The Impossible Dreamer: A Pioneer of American Buddhism

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.

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.



105 thoughts on “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.

    1. 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. 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,

  3. 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.

    1. “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.

  4. 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.

    1. Why I practice with the temple, very anarchic, no “leaders” priests just show you how to practice; not tell you how to run your life. Quite refreshing.
      I go (went) way back with the gakkai (NSA when I joined in 1970), Mr Williams came to my house to enshrine my Okataigi Gohonzon when I became a ‘senior’ leader in that organization. Yeah, Ikeda kind of went off the deep end, figured he was Bodhisatva Jogyo.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. Terry Skinner is correct. I lived in Japan from 1982-1989, and I’m semi-fluent in the reading, writing and speaking of Japanese. The Japanese silence the ending vowel in a number of words such as des(u), sh(i)ta, shimasu, and many others. Chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is the only true natural and rhythmical way of chanting it. Go ahead and try and chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and see what happens. There’s a break between Namu and Myoho. No thanks. I’ll stick with Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and the belief that Nichiren is the True Buddha, not Shakyami, because Nichiren gave us the True Law.

      1. Al, sorry to say but both you and Terry are off here. In Japanese, the “u” is a weak vowel but it is not silent. SGI/NST are the only Nichiren groups who chant it “Nam” instead of “Namu.” I think what probably happened is they got used to chanting it so fast with the ‘u’ always swallowed up, they just dropped it. Stop by a Nichiren Shu temple sometime. They pronounce the ‘u’ and they chant much slower. It actually has a more rhythmical sound as well as being very melodic. There is not just one way to chant daimoku (word ending in a u that is pronounced).

        There is no True or Eternal Buddha, it’s a metaphor. So while it does not make any difference who is identified as this mythical figure, it should be clear to anyone who reads Nichiren’s writings that his True Buddha was Shakyamuni.

        I’d like to weigh in on this too: I don’t know if the High Priest of NST believes he has to be the one to decide if you will attain Buddhahood but if he did, it is really no different than the SGI telling members they will not get maximum benefits or find true happiness unless they follow Ikeda as their master in life.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!


        1. Greg Romero, Shakyamuna IS NOT the eternal Buddha. Shakyamuni himself clearly states in the Lotus Sutra that he first attained enlightenment in at a finite point in time in the distant past. I recognize Nichiren as the True and eternal Buddha as he gave us the True and eternal Law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

      2. 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.

        1. 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.”

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. I remember Mr Osama fondly. He was so funny and encouraging. Members used to love his explanation of “The Ceremony of the Air”. I miss him and those NSA days.

      2. Say it Brenda! The soka gakkai has become the “Fox News” of Buddhism. Soganhonbucho was always cordial with me altho he was strict because he wanted to get tge best out of folks AND had an expectation that we could and would manifest kosenrufu, certainly no task for slackers! HA! I’ve come to know the priests and these sgi stories about them are ridiculous as their fictions about Mr Williams. Thanks for letting me jump in again.
        And I would like to say whomever wrote that article – bravo a thorough and concise endeavor indeed! Thank you!
        BTW I was able to attend Mr Williams memorial and it was a happy n joyous occasion. We also offered a memorial “Toba” tablet for him at the temple here.

  14. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. David

        You should just know that since posting my original comment in Feb 2014, I left the SGI, turned in my SGI honzon, went to the temple and received my Nichinyo Gohonzon. And am glad I did that. I don’t believe in hero worship and i prefer to follow the teachings of Nicherin Daishonin, and not Daisaku Ikeda’s form of Buddhism.

        1. Tamara, I would like to know the truth about whether the High Priest of NST believes he has to be the one to decide if you will attain Buddhahood or not. That’s what we’re being told in the Gakkai. I just want to know the damn truth about all of this. Thank you.

          Al Pearson

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  18. 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.

    1. 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.

  19. Blah Blah Blah ! In life nothing is wasted unless not known . I had the time of my life while practicing with NSA during the times of Mr. Williams. He told us through our YMD leader , Ethan Gelbaum , that we young men were creating our Golden Memories with our lifes at every moment we worked for World Peace . We were and always will be Enlightend in his methods of leadership . Along with are YMD coordinator Rocky Ishigima we walk in the Hevens forever . Wherever Mr. Williams is you can be sure He is working for the Noble Cause and He will never give up . Until we meet again
    ” Actual Proof ” not words are the winners of the day

    1. I loved the way NSA was. it was strict but I loved it and I really felt my leaders cared about me. I don’t belong to the SGI anymore because to me it is an ersatz version of what was and it does not represent Nichirin Daishonin’s Buddhism correctly.

  20. williams died a scared and lonely man. so much for a incorrect faith and practice of buddism(sgi/nst). study the real teachings. however, gmw and his wife virginia were given a rotten deal by saintly ikeda(ha) and the sgi, including the american staff members. however, having practiced along side him in the late 60’s and 70’s, i would say he truly was a very sincere man. the way he was treated shows the true nature of the gakkai. nichiren and the lotus sutra have been ruined by the sgi/nst garbarge buddhism.

