NSA 1 variously meant Nichiren Shoshu of America, Nichiren Shoshu. Sokagakkai of America. It was the lay organization entrusted with propagation predominantly in the USA, though we had chapters in the Carribean and other places until SGI was formed. From sometime in the 60's to 1991 this was the name that most Nichiren Buddhists in this country referred to their organization. It was probably for that reason that one of the current "splinter groups" breaking away from the Gakkai calls itself "NSA." The old NSA was a more or less unified organization and the American members had little idea that Nichiren Buddhism could be anything else than it was. The brave new world of SGI is very different from that organization of positivity and deep faith in both the teachings of Nichiren and in the mentorship of priests and layleaders like Ikeda Sensei and that these meant the same thing. We never did understand why the name behind the moniker kept changing.
For most of that time it was dominated by a single man and his personality. That man came over to this country in 1955 ostensibly to study Government and Politics and took the lead in propagation in this country. His name at the time was Masayasu Sadanaga.2 He later changed his name to "George M. Williams". He was enthralled with this country and was both dedicated and determined to make "Kosenrufu" of America happen in his lifetime 3. His vehicle for Kosenrufu was a continuous stream of Shakubuku4 campaigns, culture festivals and activities developed at converting and training American Young People. Much of the history of NSA is, for better or worse, tied to his personality and efforts. To really understand NSA I believe you should also visit the page on Mr. Williams. If President Ikeda was Mr. William's Sensei/teacher/mentor, in a very real sense Mr. Williams was ours.
- For more on Mr. Williams visit:
The NSA started in the 1950's with three groups of people and others they interracted with. These groups were,
- Young Japanese Students and the American Nationals they interracted with.
- Japanese "Warbrides", girls who married American GI's during the postwar occupation or afterwards, and who usually came from backgrounds where that offered the only hope that they would have a life other than abjection and low social status. These women and the men they married formed the core of what became NSA. They were the background of it's organization and it's efforts.
- Japanese Nissei and Issei immigrants to the United States (and other countries as well).
The most important of these three groups were the "War Brides" or "Fujimbuchu." The men may get most of the credit for world Kosenrufu, but that is only because the women involved have let them. In my own area these people included wonderful wise and courageous women with names like Ms. Raison, Ms. Bond, Ms. Morgan, Ms. Snelling, and sometimes teams composed of such women and their husbands, such as Mr and Ms. Hicks, the Hurdles, the Browns, and numerous others. And these women formed a network of relationships that spanned the country. Some of them converted their husbands who became 'leaders' in their own right. And eventually these people converted "native" 'gaijin' members like myself. The women 'fujimbu' were the backbone of the organization, yet they supported the, mostly male, leadership through Mr. Williams and President Ikeda. They encouraged each other and all of them were constantly and warmly encouraged by these two genuine leaders. They had reason for their gratitude.
The shakubuku effort that began in Japan naturally spread through these three groups of interactions, and the NSA was formed in order to coordinate these efforts and encourage the disparate people involved. President Ikeda takes credit for this, but the credit he deserves is mostly for having the good sense to recognize and encourage a good thing when he saw it. It was the efforts of people like Mr. Williams, Mr. Osaki, and a host of others who actually created the NSA organization. And they did so with his encouragement. They didn't have to fear his interference until things started going wrong in the 70's and 80's. You can't even begin to describe the development of NSA without talking about Mr. Williams contributions.
Eventually enough momentum was achieved that the shakubuku efforts were extended to people for whom Japanese wasn't a primary language and from there to people who had no idea of Japanese culture prior to their conversion. NSA was an exciting organization. People were learning about a form of Buddhism that was radically different from the simplistic and unbearably difficult teachings of Theravada or the esoteric and time consuming teachings of Zen or Tibetan Buddhism. This was a muscular Buddhism that was aimed at ordinary people living ordinary lives with ordinary jobs. And the very enthusiasm and feeling that it was the "One true Faith" of Buddhism fit well with the born again psychology of Americans. Indeed, if it weren't for the confusion of the Japanese about issues of Master/disciple and other confusions, one wonders if it might have had even more of an impact on the USA.
- Mr. Williams chose the structure he chose was modeled after the structure of the Sokagakkai in Japan and the Japanese Army, with a strict hierarchy of leadership:
- starting with the "hancho" (group chief),
- "Chikibucho" (Disctrict chief)
- "Shobucho" (Chapter Chief)
- "Hombucho" (Area Chief)
- And on up to General Director
There were also assorted "fuku" (assistant) and other positions, and the organization also had duplicate positions for the "four divisions" of Men, Women, Youth men, and Youth Women. This led to some funny situations as I got older, such as Youth division leaders who were in their forties while Young Women would get kicked out when they married. For more on this organization see nsa.html.
