Oral Histories

Interview of Gerry Hall

Member of the Soka Gakkai International organization.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Member of the Soka Gakkai International organization.
Cline, Alex
Hall, Gerry
Persons Present:
Hall and Cline.
Place Conducted:
The Soka Gakkai International U.S. headquarters in Santa Monica, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Hall was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. The corrections made were then entered into the text.
9.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Birth and childhood in Hancock Park—Father’s background in Minnesota—Father works as an electrician in California during the Great Depression—Mother’s background in L.A.—Father’s religious background and Hall’s Christian upbringing—First job delivering papers in neighborhood—Neighborhood tranquility and connections to Hollywood—Learning ethics from parents—Attends Sunday school until age twelve—Public speaking training in high school—Contrasting parenting from father and mother—Aunt Mary on mother’s side is mentally impaired—Parents’ philanthropy—Junior high school—Getting first motorcycle—Attending Los Angeles High School—Interest in science and studying engineering at UCLA—Memories of heavy smog.
Hall’s relationship to his older sister—Assisting their father in remodeling projects—Sister’s marriage, move from, and later return to L.A.—Starting UCLA in 1962—Introduction to counterculture and psychedelics—LSD’s impact on Hall adopting liberal views—Avoids Vietnam draft—Attending rock concerts in L.A. after completing UCLA courses—Sees Timothy Leary speak and attends an acid test—Makes 8mm films—Reads the book of Tao and sits peacefully on Sunset Blvd—Meets artist Rowena and moves to Berkeley with her—Graduates from UCLA and moves to San Francisco—Moves in with married woman—Reads Gary Snyder and Alan Watts—Lives in Haight-Ashbury for Summer of Love—Medical issues from childhood polio to tuberculosis and cancer.
Return to L.A. and limited options for hippie life—Depression, insomnia, and back pain after return—Drives graveyard shift for Yellow Cab—Fellow driver informs him of Nichiren Shoshu of America meetings in West L.A.—Attends Westwood meeting and learns more about Nichiren Daishonin—Racial differences between East and West L.A. chapters—Receiving Gohonzon scroll and enshrining it at parents’ home—Moves to half of house in Sawtelle—Visits Nichiren Shoshu headquarters and sees geographic racial differences—Nichiren Shoshu/Soka Gakkai’s foundational history with Japanese war brides—Organization’s shakabuku philosophy of sharing its teachings—Increased faith and well-being after joining—Historical tensions between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai—Foundation and success of Santa Monica chapter—Hall joins Soka Gakkai’s World Tribune newspaper in 1968—Headquarters relocates to Santa Monica—Hall’s rapid rise through the ranks—Huge membership growth in 1970s—International leadership conflicts—Improved relationships with parents after moving out.
Early enthusiasm with Nichiren Shoshu—Finding an engineering job in Culver City—Working in Van Nuys after layoff and leaving to join World Tribune—Becomes chief of Santa Monica chapter—National tour to Americanize the practice—Meeting Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Daisaku Ikeda in Japan—Soka Gakkai’s ethics and chanting practices—Breaking with gender separation in U.S. chapters—Organizational codes of conduct for leaders—Son Danny’s involvement in linking SGI USA with other organizations—Marriage to high school sweetheart and later divorce—Second and third marriages—Relationships with ex-wives and family.
Soka Gakkai International (SGI) course corrections adapting to changes in the U.S.—Ultimate goals of respect for life, others, and their practice—Hall becomes SGI headquarters manager—SGI cultural festival at L.A. Sports Arena attended by Daisaku Ikeda—Extensive travels with Ikeda—Annual cultural festivals becoming expensive and are canceled in 1977—Becomes managing editor of World Tribune—International tensions between Ikeda and Nichiren Shoshu clergy—Restructuring of leadership and focus on younger members—Portrayal of SGI in Tina Turner biopic—Diverse origins and inclusivity create present diversity—Emphasis of study in organization—Ikeda’s age leads to presence through videos—Hall’s current SGI activities—Benefits of longtime practice—Reflection on journey through organization—Optimism for SGI’s future.