made "vicious personal attacks" and "abused other members". I never did, but rather I have been on the receiving end of insults and have been called a devil to my face. The members did not get a chance to impartially discuss the committee ideas after this letter was sent as leaders kept calling and visiting members to say it was anti-SGI. One group chief even said to me "I don't like this", then followed with "I don't know what it's about, can you tell me". I made it clear that my feeling toward Sensei and the SGI and my actions for kosen-rufu never changed. But I heard from some members that others were saying behind my back "why does Alma keep doing these things since they are against the SGI". The leaders were the ones who planted the seeds of disunity although they accused me of causing disunity. When I spoke to Richard Witkowski about the confusion created by the letter he said it was "a courtesy" as a written response to the essay.

By April I was very concerned about keeping up good communication with co-leader Jeongsook 
so I asked if I could visit her in order to clear the air, so that we would not have any misunderstandings. We had a heartfelt Gongyo together, talked, and she said although she didn't like the committee ideas there was no problem between us-she liked working together and wanted to have more frequent communication with me. In reality we had less communication after that. I told all my leaders repeatedly that I have no problem working together with people, furthering kosen-rufu, where there is a difference of opinion. I haven't changed. However when I tried to talk to my co-leader (Sang Ok) Jo she always cut me off and told me I was doing something wrong-against the leaders-devilish. When I spoke to Diane, my WD leader, she kept saying that she knows my sincerity, and that I would never be doing something against the SGI. Then she met with Mr. Kasahara and he told her "people are using his name" when we spoke of the public statement he made.

At the May planning meeting Mary suggested Frank Kearny to be central figure and I agreed it would be a wonderful idea, especially since the Bayside members didn't really know him. He had been a Region level line leader, very encouraging, practicing more than 30 years, now on the BQLI home visitation team. A few days later I got a phone call from Diane who said he is not allowed to be central figure, according to her conversation with WD Queens Area leader Kisae Kakefu. They knew Frank supported the committee. I was told that it has been the tradition in SGI to have an official line leader as a central figure, and so another leader attended the district meeting instead of Frank. Later in order to clarify this for myself I asked Kisae and she referred me to pg. 4 of the leadership manual, however when I investigated into it I saw there is no rule in the manual as to who is entitled to give the final encouragement at a meeting. 

National leaders came to New York June 4-5 and there was a meeting for Queens district leaders with Mr. Sasaki at the NYCC June 4 evening. In answering a question about leadership levels and terms within the organization Mr. Sasaki said we "… could use any system. If someone creates a better system we are willing to accept it". Later we had a meeting with him for those who were attending the NYCC from Bayside/Flushing Chapter. In that meeting Mary caught Queens Area Vice MD leader Larry May in a lie. He said at first that Stan refused a position when one was offered in Queens. When Mary said that he is not telling the truth and that Stan was not given a position because of the committee, Larry got angry and said that's right. Mr. Sasaki said that we should all chant one million daimoku first and make effort towards finding a solution. At the end of the meeting he came up to Mary to say he would be involved to resolve this but when she asked if she could call him he responded that he would contact the region and higher NY leaders. The following night was a meeting for the group chiefs of Queens area with Mr. Zaitsu (more details to come). Three weeks later Mary and three district leaders were dismissed one after the other, and I was threatened with dismissal. They were all sincere pure-hearted leaders. Their only crime was to speak out for change and adding the committee to the current system.

