We are the SGI

 
  1/14/01  
 

My name is Katie Tierney. I moved to the Boston area in June, 1995, after having practiced in Baltimore, Maryland for 2 years. However, I began my practice in Washington, D.C., August 1988. The pioneers who have been my seniors in faith in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are still diligently pursuing the master/disciple relationship and expending tireless efforts for the sake of the happiness of SGI members. Due to their examples and their support, I have assessed the situation in Boston SGI to be a prime example of what Pres. Ikeda has said he fears will occur when arrogant, self-absorbed leaders come to prevail! 
On July 1, 1998 three of the 3 of the 4 remaining members of my District, Royal Palace, were summoned to the 'old' Boston Community Center. Ironically, we met in what is called, President Ikeda's office! Three top leaders, Eddy Yamane (Terr.Ldr.), Kathleen Olesky (Jt. Terr. Ldr.) and Frances Langfur (Area Ldr.) greeted us with pained smiles. Eddy announced that the New England Regional Board had met and decided that our district should be disbanded. He went on to say that meant we needed to find 'other' Districts, outside of our community to join. We had not been contacted by members of this 'board', many of the leaders I had never met! We were the remaining members of the original district in our community, formed in October 1995 at the time of the 're-org'. The rest of our members had been encouraged by leaders, Eddy Yamane and Steve Potoff (Jt. Terr. Ldr.) to join ;other' districts when disputes had arisen regarding 'correct practice'. The WD District Leader, Adrianne Landau had abandoned her position, spreading the 'false rumor' that I had been verbally abusive to her. These leaders claimed that we were not a viable District due to our 'size' and that we were 'not in line with SGI Boston.' 
How did this happen? Basically when the re-org. began in '95 a WD district leader living in Watertown, Linda Steinberg was not selected to be WD leader of the newly formed community District. She phoned me to 'report' that the leaders who had been selected (the MD leader is now my husband) were 'bad' and that I should come to the district where she had been given the position of Vice District leader in another town, with my shakubuku who had just returned from the Temple. Yvonne and I did practice in Linda's district for a few months, but then decided we wanted to practice in our own community. By the time we joined the Watertown District, the WD leader had resigned due to the appointment of a husband/wife 'team' the O'reilly's' as vice district leaders. You all remember 'Peyton Place'? That is the gist of this story. Gossip, ill feelings and leaders who believe that a 'position' in the SGI equals 'material gain and social status' abound here. The politics aren't new, either! Linda Steinberg was promoted to Vice Chapter Leader, and began to 'visit' the district she had opted not to join because the 'leaders were bad'. When she enters the scene, we are enjoying our developing friendships and beginning to envision what it means to become involved in our community. Members are becoming happy, but the WD District Leader, Adtianne Landau and the O'Reilly's don't have the 'control' they need, so the backbiting and political maneuvering begins! Linda helps out, she has some inside info about Yvonne and I who are now hosting discussion meetings at our home. I am dating the District Leader, Kevin, a handsome musician and number one bachelor in the SGI singles club! According to the O'Reilly's, Kevin is 'sleeping with the enemy'! Linda works the scene to get 'meetings taken out of my home'!..because 'the energy is bad there' and 'I am too powerful in front of my own Gohonzon'! I make the fatal mistake of laughing at these ridiculous women and dedicating myself to supporting our neighbors and connecting with other artists in the community. 
When the O'Reilly's boycott our discussion meeting, saying that my home is 'slanderous like the Head Temple' and not a fit place to bring their children, Kevin believes that something will finally be done about these two, whom we had tolerated and just called, 'the onshitsu police'! He takes a recording of the message (stating the above quotation) left on his answering machine to a 'leaders' meeting. The 'leaders' decide we need to 'change the meeting place' so the O'Reilly's will feel comfortable attending meetings! Why? Well Bill O'Reilly was threatening to sue the SGI because he had learned that he and his wife were discussed at a meeting 'after they had boycotted the discussion meeting'. He claimed this was defamation of character. The 'leaders' did not want any trouble. Again, I found this amusing. And, again, I am sorry I laughed. 
I am not sorry that I joined the ranks of the few who did not want to continue placating the O'Reilly's. Bernie Spiegel, a strong member who had been a Chapter Leader, insisted we continue to meet in my home. We did. We defied the 'leaders directive'! And so did Kevin and 3 other members. Then the 'political campaign heated up'. 
The WD District Leader, Adrianne working with her 'good friend' Linda Steinberg began to visit members and tell them not to 'chant with us renegades'. It worked! As we insisted on following Pres. Ikeda's guidance and the Gosho to challenge our difficulties we became labeled as 'malicious towards the O'Reilly's'...bad, bad, Buddhists and not supportive of 'our leaders'....major offense! We were not practicing as Fukyo did, according to the Area leader, Frances Langfur, not recognizing the Buddha nature in the O'Reilly's...but more importantly, not following the Boston leaders! 
