In a frantic rush to flatten the curve, containing COVID-19 virus, Malaysia has declared partial lockdown on 18 March 2020. Keeping people apart, restricting travel, banning gatherings, and staying indoors, has taken a heavy toll on the people, particularly the poor.
What should large religious organizations, particularly SGM with over RM400 million in cash, do in the face of the current times?
The New Human Revolution (NHR), the series that was strongly promoted by the General Director and top leaders in SGM, described clearly the effort made by Gakkai members in Japan during events of natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. They were the first, it claimed, to be on site. They are the most disciplined and well-organized. During one earthquake, motorcycles were used to send food and essential items to victims when the roads were damaged and unable to reach the residents. The community centers, kaikan, large, bright, clean and modern, were immediately open up and become relief centers, welcoming hundreds of victims providing them with hot soup, hot towels, bread and a clean bed.
These are all well-documented and Mr Ikeda took pain to stressed the importance of such quick actions. He also related many personal moving stories of how courageous, resourceful and compassionate the Gakkai’s members were. There is a huge dividend after the humanitarian efforts. The negative perceptions and stubborn prejudice of the people towards Gakkai were transformed, almost overnight, hatred turned into admiration and gratitude, as they got to see and feel first hand, the true picture and spirit of Gakkai.
Why did Mr Ikeda wrote such stories in the NHR? Probably as a reminder that Gakkai organisations, around the world, must not forget the purpose of a true religious organization – an organization that is of the people, by the people and for the people.
How did SGM do in this aspect? There were some efforts in the past, where community centers were used as distribution centers during major floods many years ago. SGM also do periodic blood donation campaigns. Apart from that, the centers are mostly idle. The other programs that SGM is active in are mostly ‘atas’ events, or high-brow, like art exhibitions, calligraphy, public lecture.
What about Covid19? Nothing. No donation, nothing. [Note: SGM announced, through WhatsApp message that they donated a sum of RM40,000 to Mercy Malaysia, on the same day this post was published). In the past, SGM did donate several thousand ringgit for flood relief after much public and members pressure. I am sure it is no more than a quarter month interest payment. Just a token fund. For a photo op to be published in Cosmic.
We couldn’t give so much. Otherwise, many people will know that we have a lot of money. This will invite all sorts of ill-intention people and out to destroy us. We cannot let people know that we are rich.
That was one of the reason going round on why SGM never donate large sums. Tzu Chi is pretty rich too. They have separate funds for separate purpose, like charity, education, disaster relief etc. They are pretty transparent, letting you know how much they have and how much is being spent. When the funds are depleted, they will ask for more donation. At least, we know that they money is being spent for helping others, and not just sitting in the bank, doing nothing.
What is the General Director’s take on this? SGM is not a charity organization. We are not out to compete with other organisations in this matter. We are a faith organization, focusing on tackling the most fundamental source of pain, eradicating the true cause of misery, by transforming their karma. Then, the people can help themselves, no need charity from others.
If I remember correctly, the General Director shared this is an All Leaders Meeting, said that he had asked the top leaders in Japan and this was the answer.
Curious thing is – If SGM is not going to compete and do much humanitarian activities, then why does it need to collect so much money? So many gokuyo – money contribution? Why are they so obsessed with money, so much so that the first youtube episode, on 13 March 2020, of the ‘Voice of Soka’ [here] is Financial contributions are a part of our Buddhist practice? Is that the priority now? Hmmm… weird.
There is no comparison between Tzu Chi and SGM. Tzu Chi is literally in a different league, putting SGM to shame. Their humanitarian work is well known throughout Malaysia. In fact, this is probably the only Chinese/Buddhists organization that many Indians and Malays knew and trust today. Ask your Malay or Indian friends about SGM and they will register nothing. Even among Chinese, SGM is an unknown entity. In fact, many Malays and Indians participated in Tzu Chi’s events and charity work. This the degree of trust and high regards that these communities have on this Buddhist organisation.
After COVID-19, Tzu Chi would have created more trust and acceptance by the people of Malaysia, of all races. Sending food to the refugees’ children centre, making face masks for the hospital staff and providing food to muslims in quarantine location after attending Tabligh. A feat that SGM top leaders would have little ideas of what it is, let alone appreciate the importance of this in promoting kosen-rufu movement in Malaysia.
Mr Ikeda would be proud and beaming with pride if SGM can achieve similar success. Unfortunately, SGM seems to have stuck in a time warp, going round in circles. There is little new histories in the past three decades. Multiple new and shinning kaikans, And yes, the Ikeda Peace Park. The 20,000 Professor of Happiness is a sham. SGM did have some ‘untold history’ though in the last five years.
Mr General Director and top leaders, you seem to have lead SGM away from the true path of a humanistic world religion. Read the NHR, really read and understand it, and then ask – Is this what Mr Ikeda wants the Gakkai to be? SGM today has become an organization that is inward-looking, busy themselves with fighting unseen enemies and labelling people as devils, and the primary concern is encouraging more members to contribute money – Voice of Soka.
Perhaps, our suggestions to guys at the steering wheel in SGM, you need to think of how you can inject fresh energy and dynamism into the organization by joining the race of humanitarian effort and developing more trust in society, building friendship bonds, embedding deep roots in society, particularly those of other races, instead of only focusing on getting more new members and increasing money contribution.
COVID-19 is a golden opportunity. You have missed it. But not too late to learn something and realise that the SGM exist for the people, meaning extending a helping to those in need especially in times of natural disaster, and not just for collecting money.
Depending on the use to which it is put, religion can be a destructive force. Religion should bring us together, but it is exploited by some to create greater schisms among us. Nothing could be more unfortunate.
Religion must always be for the people. People do not exist for the sake of religion. This must be the fundamental guideline of religion in the twenty-first century.