A dialogue between a gentleman and a hothead

Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength.

Ralph W. Sockman

Max, 64, a respected SGM senior leader, has been working tirelessly and earnestly for the happiness of the members for the past decades. Ray, 42, a young professional, and looked up to Max very much.

Max: I understand what you are going through now. I’ve been there. Twenty years ago, I was also hotheaded and always demanding answers from the top leadership. I was vocal and loud. And many disliked me. They questioned my intention and labelled me with so many unflattering names, like traitors, enemies of the Buddha and devils. Like you, I was also sidelined and ignored. But then, one day, a senior leader came and told me these words. It struck deep into my heart. He said,

‘Look, Max, you have spent so much time and energy chasing evils, righting wrongs, upholding justice and reasoning and arguing with so many people, but in the end, how are these going to change your life for the better? How are these going to change your karma?

Listen to me, leave these matters aside. The Law of cause and effect is strict. Evil people who took advantage of this organization to profit themselves will surely suffer for their actions. No one can escape.

I took his advice and today, I can say that I didn’t regret my decision then. Focus on your own practice, Ray. Your own human revolution. I am not saying you are wrong or that there is nothing wrong with the organization. I am just saying that you should focus on your own practice, work for kosen-rufu sincerely and stop wasting time on asking questions that are not likely to get any answers.

Ray: I have heard this before. I have also given it some thoughts. I don’t entirely agree. I do very much agree with the point that we must do our own human revolution and focus on transforming our own karma. I also fully agree that we must do all we can for the sake of our members and friends. This is our core practice and it will never change.

But then, if we do not continue to raise question and demand better governance in SGM, all our effort will be futile. It’s like pouring water into a bucket full of holes. Twenty years ago, because those who can see and realise that things were wrong kept their silence, we are repeating the same mistakes, and suffering the same cruelty from authoritarian leaders. So, if we keep quiet today, I don’t have to tell you what is going to happen in another twenty, or even ten years down the road. How far have we grown in the past twenty years? And last year, we suffered a major blow of over 400 leaders resigned from their leadership.

We have a problem, a malignant tumor if you like, and it is growing inside the organization. Covering it up, not talking about it and ignoring it will not make this go away. It will just move into the background and the abuse and mismanagement continue. This will continue and eventually, it will blow up and history repeat itself once again.

Why? Because we have not sown the seeds of victory, and hence, we shall not be harvesting any victory. SGM will continue to repeat this cycle. The kosen-rufu movement will stagnate. Our leaders are obedient and so far, mostly remained quiet. Some not even dare to look at the facts. Instead, most are more than happy to move on and forget all about it.

Max: If forgetting this entire saga can enable the organization to grow and our members to be happy, why not? After all, we do not practice faith this Buddhism so that we can argue with others. Our Buddhism teaches us to transform ourselves, to change ourselves, human revolution, and not change others. But when we change from the inside, the outside will naturally change also.

Ray: Now you are treating me like a small kid. I am sorry Max, I am not a kid. And we need to stop talking like this. In a dialogue with Theologian Harvey Cox, Mr Ikeda has this to say.

Religion in the 21st century must provide people with the wisdom to be independent, to think and decide wisely for themselves how to live their lives. Religion must move away from the tendency to keep people in a childlike state, without the ability to think for themselves.

Asking me not to ask question is equivalent to ask me not to think and keeping me in a childlike state, isn’t?

Coming back to organization matters, we need better governance. Better check and balance. Better transparency. But are we doing that? After all the drama and terminations, the process towards instituting good governance has all but halted. I tried to get news from inside SGM but got none. No one is driving it and no one want to ask about it. So, we are back to square one.

Max: I don’t know about that. I see that you are pretty upset these days and afraid that this matter is going to corrupt your faith. That is my main concern. I don’t want you to be unhappy.

Ray: I thank you for your concern. I have no doubt that you want only the best for me. I appreciate that very much. I am not against you, or SGM or any particular leader for that matter. In fact, I want to make SGM a stronger and a better organization than before. And inoculate it against the various forms of mismanagement and abuse, and protect it against the type of damaging scandal like what happen to SGI-Hong Kong (court case which SGI HK lost) and the City Harvest Church in Singapore (Several top executives, including the founder, were sent to jail for misappropriating funds). Unless we shield up and practice the most stringent form of governance, transparency and with adequate check and balance in our top management, we cannot prevent scandals like this from happening.

And please don’t tell me we are Buddhist, we are Soka Gakkai and therefore, we are special and our top leaders will never commit such hideous act. Remember, we are all human. Each and every one can be susceptible to temptations and power. We all have the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity in our lives.

Max: I still think we should forget this and move on. There are just too many heartache, anger and pain. All unnecessary and affecting morale. Focus on shakubuku and everything will be all right.

Ray: That is your stand and I respect that. I have a different stand. We should not forget. Of course, I heed your advice of not forgetting my own practice, my human revolution and also practicing for others. At the same time, I will continue to hold dialogue and allow more people the opportunity to understand the importance of governance matters in SGM.

Again, I thank you for your concern. I am very glad that our friendship is not affected by this issue, but instead, it strengthen. Please continue to watch over me and if I fall onto the wrong path, do pull me back. I am counting on you.

The ability to forget the past enables people to free themselves gradually from the pain they once suffered; but it also makes them repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

Lu Xun      

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5 thoughts on “A dialogue between a gentleman and a hothead

  1. Unfortunately, I can only make comments after reading this discussion between Ray and Max, however, I would much rather have been part of it.
    So yes, I do have a few things to say based on the actual teachings of Nichiren, which existed long before any organisation claiming to represent him.

