Why Did I Really Go to Soka University of America (I'm reposting this old writing for my brother [uncle] in the mystic law, Herb Barker)

This is a very short blog I wrote a while back in response to an SGI member's questions to me about my alma matre. I published it in (hidden in the depths of) one of my recently published books, which I'll leave up to anyone who cares to discover the title. This was just one of my many "thinking out loud" exercises, which I learned from reading Gandhi's speeches, the ones for which he was booed off stage and almost killed by the hordes of people who were so shocked by his words (I hope somethings have changed since Gandhi's time, but please excuse my exercise in "thinking out loud." Gandhi said it's a great form of Ahimsa; try it sometime for yourself).

Why Did I Really Go to Soka University of America?

There are many reasons why I, at age 30 wanted to go to SUA, many of which I have covered in other writings. My dreams have always been to be a singer/songwriter and musician, and also to be a writer of many books. However, I have never cared for fame and fortune. My writing and singing has always been my weapons against greed, hostility and ignorance and my attempt to be true to my vow as a Bodhisattva. All I have ever tried to do is to wake people up, the way Shakyamuni Buddha did in India.

My wife has told me many times, “I don’t want to be married to a famous person.” Therefore, I have repeatedly told her, “I care nothing about fame.” She says, “but you say you want to be a successful musician and a successful writer. If it’s not for fame, what do you mean by successful?” I told her “if my novel, other books or my CDs could in some way stop these barbarous wars on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, then I would feel I was successful.”

I have also tried with my music to do as my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda asks, to “transcend vanity as well as musical techniques and ability” and to “inspire [people] to attain their human revolution (1).”

At the time that SUA was being built in Orange County, California, I was an SGI-USA area, young men’s division (YMD) leader and also an SGI-USA vice regional YMD leader, both in Orange County, California, where SUA was built. On top of my many youth division leadership responsibilities and working fulltime in banking sales, I was playing in a band every weekend, I was attending night school and I was writing a novel. I was also in about 6 different progressive organizations in Los Angles and Orange County.

In 1999, the SGI-USA kicked off its “Victory Over Violence (VOV)” campaign in the US and I threw my life into it. I was happy that the VOV manual made by youths in Los Angeles included a list of just how many countries the US has bombed (over 50) in its history and how not one of those countries became a democracy afterward-this, despite US politicians (of both wings in Washington) having said that these bombing campaigns were supposedly to help the spread of democracy in other countries. I was also happy that the VOV promotional video included the campaign to end child labor and the examples of people who stood up for social justice.

In 1999, I performed in the SGI-USA Grand Youth Culture Festival in Los Angeles, which was a grand enactment of many social justice movements in history, and I was so happy at our practices that we studied the histories of people like José Marti, Nelson Mandela, Linus Pauling, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and others, who were all very active in social justice, peace and human rights struggles.

At that time, 1999, the US government, under Clinton, was bombing schools, hospitals, television stations, bridges, power plants, foreign embassies, electrical power grids, food storage plants, fleeing refugees and the entire civilian infrastructure of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In addition to this, the US was waging a genocidal sanctions program on the people of Iraq, which had killed upwards of 500,000 children over a seven-year period. To top it off (though unreported in the US corporate media) the US was continuing a 10-year long weekly bombing campaign on so-called “military targets” in Iraq, which was devastating the social infrastructure of that country.

Therefore, after VOV meetings, I would take some of my youth members to protest rallies against these immoral, unjust and illegal actions of the US government, and I would give out fliers to the many people at these protest marches and rallies, explaining the SGI-USA’s VOV activities and a play about Linus Pauling’s life that was being put on by SGI-USA youth members in California. At times, I would give talks at some of these anti-war rallies, and I would say I was from the SGI-USA (usually not saying I was a youth leader) and I would tell the attendees that SGI-USA was now having a “Victory Over Violence” campaign, which I would encourage them to come be a part of.

At this time in the SGI-USA, we were talking a lot about “The Power of One,” so at district meetings throughout Orange County, I would play a video created by the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), about the history of the growing protest movement against the US Army School of the Americas, led by one courageous man, Father Roy. I had met him at a few lectures he had given in Southern California. I felt at the time, that he was the greatest example of someone in the US exhibiting the “Power of One,” as he was single-handedly leading a movement to close down one of the greatest terrorist camps in the US.

At one of his talks in Orange County, I asked him if the SGI-USA youth chorus in Orange County could sing an anti-war song I had written at his next lecture. I also invited Blase Bonpane, from the Office of the Americas (a human rights organization based in Los Angeles and a commentator on Pacifica Radio) to give a talk at the Santa Ana Community Center.