WE became more involved in our community, coordinating an Arts Festival in August '97. We studied the roots of our community and discovered that Watertown had been built around the Arsenal Complex, located on the scenic and strategic, Charles River. We were living where brilliant scientists from M.I.T. had worked diligently to develop the necessary technology for nuclear weapons, not to mention the manufacture of weapons used since the 'Civil War'. This complex , abandoned, well-constructed buildings had been returned to the town by the federal government. At least one other artist here thought it would be a great idea for an Arts Center to be created from this 'misery factory'. We agreed! And supported these efforts, which takes a lot of time an energy away from 'keeping track' of the gossip and political aspects of SGI Boston. The 'leaders' were gaining ground to obliterate our district 10 months before directing us to disband. It took us most of the year after being disbanded to figure out how they accomplished their feat! 
Meanwhile, the Arsenal complex is nearly completely renovated. A developer bought it from the town for 26 million, donated a building for our Arts Center plus another million for renovations. 
Hey! The story broke in our local newspaper just 4 days before we were 'disbanded'! I had started another million daimoku campaign for Kosen Rufu in Watertown! Were we really surprised? Yes.. and no. Sure, we expected major obstacles to advancement, but we did not expect them FROM our Senior Leaders! 
From Jan '99, when Kevin and I received guidance from my seniors in faith in Washington, D.C., until a month ago ( that's 23 months; almost 14 years in a dog's life!) we have taken the route of 'formal remonstration' via petitions of appeal to National Leaders, and dialogue via email with National Leaders. This has been an arduous task of wading through the bureaucracy of our SGI, but ultimately we find that 'leaders' (even the local yokels) are laughing at us! You see, they have become self-professed experts on interpreting the philosophy of our organization and practice to a fine art of 'directing' us away from any standards that are in writing (i.e. Leadership Manual, Pres. Ikeda's guidance). They admonish us not to try and understand these arcane standards . They have received some 'secret transmission' of trust from our mentor. They are protecting the SGI through silencing those of us who can tell shit from shinola via strong admonitions against the 'disunity we are creating'! 
I have been labeled as 'mentally ill' in need of professional help! I did seek the 'professional assistance' of our professional Buddhist leaders, but made no headway! Seems that when a problem arises within SGI between members and leaders, the members must transform the situation through dialogue and daimoku. In other words, the SGI USA Leadership Manual cannot be employed by our National Leaders, because that would be 'authoritarianism'. Only 'leaders' acting against members have authority, you see? (They are protecting the 'members', you know!) 
My husband has been swayed by me and my mental illness, as have been the other two remaining members of my district. WE are 'trouble makers' who have actually insulted leaders (mostly me, in this regard) and cannot participate...not even give our experience of 'community practice'..because 'who knows' what we might say! 
The above statements have come from Top Leaders: Betsy Eppsteiner, Kathleen Olesky (she is not just a Jt. Terr. leader, but a psychotherapist! So don't you dare second guess her opinion!) Frances Langfur (Fukyo-advocate and Master's Level Psych Nurse who can write you a prescription for Prozac..if you need one after reading this!) . Our illustrious Men's Division Leaders whole-heartedly support these lovely WD leaders! Even Steve Potoff claims he cannot communicate with me 'due to my mental illness'! Am I still laughing? 
I became deadly serious when I first visited the New New England Culture Center in Waltham, MA. The next town over!( in March '00) These righteous Regional Leaders have hung a huge banner of our three SGI Presidents to the right and in front of the Gohonzon in the Main Hall. The Gohonzon itself is placed at the back of the 'stage', surrounded by the ornate decorations that offset the stage and highlight the many grand performances by 'talented members'! It is difficult to even grasp the meaning of this portrait banner, in terms of reverence for Pres. Ikeda, Pres. Toda and , our founder, Pres. Makiguchi, since these leaders do not seem to grasp even the most rudimentary concepts of the lives of these three men! 
I rest my case on conspicuous evidence of grave slander of the supreme Object of Worship, and will further state that none of the informed, or visiting National Leaders see 'a problem' with this outrage! It seems foolish to continue bantering back and forth about 'correct practice' with these leaders when they have failed to grasp the 'prime point' of our practice! 
After rebuking the Regional and National Leaders, (a few weeks ago) my husband, Kevin and I sent a full report to Pres. Ikeda. We included a beautiful drawing of our new Arts Center. We await his response and continue to practice in our community, supporting 'people of good will'; activities that promote cultural and artistic exchange and education reform. 
The solidarity of the membership that Pres. Ikeda has spoken of, in terms of what he hopes will develop to protect the SGI seems to be happening via the internet! 
At this time, I fully support the activities of the Independent Reassessment Group, who have been seeking a means for democratizing the SGI. I applaud Victorious America for courage and dedication to getting out 'the truth' at a time when many members are realizing we don't get a clue from our 'pubs'. 
My current million daimoku campaign is for 'education reform in America.' I sincerely pray that all SGI members will begin to realize our vast potential for creating a peaceful society, and never forget our responsibility...to challenge 'evil authority'! 
Happy New Year! 
Katie Tierney Higgins 

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