Dec 162013
 

Lately I have written too many tribute posts for individuals who have passed away. Some readers may be finding it monotonous, but here is one more . . . one that I just had to write.

I learned last week that George M. Williams, former General Director of the Soka Gakkai International-USA, died on November 12. He was 83.

I’ve been critical of certain aspects about the Soka Gakkai, yet I have always mentioned there are, or were at one time, many positive sides. Mr. Williams for me epitomized the best values espoused by Buddhism, and as the title of this post indicates, he was a pioneer of American dharma, on the same par as individuals whose names are better known.

GMW-1a

George M. Williams

I don’t know how to explain Mr. Williams to you. I suspect most of you have had no experience with the Soka Gakkai. The SG’s approach to Buddhism is very different from what you are no doubt familiar with, and to paint a complete portrait of this man and his style of leadership would require a great deal of supplementary information. Rather than a full portrait, I hope I can provide at least a good sketch.

George M. Williams was born as Masayasu Sadanaga in Korea in 1930. He first met the man who would become his mentor in life, Daisaku Ikeda, in Japan in the early 1950’s. Ikeda was the Soka Gakkai’s Youth Division leader at the time, but in actuality, he ran the organization from behind the scenes. It was a kind of rite of passage for up-and-coming young men in the organization to go to Ikeda’s house and give him a massage. Sadanaga was one such youth, and that is how the two men began their relationship.

Sadanaga came to America in 1957 to study at UCLA. Ikeda asked him to visit U.S. members when he had spare time. There were only a handful of SG members, mostly Japanese war brides, scattered across the country. After Sadanaga graduated from the University of Maryland with a M.A. in Political Science, Ikeda implored him to stay in the U.S. and head the fledgling SG branch then called Nichiren Shoshu of America, or simply, NSA. Thus began a great saga, a quest really, of 30 years, during which the future George M. Williams crisscrossed the country tirelessly promoting Buddhism, organizing regional groups, and encouraging members.

In the late 1960’s Sadanaga had legally changed his name. He always claimed that George Washington inspired the first name. Obviously, it was calculated to make him seem more American. One of the major aims of NSA was to try to make Buddhism a part of American society. I imagine much of this direction came from Ikeda, but Mr. Williams brought his own unique creativity to the task. NSA was still rather small at that time. Mr. Williams promoted America and Buddhism by organizing patriotic themed conventions, parades, and musical shows, among other endeavors.

By the 1980’s NSA had grown considerably. In 1985 we sponsored a World Peace Culture Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii. As we prepared for the festival, one night there was a big rally at the NSA auditorium on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. Mr. Williams led several thousand of us in singing “Blue Hawaii” and “Pearly Shells.” He said we were the “pearly shells from the ocean”, bodhisattvas rising from the earth. Not everyone’s dream necessarily came true in Blue Hawaii, but it was a grand event I’ll never forget.

We took over the Wakiki Shell, built our own elaborate stage on top of the existing one, and for two nights put on a four-hour musical extravaganza. On the Fourth of July we held a parade down Kalakaua Ave. with 13,000 members carrying American flags, and that was in addition to the marching bands, floats, and of course, the Young Men’s Division Gymnastics Team. We presented the Mayor of Honolulu with a petition containing 250,000 signatures calling for a ban on nuclear weapons.

Mr. Williams with Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode, 1987

Mr. Williams with Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode, 1987

Two years later, an NSA member discovered the existence of an exact replica of the Liberty Bell, cast from the very same forge. Somehow NSA latched onto it and Mr. Williams dubbed it “The New Freedom Bell.” He took it all across the country, staging rallies in major cities, the highpoint of which was when Governors, Mayors, and most importantly, everyday people got a chance to ring the bell.

But it wasn’t for these kind of events alone that Mr. Williams deserves to be called a pioneer of American Buddhism. He and the other pioneer leaders and members introduced Buddhism to literally hundreds of thousands of Americans. If only a handful ended up actually practicing Buddhism in the end, it is still an unprecedented achievement.

Discipline was strict under Mr. Williams. Practicing Buddhism in NSA was not a part-time gig. Practice consisted of not only chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra and a twice-daily recitation of two chapters from the sutra, but also participating in ‘faith’ (organizational) activities. We were told that the purpose of the activities was to strengthen our fundamental practice, that what we learned from doing activities would be engraved in our hearts, and we could then apply it to our daily life. Through this action, from this sort of practice, an inner transformation of the individual could take place.