At the planning meeting for our June district meeting I brought up Frank's name to center the upcoming meeting since I had invited him previously. I said I cleared up the issue about who can lead a meeting. No one objected at the time. At the close of the meeting Mary suggested that it would be a good idea to hold a meeting to discuss and clear the air about the committee since there were many rumors and misunderstandings, that some members looked at those involved as if they were devils. YMD Queens Area student division leader Jackson Yiu said to Mary in response, "you are a devil" which triggered off Jo, Elly and Jackson to insult Mary. Mary got up to leave and was told by Jackson to get back and sit there. When I tried to do sansho to end the meeting Jackson said to me "you can't do sansho, that's rude, you have to stay here and listen to us." I stayed and tried to talk to the members who were there. One long-time member said that this is just an idea and I am interested in new ideas, why can't we just talk about it. Another member indicated he agrees with these concepts. When it was expressed Mary was rude for leaving I said that you were just attacking and insulting her. And I asked how would they feel if after so many years of sincere practice they were called a devil just for talking about an idea. I related from the Gosho that Nichiren Daishonin taught us: "… believers in the Lotus Sutra should absolutely be the last to abuse each other." Elly reported we asked Mr. Zaitsu about it at the group chiefs meeting with him and he doesn't agree, saying that it's a devilish function in the organization. 

I called Frank right after this planning to invite him to the district meeting June 25 to give final encouragement and he was able to attend. But three days before the meeting when I spoke to Frank, to confirm the meeting plan, he informed me that Jackson just called to tell him that if he comes he is not the central figure as Mr. Ihara was invited (without my knowledge), that Frank did not have a position, that he is only coming to talk about the committee-Frank's understanding was that he was coming to encourage the members, faith guidance was all he and I had discussed. In addition, several senior leaders I was not expecting showed up for the meeting. As this was a Day of NY commemorative meeting in my opening words I read lines from Sensei's poem "To My Young American Friends" given to us June 21, 1981. Later in his final guidance Tariq Hasan talked about the new YWD leader who was chanting 10 years and made the point "she doesn't have any baggage from the 80s." During the open dialogue, where people were sharing their determinations, after Mary spoke Larry May started "let me tell you something about Mary Zir" and proceeded to be insulting to her. He was stopped by Phil Orenstein who said why is Larry talking that way in front of the youth division, it was completely out of place. Afterwards I asked Mr. Ihara (Queens Area MD leader) how he could allow Larry to talk that way to a woman and he said nothing. Larry said he didn't know why I should feel that way. Tariq had already taken Mary into another room and told her "you must cease and desist or we'll have to remove you". When Mary queried him what does this mean, and that he never spoke to her before about it, Tariq replied he spoke to Stan and since she thinks the same way he didn't need to talk to her directly.

I was taken into another room to talk to Mr. Ihara and Larry. My questions to them were about honesty: why the leaders went behind our backs, if they wanted to change directions or didn't want people talking about the committee proposal, and sent out the letter which made false statements and turned members against each other. Also Larry said he had "30 group chiefs" who were against the committee (in actuality there are less than 1/2 that # in the chapter). I asked where he got this consensus because of the six group chiefs in Bayside there were 2 that supported the idea, 2 were neutral and 2 were opposed only because leaders said it was anti-SGI. 

Four leaders of Bayside/Flushing Chapter were dismissed the beginning of July: Mary from vice chapter position and three district level, one only by a message left on the answering machine. Then I got a phone call from Mr. Ihara that he wanted to home visit me and we arranged for July 7. He needed to talk because "I am doing good only there has to be some change in way we conduct meetings … or I will have to ask you to step down (from district leader position) … the issue is this special idea." At first he said region and area leaders did not accept the committee. However he admitted he was there, as was I, at the public statement made by Jim Corwin, who is the region leader, and Mr. Kasahara. Again my issues were about why didn't they call us all into a public meeting or talk directly instead of going behind people's backs with the letter which made false allegations. I said honesty is important. And why are we not allowed to talk about an idea for the organization to have more grassroots representation, in a democratic society where we have freedom of ideas, which follows Sensei's guidance. At the end of the conversation he asked me not to speak about the committee for the next one or two weeks. I questioned him: what if someone asks even if I don't volunteer then what should I say, I can't talk about it or I will be dismissed? If I talk and then get dismissed, if it comes up again will I be banned from meetings? And if a member innocently asks a question about it will they be thrown out? When I pressed him Mr. Ihara admitted that he has no right to ask me not to talk about the committee.