    1. I seriously doubt that you were privy to the events surrounding GMW’s demise or his emotional state of mind when he passed. Speculation on my part, of course, but you’ve used this forum to bash SGI and Mr. Ikeda & NST and appear to be getting in just one more dig. SGI has its faults but don’t hold your breath waiting for the empire to implode. Meanwhile, we’re waiting for your “correct” practice of Nichiren Buddhism to blossom.

      Thanks Jesse Miranda for your excellent comments. It is truly appreciated.

      1. From the comments I’ve read posted at the George Williams tribute page on Facebook, plus information and photos I have seen from other sources, I would not put any stock into the notion that Mr. Williams died “a scared and lonely man.” Evidently he did have Alzheimer’s but he had a happy and peaceful spirit until the end.

  21. yeah, all great things to say after he passes. where were they when he needed them? cowards to a man. did you see the video posted on youtube by dave cole? check it out, look in his eyes. ask brian potter what his last conversation with gmw was. lets see if he will be honest. tell me what you think. personally i like the truth terry.

    1. Thanks Greg. I have seen only 4 videos of GMW on YouTube so I’m not sure if any of those are what you would like to be seen. I didn’t see anything authored by Dave Cole. Do you have a specific title I can search for? I support SGI but I don’t let cover ups slide…& I don’t support Japanese cultural amnesia.

  22. check the remonstration channel on tube, although by now it may be private. not sure. the video is home made and short(30 sec.) , however, it screams fear and no confidence . shot around 2007. brian potter wrote many of the gakkai songs for nsa/sgi in the early 70’s. possibly “forever sensei”. terry, i agree with much of what david has written about gmw, not all ,but much. i left the gak for the first time in 1987(joined in 67). my beef with them was that they did not teach buddhism as nichiren did and i told them so. i told them that i loved buddhism but could no longer pledge allegiance to the org. i was threatened and i replied so be it and left. returned to them in 06, after hearing that they had REALLY changed, only to find out they were a thousand time more a cult of personality. i spoke out for mr williams anyway and told the american staff what i thought, and i still do. i have a strong practice and model my practice as nichiren taught. i ow know the teachings very well. my beef is not with u or david. it is about the truth of the gak and the truth of buddhism. look at japan, look at the world. the lotus sutra is true. cheers folks.

    1. Below are links to two videos posted on YouTube by TheRemonstration. It is difficult to discern anything from clips so short, and yet I think we do get a glimmer of Mr. Williams’ true spirit. I am not sure about the claim of Alzheimer’s or if true how far it had progressed. Here in 2010, he seems fairly cognizant, lucid, and no trace of bitterness or anger. He never once protested or countered any of the allegations made against him. Evidence of guilt? Perhaps, but still you’d think there would be some explanation offered in his own defense, or if he had turned against Ikeda, an attack or criticism against his former mentor. Nothing of the sort. He went along with it. Laughed. Said, “It’s hard to believe.” Pretty mild. All of which leads me now to believe that he agreed to be the Ikeda’s fall guy. He was a loyal disciple to the end, even in the face of manufactured disgrace.

      NSA SGI-USA George M. Williams November 28th, 2010

      Never!! Mr. Williams of NSA SGI-USA

    2. Thanks Greg.
      You truly are a pioneer member. Brian Potter did not write Forever Sensei. Certainly not enough words jammed into the lines to be one of his songs! LOL. It was written in Japan mid ’60’s , I believe. I first heard it sometime around 1970, in Japanese. Different lyrics in the original version, of course. The ONLY Japanese Gakkai song not written in a minor key (one of my issues.) and yes, it gets a little cultish but that’s why I’m still with SGI (that and the fact that the Lotus Sutra is the ultimate reality) I’m making sure members don’t go overboard with their enthusiasm. lose sight of cause and effect, or start turning into robots. I was a district leader for 29 years and my members never bought the party line with blind faith. They always knew what their commitment would accomplish. This organization is not karma free as so many members expect it to be: perfect in every way, but we all have our own negative relationship to work out with Buddhism. Just part of what we brought with us into this lifetime. As I often say “the road to Kosen Rufu is long and winding”.
      I did see those videos before. Very short.
      GMW did have Alzheimer’s. I heard about that 7-8 years ago. No idea how much he had forgotten. Can’t tell by these videos. May he be reborn in good circumstances.
      I too practice somewhat differently. I do a gongyo other than what SGI does. Now that the Gosho has been translated into English it’s just a matter of time before independent scholarship will contradict what is being spoon fed to the general membership OR confirm undeniable truths. In the future, there may be a large independent movement born out of studying the writings of both Nichiren Daishonin and Daisaku Ikeda. In the meantime, SGI has established this Buddhism world wide. The Kosen Rufu movement is there as a tool to be used as needed, not to be appended as a prosthesis, nor to supplant rational action.

      Nichiren Daishonin formulated two specific daily recitations for the laity and the priesthood. I’m reciting what he taught to the laity. (WND I page 71 and WND II pages 82-83) What a surprise reading that for the first time. Buddhism will also change in the future, as all religions have done, once it has gained widespread recognition. I’m hopeful that more Buddhist works will be translated, as the primary sources are the final word and true guide to practice, in my opinion.
      Peace to us all and have good day.

