As people start their own journey of seeing what Nam myoho renge kyo can do for them, the most important place is the local district: small groups of people meeting to chant, study and share experiences of transformation, of becoming happy in their daily lives. Everyone in SGI-UK has something very important in common: we are all members of a district. All other aspects of SGI-UK exist to support the districts. We make profound bonds with other human beings, through practising with other people and these bonds are the real building blocks for peace.
At present in the UK we have districts of every imaginable geographical size: in urban areas a district might be just a couple of streets, and in some parts of the UK a district might be a hundred or more miles across. As we welcome more people interested in Buddhism, our districts grow organically, in a similar way to the way the cells of an organism split and grow.
The important thing about the district is that it represents the heart of SGI in a particular community. Our movement is not identified by particular buildings or places. It is a mistake to think that SGI-UK is just one place like Taplow Court, or another one of our centres. What SGI-UK really is, is the 600+ districts. One of the strengths of SGI-UK is that we have over six hundred groups of people around the country who are absorbing the teachings of Buddhism and applying them in their daily lives, and encouraging each other as they do so.
Each district represents the collective personality of its members. It can be both wonderful to encounter people who may have a completely different outlook on life than us and also sometimes challenging. However, it is only through our interactions with others that we can truly polish and develop ourselves. Also, through learning to transcend superficial differences and learning to respect others in the discussion meetings, we create a model that can be applied to every area of our life.
Dialogue, interaction and discussion have always been crucial to the process by which people come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Buddhism. Small group discussions provide an opportunity for questioning, for voicing and responding to doubts.
This is a shared process of learning that proceeds at the pace that is genuinely comfortable and effective for all the participants. From the perspective of Buddhist humanism, truth is not the exclusive possession of a select individual or group. Rather, truth is something to which all people have equal access. It is discovered through our committed engagement with our fellow human beings and is shared and transmitted through an expanding web of empathetic connection among people. Such interactions, on the basis of equality, are the crucible in which our humanity is forged.
The meetings are held in villages and local neighbourhoods, and give people the opportunity to develop the kind of relations that are increasingly rare in contemporary environments, where people may live for years as neighbours without developing any personal connection. Discussion meetings are open to all and bring together people who might never otherwise encounter each other. Everyone, including children or those for whom speaking in front of others does not come easily, are encouraged to speak, to offer their comments or reactions.
The sharing of faith experiences—the transformation in people’s lives realized through Buddhist practice—is a central element of discussion meetings. There is perhaps nothing more heartening for people struggling with problems than the example of others who have successfully confronted and overcome their own challenges. The best discussion meetings are filled with a bright mood of mutual encouragement. Buddhist study is another important feature; an individual or group of individuals may prepare a presentation on a theme or concept, which then sets the stage for further discussion. Guests or others interested in learning more about Buddhism are encouraged to comment and question.
It is in the district that our motto of 'Trust through friendship, peace through trust' comes alive. Our friendships in the district are based on the respect we have for people because we know that they are doing their best to reveal their Buddhahood and work to create a peaceful society.
In SGI-UK differences are treasured and principles of equality and respect are put into practice.
So in conclusion, the district is the most important part of our organisation. This is because every single member of SGI-UK has been nurtured through being part of a district. As we develop our local district, and at the same time have the vision that in time it will grow and have even more impact on our local community, we are seeing the kosen-rufu movement, the absolute happiness movement, develop and flourish in the UK.