The more I got involved in the Victory Over Violence movement, the more the conservative leadership in SGI-USA, Orange County and the SGI-USA national leadership, began getting concerned. Their fear, so they told me at the time, as they grilled me for over an hour in a back room of the Santa Ana Community Center, was not that what I was doing was wrong, or that what I was saying was incorrect, but that SGI-USA was too small and it could not withstand the attacks that would come down upon it, if we became “politically active.” They said I could not say in public that I was from the SGI at political rallies, because my views were not necessarily the views of SGI-USA.

Therefore, I decided to lay low for a little while, and I started writing long letters, which I would fax from the regional SGI-USA office fax machine directly to the SGI headquarter in Shinanomachi, Tokyo to SGI president and founder of Soka University, Daisaku Ikeda.

In them, I asked President Ikeda, “are we supposed to study the great revolutionary activities of people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and admire them in words, but not be involved in the struggles they were involved in?” I asked him, if the conservative leadership of Soka Gakkai in Japan were as equally concerned, when he stood up to the injustices to union workers in Hokkaido or when he got involved in political campaigns in Osaka in the 50s, which led to his false imprisonment. I asked him if he was ever worried that the Soka Gakkai was too weak at the time to stand up to the criticism his activism as a youth leader would bring upon the Soka Gakkai. I further asked him, “In your great poem entitled ‘To My Young American Friends’ you wrote, ‘Faith is: To fear nothing. To stand unswayed-the power to surmount any obstacles!’ What did you really mean by this?”

I never expected a personal letter back from Daisaku Ikeda, and I knew I would find the answers to my inquiries in his future writings. However, to my surprise, every time after I wrote a letter to Daisaku Ikeda, the SGI-USA’s World Tribune would have a new writing by Daisaku Ikeda that addressed all of my concerns. It seemed the more I wrote letters to him, the more intense and clear his writings became.

In his many writings at this time, Daisaku Ikeda wrote about how Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi received the same criticism about their activities for social justice. He also wrote that other leaders in King’s congregation told King he was a “religious leaders, not a political leaders” and that he should leave his sermons to talking about the gospel, not the struggle for equal rights and against the war in Vietnam. From Daisaku Ikeda’s writings, it was very clear to me that one cannot separate the struggle for kosen rufu with the social struggles for human rights, environmental protection, human equality, human liberation, social justice and peace. Any feeble attempt to do so is shear hypocrisy. These are not “political issues,” but human and religions issues.

Looking back now, even if one were to insist that these were political issues, as Daisaku Ikeda wrote (paraphrasing Gandhi) in volume 20 of the New Human Revolution, “politics, too, should follow the path of truth taught by religion and that religion that abhors politics is not deserving of the name (2).”

This is when I decided that I was not going to leave the construction of Soka University of America in the hands of people who wanted to turn President Ikeda’s revolutionary vision into feel-good, wordy, meaningless concepts. I was not going to let the great ideals of Soka education be co-opted, like I felt the VOV movement was, by feel-good, meaningless adoration for past revolutionaries, while ignoring the many revolutionaries that are alive today and discouraging more revolutionaries from being born.

I didn’t care if I had to put off the publishing of my novel for a few years or if my dreams in music would have to suffer, I was not going to let the fear of whether the SGI-USA could handle the “onslaught of outside criticism” stop Soka University of America from living up to its ideals. As Daisaku Ikeda wrote, “We cannot truly fight for peace unless we are prepared to risk our lives (3).”

I quit my band. I promoted a capable YMD chapter leader to my area leadership position. I resigned my vice-regional leadership position. I resigned my 6-year banking job, and at age 30 I moved into a dorm room with an 18-year-old roommate, to see what I could do to make Soka University of America a real school of social justice and human rights, as Daisaku Ikeda first suggested it be called. Yeah, they could try to silence me as an SGI-USA area and vice-regional leader, but to hell if I was going to let them silence me as A STUDENT!!!!!!!

Many people have asked me what I think of Soka University of America now. Does it really live up to its ideals? Does the giant screen TV, which at one time pumped corporate (CNN, Faux News) propaganda into the cafeteria, have anything to do with Soka’s ideals? (No that’s why students, including myself petitioned to stop it from being on during meals). Does having “Killer” Coke or PepsiCo sponsored student fun excursions to amusement parks, so we are forced to house their toxic drinks on campus do anything to raise future world leaders? (No, I tried fighting that one; I hope students have finally gotten rid of those poisons). Does having a war-profiting corporation, providing banking services to the students fit with the ideals of SUA? (No, and many students have addressed this issue, and perhaps they have changed who provides banking to the students by now?)

