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Independent Reassessment Group
Response from CEC

The following was received on April 24, 1999. It is presented here in its entirety. (Any typographical errors are the responsibility of IRG.)

To: Independent Reassessment Group
From: SGI USA Central Executive Conference
Re: Reply to IRG Position Paper on Democratization of SGI-USA
Date April 21, 1999

Thank you for submitting your position paper and outlining your ideas so clearly. For the sake of
this reply, we would like to follow the basic structure of your paper. It contains points about the following four subjects:

1) Organizational Structure
2) Members' Opinions.
3) Public Discussion
4) Divisional System

1) Organizational Structure -

The organizational structure and system of appointing leaders outlined in the current edition of the SGI-USA Leadership Manual is the product of a two-year process in which comments and proposals were solicited and received from throughout the organization. The revision began when a critical mass of recommendations showed recurrent themes that could be considered for modification of the first manual published in 1992.

Progress reports and invitations for input from the membership were published in the World Tibune. Numerous letters and proposals (many similar in content to your own) were received and included in the process. Also, the 150 national and regional leaders involved in the process were individually gathering input through their personal interaction with members. An effort was made to make the process as open and inclusive as possible.

The preface of this current edition of the Leadership Manual (p. ii) cortifirms a commitment to that
continued openness: "This manual is not the last word on the SGI-USA's leadership policies. Rather, it is the latest word. As we evolve, surely SGI-USA's procedures will, too. We look forward, in the coming months and years, to hearing your ideas on how we can make our system one that best fulfills the needs of our members. Please feel free to send by fax or mail your comments or suggestions on this manual and the policies outlined herein..." Your proposal, we believe, was submitted based on that premise and we appreciate it.

There are several definitions and many possible models of democracy. Representative majority rule is only one possibility. Webster's dictionary suggests that any organizational structure that has as its premise a commitment to the "principle of equality of rights, opportunity and treatment" is a democracy. We are striving to develop an organizational model works (sic) for all the people, not just the majority, based on a foundation of faith. We are evolving toward that model fueled by an ongoing discussion within which your paper is a contribution.

Our discussions have not favored elections as an option because we see them as politicizing a
faith-based organization. The current system is based on the spirit of volunteerism; self motivated
participation in and fulfillment of leadership responsibilities. Members are free to voice their dissatisfaction with an individual leader and use the orginizational processes outlined in the manual to appeal for correction of a leader's behavior or, in the extreme case, dismissal from leadership. Everyone has access to the process.

An independent, academic survey of SGI-USA has just been completed by Dr. Phillip Hammond
of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He finds that the vast majority of members expressed high levels if satisfaction with the organization and its leadership. While we do not consider this an absolute endorsement of today's organization, we are heartened that the results of this survey indicate that there currently exists no urgent, overwhelming, or widespread desire for radical change.

We are always interested in increasing the members' involvement in organizational and leadership
processes. We welcome suggestions and ideas for making improvements in our ongoing efforts at self-renewal.

Since the new structure and leadership policies are less than a year old, to give them a chance to be fairly evaluated, we don't anticipate revisiting these issues for the next few years. But that will, of course, depend upon whether they are working well or not. As with this most recent revision effort, if and when a critical mass of proposals and ideas indicate the need to revisit these issues we will most certainly do so.

The longstanding policy concerning the "Rules of the Religious Organization," comprising the
"guidelines and by-laws" by which the organization operates, is that a copy be available for review upon request at major SGI-USA Activity Centers and the Corporate Office located at 606 Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA. We have initiated steps to insure, once again, that copies of the current rules are available and that this policy is understood by the staff and volunteers. You may review a copy of the rules at the Los Angeles Friendship Center.

2) Member's Opinions -

Your paper begins by stating "In order for our national leadership to move forward, it must be aware of the wishes and needs of the membership." We agree. This is absoletely true and fundamental to the responsibility of leadership everywhere - especially in the SGI. We believe it is through direct interaction between leader and member that this is most effectively accomplished. This attitude is described in the qualities for leadership outlined in the Leadership Manual and, with varying degrees of success, each leader is on a path of improvement in this area. The organizational climate is certainly encouraging such progress.