This organization was meant to be an "Army of Kosenrufu." The core of the organization were volunteer local leaders, overseen or "directed" by staff members who were often quite charismatic. The volunteers were also supported by a both paid and unpaid headquarters staff consisting of local representatives usually at "Hombuchu" level or higher. The country had few headquarters so the "Chapters" were where most of the central action was, while the "districts" were where the day to day faith activities were centered. There also came to be a central organization centered in Santa Monica.
The organization was modeled after Japan. The country had a General Director, below him was the Central Committee. The country was divided into regions, which were divided into Territories, which were divided into areas, which in turn were divided into General Chapters, Chapters and finally into districts and groups. The exact structure would change from time to time, but not much. The functional unit was the District and group where meetings would occur. District Chiefs and Chapter Chiefs were the "line leaders" and were responsible for day to day activities. Above them were staff leaders who were supposed to assist in their practice, giving guidance, or helping with home visitations or other activities. Until 1976 this basic structure was conjoined with a vigorous and sometimes punishing schedule of activities. Around 1976 members were told to knock off around 8:30 (so they could get enough sleep!) and that has been the traditional meeting end since then.
These were the core activities in those days;
- The "Zadankai"5
- or discussion meeting, which was (and is) the principle meeting for both study and conversion of others.
- The "Home Visit"
- which was meant to help wavering members, create solidarity, and often to help collect subscriptions to the organ newspaper.
- The General Meetings
- See page on Mr. Williams
- Cultural Festivals.
- These meetings were meant to help the members get a feel for the organization, it's purpose and the "feel" of this organization. These were also "target" points around which other activities were engaged in, from sewing and creating uniforms, building props and sound stages, to preparing for and participating in shows and performances. In Japan the "Minon" or performance group has a reputation for professional performances, and the performances put on (often by untalented ordinary members) were often very professional. Some of these performances included various "Brass Bands" a young woman's fife and drum corps (Kotekitai), choreographed dances, half time shows, and things ranging from the sublime to the almost rediculous. One of the more unusual activities was the "Five Story" pyramid efforts of the mid to late 80's. This was followed by rollor blading and other variations of the same theme. These activities may have seemed strange to outside observers, but they brought participants a kind of pride and satisfaction. They may have targeted outside audiences and been done in the name of "Shakubuku" 4 but they were really done for the sake of the spiritual growth of the participants.
There were some incidents in the 1970's which should have warned us that all was not well between two organizations, but maybe I was dense and I believed the leaders and priests when they made their assurances of mutual love and fidelity. We later found out that both the priests and the leadership of NSA were trying to shield us ordinary members from the conflicts in Japan. These started with issues dating back to World War II and only escalated with time.
In the late 70's, early 80's, There was a local priest in New York, who criticized the Gakkai, Reverend Tono But he was expelled. Two Youth Division members brought him his expulsion papers and he led a breakaway group that persists to this very day. There was also the incident of President Ikeda's resignation in 1979. All this coincided with ups and downs in the organization. When I first joined, the period was called "phase one" and the Gakkai everywhere was involved in radical propagation efforts. We had everything geared towards recruiting (at least most of the time), and were out doing activities constantly. In 1976 there was something called phase II. I hear now that it collapsed, and I kind of witnessed that collapse as my own practice had it's period of ups and downs around the same time as all that. That was rapidly followed by phase III. Since then there have been a number of gyrations and so I'm not sure what phase we are currently in. Actually I think the term was abandoned, though one can never tell.
Mr. Williams led most of these efforts. His enthusiasm, "bonhomme" and tirelessness impressed many people, including the author of this page. Indeed those around him in Santa Monica are still impressed by his spirit to practice and share this Buddhism. Until 1989 he was "The General Director" and at one time he was also "Honorary Vice President." He was beloved by many American members for his genuine kindness, passion, and unwavering committment to Kosenrufu of America and propagating Nichiren Buddhism.
Unfortunately he also deserves some of the credit for things going sour. There are some people who allege that he abused his position, but I don't think he did so on purpose but was simply caught between the two cultures. He understood his "host culture" some, but didn't appreciate the value of our democratic values or openess, until those things had become a liability to the Japanese leaders. Due to his massive positivity he would have created Kosenrufu of America by himself if that had been possible using a Japanese hierarchical organizational structure and Nichiren Shoshu doctrines. He was unable to appreciate the dangers of the military style structure and the authoritarian habits of Japanese patriarchy and authoritarianism. Perhaps he took Ikeda on the surface meaning of all his speeches on democracy and "bottom up" organization. All I know is that if the NSA had been an elective organization he'd probably still have at least an honorary top position. According to Norman McCormack he later apologized for not realizing this. Of course by then it was too late to have any influence on the hierarchy. Since his departure the SGI has been run with an iron hand by Japan all the while asking us for "advise" (but disregarding it each time it is offered). For more on this see the page on him: williams.html
In 1989 he was publicly rebuked and he was publicly "deposed" by President Ikeda officially in 1992 and replaced with Fred Zaitsu. His replacement ends the story of NSA as Nichiren Shoshu Academy. In 1989 when President Ikeda gave guidances towards a "kindler gentler" version of the Gakkai in his famous 1990 "mirror guidances" everyone involved thought that meant that American's would inherit leadership of their own organization and that there would follow democratization. Unfortunately that was not to be the case, and Mr. Zaitsu was more quietly replaced with Danny Nagashima in 1999. (See sgiusa.html).