I can say now that I am very proud of the years I was at SUA, that many students, faculty and staff did many things to make the school live up more to its ideals. However, SUA still has a long way to go. We did manage to get the school to stop using Styrofoam containers as take-out containers in the cafeteria. SUA did add a forth motto to its original three mottos, “the creative coexistence of nature and humanity,” which I think is essential, as we can’t have human peace without respecting and being peaceful to the environment. I was happy that a student sit-in, which I took part in, along with other members of the first 2 classes, finally got rid of a very right-wing, war mongering, authoritarian dean of faculty, who was responsible for the unjustified firing of many staff and faculty, and who was also responsible for a lot of division between SGI faculty and non-SGI faculty.

I’m proud that the march I organized and led from Soka University’s Founder’s Hall to the Laguna Niguel Federal Building, (the largest anti-war march in Orange County’s history as of 2003 and at the time the largest media covered event of any event in SUA’s history) finally gave the youth leaders of SGI-USA the courage (for the first time in the World Tribune’s history [to my knowledge anyway]) to write a full-page condemnation of Bush’s planned war on the people of Iraq on the front page of the World Tribune. In that issue of the World Tribune was a 2-page centerfold spread of the pictures I sent in of the SUA march and an article I wrote about the protest. (This subsequently was the first article that I wrote, which the World Tribune finally published, despite having written a few very well researched op-ed pieces on Toda’s call to ban all nuclear weapons, which I sent a few times to the World Tribune [in the 90s], yet never had any of them published and never received a response from them).

There are so many things that SUA still has to change (like the continued use of throw away wooden chop sticks, which are destroying many forests in China and else where, to name just one of many [maybe they now have washable chop sticks?]), in order that the school may live up to its ideals. In addition, yes, many of the luxuries that the students enjoy do more to hinder their growth as world citizens. (Having the campus in portable trailers in downtown, South Central Los Angeles and having the students sleep on the streets with homeless people would perhaps make them into better fighters for peace and social justice, than having them housed in resort-like facilities, where their every desire is fully satisfied, but we know that won’t happen anytime soon).

I have faith, however, that SUA is on the right track, and there are many great students, faculty and staff who will help it become a more ideal school in the future-everything great takes a struggle. I have no regret now that I took off 4 years to finally get my novel published, and that I waited until now to start spreading my music throughout the world, which has been my dream since I was about 10 years old.

I pray that many more such people go to SUA to fight to make the school eventually live up to its ideals. I have heard that it was students protesting at Soka University in Japan that finally got the founder, Daisaku Ikeda to be invited to the 3rd entrance ceremony of Soka University of Japan, after administration officials didn’t invite him to the first 2 year’s entrance ceremonies. I’m sure that is not the same reason why Daisaku Ikeda has not yet attended any of the entrance or graduation ceremonies of SUA thus far. It most likely has to do more with the many things that still need to be reformed in SGI, Japan, as I am now learning more and more about while living in Japan.

My hope is that if I have to stay in Japan, it is only because I have to help reform Soka Gakkai in Japan, before Daisaku Ikeda can finally go to the US permanently. I hope I can in my small way be a part of that process.

End Note

(1) Both quotes are from President Ikeda’s “Precepts for Brass Band.”

(2) SGI Newsletter, No. 290, July 2007, p. 72.

(3) SGI Newsletter, No. 289, June 2007, p. 67.

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Comment by George P. Meade on February 24, 2010 at 11:57am
Wow! I just stumbled on your site. I am so encouraged in your struggle and inspired. Thank you for standing up for your heart and the spirit of SGI. I have read so many books of President Ikedas and the teachings of SGI and came up with the same conclusion. I'm older now but my heart is how can we remove the sufferings of others.
The books Choose Hope, and Planetary Citizenship. I have felt the same way as why does everyone want to make everything washed over and not speak out. I've practiced for 35 years without missing gongyo and sponsered many new members to SGI.(20 in the last 5 years by my wife and me) I chanted and found the wife that would understand me. I've completly overcome hepC and the doctors don't know why.I've played music in front of thousands of people and traveled around the United Stated. I chanted for that goal to.I was a member of Brass Band until I was to old. I've played for President Ikeda in the shrine Auditorum In LA. (I chanted 5 years to do this with my whole drum set and did) The reason I'm telling you this is because don't give up on your dreams and understanding. I've been told to not talk about the things President Ikeda says but even in the last gosho others were saying to Nichiren why dos'nt he be less blunt to doing shakabuku. Thank you don't worry.In the past 6 years after 4 times four different women ( I did'nt stop trying they did) I found one that supports my practice and we do shakabuku everywhere and follow up and chant not to lose one. We have to be able to be real and not just whitewash everything so with courage we can really make a great change with the spirit of the Mystic Law. I'm a chapter leader now but I'm also working with Earth Charter and many green activites. Plus many projects for green. Solar Panels ect.Also I play Jazz in a band here. We have to make President Ikedas dream live on to the fullest.
This was long but I want to keep in touch to see how your doing. I will also chant for you to completly win. You really give me so much hope.
Thank you George
Comment by Nathan Ray - 主与 王 on December 9, 2009 at 6:45am
Hi. I really empathize with your expereince of being in a struggle that is, essentially, within the organization to actualize true Buddhist values against the counterforce of conservativism, practices that conflict with our values, and the parroting of phrases into meaningless syllables that robs the dissemination of our life philosophy of it's vitality.