On September 3 another Bayside co-district leader was appointed without my involvement. I was not even informed about the meeting in which it was to occur, which was a chapter planning meeting to be attended by district and group level. I inadvertently heard about the meeting shortly before it occurred, so I called Diane and at that time she told me about the appointment to be made. She said they didn't take my position away because they, Kisae, feel I care about the members. When I expressed my opinion that Mary had raised most of the members in the chapter, and why was she being badmouthed, Diane told me that the people who were dismissed did wrong, and "if you keep arguing how can I continue to work with you". Previous to this conversation Diane had always said she knows my sincerity so I shouldn't worry, and we were always able to talk to each other freely. After that the other co-district leaders left me out of planning and communication.

I really wanted to talk directly to Mr. Kasahara and I had scheduled a meeting for July 12, but on that day my mother had a medical emergency and was hospitalized. I got to see him on September 20 when we met and went to a restaurant to talk. My purpose was to talk about my experience as district leader, especially of the misunderstandings of the past few months. I started by remembering when he home-visited Phil and me a few years ago and he said to me: you have been sincerely practicing for so many years, why don't you take a little more responsibility in the organization. I explained several events based on my direct observation. Then Mr. Kasahara proceeded to talk about "Stan's problem in Brooklyn …" I brought up that there are lies going around and people are being ostracized to which Mr. Kasahara said "no one is lying" and "that doesn't happen now, maybe in NSA days". I asked "why is Stan's character being completely assassinated and my husband being bashed". He said he totally disagrees with me. He has been listening to me for 35 minutes but I won't listen to even one thing that he is saying "that's what's wrong with you people, you don't listen". When I said "when you see your friend being abused you stand up for them" Mr. Kasahara said "that's enough, this conversation is finished", got up abruptly and walked away as I sat there with my whole plate of food in front of me. He said he was very disappointed in me. In actuality he made no attempt to encourage me, give me guidance, or showed any appreciation to Stan, Mary, Phil or myself. As I followed him out I said "for 26 years I thought you were a man of justice". Later that night my husband was dismissed by a phone call.

At the district meeting on October 25 the Topic was "Buddhism and the Environment." In the presentations and following open dialogue members mentioned "cherishing the human heart", "upholding dignity", "treating all beings with compassion". I concurred that a fundamental teaching of Buddhism is respect for the dignity, integrity, of life so how we treat the people in our environment is of utmost importance. I read Sensei's guidance about America from July 9 WT how America is first to be created by the will of the people and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence stand in consonance with spirit of Mahayana Buddhism and its profound respect for human life. Then I said unfortunately quite the opposite has been happening recently in our "precious organization" especially locally. I mentioned how I have been called a devil and the dismissals of sincere members because of an idea, where we should be able to discuss ideas freely, and I hope we can self-reflect on this. After the meeting I talked warmly to a few members but some avoided me and my co-district leaders were hostile. I spoke to Kisae and said there have been many guidances from Sensei appearing in the past few years publications about speaking out for truth and justice. She replied that those guidances just related to the priesthood issue. Elly who had greeted me with a smile before the meeting would not talk, Jo told me I made a "made a cause to destroy", and Jeongsook told me if I talk like that not to come back to her house any more for meetings.

I spoke to Richard Morgan on Nov. 2 who said "he was happy to see me" at the district meeting. But the reason he called was to tell me he didn't like what I said at the Oct. 25 meeting. As we spoke he was already planning a meeting for Nov. 5, which I was not supposed to know about, for the purpose of talking about me with the members. He and Jeongsook did not like my opinion and were calling the members to this secret meeting to discuss my "behavior" and what, as a district, they wanted to do about it. The meeting was changed to a planning meeting, to be the regular monthly district planning meeting, however I was excluded from it. Then I received a phone call November 7 from R. Morgan asking me to meet with district and group leaders because some feel I am speaking inappropriately. I told Richard I heard the planning meeting was held already to which he said it he just found out about it at the last minute. I asked him about Jeongsook's statement that I shouldn't come to meetings at her house and what kind of behavior is this, if a person has an opinion that another doesn't like now that person is banned from meetings? He said he would talk to Jeongsook. When nothing was communicated to me about the upcoming November district meeting I called Jeongsook and said that "I heard the planning meeting was held already" to which she replied "yes", then I stated that since I was excluded from it I was calling to find out when the district meeting was scheduled to be held and what the meeting plan was about. When she hesitated to answer I asked "you don't want to tell me when the district meeting is?" Then she gave me the date and wanted to talk another time. So I called Elly and repeated the same: that I heard the planning meeting was held, she said yes, and I was calling since I was excluded to find out, and she gave me information about the plan. 

