DEMOCRACY IN RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS

To set up a system where the religious leaders are directly accountable to the members

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The SGI is an organization whose roots and traditions have embraced change and making a stand against authoritarianism to benefit the members as exemplified by Makiguchi's actions. We should never panic or prejudge when change arrives at our door. "History abounds with examples of oppression by religious or secular authority over those who advocated a new way of thinking or tried to empower ordinary people. Many new traditions sprang from the courage of those ordinary individuals who overcame such oppression." (Questions and Answers on the Temple Issue, p. 5)

Recently, on a major television show, a group of highly educated and respected people were having a forum on current events. They observed that the average citizen does not take the time to investigate how the government actually operates and what it is doing on behalf of its citizens. These "experts" concluded that the people generally give the government the exclusive right to make decisions on their behalf while demanding little or no accountability from their representatives.

One of the great weaknesses in all societies is that people do not take the time to educate themselves, to find out what is happening in their own governments and religious organizations. With such an attitude, people abdicate their power of influence to the "authorities". This has severe implications in the secular world but far more serious implications in the religious world where doctrines of faith can directly influence society. 

This is so, because the basic premise of Buddhism is that our faith and our daily life are one. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we as SGI members constantly educate ourselves and be aware of how we are proceeding in our organization so that we can make important changes when necessary.

Out of pure hearts, questions arise. Without education, the heart is contained and we cannot make any changes. But armed with knowledge and the truth, we will have the courage to speak up and obtain great advancement.

President Ikeda refers to this in his 1990 guidance to the U.S.:

"Change, unceasing change, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of America. Change occurs more rapidly here than it does elsewhere. This could be said to be an indication of the vitality that this country possesses."

It is of the utmost importance that we cherish this characteristic of vitality as a prime point of our development. President Ikeda continues:

"I hope that young people, with rich and apt powers of critical evaluation in all matters will always advance toward higher and greater targets, never allowing themselves to become complacent with their present circumstances."

The late U.S. statesmen Adlai Stevenson once said:

"There is a new America every morning when I wake up. It is upon us whether we will it or not."

And President Ikeda said:

"Similarly, Buddhism holds that everything is in a constant state of flux. Thus the question is whether we are to accept change passively and be swept away by it, or whether we are to take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. While conservatism and self-protection might be likened to winter, night and death, the spirit of pioneering and attempting to realize ideals evokes images of spring mornings and birth."

"In a democracy, the people are the masters....." Sensei has said. Since our organization reflects our culture and social systems, people must grasp the opportunity of taking responsibility for the organization and lead the charge for change.

In order for our organization to enter the mainstream of society and be embraced by the people we must perfectly align ourselves with the true spirit of democracy and absolutely rid ourselves of any concepts or methods which are outdated. Nothing else will suffice if we are to keep in touch with our times.

President Ikeda says:

"The ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence have spread world wide. Today there is need for a profound reliable philosophy to support its ideals and to ensure their universal promulgation. The lack of such a philosophy is becoming an increasingly urgent issue."

Our country desperately needs us for we have in our possession the essential ingredients to reawaken and inspire an inactive citizenry to complete the mission that these sacred documents propound. It is not only our opportunity but also our greatest privilege to secure the realization of freedom, happiness and equality for all those who have suffered the indignities of racism and for those who have sacrificed their lives for this country and for all future generations.

This is the essence and prime purpose of our shakubuku campaign: to spread the teachings to save our country. Without this as a primary mission, what we were born for - without this spirit we are just pushing numbers. As Buddhists, this should become part of all our dialogues wherever we gather - if we are to succeed.

When we penetrate and grasp the heart and soul of our country we are swept up in a vision that is so majestic that it drives us with an endless desire to pioneer its true destiny. We have carried this sublime blueprint for justice across the plains of time. We are the timeless current, endlessly surging forward to complete the consummation of the historical continuum.