First of all, I was looking for the correct interpretation of Buddhism when I joined the SGI. I knew nothing about it before the day I joined and walked in the door of the activity center after sleeping overnight outside a bus station because I was very poor at the time. I was determined to follow my heart and my mission in life, and after I had studied Buddhism I knew in my heart that only Buddhism could preserve Democracy in the United States. Though she's not on the Gohonzon, I consider Lady Liberty to be my personal shoten zenjin, the "guardian angel" of my mission if I can muster the strength to stand tall in this lifetime.

I live in West Texas and am dedicated to spreading kosen rufu in the area, but I effectively have no one to rely on. From the very beginning of my practice about three years ago I was given confusing, conflicting, and illogical guidance and was even discouraged from studying or trying to read the Gosho until my sponsors got tired of me drilling them with questions. I almost had to cross examine my sponsors to get straight answers about this faith, but I won't go into that here. I will say that most of the guidance I've gotten over the past three years has been wrong and seemed insincere, pushed and... I work in Tech Support, and the answers I get to basic "what is the basis of the morality in this faith," and "how does chanting a phrase make us enlightened" questions are the same kind of answers that we give to customer's who ask things we don't know but, as a company, should. Polite, well phrased, vague non sequiturs.

In fact, I got my leadership position is because one day some leaders came to visit me and I was addressing the fact that, bluntly, most of the members I've met in the region don't seem to have enough knowledge or clear understanding about Buddhism to even be able to justify to others why they still practice if they still do. One of the leaders began accusing me of being "too intellectual" because I recognized (but did not actually say) that study is an essential part of faith and that without it one is nothing more than a gullible follower of one's superiors. The one leader just kept interrupting and refused to politely wait and state their point after I made mine, and finally leaned over the table and told me "You mean you don't believe in your own Buddhahood?" All this simply because I made a mild case about how I felt like I needed more study, and that the advice of others to the contrary just didn't make sense and didn't seem consistent with what Sensei teaches. I couldn't take the belligerence anymore and walked (I didn't have a car at the time) right out of the restaurant, through traffic, and marched home. I had a burning determination to win in the struggle of kosen rufu even if I had to carve my own woodblocks to make Gohonzons. One of the other leaders recognized my passion for the teachings of the Thus Come One and elected me to a leadership position, but it still amazes me that so much drama surrounded getting straighforward answers to my handful of basic questions.

I am a person of humble background and humble means. I have worked with migrant workers in a slaughterhouse, walked miles to get to work everyday regardless of my health or the weather, been hospitalized for issues caused by poor diet and learned to survive on $10 a week when necessary over the past 7 years but I've always payed my child support. I have no family that I can rely on and nothing that I have not worked for, though since I started practicing the Gohonzon has given me everything that I have asked for. I have had my small share of struggles and am still transforming them. Yet, what amazes me is the fact that I have had to fight so hard - not against my karma - but for the "basic utilities" of guidance and to understand the organization, the gosho, and the mentor-disciple relationship in their correct context. If I do shaka-buku people are pushed away by the eccentricity, closed personal boundaries, and lack of meaningful guidance from the older members. We still have leaders who won't give up their crane altar sets...

I want to do shaka-buku but keeping members would mean a clean break in the tactics of the local organization. It would necessary disregard for the beaureucratic approach of taking numbers and getting Gohonzon applications versus inspiring people and making sure they understand the depth of this life philosophy. It would also mean using the practice of inspiring our members and guests with honest, sincere, and compassionate dialogue and guidance as our primary method of gaining converts instead of pressuring them into signing Gohonzon applications. But that would probably... I hate to admite it... it could ONLY happen by keeping leaders with who knows what motivations from intervening and disrupting things by being pushy or starting drama.