The November 19 district meeting was commemorating SGI day. At the open dialogue portion first a group leader related the daily guidance of November 14 and mentioned that I had designed the book (For Today & Tomorrow). Next I spoke about getting to work on that project based on my determination, and shared that I had received a message from Sensei earlier that same day. Mr. Kasahara called me to deliver the message, which was received at the NYCC in response to my letter to Sensei two weeks prior. In my letter I expressed my dream of many years to design a book written by Sensei. And how I was chanting to understand his guidances and have my designs function to carry his words to the hearts of the members. I said at the meeting "I haven't changed … The noble ideal of unity of purpose should not be used to outcast those who have a different opinion … How is the SGI to grow into the new millennium as people in society are looking for human rights and freedom." I read Sensei's guidance that "Also, in the organization for kosen-rufu, we have to clearly say what must be said. The purpose of Buddhism is not to produce dupes who blindly follow their leader. It is to produce people of wisdom who can judge right or wrong, on their own in the clear mirror of Buddhism." Then a group leader, Christine, spoke about how people at the meeting express caring for the members however there is abuse going on at the same time. She continued that I have been supporting the members, have always cared for her and protected her family, and now I, and Phil, am being mistreated. And it's hypocritical for those to just smile nicely while at the same time behaving this way. The emcee tried to cut her off but Christine asked why is she not allowed to speak since everyone else was. After the meeting Mr. Nakagawa who rarely attends Bayside meetings and hasn't been involved, never spoke to me, never even met Christine, came up to us to discuss the statements we made. He claimed he knows "every detail" and to Christine he said "this is the discussion meeting, not going to be your way". 

Following that I got a phone call Nov. 30 from Richard Morgan. I told him that I had spoken to several group leaders and they (4 out of 5) didn't have a problem with what I had said at the meeting October 25. He said Christine spoke inappropriately at the November meeting, and it "creates disunity." I told him what Christine said was accurate. I am being purposefully excluded and why hasn't he been calling to give me any communication about activities-he just called to tell me he doesn't like what I say or now what Christine has said. When I asked if he had ever spoken to Jeongsook, that I am supposed to be banned from her house for meetings, he said "no." I told him that the inequities are not being addressed, he didn't take care of it. But Richard told me he thought what Jeongsook said was a fair statement. And there was "no point of [me or Christine] coming to meetings if just knocking the members … it doesn't create value." But I said dishonesty doesn't create value and I know he lies to me. When I asked again about the upcoming activities at first he said there is nothing going on.

When leaders use such principles as unity and harmony to crush those who call out for change and accountability in order to advance our organization, then all that is sacred has been violated. People talk about noble causes and make believe we are all friends for kosen-rufu while stabbing us in the back. Is the discussion meeting now the appropriate place to cover this up, to remain silent and just smile and say how happy we are? This way of achieving harmony is a denial of people's fundamental rights, used by authority figures who wish to appear pious and seduce people into believing that those who seek change are doing wrong. Now we have gone from censorship, to dismissal, to being banned as we speak out for justice in the organization and empowerment of people, which are ideas Sensei talks about in his guidances. The SGI cannot be protected this way. Nichiren Daishonin said: "You should read again and again the previous letter in which I explained that one should of course obey his parents as well as his sovereign and teacher, but should they commit evil, admonishing them is in fact being loyal to them." 

My best wishes to all,

Alma Orenstein

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