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.
(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.