    In ‘Letter to Nikke’ Nichiren clearly instructs us ‘not to put our trust in anyone simply because of their high ranking, including priests, but to put our trust in a ‘person’, no matter how humble they may appear to be, who expresses the Lotus Sutra NMRK from their heart’. I think, like so many other instructions left to us all by Nichiren, this instruction has been very much ignored, especially in the organisations that promote NMRK. I also believe in my heart and from my experience as a follower of Nichiren over the past 46 years in many countries, that this is the fundamental cause behind the effect that exists among many of the members. I am not surprised to hear that over 400 leaders have resigned in the past year or so. I can only hope that the major reason behind them leaving was due to their wisdom that has been manifested by their strong faith in the Law and ‘not the person’.

    Another factor in the stagnation of the growth is the importance, responsibility, and in many cases, idolisation that has and is being expressed towards leaders. When I was part of the organisation’s membership, I saw people come into the fold who were professional in some way, and because of that, swiftly promoted to a leadership role – even before they have had time to correctly understand the teachings. I have seen many of these people struggle to live up to their positions, often giving others who automatically trust in them, incorrect guidance that sometimes has nothing to do with Nichiren’s teaching. Some of these people have been arrogant, lacking in compassion and sometimes very hurtful. All this, while others who are just every day average people, perhaps going through difficult times and experiencing sufferings in their lives, yet believe in the Law NMRK with all their heart and try to express what it’s about in their daily life attitude and actions, have so often been ignored.

    If Nichiren had been here today he would have been looked down upon as of no special importance, especially considering the fact that he had nothing and had to struggle just to survive. The saddest thing is, many who claim to be his followers today have lost the plot.

    One of you in the conversation stated that it’s best to say nothing and just get on with improving your own life. Nichiren said quite the opposite when he explained that ‘a true friend is someone who is willing to go out on a limb, even at the risk of being scolded or losing the friendship to tell a friend ‘the truth’. While a phoney friend is someone who laughs and goes along with someone, agreeing with everything they say and do, while inwardly thinking what a fool they are, in order not to make any waves’. I think that you should chant about this if you truly care about the dignity of the Law that is.

    Nichiren also teaches us that ‘no two lands are good or evil of their own accord, that they will always react according to the good or bad causes being made by those who occupy them at any given time’. As well as this he warned that the only people capable of destroying the dignity of the Law are those who claim to represent it.

    We all know about the ‘Buddhist War’ of the 1990s between the two major representatives of the Law. How fights and arguments broke out between opposing members of both group all over the world. How nothing was barred in many cases and people were lied about and abused – worst of all – how those who wanted nothing to do with the fighting (including myself) and who tried with all their might to encourage others to put the Law first and chant for a solution through the supreme power of the Law instead of fighting etc, were condemned by both sides as being traitors – who were lied to the teeth about, in order to persuade others from following their lead. Yes this is exactly what happened… and the media had a feast on it and helped make Nichiren’s teaching a laughing stock. In other words, the Law was severely slandered to enable the importance of the leaderships to reign above all else.

    And what has happened since? Prior to the ’90s war’, Japan was doing so well, its economy was booming, it had amazingly good health records and people everywhere were lining up to hear about NMRK. Since the war, everything has gone downhill and continues to do so. The economy has had to struggle, there has been one massive natural disaster after another and the membership around the world has stagnated. I read somewhere that it is now estimated that more people in the world are practising NMRK independently than there are members of the organisations. Being one such person, I’m not at all surprised. It’s a big enough battle to encourage people to chant for world peace and spread the Law, without having to waste precious time crawling along arguing about the egos and so forth of leaders, not to mention, separating the politics of the organisations and their importance from the actual teachings of Nichiren, which in many cases has fallen by the wayside.

    I mentioned before about the downfall since the ‘war’ begun. Did you know that during the same year that the Head Temple Shondo was completed and opened, so too was the Fukushima Nuclear Plant? Well, it’s true and I should know because I was in Japan at the same time, in fact, it was that year that I first chanted NMRK. But it was a very different attitude back then and so were the meetings in Tokyo. The importance of the Law and the Gohonzon was talked about more than the organisation and its leaders back then. Those were the days when people everywhere were so impressed with Japan and easily convinced to chant NMRK – I shakubuku’d many people in many countries and so too did others. Sadly, today people question why is Japan in such a dreadful state if so many people there chant NMRK. My answer is always the same – as Nichiren taught ‘when the Law is slandered the land will react accordingly’. Once the world seemed safer and secure, now it’s become extremely scary, so much evil just waiting to pounce from the minds of the people. Now, in contrast to the 70s, when it was an amazing example to the world, Japan is a scary place too due to Fukushima – and yet it seems that the organisations are more concerned about the organisations the presence of the Law in every individual and the responsibility to put its dignity first, even at the cost of going out on a limb to be its true friend…

    Tom B

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reasonable and Nice conversational exchanges there.
    Our present situations also happens in other countries of sgi as well. example, USA, Japan
    & elsewhere. Tightly controlled and authoritarian org would never budge.
    For all the views and dialogues so far let’s continue to watch and see closely if there’s any positive result. Ghana sgi before was a solid proof for us to see. Good Luck to all the Maxs and Rays. May the law have mercy

    Like

  3. Tom B, I can feel your indignation and heavy heart from what you said above. I couldn’t agree more with you. I wish to meet you some day and some how.

    Like

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