Like giant turbines we submerge ourselves in the raging currents of deception and injustice and reroute this polluted river into the fertile banks of justice and harmony. It is here our lives soar, carried ashore with fulfilled spirits and songs of glory. It is here each day we can catch the breath of hope and courage, continually renewing our spirit, ridding ourselves of the source of disease and disparaging disorder.

We are the ancient warriors married to justice who have waged the unceasing battle against any individual, group or authority that would undermine the people's integrity.

The True Buddha activated a global exodus when he appeared 700 years ago calling us forth from every continent to gather here in this land of America in order to rid this world of every vestige of racism and tyranny.

America is the forerunner, inhabited by the pathfinders for justice from all the lands from which we have ascended, carrying the mission to brave hardships of all kinds. We have the mission to clear the road for enlightenment and harmony for the rest of the world. We should be proud to be here for we have the strength to qualify as the disciples of the True Buddha in Mappo. This is the meaning of a true American patriot, one who is overjoyed to have the opportunity to fulfill the dream of this timeless promise. One who has grasped this concept can truly love and fight to fulfill the commitment this country made from its outset.

Without a vision for our land we can have no joy and without courage to speak up we will have no growth. We will be like a people standing on our own piece of real estate each on their own island amidst the great continent of the people. Thinking that everyone else is looking out for themselves also and just trying to survive, we will lack the courage to offer even our lives if necessary to protect the people in our own community.

This attitude robs the community of the compassion and justice it needs to survive and opens the door to fear and the invasion of devilish functions. We as Buddhists must act with courage, and like Sessen Doji, be willing at the crucial moment to even sacrifice our lives to break this vicious cycle and give the people hope and courage to stand up. Otherwise, talk of development of our community by the members in our organization will just be lip service as self-preservation and survival take precedent over standing by a member, friend or neighbor at the crucial moment.

Without vision, without focus, we cut ourselves off from our own continuum, our precious inheritance from our heroic ancestors and become mere observers, escaping to a safer ground out of harm's way.

This task is what we were born for. Without this focus we lose our primary mission and we are just gathering members in a tide-pool or holding ground, neither going forward nor backward.

The Temple has no plans or concern about our country. That is because they are out of touch with the true purpose of faith. They are doomed to failure. We hold the destiny of our nation in our hands.

In the time and space in which we appear we dictate the events and the targets that we need to finally subdue raging evil. We are the champions of the people, Buddhas of unlimited compassion, masters of time and its components. We dictate what happens between the hands of the clock.

But our window of opportunity is small. We must not waste this precious jewel of life. We must complete this new chapter in the history of human advancement. Our last obstruction is us. We must now jump the racial divide, the divide of cynicism and apathy, because the future of our land and the power of the Law can only be championed by those who have dropped the bitterness and pain and have rekindled the spirit of righteous anger and thrown down the gauntlet for justice and peace.

If you believe the power of the Gohonzon is absolute, then this is your chance to bury your pain and claim true victory for justice and peace in our society.

Our struggle is not about black, white, Hispanic, Asian. It is not about martyrs or missionaries.

It is about real patriots willing to pioneer this majestic land and close the divide until all unify under our flag's original intent: justice and equality for all. This is our true flag. This is the banner of the people. It stands for the ideals we must struggle and fight for. This is our glorious dream.

This glorious dream takes the form of our activities as citizens to uphold the law of this land and fulfill our eternal promise. Whether we are citizens of African decent, citizens of Spanish decent, citizens of Jewish decent etc.... the prime point is that we are all citizens first. Therefore any discrimination towards any people whether it is racial or otherwise would be traitorous and spell spiritual death for our land. It is our duty to stand together as citizens with any group that would suffer such indignities. This strategy for peace in our land is reflected in Sensei's poem "To My Young American Friends".

If you feel you cannot get refreshed or you are lacking spirit, discuss and plan for the future of our land with your fellow members. Your condition will change and you will become excited about this practice. You will want to take action. However, if you think you are embodying the ideal of a global citizen but fail to take action in the country where you live, let's reflect on what President Ikeda says, quoting the motto of the Club of Rome: "think globally, act locally".

