I defend Soka Gakkai International (SGI) from accusations that it is a cult whenever I see them. I sincerely do not think it is a cult, and SGI members I have met do not seem to me to be brainwashed. But news stories like this don't make defending SGI easier.
SGI has offered to give $180,000 to the city of San Francisco in exchange for naming a gate to Franklin Square Park after SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. The gate would include a plaque to Ikeda's mentors. According to the city's Recreation and Park's Department, $80,000 would be used for construction and landscaping of the gate, and $100,000 would go to the Recreation and Park Department for "general operating support."
Yesterday the offer was on the agenda of a Recreation and Park Commission public meeting , but I don't yet know if the city has decided to accept or reject it. Given the economic crisis in California, that much money would be hard to turn down, I would think.
What little local reaction I have seen has been negative, however. President Ikeda has no connection to the park, which makes the proposed dedication of the gate an act of transparent vanity.
Buddhism has a rich history in San Francisco, beginning in 1853, when the first Buddhist temple in America was built there. It would be a lovely gesture to dedicate a public monument to a Buddhist from San Francisco's past. Or, the gate could be dedicated to "world peace" or "humanitarianism" or some other altruistic principle. SGI could still get its name on the plaque, for the sake of public relations.
But SGI's practice of lavishing large amounts of money to buy honors for Daisaku Ikeda does not speak well for Ikeda, or SGI. And it doesn't make Buddhism look good, either.
Update: I have learned the commission has recommended accepting the gift. The gate is to be named the "Ikeda Peace Gate," which is a shade less creepy (to me) than the "Daisaku Ikeda Gate." But plain ol' non-attached "Peace Gate" would have been so much better.