There was also an emphasis on developing people. Helping others to achieve their fullest potential. Taking care of others. In no other group, have I ever seen such focus on and dedication to practicing as a bodhisattva. It wasn’t entirely pure, not altogether selfless. Much of the member-care was driven by a perpetual need to strengthen and promote the organization. That was one of the negatives.

The guidance we used to receive seems filled with platitudes, but when you tried to implement them, they suddenly became profound. In NSA, we were taught that everything is inside us, never to blame or judge others, look for the “diamond” in others. Be sincere, speak to others from the heart. We learned discipline, something many of us, myself included, sorely needed. Setting a goal and struggling to accomplish it was not a matter of strategy, but depended largely on one’s faith, the depth of one’s practice. “The more one struggles, the higher one’s life condition becomes,” Mr. Williams used to say.

Frankly, the discipline wasn’t any more severe that what you would experience in a monastery or on a retreat. I considered it kind of like a modern form of Zen training. We called it “training on the run.” But some people couldn’t handle it. It was relentless, never-ending. There was always some campaign to work on: membership drives, another convention, another parade, home visits . . .

When it came to practice, Mr. Williams led the way. Each morning, when he was in town, he arrived at the headquarters building on Wilshire Boulevard and chanted for an hour and a half. That was about the only time he ever remained stationary. He seemed to be possessed with a form of kinetic energy, always in motion, and he had a boundless sense of optimism.

His favorite song was “The Impossible Dream” from Man from La Mancha. While ‘tilting at windmills’ is usually taken as an analogy for delusion, in this song it’s about dreaming big dreams, fighting unbeatable foes, or as Mr. Williams would tell us “never giving up”:

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right, without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause

George M. Williams gave his entire life for the cause of promoting Buddhism in America. He was rewarded for his unsparing effort by having his mentor, his “forever sensei“, Ikeda, use him as a scapegoat for some of the controversies confronting the American organization at the time when Ikeda wanted to force a split from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.

Ikeda came to the U.S. in 1990 to “save us” he claimed. From what? The people who were only carrying out his wishes, the people who got their marching orders directly from him? The contention was that Mr. Williams and the American leaders had strayed, become extreme, drifted too far from President Ikeda’s direction. I have a clear memory of Ikeda walking unannounced into a meeting held in Malibu while Mr. Williams was speaking, interrupting and berating him for being “militaristic.” A charge leveled at Ikeda himself many times only a decade before. It was sad and disgusting, but I remember Mr. Williams taking it like a stalwart soldier, brave, smiling.

Mr. Williams was removed from his position as General Director in the early 1990s when the schism between the Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu was at its height. Soon afterward, rumors began to circulate about his alleged transgressions: that he plotted with the priests against Ikeda, that he tried to get rich off NSA, and so on.

Mr. Williams’ greatest asset, and to some degree his greatest fault, was his single-minded dedication to the “cause” and to Ikeda. I never once heard Mr. Williams speak, informally or in front of a group, without talking about “our President Ikeda”, praising him, quoting him, throwing the spotlight back on Ikeda as the central figure of the Soka Gakkai. The idea that Mr. Williams was some sort of “lone wolf” is absurd. From Day One, there were advisors from Japan around to look over his shoulder, and report back to Ikeda. I can’t believe that Mr. Williams took money from the organization for his own purposes. He did not get rich. He lived in a modest house in Santa Monica with his wife. They struggled with their finances like everyone else.

The story of how Nichiren Shoshu/Soka Gakkai Buddhism was brought to the United States is one usually left out of books like Rick Field’s How the Swans Came to the Lake, an otherwise definitive history of Buddhism in America. Over the past 20 years, the Soka Gakkai has been busy rewriting this history to magnify Ikeda’s role and to minimize Mr. Williams’. I can’t help but feel that it was truly despicable the way he was pushed off to the sidelines, discarded like a rag, and forgotten. The valiant efforts and sacrifices made by Mr. Williams and the other NSA pioneers deserve remembrance, and deserved to be honored.

I’ve heard that Mr. Williams had Alzheimer’s. There are a couple of brief videos of him from 2010 on YouTube. He doesn’t seem quite all there, but they are such short snippets, it’s hard to tell. I find myself hoping it was true, as perverse as it sounds. I hope that he wasn’t fully aware of how he was being maligned, and written out of history.

