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Independent Reassessment Group

On April 30th, the SGI-USA sent out the following memo for general distribution. It speaks for itself. Following are selected letters and excerpts of letters from the huge amount of mail this memo has generated.

April 30, 2001
Memo No. PLN-030


All Region, Zones and Office Managers

Distribute to:

All SGI-USA Members


SGI-USA Member Services Center


Distribution of Gohonzon and Statement about the IRG

It is hoped that the following memo will help all SGI-USA leaders share a correct understanding about the distribution of Gohonzon and about the Independent Reassessment Group (IRG).

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Margie Hall in the Member Services Center at (310) 260-8933 or via email at
Note: Below is only the last third of this memo which specifically pertains to IRG.
It is hoped that the following will help all SGI-USA leaders share a correct understanding about the Independent Reassessment Group (IRG).

SGI-USA's Statement on the
Independent Reassessment Group (IRG)

Many SGI-USA members have been asking about the activities of the Independent Reassessment Group, which has stated its intention to "help our organization to continue its development." SGI-USA always welcomes dialogue, and always strives to improve the organization, but here are some points to keep in mind regarding the IRG:

-- In recent months, the IRG, which maintains its own web site and message board, has been highly critical of the SGI leadership. It has opposed several core positions and policies that are based on the Daishonin's writings. Here are some examples: IRG members have argued that the mentor-and-disciple relationship is not part of the Daishonin's Buddhism and that the SGI is a cult of personality; that refuting erroneous teachings has no basis in the Daishonin's writings; and that anyone who wants to can distribute or create Gohonzon.

Essentially, the IRG is offering views that go against the SGI and the Daishonin's teachings.

-- The IRG has seven official members but a large number of people have participated in the wide-ranging dialogue sponsored on its message board, including SGI-USA members, Minobu sect members, and so-called "independents" (people who say they are practicing the Daishonin's Buddhism on their own).

-- IRG members have now started promoting an e-mail newsletter called Reflections, which to this point has offered only mild opposition to the SGI's direction. Because Reflections presents itself as "an e-journal for SGI-USA members," many members across the country have been confused as to whether Reflections is an official journal of the SGI-USA.

It is not.

-- The Independent Reassessment Group is not an officially recognized part of the SGI-USA organization. Many of the positions it promotes deviate from or contradict Nichiren Daishonin's teachings and the policies of the SGI-USA. For this reason, promotion of the IRG's activities is unacceptable at SGI-USA activities.

IRG's Official Response to SGI

Dear Ms. Hall:

We are writing as the Independent Reassessment Group (IRG). We know that you have received individual letters containing the personal views of several of us, but we felt it was important to also send our response as a group, now that we have had time to discuss this amongst ourselves. We wish to clearly state our concerns with the issuance and contents of Memo PLN-030, and we respectfully request that you pass this letter on to all involved in its writing and approval.

First, we object to the issuance of an official policy statement regarding the IRG in the same memo as one regarding Gohonzon distribution. Although the IRG message board has at times had discussions about the issues involved in Gohonzon distribution, the IRG has no position on this matter. It is not part of our Mission Statement or any of our position papers. Including comments about the IRG in "the same breath" as those about Gohonzon distribution gives the appearance that we are in some way connected to that issue. As a group, we are not.

Second, we object strongly to the portrayal of the IRG in that portion of Memo PLN-030. At the beginning of that section it says:

"...but here are some points to keep in mind regarding the IRG:"

Following that is a list of items which we do not need to quote in detail here. Included in the list are clear statements, presented as fact, which are false and/or misleading. The following statements are included:

1. "IRG members have argued that the mentor-and-disciple relationship is not part of the Daishonin's Buddhism"

2. [IRG members have argued that] "refuting erroneous teachings has no basis in the Daishonin's writings"

These two statements are simply false. These issues have been discussed, and questions about emphasis and understanding and application of these key Buddhist points have been talked about and debated, but the implication that we believe either principle is not a part of the Daishonin's Buddhism is absurd. One would have to discard the Gosho and the Lotus Sutra in order to uphold such positions. For the SGI-USA to officially state that we have made such arguments is not true, is an insult, and is slanderous, in our opinion. In sending such information for distribution to all SGI-USA members you have damaged our credibility and reputations as practitioners of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin.