We are entering an era where the aspiration for human rights and democracy is being challenged throughout the world. With the appearance of Nikken, the preservation of the Law that would support this ultimate victory of democracy falls on us.

Now that we must take center stage it is up to us more than ever to have the courage to view our own organization with close scrutiny from the inside. This can only be accomplished when there is total commitment from a fully-empowered membership, one committed to participate in a working partnership with the leaders to uproot any unhealthy situations that would stifle our advancement.

We are entering the mainstream of society. Who could criticize an organization that is democratic, that is attuned to our national character? As understanding grows of the importance of our mission, the people in this country will naturally turn their focus to the Temple, to the oppression and exploitation that goes on there. The Nikken sect will be seen as a plague that would undermine our very way of life.

This is how we defeat Nikken: by perfecting ourselves. We never stop our protests against him, but it is now time to look at ourselves as well and look squarely so that we can change whatever needs changing. In this way we can distinguish ourselves from Nikken in every way.

The appearance of Nikken thereby accelerates the process of Kosen-rufu rather than retards it! Through our response to the "Nikken issue" we solidify the foundation of true democracy in our religious organization protected by the people which would ensure the perpetual advancement of the Law throughout the ages.

It is for this reason that this letter is being written. Not just to point out what is wrong, not just to criticize, but to offer a solution - because if we ignore our weaknesses, thinking it is a threat to our strength and unity to address them, we put ourselves in an unending defensive mode, unable to change and grow when we must. If something is wrong we must be able to admit it and open up every avenue to correct it. We cannot afford to put ourselves in an unhealthy situation thinking that if we look at it or talk about it the Temple will gain an advantage. The strength of the SGI can only lie in the fact that we can openly criticize things and make changes. This is a process unheard-of in the Temple. It is our greatest asset. It makes it possible for us to continually develop, to be in a state of perpetual renaissance.

In our exuberance to create a united front there is a tendency to embrace the notion of unquestioned trust in the direction leaders set, in spite of Sensei's warnings against "blind trust". To question those directions has been considered a threat to the harmonious unity of believers. Then even if a members' inquiries were justified, it would be considered not productive to the advancement of our organization to continue to pursue them, so that member is usually asked to discontinue their outspokenness lest their actions spread a wave of doubt about the integrity of the leadership in general. Thus the onus is put on the member.

But without an empowered constituency, the door is opened up for irresponsible leaders to manipulate the system because they know they will get full support from other leaders in keeping with the belief that a unified front will bring us victory. 

This may be true but a unified front achieved in this way is not an achievement of victory but an insult to justice. This is an organization to empower people. It holds within it the highest principle of good character and ethical behavior. That is why Makiguchi insists that the people must oversee the actions of the leaders. This is truly protecting the organization and the Law.

In the past it was only natural that we kept everything "close to the vest". That was because we were just starting out in this country and out of necessity the membership was willing to overlook certain behaviors in order to protect the fledgling organization. But this is not the case anymore. It is almost 40 years later and we have developed way beyond that point thanks to the guidance of President Ikeda.

Our national character is that of straightforwardness. We are a people who can easily perceive what is genuine and we are not easily fooled by anything that is false. We love our liberty and we do not tolerate being muzzled. We speak out and demand change when things are wrong and unjust.

We as members of the SGI have received the greatest of inheritances. Our first President Makiguchi who fought an unending battle against arrogance to preserve the dignity of each individual has passed down this wealth to us. He gave his life to protect the Law so we could receive the ultimate heritage of the Law from Nichiren Daishonin. Through the efforts of the three presidents we are changing the face of religious institutions themselves.

In our era there is a shift from traditionally run institutions to organizations based on religious democracies and our President Ikeda has taken the lead in this shift. It has long been the tradition that the structure of the religious institutions were governed by the power and faith in the doctrine they embraced.