This has been a long tribute. However, you will be hard-pressed to learn about George M. Williams anywhere else, and I thought you should know.

I haven’t meant to make it sound as though he was perfect. He wasn’t, of course. He had his faults like anyone else. His vanities, too. He wore lifts and piled his hair up ala early 60’s Elvis to appear taller than he was. While, he may have been small in statue, he was a giant in spirit.

I will leave it with some words spoken by Mr. Williams in 1989, taken from one of my notebooks:

13,000 flag-bearers in Honolulu, July 4, 1985

13,000 flag-bearers in Honolulu, July 4, 1985

“No matter what, we should never allow ourselves to be swept away by fame or self-interest, nor abandon our pursuit. Giving up the challenge means the end of our quest to attain happiness in this lifetime. Accomplishment comes from perseverance, and no one will place you on the plateau of achievement, you have to strive to get there by yourself. By the same token, happiness is something you generate yourself, no one can give it to you. You create your own happiness, through your own actions, and then others will naturally support it.”

Goodbye “Regicho”, and thanks for the dreams, thanks for everything.

 

  43 Responses to “The Impossible Dreamer: A Pioneer of American Buddhism”

  1. I didn’t know that George had died (I moved from LA many years ago). He was an interviewee for my dissertation, and a helpful and earnest guy. Thank you for providing this tribute.

    • The news was not widely disseminated. I wish I had known, I would have liked to have attended his memorial service. As far as I can tell, there was no mention of his death in the SGI world. Truly sad.

  2. Thanks for this history and tribute!

  3. the nst and sgi’ faith and practice of nichirens buddhism is and always has been incorrect. however, ikeda and the american betrayed and treated williams unfair and it show the true ugly face of ikeda and his rotten org.
    nice article,
    cheers.

  4. I miss those days. I participated in the 1985 Hawaii Convention. I was one if those flag bearers that day. I was part of the Malibu Chorus. Yes, the training was strict but I changed so much in such a short time. Today the SGI has taken the other extreme. I have to be honest and say Kosen Rufu will not happen with such an impersonal and laxadasical attitude. You only have yo.pick up.and read THE HUMAN REVOLUTION. It’s all there about what we as votaries of the LS should be doing.

    • “The Human Revolution” is Mr. Ikeda’s version of the history of the Soka Gakkai and his vision of what votaries of the Lotus Sutra should be doing, however, at the same time the extreme you say the SGI has taken is also Ikeda’s vision, so you have a bit of a contradiction there. But thanks for your comment.

  5. It is not necessary to practice Buddhism in an organization such as the SGI to be happy. You can certainly practice it independently if you want to. Please see Gerald T. Aitken’s website “Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. Of course, if a person wants to practice in the SGI or the temple, then fine. I am just saying that organized religion is just not a mandatory thing. It is optional. Thank you.

  6. I was a NSA/YMD member in So. Cal in the 80’s. I was in DC in 82 when we marched with the flags and saw Tina Turner and Herbie Hancock perform (incredible show!). I performed in several shows with the YMD gymnastics including the human towers, karate shows, and my favorite, in Honolulu ’85 as part of the skateboarding crew and 10K flag parade. These were some of the most inspirational times of my youth and helped shape me as the “never give up” man I am now. Mr. Williams appeared at several of our practices and offered encouragement and motivation. He was sincere and ALWAYS had the biggest smile and coolest hair. I’m saddened by what the organization had become. Once the struggle with Nikken ensued, I called it quits, but have never lost my “WASHOI” spirit and belief in the power of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. RIP, Mr. Williams, and thank you.

  7. i wish they taught what shakyamuni and his emissary for the latter age really taught. sigh !!

  8. This was definitely a militaristic organization in its early days. It was excellent training for undisciplined youth. The aura surrounding Mr. Williams was exclusive and well guarded…it was very elitist and unapproachable. But to say NSA was or that SGI is cult is to misunderstand the function of the basic principle of esho funi, the oneness of self and environment. This history will be a long time coming. There are two sides to every story. I was there then. I’m still here now. I will stay with it to the (my) end.

    • Thanks for leaving the comment. I agree there was a militaristic atmosphere in the early days that was excellent training for undisciplined youth, but I disagree with everything else you say. To use esho funi as a defense against the cult accusation (which I don’t believe I made) is beyond ludicrous. Sorry, no offense intended. There are two sides to every story, but cults come in many varieties and if the SGI is not a cult, it awfully damn close.