Another means for understanding the members' views is through surveys. SGI-USA has used such methods before and will continue to do so in the future. The recent Hammond survey and another by Dr. David Chappell of the University of Hawaii indicates our willingness to have this done objectively by independent scholars. The results are always taken seriously and will be published to the extent possible. As you have acknowledged elsewhere, the survey published in the March 26 issue of the World Tribune is another example of our desire to learn from the membership-at-large.

Since "seeking to include all followers of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism in America" in such polls would include even those who oppose even the existence of the SGI, this aspect of your proposal is unrealistic and, we believe, not typical of any organization's policies. The SGI's goal is to be as open and inclusive as possible without compromising our core beliefs. Reaching out to inactive and disaffected members is important and we are striving to do that.

3) Public Discussion -

Certainly discussion in the organization does include all manner of perspectives because of the wide diversity of the membership. Your paper concentrates largely on the content and use of the publications with regard to this subject. In this context, we don't believe the World Tribune exists to be a forum for open debate that is responsible for presenting both sides of all issues. Its primary role as a religious newspaper is to convey a correct understanding of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism while inspiring the reader's faith and practice.

The value of discussion and dialogue is fully acknowledged and attempts to support it are ongoing. Actually your paper states it quite clearly:

"We realize that certain forms of dissent can be destructive, but we believe that SGI-USA publications can craft a 'middle ground' forum which allows discussion and disagreement without creating a negative atmosphere harmful to our organization."

We are working to "craft a middle ground." Toward this end, the "Mailbox," "Fine Print," "Perspectives," and "Editorial" columns are carried regularly in the World Tribune. We will be looking very carefully at the results of the current Readers Survey in accomplishing that objective.

4) Divisional System -

Your paper labels the current divisional system as Japanese. Yet when second President Toda introduced this system in the Soka Gakkai, it was in direct opposition to the social trends of Japan. It is a Gakkai invention, not a Japanese cultural artifact. Mr. Toda's spirit in forming the youth division, for example, was to give youth the opportunity to sit at the same table with their seniors to inject their fresh spirit and vitality into the organization. He also wanted the youth to have the opportunity to develop their capability by having responsibility in leadership positions. This was also true of the women's division -- another radical departure from Japanese norms.

These reasons are as valid today in America as they were when the divisional system was formed by President Toda. The divisional system has played an important role in allowing young men and young women to encourage one another about issues that are unique to their circumstances. Discussions among youth can be quite different depending on whether the meeting is attended by only young men or young women or is coed. There is an important need to have both types of meetings.

Having people with different perspectives share equal status in leading the organization, as is true within our four-divisional system, promotes an atmosphere of lively dialogue and discussion. This diverse leadership reduces the likelihood that one-sided views or policies can easily be adopted or implemented.

During the process of revising the organizational structure and leadership policies, the future of the
divisional system was seriously considered. It was the overwhelming consensus that the divisional system needs to be ever-improving and evolving, but that eliminating it would be a mistake. Those who remember our experience during the late 70's know that the divisional system was dissolved for a period of about five years (in the name of the Americanization of the organization) but had to be recreated. Why? Because, like so many other religious organizations, young people disappeared from our movement.

While committed to the divisional system, we acknowledge the need to overcome any shortcomings such a system may produce. The youth division have made steady strides to increase the frequency of coed youth activities at every level of the organization. They have also been stressing the importance for youth to belong to a district and be engaged together with the entire membership in the front lines of the organization. In the end, our activities are aimed at supporting and raising youth that are victorious in daily life based on their practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.


Thank you again for the submission of your paper. We have done our best to respond to your proposals, acknowledging that we have not addressed every point. The introduction and further propagation of Buddhism in America is a wide-ranging and long-term project. SGI-USA has been praised by a number of scholars, among the many different Buddhist movements on the American landscape, for striking a healthy balance between remaining true to core issues while incorporating American values.

We are determined to continue to build open this success. It is an exciting yet arduous task that can't be taken lightly or accomplished quickly. We appreciate your participation in the process and ask for your continued efforts and support in this regard.

The 43rd CEC Membership

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