      1. I know a man in Chicago who was kicked out of the Organization for promoting and practicing reading the lotus sutra and copying it. Ethan Gelbaum is the man who kicked him out. I do think that the organization is cultish and authoritarian. Mr. Williams wasn’t the only authoritarian that they should have removed in my opinion. While I have no direct experience with Pres. Ikeda, in his writings he is very much against authoritarianism and fanaticism. To me, that is in stark relief to a fairly narrow minded organization, one that promotes the idea of a perfect teaching that no one else has access to. It seems to me that Pres. Ikeda, in meeting with leaders of many different world religions, shows himself to have a greater understanding of the idea of faith than many SGI-USA leaders, who cannot tolerate people of different beliefs. Of course, I have so little exposure to his actual actions, that I cannot say whether he puts his words and to practice or not. It’s been said that if Jesus and Moses and Mohammed and Shakyamuni all got together, they would quickly agree with one another, and I personally feel that the emphasis on doctrine in an age like ours is overdone.

  23. I feel very much appreciative of Mr Williams and all his efforts. He was definitely a positive influence in my life and an important factor of why I joined in 1969. I think we all have a lot of mixed feelings about those early days, but for me, the current organization and the way we’re practicing is how I wished it could have been from the beginning and I think what’s past is past and we should move on. The SGI is very strong now and we have a lot of youth division members. I think we’re headed in the right direction. Our current growth and our unity shows that for me anyway. I’m happy and my family is happier.
    isn’t that what it’s all about?

  24. Thank you for writing a nice objective article about Mr. Williams. I joined in August of 1966. It was mostly “War Brides” and their husbands, except in Santa Monica, where a man named Chuck Parker, who was once a “Beatnik” joined and started spreading “the word” to young hippies like myself. That was the “flash point.” From there, NSA grew like crazy. Mr. Williams led the first meeting I attended at Chuck’s house. I wasn’t really impressed at first, as my friends were asking lame questions, like “what are the beads for,” “how come you guys kneel when you chant,” etc. I raised my hand and asked, “How does this relate to God or a God.” Mr. Sadanaga (at that time) zoned in on me with these remarkable shining eyes that looked like he had just taken “magic mushrooms.”( I related everything to drugs back then) He proceeded to explain how the Gohonzon or mandala was like a mirror we use to clean up our inner self when we chant to it. Everything he said was understood and it just made sense to me. He asked me if I’d like to give it a try and I said yes. 49 years later, I’m still practicing. Although I don’t go to meetings anymore, I do the practice every morning and at evening. The amazing things I have experienced in nearly 1/2 a century are too numerous to mention. I thought what Ikeda did to Mr. Williams was unjust and just downright cruel. As you mentioned, Mr. Williams always referred to Ikeda as “the man.” I last saw him at a funeral for a fellow jazz band saxophonist named Tets Bessho. He was happy to see me and wanted to know if I was still playing the sax. He was “sharp as a tack” and looked well. When he passed, all or most of us who were early pioneers of NSA, really felt a sense of loss, as most of our youth was spent, sincerely working for World Peace through individual happiness. What a ride it was.

    1. Wayne, thanks for your great comment. I could relate to a lot of it. I knew Mr. Parker (can’t bring myself to call him Chuck) well. He could be very strict. More than once I watched as he verbally tore into someone for their sloppy ichinen or whatever – not to be mean, but to shake them up, wake them up. Some people were scared of him, but to me he was always very nice. I think he felt I was sincere so he spared me any scolding.

      After the changes at the World Culture Center swept in following Ikeda’s 1990 visit, many of the folks who had worked for the organization since the 1960s lost their jobs and from what I understand, they didn’t have pensions. Mr. Parker and his wife, Barbara, had to sell their small house in Culver City (as I recall) and lived in a motor home, often parked at the Pico kaikan. It was sad. And like his mentor, Mr. Williams, Mr. Parker never said a discouraging word about the situation.

      1. Perhaps the reason none of those dismissed staffers had any savings was because they gave it all during a contribution campaign. The NSA/SGI-USA would gladly take all your money and all your time, while counseling that you manage your life on your own. In fact if you had a financial problem, they would tell you to dig deeper for the contribution campaign. It’s a case of not having sufficient wisdom and self-restraint. While it’s fine to do that yourself, it’s ethically and morally questionable to tell others to give until it hurts, especially some of the vulnerable people who joined. Yet there is definitely a sense that the loss of some people or even casting them aside and marching right over them only amounts to unfortunate but necessary collateral damage. This flies in the face of Ikeda’s teaching that every single individual is of primary importance.

        1. Thanks for your comments, Josh. In reference to what you said in the first one, this is the point that everyone seems to miss: that Ikeda was just as much an authoritarian even up to the time of 1990 when he came to the US to free the American members as Mr. Williams was accused of being. And again I’d like to mention that Mr. Williams and the other senior leaders were following Ikeda’s orders. Also remember that the Japanese approach is much stricter than most American’s with our free and loose cultural background could often tolerate. This isn’t to say that the organization should have tried to make things more democratic or that mistakes were not made but more to say that we should look try to look at the big picture.