      • No you hadn’t made that remark until now. It’s only a cult if you’re a cultist. A buddha manifests his own environment because he is awakened to the reality of his enlightenment; no matter what others may be attempting to do. A common human being can fall prey to his negative karma because he is deluded by his surroundings and the actions and advice of others. He can easily be carried away when he fails to see the workings of cause and effect from day to day. Both are esho funi. It is the fundamental manifestation of human existence. It is an absolute whether one is aware of it or not. To understand esho funi in only a theoretical way is to miss the point of realizing one’s own buddha nature. Indeed, buddhahood hinges on esho funi. Devilish forces constantly vie for the attention of those seeking buddhahood. Something no one is immune to. It can easily don the mask of a smiling face and happy talk. Only the eyes of the Law can see thru it. Our karma is either like a knife at our throats or hanging in shreds at the tips of our swords. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is the sharp sword of the Buddha to rid the World of evil, and the certain path of the unsurpassed way. You should never turn your back on what you know to be true.
        Thank you for your input It is greatly appreciated.

        • You can take your argument about esho funi and easily turn it around to apply against your defense of the SGI’s anti-cult status. How do you know that devilish forces are not working within the organization? How do you know for sure the advice of your senior leaders and the actions of your fellow members are not deluding you? If you are a reasonable person then you’ll admit that a sword can cut both ways. If the righteousness of your stand blinds you completely blind against reason, then I say good luck.

          • Did I say devilish forces are not working in the organization? I did not. Did I say that the advice and actions of of senior leaders couldn’t delude a member? I did not. I believe that was implied by what I did say. What I did say was that devilish forces will constantly assail those who seek to practice buddhism correctly, Inevitably and in every case. From every quarter. Mara commands an army, but by the same token, buddhahood does not exist in a vacuum devoid of humanity.

  9. absolutely david ! starting with their truncated daimoku. nichiren always said the 5 or 7 characters of the daimoku. never, not once did he say the 6 characters. cult indeed.

    • You apparently aren’t familiar with spoken Japanese. Words ending in U with 2 or more syllables are not pronounce with the final U. Pronouncing Namu, Nam, doesn’t negate the effects of chanting the daimoku. A rather lame and trivial assertion for SGI’s cult status.

      • not at all. why then did they change the spelling? nichiren never said nam myoho renge kyo, not once, never! nichiren said the five character or the seven characters , never , not once the six characters. the only gosho translations that write nam is the shoshu or the gakkai. find me one gosho that says nam in nichirens hand, can’t do it. if one would change the one essential phrase what else would they change??? answer – everything. cheers.

  10. I stopped practicing and turned in my Gohonzon in the 2003, after 27 years of being a member of NSA/SGI. I can’t point to any one reason why I stopped practicing, but I suppose it was simple disillusion after years of devotion and an unwillingness to elevate Daisaku Ikeda to Living Buddha status.

    I joined the NSA in 1976, the same year that I joined the U.S. Army. Along with countless other conventions and other NSA activities, I was also in Hawaii, as a flag bearer and playing in the YWD band. I can’t begin to count the nights and weekends that I spent attending meetings or doing YWD activities ad leaders such as George M. Williams, Ted Osaki and many others were also working tirelessly to spread the message of Nichiren Buddhism to Americans. And yes, it was quite militaristic and strict, but despite it all, I did enjoy so much of it.

    My most treasured personal memory of George M. Williams, was meeting him at Sho-Hondo when I was on Tozan from South Korea where I was stationed at the time. Mr. Williams was a humble, but very friendly man and he was so excited that I was serving in the military and still doing activities. I don’t remember very much of that trip to see Dai-Gohonzon, but I do fondly remember Mr. Williams warmly shaking my hand, giving me a hug and encouraging me to do my very best as a soldier in order to show others the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism, and to enjoy my short trip to Japan.

    And as “bad” luck would have it, I was also in attendance at the meeting in LA when Mr. Ikeda demoted Mr. Williams and other American leaders. To this day I still feel as if that was one of the most graceless, embarrassing and humiliating incidents that I had ever seen or experienced as a member of the NSA/SGI organization.