Since the organization was considered a working model of the teachings it was generally accepted that the structure itself was equal to the faith or doctrine of belief. Unlike secular organizations there was no mandate whereby the people were empowered to censure or put in check the actions of the leaders. The only recourse was prayer and the mechanics of the prayer operated in only one way: through your sincere faith all would be taken care of. Any other actions such as speaking out till a just solution was found were viewed as a threat to the institution. People became very docile by accepting this limited understanding of the faith and its relationship to the organized structure.

With the emergence of democracy within religious institutions the concepts of faith and prayer return to the original intent. Now the people are empowered by faith. Thus when the need arises to change, change is not only expected but the members gain courage from their prayers to stand up, speak out and initiate change - not just accept tokens of appeasement.

Leaders will appear who are warm, passionate, filled with Buddhist mercy and true compassion. Leaders who know the hearts of the people and have good common and ethical sense and a sense of justice in daily life. Leaders whose only allegiance is to the truth and justice, leaders who are willing to stand alone and stand by the member in such circumstances. This is what the people respect and yearn for in a leader.

Because of our faith in the Gohonzon and the guidance of Sensei, we enjoyed great expectation and a renewal of spirit when we joined the SGI. Coming from a society where broken promises and lies are commonplace, even in our own sacred institutions, the great jewel of trust has been lost from society. This lack of trust threatens our humanity.

In order to reverse such a trend and support a great movement such as ours, we openly give our sacred trust to support the leaders. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that leaders who have been entrusted with the sacred mission of encouraging the members in faith take this mission with the utmost seriousness.

They must reply to the expectation of the members that they be trustworthy and treat the members with utmost respect. They must be held to the highest possible standard of human behavior and integrity and held accountable for their actions. The days of "I am only human" or "I am just a member like you" or "We are all friends from the infinite past" as a theme-song to justify irresponsible and negligent behavior must cease.

In the secular world you never hear leaders in the government who have been irresponsible to their constituency say, "Hey, listen, I am a citizen too". They would be laughed at. You never hear the President of a company who has been irresponsible tell his Board of Directors, "I'm only human." Why would we set our standards lower than that of secular institutions? 

Forgiveness, given to those in responsible positions without demanding accountability, is devoid of true mercy and compassion.

A World Tribune editorial states: "Above all else, Buddhists are compassionate people who strive to awaken others so that they won't take a path to unhappiness. True mercy is not just a passive expression of good will toward others - it is also to point out others' errors that can lead them to ruin." It further states: "This devil causes us to have excessive amounts of sympathy or compassion to the point where our sense of judgment becomes distorted. It is also the function in our lives that leads us to attach ourselves to lesser teachings, thereby distancing us from faith in the True law ... It is only natural that this devil easily takes advantage of compassionate SGI members who are determined to help others." Whether it is the High Priest or any leader in our organization or anyone in our daily life....  "...Unless we have the courage and the strict mercy to fight against evil, we cannot protect the true teaching. Nor can we truly save others. "(WT, 5/30/94, p.2)

It is the primary responsibility of the membership to draw and enforce the boundaries of behavior and actions that those in responsible positions cannot cross.

As a leader in the SGI, one has a tremendous responsibility to develop the faith and character as well as the integrity of the members. Therefore, one must be a person of the highest character oneself.

All leaders must be held accountable to this lest they sully the great jewel of trust offered to them by the people, lest they tarnish the name and efforts of the great presidents of the SGI. The leaders must be accountable to the people!

This paper is being written to hasten a change in the mechanics of the organizational structure so that the members will be empowered and chartered to act in conjunction with the leadership so as to keep a more balanced flow: moving from down up and from up down.

This paper is dedicated to the pioneering spirit and is meant to open the way to the essential strategy to not only dismantle the Nikken sect but to unleash and accelerate the unstoppable current of the Law which will spread throughout our land with justice, peace and happiness. The time is ripe.

 

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