        2. I agree with Josh on this. SGI is run as a non profit entity and therefore is not required to contribute to unemployment compensation or any retirement package. Managing your personal affairs does seem to be an unspoken rule among the Japanese in the organization. Just one of the many cultural clashes that exist there. Navigating those can be a bit bewildering and yes, they will say unemotionally “that’s too bad” as they step over the “fallen”. That too seems to be peculiar to the Japanese. Maybe a trait leftover form the hopelessness experienced after the total defeat of the country in WWII.
          From my perspective in the middle of the country, the authoritarian nature of the organization did decrease after Mr Williams was removed.
          None of these organizational positions is permanent, although it may seem like it, but they’re not. I think a lot is being done outside of Daisaku Ikeda’s direct involvement. Time will tell. Thank you all for adding another piece to the puzzle.

          1. Hi Terry, the point is not that Mr. Williams was removed, but the manner in which he was removed. Same goes for the folks who had worked for the organization. Actually Mr. Williams was allowed to stay employed by the SGI even though he was cast as the “evil one” so to speak while many of these pioneer members and leaders were throw out in the cold. And that’s the point: it was cold, cruel, without even a scent of the compassion that is supposed to be the hallmark of Buddhism, and worse of all, it was just a big show. From my perspective, practicing in Santa Monica, at the heart, the core of the organization, there were some changes but it was mostly cosmetic. The org was very skillful is manipulating the members and making them feel that, for instance, the motivation and drive behind the geographic reorganization was coming from them, when in actuality it was top down all the way, and from I understand it is still very much a top down organization.

          2. Hi David.It’s always been a top down organization. I don’t know if the Japanese can conceive of any organization that isn’t structured or doesn’t function from the top down. It just goes against their perception of organizing a group. If someone gave the direction to make the organization more horizontal, the first thing they would think of doing would be to appoint some horizontal leaders! Then make sure that there were plenty of horizontal reps at every level that would then report to their horizontal leaders about how the whole operation was proceeding.

        3. I’ve never felt coerced or manipulated. Yes, I felt encouraged to make a donation, large or small. Sometimes I only gave a dollar or five dollars. I never felt bad or humiliated. I always got back as much and more.

    2. I too started practicing in Los Angeles (1971 Mulholland District led by Mike Raymond) As with you I still practice but don’t attend meetings. Many of you seem to be saying that Mr. Williams was a victim. Is it possible to be a victim at the end of your life even with years of practice behind you? The answer is yes. I stopped attending meetings a year and a half ago. I was a teacher and a teachers’ union chapter leader. I saw first hand how powerful people use their weapons to destroy and discredit people. Powerful people have the resources to victimize people who do not agree with them. I as the teachers’ union chapter leader was constantly being attacked by state officials (including the principal) who would write numerous false reports about me and other teachers who supported me. These state officials have all the weapons of destruction at their disposal and daimoku is no match for them. No matter how much I chanted and practiced the attacks and lies about me never stopped causing me much distress despite getting up early for years to chant as much daimoku as possible in order counter the persecution. Teaching was no longer fulfilling as it used to be as the state now acts as a police force against teachers and union leaders and the joy of teaching has long faded. This sounds like the case of Makiguchi who was an educator and who was persecuted till the bitter end until he finally died in prison at the hands of his persecutors. I certainly have no desire to die at the hands of my persecutors. I finally had to resign, (like Mr. Williams) so that I could get my emotional equilibrium back. In a way I was a victim because I had to leave my career. How can I go to meetings to encourage others when I had to give up my career to preserve my integrity and emotional balance? The answer is you can’t fight state power. You can only accept it, agree with it, or flee from it. Hopefully, daimoku will help one make the best decision for oneself. We can only hope that Mr. Williams made the best decision for his life by leaving the organization when he did.

      Jack from New York

      1. Thanks for sharing this with us, Jack. I have to say though, I don’t think Mr. Williams’ ever “left” the organization and I’m sure the decision to step down as General Director was not his, but rather the will of someone else imposed upon him.

        1. It sounds as though you are saying that it is possible that someone can impose their will on a person who is chanting daimoku and practicing wholeheartedly. In this case it is Ikeda imposing his will on Mr. Williams. Kind of scary that a person of power can impose their will on you even though you are chanting daimoku. In my case it was a clash of wills between me and the state powers. If I had not resigned, the will of the state would have eventually overpowered me as in the case of Mr. Williams having to bow to President Ikeda’s will. Mr. Mr. Williams and Ikeda were both chanting daimoku but the will of Ikeda won out because he had the more powerful position just like in my case: the state had the more powerful position. So this leaves us with the question; Can daimoku win over the person who has the more powerful position? The answer seems to be no.

          Jack from New York.