    I can point to the “excommunication” by then High Priest Nikken Abe, as to when my disillusion became increasingly difficult to ignore. I couldn’t help but feel that this was yet another “ego” related incident which quite sadly culminated in the Sho-Hondo being tore down. I was especially ticked off about that because like so many others I had faithfully donated untold amounts of money to the organization which I should have been putting in a savings account for my own retirement. But blind faith often leads you to do things which in hindsight you regret.

    I personally thought it was quite awful how Mr. Williams and others were systemically marginalized by the organization while Mr. Ikeda was being elevated to “hero” stature particularly here in America.

    It is particularly sad, that while I do not practice, I remain friends with quite a number of SGI members and I don’t recall any of them mentioning that Mr. Williams had passed away.

    I apologize for the length of this comment, but I just wanted to share my thoughts on a man whose enthusiasm, passion and faith were such an inspiration to many, even if some of us no longer practice Buddhism.

    • No need to apologize for anything, you’ve left a beautiful comment and thank you so much for sharing your feelings. It has been over a year now since Mr. Williams passed away. This single post is one of the few ways word has gotten out about his death in the meantime. As awful as the way Mr. Williams and the pioneer members were marginalized, even more shameful is the way they’ve been forgotten and written out of Gakkai history. There are many different kinds of betrayal, but for Ikeda to betray human beings who believed in him and poured their entire lives into his cause is the rankest betrayal of all. That said, over the course of this year, I have come to suspect that Mr. Williams agreed to offer himself up as a sacrifice, but I cannot believe that was the case with the others.

  11. thanks for sharing Brenda. there is much i could say but i will keep it short – buddhism, lotus sutra, nichiren good; sgi/nst, ikeda bad. its good you left the gak. cheers.

  12. Thank all of you who have left their messages of memories of Masayasu Sadanaga and you David for providing a place for all of us to do so. Unfortunately no one will know the real story behind this incident that left so many bewildered members to question what had happened. The story of Mr. Williams’ betrayal of Ikeda sensei will never come to light for the general membership of SGI.

    I was an employee of SGI for eight years and my immediate supervisor had been a speech writer for Mr Williams back in the day. I was privy to information that few people other than those who were part of his inner circle would have ever known. I can only say that things happen for a reason and that events are what they are and will not be recorded for those who were inspired by this pioneer of Buddhism in America. Thank you David for the opportunity to post once again.

    • I do not believe that Mr. Williams betrayed Ikeda. Many people are privy to information that others are not, they are like puzzle pieces. I did not work for SGI but I was the employee of a top senior leader and we worked just blocks from WCC. I suspect there are a very very few who know the whole truth but since they were programmed to be good soldiers and just say “Hai!” their lips will forever be sealed.

      • i agree with you david. to me it simply shows the true nature of ikeda senseless, and the real sgi. i joined in 1967 and played a big part in the growth of nsa/sgi . left in 1987 just before sgi became a full on cult of ikeda. i still practice today, my teachers are the eternal buddha of the 16th chapter and nichiren. i know the teachings well. namu myoho renge kyo!

        cheers.

      • Believe what you will about his dismissal but things happen for a reason. Mr. Ikeda is not the irrational self-aggrandizing ego driven Titan that many here have portrayed him to be.
        You are correct about the tight lipped nature of the leadership. It’s not exclusive to SGI though, it’s the “Japanese mindset” that pervades the organization. I too doubt that the whole story will ever come together, unfortunately. It would explain much and the skeptics might not judge so harshly.. Thanks again.

        • Terry Skinner,

          If you do “know” something which is not being shared or addressed, then why don’t you enlighten us, no pun intended.

          I don’t blame Daisaku Ikeda for the “Living Buddha” imagery and belief that so many senior leaders and members have, and have perpetrate about him. This is a fairly natural pattern which occurs in many different religious sects. But lets not fool ourselves or attempt to gloss over a very bitter truth, that self-aggrandizing ego doesn’t play a significant part in all of this.

          Any successful leader/mentor/coach/teacher/religious figure, even dictators and tyrants, have an above average dose of ego which drives them to the top and allows them to remain there. It takes a well established ego to believe that a person can convince and then lead masses of people to follow them. If Mr. Ikeda did not have the ego necessary to do what he has done, he most certainly would not be where he is at today.

          Now we can argue all day about the “reasons” why Mr. Williams was forced to resign or was fired. But honestly, that is not really the point of the discussion as I see it, it is instead individuals expressing a very deep sense of sadness, sorrow and dispiritedness that the SGI-USA, failed to honor a man who had given so much to the organization.

