Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Jikan » Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:52 am

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a Nichiren-inspired lay organization. Their membership fluctuates. This is in part because many people join only to leave not long after joining. I am not interested in discussing the reasons why someone might want to leave SGI, or in arguing that they should. What I would like to do is answer the question What ought I to do when I want to leave SGI? in a place that is public, readily findable by google search, and rebuttable by anyone willing to abide DharmaWheel's terms of service, since this is a situation in which many convert Buddhists seem to find themselves. While I recognize this is a controversial subject, I hope that raising it in this way will be productive of constructive dialogue and not disharmony within the Mahayana community at large.

So, to the question: What ought I to do when I want to leave SGI?

If you have good reason to leave, then leave. Leave on terms of friendship and goodwill, but do stop attending services and events, and stop practicing Buddhism for a time in the way you learned at SGI. You have choices.

It may be that your experience in SGI has completely soured you on the idea of practicing any form of Buddhism. If this is the case, please hear me say that Buddhism is a very diverse world, and that the form of practice and doctrine taught by Ikeda and others at SGI is not representative of that diversity. Some have argued that what SGI promotes is not really Buddhism at all, which is an argument I will not enter here. The main thing is this: please consider shifting to a different approach to Buddhism, as a way to salvage the best of your SGI experience and to keep some continuity in your spiritual life, and for other reasons that should become clear to you as you practice.

It may be that you are confident in the teachings of the Buddha Dharma and the Lotus Sutra in particular, but have lost trust in SGI as an institution. I have good news for those in this position: there are plenty of other traditions of Buddhism that emphasize the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, recite it and venerate it, in different ways. Tendai is one. Any of the other Nichiren schools and organizations (such as Nichiren-Shu or Rissho Kosei Kai) are also available and welcoming. If you have faith in the Lotus Sutra, by all means keep the faith.

It would be healthy for anyone on the way out of SGI to expose himself or herself to a variety of Buddhist traditions. A discussion board such as DharmaWheel is a terrific resource for helping you find authentic practitioners and teachers in your area, thus saving you time and sour situations. It will also help to study broadly in Buddhist teaching and history, so you understand better how SGI fits into the spectrum of Buddhist practices, and to see more clearly where your own future and interests might lie. (Paul Williams' short book Mahayana Buddhism is a good place to start, one of many.)

The experience of parting from this organization, like any separation, may prove to be traumatic for you. Beware of this. Resources are available for people in this position. You aren't alone.

Once you find your feet and your sangha, the question will arise on how to relate to those you left behind in SGI, your former comrades. This is a question I will not presume to answer. Let the Mahayana be your guide on this.

Namo Buddhaya!

[note: my comments here summarize several emails and discussion-board PMs I have sent over the years from a number of people who should and will remain anonymous. Posting this thread here may save me keystrokes in the future in similar private conversations, but more importantly, it will allow others to chime in, right me where I'm wrong, and contribute as helpful.]
Thanks to the help of generous sponsors (most of them from DharmaWheel), I'm doing a Vajra Armor (Dorje Kotrab) self-retreat this summer. May the merit be yours!
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Rael » Mon Feb 21, 2011 7:54 am

What ought I to do when I want to leave SGI?

Smell the roses
Love Love Love
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby ball-of-string » Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:06 pm

Thank you, Jikan, for your post. I know a lot of people who are in this situation, I want to be a support for them. This information helps.
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby fragrant herbs » Tue Feb 22, 2011 3:21 pm

That was really nice Jikan. I joined SGI many years ago because I could find no other Buddhist group in Memphis, at least none in the phone book at the time, except for SGI. I decided to make myself stay for 6 months to see what chanting was like. I left 9 months later because I wanted to learn meditation. The people were very lovely. I never really learned any Buddhism because I really didn't understand what they were talking about. But when I left I gave my butsudan to a new member, and then I mailed the gonhonzon to the society since I had moved away from the center. I think that that was the best thing for me to do.
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby plwk » Tue Feb 22, 2011 4:00 pm

Jikan, It's funny and ironic that the now defunct E-Sangha had such a hawk's eye over controversial groups yet tolerated a sub forum for SGI within the Nichiren one... :shrug:
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby seaborn » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:26 pm

Currently, I am gently extracting myself from SGI, at the same time, hoping to maintain my friendship with the person who introduced me to this practice. When my gentle withdrawal was noticed, concerning behaviours intensified, so this past month I have not attended any meetings or activities and yes, I do feel somewhat “alone” even though I know this is not true.

Thank you for your message. Finding it has brought me some comfort and support.

Lately I’ve read several general books on Buddhism and have a basic idea of where I need to go. I’m hoping you can help point me in the right direction.

I knew nothing about Buddhism before my experience with SGI so please excuse my ignorance. Learning to meditate, learning about the Four Noble Truths and learning how to put the Eightfold Path to work in my life are what draw my attention. I think it would be beneficial to add practice to what I have learned from my reading and I would like to seek out a practice or person who has experience, knowledge and is willing to answer questions and hopefully give guidance in these areas. I live far enough outside an urban area to make this task difficult so I was wondering how others have overcome these obstacles.

Secondly, I am interested in learning more about Buddhist history to help me better understand what I have experienced. I will seek out Paul William’s book you mentioned and will be grateful for any other recommendations you have to offer here.
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Mr. G » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:33 pm

seaborn wrote:
Secondly, I am interested in learning more about Buddhist history to help me better understand what I have experienced. I will seek out Paul William’s book you mentioned and will be grateful for any other recommendations you have to offer here.