3. [IRG members have argued] "that anyone who wants to can distribute or create Gohonzon"

While it is true that some individuals have taken this position, as stated above, the IRG as a group takes no position on this matter. To include it in the memo's list of "points to keep in mind regarding the IRG" is unfair and misleading. It implies that the IRG as a group is involved in or supportive of this position. As a group it is neither.

4. "Many of the positions [IRG] promotes deviate from or contradict Nichiren Daishonin's teachings"

This is false. All of us are practicing the Daishonin's Buddism to the best of our ability. Most of us have been at it as long, or longer than, whomever wrote this memo, with as much dedication and effort. How can this statement be supported, other than as the opinion of a small group of SGI-USA members, who happen to be leaders as well? It is not supportable, as any of our published materials will demonstrate.

It is clear that the author(s) did not refer to the IRG published positions. We are not a private group. Anyone can access our Mission Statement on our web site and see our basic positions, and look at our position papers there for further expansion. If this statement is to be made, most especially in an official SGI-USA memo to the entire membership, at minimum we would expect the author(s) to point to what part of our material leads them to this conclusion. The person or persons who put together the IRG portion of this memo are either neglectful or malicious. Either way, it's a real disgrace.

The other "point to keep in mind" was the fact that we sponsor "wide-ranging" dialogue with other members and even persons who are non-SGI Nichiren Buddhists. This indictment is presented calmly, as though there is nothing wrong with it.

There is everything wrong with it.

We would take that exact same statement and put it on the front page of the World Tribune as a proud and ringing endorsement of any SGI-USA group that does as much.

"District X Sponsors Ongoing Wide-Ranging Dialogue With Other Nichiren Buddhists!"

We take great pride that we do that. We think that statement, presented in that context, goes right to the heart of what is wrong with our organization. The fact that it is used to indicate the way the Gakkai does NOT act, and as a caution against those who do it, is a sad statement indeed.

Finally, as another "point to keep in mind" about the IRG, the memo refers to the e-mail newsletter Reflections, with the implication that it is an IRG publication. It is not. It was initially begun by members who are participants on the IRG discussion board. The editors of Reflections are equal partners in the enterprise. All decisions are made by consensus. There are three IRG members on the editorial committee of nine. No one has preeminence or veto power. The editors, from the beginning, agreed that (a) Reflections is not an IRG organ and never will be and that (b) Reflections will have a much broader scope than the narrowly defined IRG agenda.


No member of the IRG was informed that a memo was forthcoming regarding the IRG. We were not consulted or interviewed. We were not - and obviously nobody knowledgable was - asked to confirm or deny the veracity and accuracy of statements made about us. Obviously our easily accessable published material was not referenced.

We believe that the SGI-USA as an organization has committed a serious and inexcusable breach of faith with the membership in making such false and misleading statements about its own members in an official statement for distribution to "All SGI-USA Members." We believe that this error cannot be allowed to stand uncorrected. Today the six of us. Who is next? Are the members to understand that, if they speak out publicly in any way critical of the SGI-USA, its leadership, or its policies, they may be publicly censured in a memo to the entire membership? We believe that the leadership, in writing and distributing this memo, has disrupted the harmonious unity of the members.

We believe this is very serious, and that the credibility of the leadership of the SGI-USA is at stake. We believe this needs to be retracted by the person(s) who authored this portion of the memo, in similar memo form, to the same distribution list, and that a public, signed apology should accompany the retraction. We believe that this is an urgent matter and needs to addressed in a matter of days, not weeks. Already we are seeing serious repercussions from the distribution of this thoughtless and irresponsible memo.

This is our request.