  25. A fairly balanced article, but I stopped reading the comments after a few. WAY too much slander. I joined NSA in 1969 and was part of most of the conventions and large activities. Cowboy hats in Denver, Captains hats for YMD in the Seattle convention, space suits for I forgot which convention. With all these uniforms we got to be known as the “polyester sect!” I loved Mr. Williams and we would not have as good an organization here today if it weren’t for him and the members he trained as leaders. OF course many mistakes were made by him as well as President Ikeda. President Ikeda trusted the SG attorney, Yamazaki, and Mens leader, Mr. Fukushima, who plotted against him. MR. Williams developed an NSA culture that was so demanding of members’ time, with sometimes daily meetings, even several meetings in a day, to recruit new members. People were allowed to have Gohonzons when they didn’t fully understand what they were getting into, and dropped out and slandered. We often needed to subscribe to multiple issues of publications to make our district and chapter quotas (aka “determinations.”). But here I am today, having had the time of my life, and still practicing with SGI-USA.

    1. Thank you, Robert, for your fairly balanced comment. I haven’t looked at them for a while, but I think the other comments are fairly balanced too, especially in comparison to some of the comments I’ve received on other Nichiren-oriented posts of mine. I think there is a big difference between “slander” and criticism/opinion. The SGI is big enough, and should be mature enough, to withstand criticism. The fact it views nearly all criticisms as some form of slander, and instills the membership with the same inclination is, in my opinion, another troubling aspect of the organization. Everyone has a right to form an opinion and express it. Some people see the SGI as a cult. Others obviously don’t. Everyone should agree to disagree.

      Again, my opinion is that Mr. Williams developed the NSA culture he was expected (and told) to develop. Would he have created the same culture if on his own? We’ll never know.

      I am glad you brought the issue about how Gohonzons were often given out inappropriately. That was something that always bothered me. Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  26. @ Robert Dorman,

    Early on in my practice I recognized that one of best and most effective ways in which to stifle and shut down any constructive criticism, earnest questioning or the seeking of answers that were not intended to be shared by an inquisitive member was for the Japanese leaders to tell that person they were “committing slander”. Now in Japanese culture questioning authority is considered slanderous, extremely rude and even dishonorable. But I am not Japanese nor I do live or work in Japanese culture, so I prefer the American definition of slander which is, “the oral communication of false statements which are harmful to someone’s reputation”.

    A person sharing their stories about NSA/SGI-USA which are of a negative nature is not at all slander. It is instead that individual’s personal experience which must be viewed and respected as being authentic until proven otherwise.

    It is quite unrealistic to expect that everyone’s experience within any group or organization is going to be mutually positive, uplifting and wonderful. And because someone does have a less than pleasant or even negative experience is not some indication that they were fully at fault.

    One of the most profound lessons of spiritual growth, is the understanding and awareness that each person is on a different path to enlightenment. So we should honor each person’s choices, wish them well, and not see ourselves as being better or wiser.

  27. I really loved Mr. Williams, although I didn’t like the uniforms and marching bands. It was a formative time for the SGI and I still appreciate his ebullience and conviction and enthusiasm. I’m not totally familiar with his break with S G I, I’ll be honest, but I disagree that President Ikeda forced a break with the priesthood. Ftim all that I have been involved the the SGI for 40 years I think it is an amazing organization and Pres. Ikeda is an amazing man. I’m the last person to Ikeda is an amazing man. I,’m the last person to belong to a cult, I hate cults. I’ve never regarded S G I as a cult. I’ve never been forced or pressured to do anything, I haven,’t been pressured to split from my family or friends, one signature of a cult, I’ve always felt total freedom, joy and love practicing with the SGI. Pres. Toda I regard as an awesome individuak who put his faith into action, but I don’t think of myself, as lesser than them, just a different mission. Through my study of everything from the Ongi Kuden to the Gosho, I saw right away the priesthood was off track by insisting on calling the High Priest his Excellency, insisting he is a reincarnation of Nichiren Daishonin, insisting you must go to the Dai-Gohinzin to become enlightened, that priests are above lay believers – even I, a “lowly layman, could see they were distorting the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. And when he destroyed the Sho Hondo and the cherry trees, that nillions of SGI members had donated money for,bthat seaked it for me. It was supreme act of contempt, as was the excommunication, for the members who had helped build the temple uo again. That is my take on everything. I ve read the priesthood publications, in an effort to understand ecerything, and they were way off the track, as far as I’m concerned.

  28. I knew Mr Williams and practiced with him. I liked him and he always seemed like a good man to me. I have also practiced with Sensai and have met him many times in person and have spoken to him and chanted with him. Again a good man, and a great sense of humor. It was never about him when I saw him or was with him. He was so encouraging for me.

    It is so troubling to me to read so many conflicting stories. I know chanting works. I know my practice is not broke, but it ain’t perfect either. Because of Mr. Williams I developed as a YMD in NSA. Because of Sensai I have developed into the man I always dreamed of being. They both helped me. I trusted both of them and don’t really understand what happened except for the rumors I hear

    I have to go with what I know. Nam Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo

  29. Thanks to greg romero I am here today! :^)
    Hope yr doin well greg…:- )

    Patty fisher & charles parker wrote forever sensei.
    I remember when mr. Parker lived in his rv at pico.
    And would sit at the front desk and chain smoke.. times have changed!..
    Saw barbara parker up north a few yrs ago..