When the World Buddhist League Sokagakkai International(SGI) was formed in 1975, NSA was part of it, when it was renamed the Sokagakkai International, SGI was renamed as well. This was in 1989. It was renamed SGI-USA, but it was still known as NSA to most people until the split with Nichiren shoshu. In a sense NSA broke up when NST and Sokagakkai split. The NSA organization was renamed Nichiren Sokagakkai or simply Sokagakkai International of USA (SGI-USA). The members who stayed loyal to the priests they'd been trained to "respect" and "follow", joined "NST" (also known as NSS). Since then it has had two general Directors, Fred Zaitsu, and now Danny Nagashima, these two men are not the same kind of "pioneer" that Mr. Williams was, but they are decent enough fellows. The story of NSA ends where SGI-USA takes off and the conflict with Nichiren Shoshu breaks out.
For those of us who practiced with NSA, it's official name may have been Nichiren Shoshu of America or Nichiren Shoshu Sokagakkai of America, but for most of us it was simply the Nichiren Society of America. For us Zadankai (discussion meetings), Gongyo (Sutra and daimoku recitations), and doing Shakubuku were simply practicing Nichiren's orthodox teachings. We had no real consciousness that there was any way to practice Buddhism except as Nichiren said. We were sure that the High Priests and Senior leaders of the Gakkai were simply teaching us Nichiren's teachings.
This idea has gone fallow. The imported conflict between the Nichiren Shoshu and Sokagakkai, and it's inheritance from ages of internal wrangling between sectarian priests and laymen, has led to the splitting of this "NSA" Sangha. The conflict with NST inevitably led to personalization and conflict within the Gakkai, as inevitably criticisms such as that of the "IRG" led to reform movements, which in turn led to break away movements of "Indy's" and others. Now there are people who call themselves Sokagakkai, Soka Spirit, Hokkeko, Nichiren Buddhist Sangha, etceteras. And they are all broken off from one another with furrowed brows and angry expressions. I would suggest people try to bring it back. I don't miss the dogmatics of the old NSA, but I do miss the "soka spirit" to create value out of our lives, share this Buddhism, and learn about Nichiren's teachings. I am a still a member of the Gakkai as far as I know. I refuse to quit the one to join the other or to acknowledge the divisiveness and divisions of our great Buddhist Sangha. I realize the errors and mistakes of my teachers and their lineages, but I also acknowledge my brotherhood and sisterhood with all people seeking enlightenment. To me there is only one Nichiren Sangha. Call it what you will but I think of it as the Nichiren Sangha or Society of America: NSA. Long Live NSA. Recently some Independents have even decided to call their loose association "NSA". What Irony.
I flirted with joining this. They even created a web-page. However, the person organizing all the internet activities was one person. And while he remained quiet for a while suddenly he decided that he was going to run things himself and his way. He sent me an Email:
This email is going to all the current moderators of the Nichiren Society of America (NSA) Discussion Board
As owner of this board I have decided that it has become necessary for us to start enforcing the rules of the board. This has not been the case in the past. We had rules but they were not enforced, partly because several of the moderators do not believe in moderation.
Accordingly I have removed all the existing moderators. New moderators will be appointed presently.
I ask you all to refrain from arguing about this decision on the public board, at least for a few days to let things settle down. Any of you are, of course, free to start up a new board without moderation or rules if you prefer that type of environment. We would allow publishing a link to any new groups that may be formed on the Yahoo! NSA Discussion Board.
I've had enough of this sort of authoritarian crap. I resigned that NSA, and remain a member of "Soka Underground." NSA past and present, fearless leaders, I've had enough of them. Leadership is a good thing. I'm just tired of hierarchies.
For a time I was heartened by the creation of a "Soka Underground" but that didn't pan out either. The site was started by Lisa Jones, but after a time something offended her, probably similar to the letter that the reform movement received. At any way, her website still exists: http://www.buddhajones.com but those of us who still love the Gakkai without loving it's warts are now putting up blogs at:
These websites have more information and personal experiences with NSA and the Gakkai
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