Respectfully yours,
the Independent Reassessment Group

Laurie Chandler
Andy Hanlen
Dana Hanstein-Hanlen
Chris Holte
John Nicks
Mulcogi Seng

People Respond

~~~I think that it's significant (and sad) that the SGI-USA (and Japan, I assume) feels that we are enough of a threat to warn the leaders and members away from us.~~~

I'm sorry for you all that SGI considers you a *threat,* period. IRG has been only respectful to the "mission" of the organization even while criticizing it. The crime you are being tried, convicted, sentenced and put on death row for is the one of HONESTY. It is now clear for the country and the rest of the world to see.

Nichiren--any Buddhist founder or teacher, in fact--would nod approvingly at your efforts. If the SGI organization wanted to see the real value of "human revolution," all it had to do was open itself for a brief while to the compassion and truth that has found its way here. That it has chosen, instead, to falsify, demean and attack speaks volumes as to its lack of vision, integrity and heart.

You are right. It's sad. May the winds of healing blow across all your faces.

In sympathetic support,
Dear Representatives of the SGI Corporate Entity:

There will never be a really free and enlightened SGI organization until the organization comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him (or her) accordingly.

I paraphrased that line from Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, the treatise that inspired Gandhi and countless others. Thoreau's allegiance was to his conscience: "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right."

I have read the recent SGI memo regarding the Gohonzon and the IRG. I note that it was not signed by an individual or individuals, but is the expression of a religious corporation. I am writing to inform you that I respectfully decline to be bound by any authority that the SGI corporation wishes to exert over me. I have taken refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha -- the community of individuals who seek kosen-rufu -- and this is where I remain with or without corporate blessing or censure.

Any religious organization that asks its members to follow its dictates instead of the dictates of individual conscience, is, in my view, arrogating to itself an authority which it cannot rightly possess.

To borrow again from Thoreau: I imagine an organization that can afford to be just to all people, and to discuss all topics openly -- an organization that does not feel threatened if a few members live aloof from it, or wish to reform it, or disagree with some points of organizational policy, who otherwise fulfill all the duties of Nichiren Buddhist practitioners and fellow human beings. An organization which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious organization, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

Wishing you a pleasant May 3,
Lisa Jones
Dear Ms. Hall:

I am disappointed but not surprized by the recent memos regarding the Prayer Gohonzon and the IRG. I know you did not write them yourself and no criticism of you personally is intended. This seems like yet another instance of triumphalism and paranoia trumping wisdom and compassion.

How long was it after President Ikeda left in 1990 that we started sharing with each other the parable of the Sun and the North Wind? I'm sure you remember it. The one where the Sun and the cold North wind compete to see who can make the traveler remove his coat. The cold wind only encourages the man to hold his coat more tightly while the sun convinces the man to give up his coat by shining warmly on him.

I have heard a story where a leader of the Japanese Communist Party had been invited to an important meeting where President Ikeda would be in attendance. President Ikeda had not yet arrived and the other top leaders were unsure of how to deal with the guest from the JCP. They were all aware that the Japanese Communist Party hated the Gakkai and these top leaders wanted nothing to do with this visitor. It was a very awkward situation until President Ikeda arrived. As I remember the story, he walked right up to the communist, embraced him, shook his hand and for the rest of the meeting, treated him like a long lost brother. The meeting was a success because President Ikeda was not afraid to treat this enemy like a buddha.

The IRG is not the enemy. Those distributing the Prayer Gohonzon are not the enemy. Read what they write for yourself. Think for yourself. We have made great strides in removing authoritarianism from this organization. But the other side of the Authoritarianism coin is fear and group-think and we have more work to do to remove them. True Itai Doshin is a great goal. It cannot be achieved through intimidation and half-truths. It can only be achieved through heart-felt, compassionate dialog, where all voices are heard.

I believe that the Mentor/Disciple relationship IS what makes the Gakkai uniquely successful among Nichiren Buddhist organizations. That does NOT mean I am OK with how it is often presented to members. I believe the way many talk about President Ikeda DOES make us look like a cult. Does that make me evil, or a parasite? I don't think so. It means we must all do a better job of trying to understand what is essential for Kosen Rufu and do a better job of talking to each other about it and how it can happen in America.