          In the Letter to K?nichi-b?, Nichiren Daishonin said the following:
          “I never think lightly of the people from my native province, nor do I cease to care about what happens to them, even if they have caused me sorrow or treated me cruelly.”

  13. Hi David,

    I do need to apologize for the typos in my previous comment. I was very tired and my proofreading skills were definitely suffering at nearly 3 am.

    I don’t wish to engage in an NSA/SGI bashing episode, but upon further reflection of the reasons why I stopped practicing, I realized that it wasn’t just mere disillusionment. It was also frustration and the sobering realization that I was simply going through the motions of chanting, doing Gongyo, attending meetings, etc. My sense of excitement, enthusiasm, passion and maybe even my faith, had been lost somewhere along the way, and I just couldn’t recapture it.

    I also couldn’t justify the pressures of constantly donating and doing Shakabuku, paying for other people’s World Tribune subscriptions, purchasing the latest books that would never get read, and spending my precious yearly vacation days doing activities such as preparing for some senior leader’s visit from Japan or visiting FNC – in short, I wanted my life back.

    I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to hide the envy, jealousy and anger that I felt as some District, Chapter or Headquarters leader was lecturing me and other YWD on the vital importance of doing activities and Shakabuku, while this leader’s “fortune baby” daughter or son was going out on dates, attending college, taking trips that were totally unrelated to NSA/SGI activities, and simply having fun!

    And I was especially tired of constantly hearing how “Gohonzon would give us this or give us that” relegating a beautiful object of worship down to some temperamental magical scroll.

    I blame myself for not having the courage or the confidence to have said, “No!”. But like countless other members, I thought I was doing something noble and noteworthy and that at some point my benefits would rain down upon me in reward for my sincere devotion and dedication.

    In closing, I remember hearing more than once from the older Japanese members that Mr. Williams’ ancestors were samurai, now I have no way of knowing if this is true or not, but it seems to lend validity to your theory David about him “sacrificing” himself. But whatever the reasons were, Mr. Williams’ deserved the decency of being honored and remembered by the organization which he worked tirelessly to help establish.

    • Thanks again for another wonderful comment. Although your experience is unique to you, it also mirrors the experience many of us had, and I know many have the same feelings you do. We shouldn’t blame ourselves, though. Eventually, we did say no, we did walk away. I haven’t met anyone yet for whom that was an easy thing to do.

      I have heard that GMW had a samurai background, too. He was half-Korean, also. I suspect that Ikeda at last was ready to break away from NST but he could not very well accuse the priesthood of being authoritarian when members here were leveling the same accusation against NSA. I have a gut feeling that it was known GMW had Alzheimers and Ikeda asked him to be the fall guy, knowing that some day GMW wouldn’t even remember it. I can imagine Ikeda saying to him, “If you are my disciple, you will do this.” Very Japanese, very Gakkai, very sad.

  14. Brenda, I read your experience with dismay that you were, like so many others, caught up in the cultural rift of Japanese social behavior and American religious fanaticism. How unfortunate that you threw away 20 years of sincere practice to the Gohonzon just to learn how to say “No! I won’t.” to anyone other than yourself. Be that as it may, Mr. Williams lost out on his desire to see Mr. Ikeda removed from the presidency. Details of the assent of his own leadership are unknown to me. But he did want President Ikeda out of the picture entirely. The official reasons for his dismissal are trivial at best.

    Of course, you may wonder why he spoke so highly of Mr. Ikeda when his motives were so base. But then, how could he have maintained a sense of unity otherwise. Even Nikken Abe, 67th high priest, praised Mr. Ikeda and the SGI in his last New Years Message in Living Buddhism. All the while plotting for direct control of the membership. Likewise his removal of Ikeda as head of all lay organizations; which he did accomplish. Thus our separation and excommunication (twice) from Nichiren Shoshu. An event unparalleled in the history of Buddhism. We were constantly being told of the tireless efforts of the priesthood when, in fact, they were wallowing in dissolute behavior brought on by their new-found wealth thanks to the monetary contributions of truly sincere members, like yourself.

    If I may use an analogy, it’s like buttoning a shirt. If you get the first button in the wrong hole you won’t know until you’ve finished . But they are the same buttons, the same holes, on the same shirt, and done with the same action. Nothing looks out of place or out of the ordinary until the final move. Then it becomes obvious that every action was a misstep.

