Soka Gakkai International – Austin Chapter

This profile was last updated in 2003

Activities and Schedule

The Central Texas Area of the SGI-USA holds World Peace prayer meetings the first Sunday of every month in Austin at 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. and at 10:00 a.m. in Killeen at 10:00 a.m. In addition, The Central Texas Area also has a robust calendar schedule with over a dozen meetings occurring each month. Special meeting groups exist to accommodate the membership’s diversity of age, ethnicity, and geographical location. Consult their website for a monthly calendar.

History

SGI arrived in Austin as early as 1957. The first Austinite to practice SGI was a Japanese woman who married a service man stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base (which has since become Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.) SGI members met in private homes until 2000, when the US headquarters of SGI-USA in Los Angeles approved a new Activity Center in Austin; not long afterwards the organization expanded to include members from Killeen. The Central Texas Area of SGI-USA would like to one day have a larger culture center with more meeting space. Membership in the area continued to increase and in 2002, a SGI student group was formed at the University of Texas. In 2003, the president of the student group, Nora Megharbi, began working with Dr. Lester Kurtz of the Department of Sociology in his efforts to start a Peace and Conflict Studies Program at the University of Texas. The Austin members of SGI successfully organized a benefit concert that helped to fund the “Peaceful Heroes Symposium” which served as the official launch for the University’s new program.

Demographics

SGI is divided into Men’s, Women’s, and Youth divisions, of which the Women’s division has the most members. Normally, meetings are conducted in English. However, additional monthly meetings are conducted in Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. This arrangement reflects the ethnic diversity of the chapter. Ellen Wadsworth, an area leader, recalls a meeting in which each member was asked to name their national heritage: 35 different countries were named.

Description

The SGI-USA Austin Activity Center, serves as the area headquarters and is located in a small suite in a business park in North Austin. The center is large enough to house a main office, a conference room, and a central meeting room. The meeting room features a wooden altar that houses the Gohonzon, a scroll on which is written the mantra: Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Traditional offerings such as fruit and evergreens are left before the Gohonzon. In tradition with President Ikeda’s love of landscape photography, the meeting room features a framed print of Mt. Fuji next to a print of Austin’s scenic and famous 360 bridge. The latter was donated by one of the area’s members. Mr. Ikeda himself donated the remaining photographs of which one was of an outdoor sitting area used for dialogue; it adorns the center’s conference room and represents the importance of heart-to-heart dialogue.

Center Activities

The Central Texas Area is divided into chapters and districts, of which the district discussion meetings are the heart of the organization. The discussion meeting fosters a cooperative and learning atmosphere by encouraging participants to ask questions and hold heart to heart dialogue. While chanting holds a place of central importance in SGI, an SGI meeting may include hermeneutical discourses, musical performances, and inspirational talks. The “testimonial” is a common genre of talk given during SGI meetings. Faith or belief grows when members receive “actual proof” as a result of chanting. As one member of the Austin Area stated, “It’s [Buddhism] a very sensible religion.” Volunteers accept leadership positions for each organizational level and are represented (where available) by each division who function as a team. The responsibility of leadership is based on supporting and serving the membership and is not considered a position of authority but rather an opportunity for growth and development of character. Rather than having a single leader at meetings, the responsibility for facilitating meetings rotates between leaders of each of the different divisions in one capacity or another. This reflects the group’s attitude of “it takes a village”. Other activities conducted by the area include study groups to discuss the Lotus Sutra and other classics, youth activities for ages 6 and up, and a variety of other faith-based functions. There are a variety of books and publications available to the membership including a collection of writings from Nichiren Daishonin called The Gosho; the national headquarters publishes a weekly newspaper called The World Tribune and a monthly magazine called Living Buddhism. The international organization’s president, Daisaku Ikeda, has published over 150 books that are translated into many languages and read worldwide.