I hope you and all of the other senior leaders of the SGI-USA will consider these things. You can try to Crack Down on dissent if you want or you can follow President Ikeda's example. There is a great opportunity for growth here if you will sieze it, and an opportunity for failure as well.

Respectfully yours,
Michael E. Stewart

Dear Margie and Danny,

I have been a member of SGI-USA for 15 years. However, I began chanting without knowing about Buddhism in 1968. I was obviously born to chant. I am a boddhisattva of the earth. I have fought diligently against the Nikken sect by debating the priests and by befriending the misled members.

I am not a member of the IRG and I do not have or plan to have an alternative Gohonzon.

However, I have been convicted (behind my back by a Stalin-like group who never even once, although I begged and begged for dialog, consulted with me or allowed me to tell my side the story) of the "crime" of reaching out to members within the IRG and those who have alternative Gohonzons.

Now that you have issued the official memos regarding the IRG and the alternative Gohonzons, I expect that the shunners and Stalin-like prosecutorial "leaders" will be heartened. More shunning and exclusion of sincere members will follow. THE SOKA GAKKAI SHOULD NEVER NEVER BECOME A GROUP THAT SHUNS MEMBERS WHO DISAGREE WITH THE LEADERS!!!!


Look at the Daishonin's own words in, On Flowers and Seeds, "Always talk among yourselves... then you will reach eagle peak and speak in one mind." (I'm paraphrasing from memory.) In that gosho, significantly and profoundly, he is speaking not even to members, but to priests in his former sect. Note how kind he is. Note how respectful. Should not Gakkai members, especially, always talk among themselves?

Itai-doshin is not created by coercing members into agreeing with the leadership. Itai-doshin, AS THE DAISHONIN HIMSELF NOTES, is achieved through dialog.

By issuing the memos, you are accusing certain members of causing disunity because they took issue with the leadership. How can you be certain that it is not the lack of dialog that is causing disunity? How can you be certain that it is not your own pointing, accusing fingers that are causing disunity? How can you be certain that this precious Soka Gakkai is not being ruined by your own fears? Why not look at your own actions to discover why members have chosen to leave this organization? How can you be sure that it is they who lack faith? In any case, I am not leaving. My faith is solid. I have no fear. I turn to the Gohonzon, the Daishonin and the Gosho to find answers to my troubles. Right now, I am weeping over what has happened. I believe that the Daishonin is weeping, too - and he is angry! If you discard a true hearted member like myself, you are discarding a Buddha. I am not deluded. Buddhism is all-inclusive. It is not a group of shunners and haters who cause rifts by summarily excluding and labeling their peers. Buddhism seeks happiness for all humankind. It is patient as the soft egg develops into the strong beak of an eagle.

Whether you choose to dialog with me or shun me will show me whether or not you have the hearts of Buddhas.

Please respond.
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
Subject: leader's responsibilities to support member's perspectives


As a practitioner on the front lines of the organization it is my responsibility to demand that an apology is published for the misguided fax that was sent out on Monday regarding the IRG to all SGI offices.

SGI-USA staff will continue to isolate themselves from the collective will of the very members they are charged with supporting if this divisiveness is allowed to continue.

You have a responsibility as the General Director of SGI-USA to support the perspectives of your membership. Your opinion and the opinions of the staff of the SGI-USA are of no greater or less value than that of any other members. It is the collective perspectives of the entire membership that is the only valid "official stance" of the SGI-USA.

If the fax was sent as the official opinion of particular members on staff I would have absolutely no problem with it. Since it was sent as the official opinion of the SGI-USA, it is my responsibility to point out that it is completely un-binding since it does not include my perspective and lacks evidence that the entire membership was consulted. As a practitioner who sincerely fights on the front lines I have officially vetoed yesterday's fax. You can now consider that fax invalid in every way. I am waiting for an apology to the members for not including their perspectives in this fax or a new fax on the issue that includes the perspectives of all.

Before I begin repeating myself to much please read the following email I sent to Margie Hall upon reading the fax on the IRG.

It is as follows:

To: Margie Hall

I am not a member of the IRG. Though Andy has clearly admonished you for authoring such a slanderous fax attacking the perspectives of some sincere members who are doing their best to implement Daisaku Ikeda's guidances (and some insincere members, as well I am sure), I feel I would like to add a few words of support in protection of all the members who value their own unique perspectives.