    It was nothing more than a naked power grab and he lost. No one can discount what his contribution to American Buddhism was, but Japanese cultural norms have now made him invisible. Everyone agrees that nothing ever happened. It’s the Japanese way of dealing with unpleasant incidents.
    A hundred years ago he would have just committed suicide and everyone would have saved face. No questions asked. That was then, this is now. He wasn’t thrown under the bus.

    I hope this shows you another side of what was going on early in this movement. Thank you.

    • First, let me say that I welcome this recent dialogue. I think it’s good.

      But, Terry, you will have to show me some proof of your allegations against Mr. Williams. In the 24 years since Ikeda’s thunderous visit to the U.S., I have heard plenty of innuendo, rumor, gossip, etc. but never anything concrete. In recent years, Danny Nagashima, the current SGI-USA Gen. Dir., has been going around claiming that GMW betrayed Ikeda, yet in a letter published in a SGI publication in the early 1990’s, Nagashima refutes that notion. It seems that truth is a pretty malleable virtue in Gakkailand. You need to ask yourself, why did GMW go along with his own dismissal and accept the blame? Why didn’t he protest, fight? The idea that he thought he could take over from Ikeda is ludicrous. He was little known outside the USA. Such a notion ignores the esteem with which Ikeda is held in in Japan. Would Ikeda’s family had put up with a coup d’etat? The Japanese senior leaders? The members? You think that Nikken Abe really trusted George Williams?

      Anyway, I think Brenda is on the right track, at least for those who have left. Placing blame is cheap and easy, but healing is dear and hard. There is more to Buddhism than just the Lotus Sutra and NMRK. As tragic as the lack of respect given to those pioneer American leaders who gave their entire lives to Ikeda’s cause, I find equally as sad the fact that so many when they leave SGI or Nichiren practice, they give up Buddhism completely. The idea that there is only one true Buddhism is another idea that will not stand up to scrutiny, based as it is upon a faulty understanding of Buddhism history and doctrine. But the idea is very useful as a tool to control people. On this blog, for instance, you can find literally hundreds of examples of valid wisdom and practice in other forms of Buddhism.

    • Hi Terry,

      First of all, I don’t feel as if I threw anything away, not at all. After I left the organization, I embarked on a personal journey of spiritual discovery which as has brought me tremendous peace and joy, and that is the point of any religious practice. I wholeheartedly believe that it is because I practiced Buddhism that I have an open mind and I’m not at all dogmatic or inflexible in my beliefs. So please save the pity and regrets for someone else, I am quite happy with my life.

      Now as to your “assertion” that Mr. Williams was possibly involved in some plot to have Mr. Ikeda removed as president, I have to tell you that this is not the first time that I’ve heard this offered as the “real reason” for why Mr. Williams was essentially fired and ultimately became persona non grata within the SGI-USA. The person who told me this “story”, was the former vice YWD leader of the SGI-USA, she and I were friends outside of the organization due to our mutual careers.

      I didn’t believe that story then and I still don’t believe it now, and not because of some misguided loyalty to Mr. Williams. Because truth be told, I was much more fond of Ted Osaki who despite his Japanese heritage, had a much greater understanding and appreciation for American cultural norms and behaviors than so many of the other pioneer leaders. But the reason why I didn’t believe this story is – it was simply “too convenient”.

      It is a time honored tradition when attempting to remove a popular individual from a high profile position which they have held for a long period of time, to spread rumors which suggest that the individual in question has been disloyal, dishonest, has grossly abused their power, has been plotting against others, etc..

      It honestly made no sense whatsoever for Mr. Williams to have been scheming to have Mr. Ikeda removed as president of the SGI. As David pointed, Mr. Williams was hardly known outside of the US, not to mention the fact, that Mr. Williams who was reportedly not a a full blooded ethnic Japanese, had spent 30 plus years living in America; he was Japanese in name and speech only. So there was as much a chance of Mr. Williams ascending to the presidency of the organization in some masterful coup as there was of Queen Elizabeth abdicating the British throne and appointing me as her rightful successor.

      Nothing about that rumor made any sort of sense. And tossing Nikken Abe’s name into the mix, just seemed to me to be a lame attempt to try and associate Mr. Williams with a renegade priest who was deeply disliked by the lay organization due to the epic power struggle he and Mr. Ikeda were engaged in at the time.