    1. Not to be contradictory, but Forever Sensei was originally written in Japanese. Fisher/Parker may have composed the words of the English version, (great job by the way) but they didn’t actually compose this song. I 1st heard it on a record of Gakkai songs, in Japanese, in 1970. I remember how stunningly beautiful this arrangement was performed. One of the Japanese pioneers translated it for me and the only part that I remember starts the verse off with “riding our bicycles to the meeting…” I haven’t seen the original lyrics since that time. I would really like to find them and be able to sing the original song. Thank you all for sharing your memories of those early days.

    2. hello buddhagirl… i just saw this post(1-10-17). sorry, a little late. i am doing well so thanks for your reply. today, i practice independently and as should be, my teacher is the emissary for the modern age, nichiren. through much practice and deep study, years ago i came to the understanding that neither sgi or nst follow what the eternal buddha or nichiren taught. truthfully, they both slander the real teachings. GMW was betrayed by ikeda and the american staff, and GMW got a very raw deal. he was not protected as the sutra promises, because he like ikeda, went against the teachings. nst teachings are absurd. they all should be ashamed. ikedas trip is power/money, and aggrandizement, and GMW was too popular. to look any place else is foolish. i could go on but….., ikeda has not been seen in public for 6 years. he had a very bad stroke and i doubt he is making any decisions. yet, the sgi corporation still continues to use his image. shameful !
      cheers to you whoever you are and thanks for your kind thought. namu myoho renge kyo !!!!!!!! also…cheers to david.

  30. Terry, my mom had the record you’re speaking of and would play it constantly. It must have been ’71 or ’72 because I was very young and not in school yet. I recall her describing a Soka Gakkai convention she went to where thousands of members were singing Forever Sensei together and crying tears of joy from the overwhelming inspiration and happiness in the room. She said the Japanese members would sing a verse in Japanese, then the Americans would do one in English, etc. I just jumped on YouTube and listened to the song since I haven’t heard it in at least a decade. It made me cry and leads me to believe I need some Diamoku in my life. I miss my days of practice.

  31. I’m so glad I came across this post while searching for memories of Mr. Williams! I heard many stories from my grandfather about being in the Pineapple Butai. I’m one of those “fortune babies” and a third generation SGI member. Mr. Williams seemed pretty close with my family (from what I remember) during the NSA years – so much so that he personally gave me the middle name “Masayasu” when I was born. My grandparents and mother were so fond of him and I always loved when he would visit Oklahoma.

    When I moved to Los Angeles after college, my grandmother encouraged me to call him. This was around 2003. I’ll never forget the excitement in his voice when he answered the phone. “Ma-chan, is that you!” Ugh, it gives me all the feels just thinking about it.

    My grandmother passed away a few weeks after Mr. Williams. She was already pretty ill and the news was almost unbearable at that point.

    Religious politics and rumors aside, the man I knew and the man my family loved was one of high character and unshakable faith and resolve. He was kind, warm and all-in when it came to the practice. As my grandfather always said, “If you like it, stay with it. If you don’t, get the hell out.” 🙂

    1. Thank you for leaving this comment. Out of everything that has been written here, my own words included, I think your comment perfectly captures the heart of the man – and the heart, or if you will, the spirit, is the most important measure of any person.

      1. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced by Beverly Hills WD Chief Farida Melendy . We were all from her Canadian family . Gohonzon/shakubukued Los Angeles CA. Dec.2nd 1967. I have been an active member ever since.
        I have seen a lot of changes in NSA/SGI over the years good bad and ugly ,just as the Daishonin predicted in the Gosho (Rissho Ankoku Ron).
        I was not surprised when the priesthood lost sight of the collective role/mission we all shared, I was not surprised with the eventual outcomes. I have continued to roll with the punches.
        I started chanting when I was 19 I am 67 now and my practice has changed with the times just as the Daishonin predicted it would.
        I worked hard behind the scenes , as GMW told me in a private talk ” JohnJohn the greatest role in Buddhism is that of an inconspicuous Bodhisattva”. That has been my personal goal ever since.
        I don’t pretend to know all the facts behind various decisions made and who suffered and why . Its not important in the long run.
        What is important however is your personal faith in Gohonzon ( 3 great secret laws).
        I have made my share of poor decisions and suffered the consequences ,such is the result of cause and effect.
        I have practiced in NSA/SGI Canada since October of 1970. We went from the streets to a beautiful/brand new community center. There were only a handful of Japanese members then now we have 2000 Vancouver members and counting.
        GMW always told me JohnJohn “don’t give up”. The last time I saw him was in the mid 80s. I was working for TJ Rife in Hawaii ,on what became the NSA Kahalu Training Center I lived there in GMW ‘s house for over 3 months. He recognized me instantly as a Canadian member,he was super elated to see me and find out the extent of my work.
        You will not find me saying anything base and derogatory about any member , they came ,worked hard and contributed to World Peace ,whether it was for 5 minutes or 50 years is of no consequence.
        We must move on and learn the language of World Peace. It starts with each person’s individual Human Revolution and that in most cases/mine takes a lifetime of effort.
        The Impossible Dream.