Buddhism is a round teaching. It is the collective perspectives of all practitioners of this Buddhism in this particular country that make up the "official stance." This most certainly includes your perspective as well. I value and respect your personal opinion on the IRG, because it is based on your practice. As a leader you must understand that your role does not include placing any extra value on your own opinion, than that of any other member. Your role is to support the collective efforts of the membership. If you cannot reflect on this and change, it is my responsibility, as an individual member on the front lines of the organization, to ask for your resignation.

I trust the practice, I know it works, and so I trust the members. Once you really trust the practice, you can accept that different members have different needs and opinions, sometimes quite contrary to the needs of other members or ourselves, but all of equal value.

Practicing correctly I mean faith in the spirit of Buddhism to accomplish kosen rufu and nothing more. Yes, the reality is that there are members who do not practice correctly and are attracted to reform groups because they have their own issues and agendas, but who is anyone else to judge another practitioner's perspectives on how to accomplish kosen rufu in their particular environment? The vast majority of people that post messages on the IRG board are sincere members that are in the process of working out their own issues with the SGI to make it a more attractive organization to their environment. In time most of these people will realize that the best way to reform is to just do it. I for one, do not acknowledge position and division in the SGI because it does not work for me and my environment, but I respect those that do participate in the traditional organizational structure and trust them that it works for them. Since I stopped talking and crying about reform and just started living reform, I have had little opposition from anyone in the organization because I have learned to respect the diverse ways people propagate this Buddhism in their own particular environment and no longer try to impose my ways on others. It is only at times as crucial as the current public slander of members that I will speak up.

This is an opportune time to realize that within the staff of the SGI-USA, people exist that only want Daisaku Ikeda's guidances applied within the parameters of their own opinions. Even though this was an official fax from SGI Central to all members, it is still only the perspective of only a handful of practitioners. All other member's opinions on the sincerity or insincerity of the IRG are just as valid if not more so.

You have a direct responsibility to Nichiren Daishonin and Daisaku Ikeda to support all our opinions and efforts, as long as they are based on attaining kosen rufu.

Soka Gakkai members are capable of deciding for themselves how to best reform their local area's organizations and how to best propagate Buddhism in their own environment. The opinion of one practitioner on the front lines is more worthy of respect than any "official" SGI fax now or ever.

It's with great appreciation towards the SGI, my sincerest prayer for the organization's prosperity and the shared dream of creating the conditions for world peace to exist that I plead with the so called "official" SGI to understand their role as servants to the collective perspectives of us, the membership.

Joe Sheridan

P.S. The SGI-USA is gaining a reputation of not returning letters, emails, and phone calls from members. Unless, you feel a need to respond, I would hope you will spend the time you might spend returning a response to this email on encouraging other staff members to not neglect common office practice in the US of getting back to people with at least an acknowledgment, even if a form letter. I can handle it but it saddens me when I here that to many fragile members are not able to get any kind of response out of the staff these days.
I just read the 'official' statement from SGI-USA on their rejection of the Prayer Gohonzon and attack on IRG (!!?????)

I am really saddened to see that the SGI-USA have taken this decision toward the Prayer Gohonzon AND hitting out on a website that is committed to trying to create the grounds for a better organisation for its members. They're obviously worried and see it as a threat; otherwise they wouldn't give it so much attention. (just my thought).

You have my support here.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but after this, I expect that we in the SGI-UK may see a similar statement (about the PG in particular), as the one just issued to the US really smacks of the official stamp. No doubt this was talked about a plenty in Japan and in the US by the head leaders. So my guess is now that those dedicated to reform, and those who wish to chant to a different Gohonzon than the 'officially allowed' one are destined for lonely exile or be referred to as heretical Buddhists 'cause they don't tow the party line.....??? No freedom of choice allowed thn.

If this doesn't do more harm than good to the organisation, I won't be surprised at all; if it drives more people to embrace the PG, that wouldn't surprise me either.


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