Jikan made a good recommendation. I would say before reading that, read Paul's other one which is a better starter book:

An Introduction to Buddhist Thought

Then this one:

Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations

I'm also partial to "Vision of Buddhism: The Space Under the Tree" by Roger Corless, which I've enjoyed.
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
    - Vasubandhu
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Adamantine » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:40 pm

seaborn wrote:I knew nothing about Buddhism before my experience with SGI so please excuse my ignorance. Learning to meditate, learning about the Four Noble Truths and learning how to put the Eightfold Path to work in my life are what draw my attention. I think it would be beneficial to add practice to what I have learned from my reading and I would like to seek out a practice or person who has experience, knowledge and is willing to answer questions and hopefully give guidance in these areas. I live far enough outside an urban area to make this task difficult so I was wondering how others have overcome these obstacles.

Secondly, I am interested in learning more about Buddhist history to help me better understand what I have experienced. I will seek out Paul William’s book you mentioned and will be grateful for any other recommendations you have to offer here.


Seaborn, it is true that it is best to work directly with a teacher of a lineage, and to have sangha as support. However, this is not something you need on a daily or weekly or even monthly basis. For now you can study using books and even recorded teachings of various masters. Then, when you have time to travel for a weekend retreat or teaching a distance from your rural home---> don't hesitate. But you should research the Dharma a bit more, the different lineages, and feel out what direction seems most suitable for you.

For an interesting read I suggest Dzongsar Khyentse's "What Makes You (not) a Buddhist" -- it focuses on the seals, the essential criteria of any Buddhist doctrine. He also has a great recorded teaching online of Uttaratantra shastra concerning the elusive meaning of "Buddha Nature" here: http://www.khyentserecordings.org/namo/Uttaratantra_Shastra_%28Vancouver,_2007_%26_2008%29.html I find him as a scholar a very clarifying light for the western mind.

Take good care, and this forum should be a good resource.
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Dec 22, 2011 10:51 am

Jikan wrote:It would be healthy for anyone on the way out of SGI to expose himself or herself to a variety of Buddhist traditions.


Yes, that's good advice. It's a big world out there.

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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby seaborn » Fri Dec 23, 2011 2:55 am

Thank you, I spent parts of today with this material and found it very helpful. I’m looking forward to reading and learning more. To be honest, it feels like a strong craving to understand, are there good types of craving? :-)

It feels good to take a step back and start looking around at different traditions. I can see why it would be best to take some time with this.
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby leeduffield » Tue Jan 01, 2013 10:06 pm

Hello everybody.

I am one of those people who is leaving SGI-UK after just a few months.I have encountered many difficulties.The relentles optimism,fussing over correct sutra recitation,not enough time for chanting,negativity towards other Buddhist schools-all too much for me.

Today I told a district leader I am disillusioned.She said that I need to commit myself for 3 years and then decide!Oh and Pureland (which interests me greatly) is " the road to hell."
So that's that.I will always be grateful to SGI for giving me an entry to Buddhism but I am going to immerse myself in the Dharma without sectarianism.There are Kadampa, Triratna, Pureland and Zen groups nearby so a fair amount of choice.

Gassho

Lee
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Yudron » Tue Jan 01, 2013 10:23 pm

Lee--just so you know--groups that are part of the New Kadampa organization are also widely viewed as very sectarian as well. Since they often appoint people to lead groups and teach after a very short time in the group, the local group members may be quite nice or open-minded, but it is only because they have not been fully indoctrinated yet.


leeduffield wrote:Hello everybody.

I am one of those people who is leaving SGI-UK after just a few months.I have encountered many difficulties.The relentles optimism,fussing over correct sutra recitation,not enough time for chanting,negativity towards other Buddhist schools-all too much for me.

Today I told a district leader I am disillusioned.She said that I need to commit myself for 3 years and then decide!Oh and Pureland (which interests me greatly) is " the road to hell."
So that's that.I will always be grateful to SGI for giving me an entry to Buddhism but I am going to immerse myself in the Dharma without sectarianism.There are Kadampa, Triratna, Pureland and Zen groups nearby so a fair amount of choice.

Gassho

Lee
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby leeduffield » Wed Jan 02, 2013 1:58 am

Thanks Yudron I will bear that in mind.I have no wish to get involved in any Tibetan religious civil war.I enjoy their meditation classes and Dharma talks.I have no intention of joining them ,my point was that there is lots of Buddhism outside of SGI even here in Nottingham and even NKT is preferable to the deluded materialism masquerading as Ikeda' s Buddhism.
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Re: Life after SGI: Considerations on Leaving Soka Gakkai Int'l

Postby Sara H » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:16 am

Buddhism From within by Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy

Is also a very good book at explaining just what Buddhism is from an insider's perspective.

It's written in plain-speaking, honest language, free of the flowery ornamentation-like speak, and complicated diagrams that accompany many books.

It just tells directly what it is, and why we do Buddhist practice.

I believe it was rated as one of the best introduction Buddhist books somewhere that I read, and it also had an excerpt of it featured as an article in Tricycle magazine.

Best of luck to all of you on your Buddhist and otherwise life path.

In Gassho

Sara H
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IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
OR
We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

" ...out of fear, even the good harm one another. " -Rev. Dazui MacPhillamy
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