        1. Thanks, JohnJohn, for your comment. I appreciate you sharing part of your story with us. The point about the inconspicuous Bodhisattva is a good one. The SGI has many good teachings that other forms of Buddhism could learn from, unfortunately, in my opinion, there is too much other stuff that really doesn’t have much to do with dharma mixed up with it. And I feel that because the SGI has tremendous influence over so many people, the issues, controversies and so on are important to discuss. But you are right, it starts with our personal development. That, as GMW used to say, is the prime point.

  32. As the great Minnie Ripperton sang: “Here am I — back down Memory Lane … I feel the Happiness … I feel the pain …Here I go again, back down Memory Lane!”
    –< all of your tributes to Mr. Williams and various other comments have reconnected me to a time in my Life when, at 15 years of age I joined NSA (in 1973)…
    –< I was so emotionally damaged as a youngster that when I heard a senior in high school (I went to Fairfax in Los Angeles, CA) tell me that by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, all my dreams will come true–I was in! First up was getting a boyfriend…that somehow being "chosen" would heal all my hurts (I enjoyed a brief relationship with a senior in high school I really liked, however, it wasn't until after 13 years of marriage that I finally know being on my own is a very healthy place for me … I finally got married at age 44 and it was over after the first year–but the man I married was so compassionate that when I asked for a year to wrap my head around getting a divorce, he didn't hesitate to say "okay"–and in January of 2014, when the Judge pronounced us divorced, we both were ready. The marriage didn't survive, yet the friendship that grew from that soil of our individual turmoils is a strong testimony of our similar Hearts: Live and Let Live in Joy and Peace!)
    –< Back to NSA, oh the memories! I'll continue with a tribute to Jane (who added a "y" to her name later) Murad of, if I remember correctly, Westwood District (?). She encouraged me to join Kotekitai (I became a baton majorette) and she vigorously ensured I got to all the practices and events. I left NSA around 1980–still very much a troubled young lady…not on my own because I have a lot of self-love…back then I just couldn't trust how others truly felt about me and I was in misery a lot of the time just wondering what was being thought of who I am. Back to Jayne, when we ran into each other many years later, I wasn't seeing all the friendship she had unselfishly given to me during our NSA days…and now I won't be able to apologize to her in this lifetime for being so blind: I came across her obituary recently and I'm heartsick…yet one of her last messages she shared was about sharing goodness with everyone and how a smile goes a long way–hers sure did and still does for everyone who sees her pictures online, even after she lost her hair from the cancer that took her from this earth life! If her Spirit will hear my apology now, well, I can imagine her forgiving smile…thank you, Jayne, for all the humanistic energy you left in this world for us to benefit from….
    –< Some people I remember also impacting my life a lot are: Mrs. Joanne Murad; Troy and Janet Lewis and all the the members of our district; of course Mr. Williams and his family… I'll always be amazed that I was asked to babysit their two children for a time–a son and daughter who laughed a lot and our friendship was an easy one; Herbie Hancock; Greg Davis; all the Kotekitai members; all the staff I met at the World Tribune HQ; so many leaders whose names are fading, but whose faces and the encouraging energy they shared with me are vivid; Mary Baba (another baton majorette); Shelley Blumberg; Patty Peterson; I'm sure more names will return to my memory as I continue to visit my NSA days, so I'll be back David, to this wonderful blog you have gifted us with to share what we experienced.
    –< Some activities that also impacted my Life: Shakubuku; writing a few articles for the World Tribune; going to Hawai'i in 1975 and performing on that big floating stage (we had so many laughs rehearsing in Santa Monica and constantly being reminded not to dance too close to the edge!!); the Sweetie Seven…I was recruited to become a member of the "next generation" of that group, but it didn't come to be for reasons I never knew, however, the rehearsals with Mrs. Williams are precious memories; going to the conventions in San Diego and Denver–and nearly passing out baton twirling in Denver's high mountains!; the many meetings and testimonies; wow…gonna go absorb some of this…especially thankful for Mr. Williams and his love for Humanity…for without his efforts here in the USA, I would have missed out on so much important growth as a teenager and young woman within the NSA environment. Aloha Mr. Williams and everyone else in my NSA history!

    1. Thanks for leaving the comment, Patty. Sorry it took me so long to put it up. Your name sounds familiar, so we probably crossed paths in Santa Monica at some time.

