Sunday, 29 April 2012

Leaders and meetings

I wanted to spend a little time talking about the structure of the SGI.

Let’s say you have a friend who shakubu-ed you and you went to a couple of meetings. At some point someone will ask you for your email address and you will start receiving a “schedule” of the “district”, full of different types of meetings.

Being a fukushi, I’ve never really had that experience. I grew up in a house where meetings happened every other day and I sort of learnt all the lingo by osmosis.

I have to admit that when I moved to the UK at the beginning I was confused by the differences.

So I’m going to talk about the structure and organisation of divisions, meetings and leaders, but please bear in mind that everything that follows is only valid for the UK. Having witnessed a vastly different situation in Italy, I can just assume there will be differences in other countries as well.

First of all, let’s talk about the concept of Divisions. The four main divisions are Men, Women (together: the Adult division), Young Men, Young Women (together: the Youth division). Children and teenagers also have their own groups and activities. I don’t know much about these, but will do some research in the future.
More often than not, you will find a lot of acronyms on the schedule and emails.
Like: Tue, YWD mtg. Short for, “On Tuesday, Young Women Division meeting”.

Assuming you start practising at a young age, at some point you will move from the Youth Division to the Adult Division. The reasons behind the passage really vary from person to person. There isn’t a hard age limit for being in a division, although in the UK most people think about moving when they reach their 40s. Ish. One of my best friends is exactly my same age, 26, so we joke that we still have 14 years in the YWD.

Another very common reason is having children. A lot of my friends moved when they got pregnant. That said, I know a lot of mothers and fathers who are still in the YD.

The main idea about having divisions is the fact that you will be supported by people who potentially are facing (or have recently faced) the same type of struggles. But more on that later.

The smallest nucleus of our Buddhist organisation is the District. A District is a group of people, coming from the different divisions. You can have as little as three and as many as thirty or forty people in a district.

Districts are created on the basis of how many members live in a certain area, and often are called with the name of the area. If a lot of members live in a specific area, then the district may be split to create a new one.

A district meets usually at least twice a month. The first meeting is called Planning meeting, where you plan the topic and assign the roles for discussion meeting. On another day later on that month they will meet for the proper district meeting, or discussion meeting. Your first buddhist meeting is likely to be a district meeting.

Depending on how many people you have from each divisions, you may also have division meetings (once a month) at District level. Or they may be at the next level up. And you may or may not have a planning meeting as well.

Also, the first Sunday of the month Kosen Rufu Gongyo normally happens at District level. 

The next level up is a Chapter. Chapters are made of a minimum of two or three districts. Aside from division meetings, what you normally have at Chapter level is the Study meeting. This happens once a month. Often they are big meetings, so the Chapter would rent a conference room or something. There will be usually two people doing the study lecture. One reading the chosen Gosho for the month, the other explaining it and offering their personal views and experiences on it.

I’m very fond of Chapter studies. People interested in doing lilac or soka can start volunteering for these meetings, before upgrading to a centre.
My first big experiences lilac-ing were at Chapter studies, and my first times being lilac chief as well. Fond memories. That said, I’ve been a very bad girl and so far have never been to ONE study meeting since I moved to my new district (more than a year ago). They are always on Friday and I always seem to have school stuff to do or am travelling on those days. I need to attend one soon.

The next level up is the HQ. Again, you would have two or three Chapters minimum to form an HQ. There aren’t regular monthly meetings at HQ level, but there are HQ study meetings (which replace the Chapter study meeting for that month) twice a year, and also big events, like the kickoff meeting at the beginning of the year, or the Youth Division Day. Furthermore, the general support for the Buddhist Centres (or Kaikan’s) is coordinated at HQ level. I.e., when you go to do a lilac shift, you will almost always find people from your own HQ (unless you are filling in for a missing lilac in another HQ).

The next level up is the Area. Areas can be really huge in terms of number of people AND square Km. To give an example, East London is an Area (which means London has several areas), but if I’m not much mistaken the whole of Ireland is an Area.

The Summer courses happen at Area level. (more on courses in another post)

There are other levels higher than these (National, etc…), but I think I’ll stop here and start talking about leaders.

At every level I described, you will hopefully have a Leader for each division. So to give an example:

Xx District = WD leader, MD leader, YWD leader, YMD leader.

Xx District is lucky, there’s representatives of all divisions. Yy district is not that lucky, they have no Young Men. However, they have loads of Women. So they will have:

Yy District = WD leader, vice WD leader, MD leader, YWD leader.

And so on and so forth, for all the levels.

What on Earth do these leaders do? Are they little tyrants who decide what to do, when, how and why?


The main role of leaders is to support members. At District level (my level), this means mostly two things: contacting members via phone calls, texts and emails, and homevisiting them. I’ve been appointed vice YW district leader only recently, so I haven’t done any homevisits yet, but I’m literally bombarding the poor things with calls, emails and texts.

When you move up from District level, the main role of leaders is to support District leaders (so they can support members).

The second main role of all leaders is a practical, organisational role. Finding where to host meetings. Writing a clean schedule and sending it around. Disseminating information on meetings and courses. Organising the support for Buddhist Centres. Organising big meetings and courses. The list is endless.

What does “support” mean? Loads of different things. All great, to be honest with you. A simple phone call to ask “how’s fings?” is support. Keeping them informed of meetings and opportunities is support. And of course visiting them is support. I heard wonderful things about home visits and I’m looking forward to start doing them.

My experience with supporting YW has been incredible. Before I was appointed Vice District Leader, I already had a responsibility (which I still have) in the Lilac team. I suppose now you guessed why I’m always talking about Lilacs. Anyhoo. What I do is I take care of the team of lilacs who volunteer for one shift at one centre. So my leader sends me the dates and the names, I pick one and chant for the girls, for the shift etc…, but most importantly I call them to support them and give them all the information about the shift, the centre, etc…

When I started, for the first couple of shifts I didn’t have the balls to call. I texted. Silly me. When I finally found the guts to make the phone calls (almost every time there’s someone I don’t know), my life just cracked open. There is nothing like being there to support someone, listen to their struggles, and somehow mystically find the right thing to say to encourage them.

It’s awesome.

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