Chant or Cant?
As a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai, I have certainly come across articles and other writings on our organization. (I used to marvel at the fact that the SGI was rarely, if ever, mentioned in Tricycle and other Buddhist publications, considering its membership size and scope.) As Clark Strand points out in his article “Born in the USA: Racial Diversity in Soka Gakkai International” [Winter 2003], these publications have often maligned SGI. Strand has made an excellent and noteworthy effort in addressing this large oversight. Not only did I find Strand’s writing to be clear and engaging, but his exploration of race within Buddhism, and particularly in the SGI, was rich and informed.
When I first encountered SGI over four years ago, I too was struck by the diversity of its membership and the incredibly empowering philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin and the founding three presidents of the Soka Gakkai (Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda, and Daisaku Ikeda). And I still never cease to be awed by the incredible hard work, dedication, and sacrifice each (as well as other pioneering members and leaders like Ronnie Smith) has made, particularly in shaping the organization into a place for all people.
Strand’s article has brought to the fore the pressing and pertinent issues of diversity and racism within the American Buddhist movement, and, in my opinion, has justly conveyed the spirit of our organization toward addressing these and other realities of the American—and human—experience.
—Jonathan Brody, Northampton, Massachusetts
I read Clark Strand’s article “Born in the USA” with considerable interest and some perplexity. To explain SGI’s racial diversity, Mr. Strand proposes that “when African Americans step into a Buddhist meditation center, [the] invisible [white] culture is the first thing they see.” Mr. Strand fails to mention the fact that SGI is the only Buddhist organization in America that actively proselytizes. Although the aggressive street recruiting of the oldshakubuku [literally, “propagation”] days may be a thing of the past, Soka Gakkai members are encouraged to evangelize their friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, and schoolmates and bring them into the fold. Left to their own devices, would African and Hispanic Americans seek out Soka Gakkai any more than they do Zen or Tibetan Buddhism? Or is SGI’s diversity more likely a reflection of its emphasis on recruitment than it is the response to a racist miasma, invisible to European and Asian Americans but perceptible to African and Hispanic Americans, which secretly infects all varieties of Buddhism save Soka Gakkai? As the Buddha told the Kalamas, “If it agrees with observation and reason, then believe it.”
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