      1. That’s okay David — and yep, everybody must’ve crossed paths at some point at the Santa Monica HQ!!

  33. I joined NSA in 1987 as a YMD shakubuked on Wed, chanted on Friday and joined on Sunday – such joy of practicing – chanted outside that first week and the rain stopped and sun came out so bright each day. I became a unit leader right away, a group leader in 1988 and then district leader from 1991-2000. I saw GMW three times – Philadelphia 7/4/87, Worcester Mass in July 1988 [when a human pyramid collapsed due to incorrect directions by the leaders and Robert Uruma screamed at Philadelphia members, calling us a ‘disgrace’ – several YMD injured and I remember one Japanese YMD member praying to GMW in a field. Otherwise, a very intense, encouraging experience. I also saw GMW on 7/4/89 – then the whole parade thing and shakubuku ended in March 1990. GMW always seemed impressed with himself. I do remember the March 1990 videocast where Ikeda fired him – Ikeda seemed even more full of himself. I then saw him once in 1992 or 1993 to discuss priesthood issue. he tried to visit temple members to get them back, but they were not buying any of SGI’s b/s any longer.

    I still practice, but was kicked out of SGI-USA as as leaders in Philadelphia were angry I chose to go to grad school and could not fulfill monthly meeting quota – they also did not like being questioned about cult-like aspects of their senseism. I then relocated to GA, but local leaders were angry that I requested Tokubetsu Gohonzon. Then my wife and I had two children with health problems and the local leaders were angry that I could not attend monthly quota of meetings.

    I still practice Gongyo [pre-1930, pre-SGI format, entire Hoben and Juryo Chapters] study Gosho and strive to live this buddhism. I am considering practice with temple or shoshinkai -not the Ikeda-Kai, which is a evil organization of selfish, self-centered icchikantika.

    1. Sanmai , I always found it quite ironic and in some instances, downright insulting that the Japanese leaders were so strongly against members pursuing a college education, except in the case of their own children who they pushed to get an advanced degree.

      1. I must say that in all the years I was with NSA/SGI, I never heard of any leader, Japanese or otherwise, discouraging anyone from going to college. Exactly the opposite, members were encourage to attend college, obtain degrees, etc. It was considered a way for members to show actual proof.

        1. David, perhaps it was like that in the some areas, but in Colorado Springs where I joined and practiced for quite a number of years, the “non-fortune babies” weren’t encouraged to go to college. Luckily, my parents were very insistent on my siblings and I finishing college, so after I left the Army I attended college and got my degree, despite the opposition that I encountered from the local leaders who felt I should be participating in more activities.

          If you scroll up and read my previous comments on this thread, I do mention my frustration at how the “fortune babies” were allowed to have a “life” – dating, going to college, etc., outside of NSA/SGI-USA while the other members, non-fortune babies, were expected to devote every waking moment to organizational activities of some sort.

          Again, this may not have been the experience of some in larger cities, but it was definitely something I encountered.

  34. P.S. My father died two days after GMW did, so at least he had company going to Eagle Peak.

  35. NSA and SGI changed my life forever. Mr Williams and Daisaku Ikeda both encouraged me beyond words.

    I know chanting Nam-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo works in my life and in so many others that I know. Rumor and “Band Wagons” have their place, but not for me, not here.
    Say what you will. The fundamental point I make here I believe, is what is important

    1. Aloha John, I’ve read both of your posts and you’re very consistent with what you know and feel. Your earnestness reminds me of what I’ve researched about Mr. Williams and when he was asked how he feels about President Ikeda — he only had good things to say about him. Thank you for expressing the appreciation you have for both of them…I’ve been reminded of something that’s been happening to me a lot in my elder years: that when someone who has been very important in my life has to turn away for whatever their reasons…I find that I can’t stop being thankful for all they brought to my life for those moments in time. That’s been very refreshing and rejuvenating.

  36. I am so tired of all the nonsense in organized religion.I tried to just chant nam yo ho renege Kyoto and believe in my buddanature without any association with sgi.I did this for 6 years and then when I returned to organization that is when my mind started to become diseased.My advise is to just read the Lotus sutra chant namyohregekyo and stay away from all organizational dealings because they will make you crazy.

    1. hello pamela, i see that your post is fairly recent. hope you are doing well. none of the sects that have emerged from japan, sgi/nsa/n shoshu/ n shu, teach or practice what the eternal buddhas or his emissary for the latter age really taught. if nichiren were alive today he would condemn all of them. i have been chanting and practicing/studying since 1967 and know the teachings better than most. not saying i know everything but i know when it is incorrect. the real teachings have been highjacked for selfish gain/money and power. the lotus sutra censors all of this and therefore is difficult to practice. i have had many, many debates with so called chanters and almost all know nothing of the teachings as taught by nichiren. i find it strange that one would spend hours chanting something while disregarding what the messenger taught. buddhism is not the only religion that has been highjacked. islam has, christianity is in the process etc etc etc. such is the latter day. the lotus sutra is the medicine for this time, however, because it has been perverted, instead of good results, we see bad results in the world. slander. you are better off chanting on your own and studying nichiren. cheers.

  37. I joined in January of 1974 and stopped practice in Southern California until 1982. But i have never forget the changes in my life and the good fortune in my life, it is heartbreaking to hear what happened to nsa over the years, i have never forgoten the dream. and iam truly saddened by the news..

  38. When I joined in January of 1974 and stopped practice in Southern California until 1982. But i have never forget the changes in my life and the good fortune in my life, it is heartbreaking to hear what happened to nsa over the years, i have never forgoten the dream. and iam truly saddened by the news..

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