You seem like a kindred spirit in respect to having dealt with problems that diminish the spirit of Buddhism. What should I do?
Comment by Tim Janakos on November 26, 2009 at 12:52am
When you're on a role, Uncle Barker, new paragraphs are a complete waste of time and paper (hard drive space, I guess, in this context). You shouldn't be a comedian, I was thinking more of a Beat Poet. You have it down, with and the long winded phrases and punches, just a rollin off your fingers (and lips if it was live). OK, I'll take my uncle's advise and try to get that book. Sorry I you would have lost that bet because I haven't read it. I sure miss the Orange County Library System. I always had about 20 books all over my car and many I forgot about and got late notices. So if I were still in Orange County, I'm sure that book would have been one of the many I would have in my stack. One good thing about Japanese libraries is they don't change late fees, I turn in all my books about a month late and they don't care. One bad thing is they don't have that many English books and amazon.com and other book sites charge a lot to send books to Japan (and the books stores in Japan, where I live anyway, don't have many English books either. I always look forward to all your responses and I'm sure you will enjoy that last Alien Blogggg I just put up.
Comment by Herb R Barker on November 26, 2009 at 12:05am
Hi Timmy___Want to read this (what are they called "blogs") again before responding. Had a long week on the OC highways. Will respond soon. Thanx for the honor of being your uncle. You should always listen to your uncle Blah, Blah, Blah. Now aren't you sorry you paid me that tribute.(lol) God (whoops) I mean Man I love being a comedian(lol). Should I ever go professional (fat chance, I'm too busy doing serious stuff like introducing people to this wonderfull organization) I would perhaps use Seinfeld as a study. As far as thinking green and acting green. Yes we Americans (inluding myself and my dear fellow sgi members) I think are way behind the times, when perhaps compared to the Siss or the Danes. When doing Toban at the SACC I absolutely check the plastic bags, and if they don't smell I merely dump the trash and re-insert. We definitely should practice what we preach, which I believe is the point you are desiring to make here. I don't know about portable trailers in downtown South central and sleeping with the homeless is a good Idea. I ain't doin it. Helping out at shelters, feeding poor women and children, and men too, would be of a good experience. I'm suspect many, perhaps most and even all Soka students get involved in similar and more eye-opening causes. Can I recommend that you live in a village in Africa somewhere for a while.( graduated soka students are doing just that, of course you already know that). I'm positive you have thought of it. I suspect it is still a calling for you ,yes? Entertaining perhaps a tribal community somewhere in Africa would be really cool, or on a grand scale, if you had the backing, would I suspect be a dream come true for you as you express. Hey did I tell you I once had a tax audit at the Laguna Niguel federal bldg. Are you not proud of me? (lol) The lady was very impressed with my highly organized files, and her last words to me were, "You seem like an honest man I think I'll wrap this up". I thank you for engaging us in a little bit of political and social recourse. I will have to prepare myself better in the future for an engaging response to your, what are they called again "blogs"? Sounds like an alien crearure from the old Star Trek series (lol). Leutenant Zulu, could you please check on our blog friends sitting in the cafeteria. They may be up to something (lol). How do you start a new paragraph with these computers anyway? I'm rambling so pardon my out of order thought processes. When I mention the Soka University on ocassion with my short dialogues with people, really light up a little these days, truly. A big curiousity, and proudly proclaiming their familiarity, I can readily see on their faces. People say things like. "Oh yeah, my daughters prom night was held there" Little things like that. Many people still are uncertain as to what kind of university it is. Often people say isn't that, that Japanese university, but not so much anymore. The Soka university will be, already is, the great lighthouse. The light of the Soka University in my little ol neighborhood will shine brighter every month and year I'm sure. I pass by probably twice a week and I'll be a seein. What is the content of your novel by the way? May I highly, highly, highly (boy any minute I'll be typing Haillee Selassie(lol) highly recommend the book "Three cups of tea" by Ted Mortenson. Like I said I Haille recomment it. I will read it over again many times again I'm sure, as I was so mentally influenced by the personality of Greg Mortenson and the way he goes about interacting, even with some members of the Taliban, and the way he sets out on his quests to satisfy the needs of the children, specifically young girls,in the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, for education. He is truly a Hero, if there ever was one. I highly haille, recommend this reading. Ahh you've probably already read it. I'd bet 25 bucks. Neil Leiman (my current chapter chief) I find out has contributed to his foundation many times already. Wow I'm impressed Neil. Until next time. And don't forget to sometimes listen to your uncles advice (lol) Herb

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