      It takes no effort at all to smear the name of a person who decided for whatever reason to take the high road and not defend themselves, but it is profoundly shameless and cowardly to fling accusations at a person who is dead.

      • Some very good points, Brenda. Couldn’t agree with you more. I also remember Mr. Osaki very well. He was always thought-provoking and very funny. He had perfected the “clip” in his voice when he did gongyo like no one else.

  15. As you said David, It is a puzzle whose pieces will probably never be put together. I’m not attempting to write an expose here so you can entertain your own theories about what happened. What I do know for certain is that my 45 years of practice has paid off beyond anything I ever dreamed of for my future. I’m still part of SGI and I feel like life has just begun for me at 65 years old. Something I heard in my first month of practice was “quitters never win and winners never quit.” The women who were running NSA when I started practicing never steered us wrong. I will never forget my debt of gratitude to those fearless pioneers.

    • You make it sound as if I have been just sitting around waiting for someone to reply to this 13-month-old post so that I can entertain my own theories. And frankly, these days, I have more entertaining theories to entertain. But I am glad the practice and being in the SGI still works for you.

  16. David, your tendency to read more into what I’ve written is apparent with every response.

    & Brenda , I am happy to hear that you decided to stop being a door mat and hand towel for opportunist in SGI. That was a healthy decision. Too bad you let it go on for so long. I’m sure you were praised for being the ideal member.
    Buddhism is about awakening to one’s true self. Not living up to others expectations.

  17. Thank you Brenda, No pity and I’m glad that you did what you had denied for yourself while practicing. Too many people “gave up” living to promote an idealist dream when they should have put that energy into their own futures. I did too, but I found out early on that only I can trust myself to watch out for my best interests. Thank you for sharing your experience of victory with me.

  18. Brenda. I too found Mr. Osaki to be the most Americanized and charismatic of all of the top leaders of that time. He made sense. Everything he said was so easy to understand and practical.
    I mentioned Nikken Abe because the Japanese as a people don’t have a problem with lying if they think that it makes others feel better. Japanese doctors routinely lie to patients when they are diagnosed with cancer…so much so that patients don’t believe a doctor that says they actually don’t have cancer. Things are always being swept under the carpet. I wasn’t comparing any other behavior other than what the Japanese do as a group.
    If you choose not to believe what others tell you was the reason for GMW’s fall from grace how will you ever know what really happened? The truth is not a choice.
    Enough said.
    Rest in peace George M Williams.

    • Terry Skinner,

      What I was told was unsubstantiated gossip, from one person who had heard from someone else. So why should I choose to “believe” this story as factual, when there wasn’t a shred of evidence to back up anything which was said?

      You know a person can spend an untold amount of time reading various conspiracy theories on the internet which to their credit sound tremendously convincing, but more often than not, come up woefully short in documented proof. So just because a bunch of people who claim to be insiders repeat a particular story, that doesn’t make it true, and frankly that is not how I define truth.

      And by the way, people regardless of cultural and ethnic heritage lie for the very best and worst of reasons and intentions.

      It is interesting how in one comment you are praising the Japanese pioneer members, but in the next you making quite a few generalizations which hints at some measure of negativity on your part towards the Japanese.

      • Brenda, you make a good point about the way people lie. Once again, in a letter published in “Issues Between the Nichiren Shoushu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai” – either Vol. 2 or 3 (I don’t have time to look for it today or I would provide a quote – booklet published by Soka Gakkai Intl in 1991, Danny Nagashima and other senior SGI leaders refute the notion that George M. Williams betrayed Ikeda, even including a description of a conversation between Williams and a representative of Nikken Abe.

        So the question is, if the allegations are true why did they lie? To protect the members? Which is the usual excuse. Or are they lying now? Anyway, it was things like this that caused me to distrust the organization and form the opinion that regardless of what they said, they had lost credibility. The point of my post was simply to remember a Buddhist pioneer and honor his contributions to bringing dharma to the West. Since, as Terry has pointed out, we will never know the “real” truth, it is best to just move on and go about the business of practicing and being bodhisattvas.

  19. Sorry Brenda for the confusion/contradiction on my part. It seems to be gender specific.This has been my experience. Thanks David. Can we make your suggestion the final word? Thank you both.

    • The comment forum will remain open and thoughts, opinions, and discussion on any aspect of this subject or anything pertaining to the post are welcome.

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