Soka Gakkai

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Sōka Gakkai
Soka Gakkai International (SGI)
Soka Gakkai International flag with logo
FoundersTsunesaburō Makiguchi, Jōsei Toda
TypeReligious movement
HeadquartersShinanomachi 32, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-8583, Japan
Membershipover 12 million (by own account)
President (SGI)
Daisaku Ikeda
Honorary President (SG)
Daisaku Ikeda
President (SG)
Minoru Harada
Parent organization
Nichiren Shōshū (until 1991)
WebsiteSoka Gakkai International
Formerly called
Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai
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Sōka Gakkai
Soka Gakkai International (SGI)
Soka Gakkai International flag with logo
FoundersTsunesaburō Makiguchi, Jōsei Toda
TypeReligious movement
HeadquartersShinanomachi 32, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-8583, Japan
Membershipover 12 million (by own account)
President (SGI)
Daisaku Ikeda
Honorary President (SG)
Daisaku Ikeda
President (SG)
Minoru Harada
Parent organization
Nichiren Shōshū (until 1991)
WebsiteSoka Gakkai International
Formerly called
Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai

Soka Gakkai (Japanese: 創価学会?) is a Japanese lay Nichiren Buddhist movement with, by its own account, 12 million members in 192 countries and territories around the world. As a lay group associated with Nichiren Buddism, the Soka Gakkai reveres the Lotus Sutra and places the chanting of the name of the Sutra at the center of devotional practice, though it occasionally breaks with Nichiren tradition, especially on issues of priesthood.

While the organization has received recognition for its peace activism, it has also been at the center of controversies,[1] especially in the first few decades following World War II.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Some anticult authors have included the Soka Gakkai on their lists of cults.[9]

The movement was founded by educators Tsunesaburō Makiguchi and Jōsei Toda in 1930 as a lay organization belonging to the Nichiren Shōshū Buddhist denomination.[10] After a temporary disbandment during World War II when much of the leadership was imprisoned on charges of lèse-majesté, the membership base was expanded through arguably controversial and aggressive recruitment methods to a claimed figure of 750,000 households by 1958, compared to 3,000 before the end of the war.[6][11][12]

Further expansion of the movement was led by its third president Daisaku Ikeda, who planted the seed for the organization's international expansion in 1960. While Ikeda has been remarkably successful in moving the group towards mainstream acceptance in some areas, the organization is still widely viewed with suspicion in Japan and grapples with a stereotype of being a "brainwashing cult", as well as a cult of personality centered around Ikeda.[6][13][14][15][16][17][18][19]


Makiguchi: 1930-1944

Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, First President of the Sōka Gakkai


The Soka Gakkai officially traces it foundation to November 1930, when educators Tsunesaburō Makiguchi and his colleague Jōsei Toda published the first volume of Makiguchi's magnum opus on educational reform, Sōka Kyōikugaku Taikei (創価教育学体系, The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy).[20][21]:49 In a 1933 publication by this group, Makiguchi explained one of his educational principles: "We must make our children thoroughly understand that loyal service to their sovereign is synonymous with love of country."[22]

The first general meeting of the organisation, then under the name Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai (創価教育学会, lit. "Value Creating Educational Society"), did not take place until 1937.[23] The group was a hokkeko (lay organization) affiliated with the Nichiren Shoshu, by that time a small and obscure Nichiren Buddhist sect. Makiguchi, who had turned to religion in mid-life, found much in Nichiren's teachings that lent support to his educational theories, though it has been argued that the sect's doctrines and rituals went against the grain of Makiguchi's modernist spirit.[11][24]:21–32 From the very first meeting, however, the main activity of the group seems to have been missionary work for Nichiren Shōshū, rather than propagating educational reform.[11] The membership eventually came to change from teachers interested in educational reform to people from all walks of life, drawn by the religious elements of Makiguchi's beliefs in Nichiren Buddhism.[25]:14

Repression during the war

The organization soon attracted the attention of the authorities. Makiguchi, as did Nichiren, interpreted the political troubles Japan was experiencing as a result of the propagation of false religious doctrines. His religious beliefs motivated him to take a stand against the government, earning him a reputation as a political dissident.[25]:14–15

In 1942, a monthly magazine published by Makiguchi called Kachi Sozo (価値創造, "Creating values") was shut down by the government, after only nine issues had gone to press. In 1943, the group was instrumental in making the Nichiren Shoshu refuse to merge with the Nichiren Shū, per the Religious Organizations Law which had been established in 1939.[11] Later the same year, one zealous Tokyo member told a non-member that his daughter had died as punishment for not converting to Nichiren Shōshū. This prompted a government investigation of the group, which perhaps precipitated the subsequent arrest of its leadership.[21]:98, 108[26][27] The government believed that because Soka Gakkai members insulted the religious beliefs of others and destroyed religious implements, the group posed a threat to Japan's policy of religious freedom.[28]

Makiguchi, Toda, and 19 other leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai were arrested on July 6, 1943, on charges of breaking the Peace Preservation Law and lèse-majesté: for "denying the Emperor's divinity" and "slandering" the Ise Grand Shrine. The government had issued that a talisman from the Shinto shrine should be placed in every home and temple. While the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood had been prepared to accept the placing of a talisman inside its head temple, Makiguchi and the Gakkai leadership had openly refused.[11] Makiguchi gave the following reason for refusing the talisman: "The Sun Goddess is the venerable ancestress of our Imperial Family, her divine virtue having been transmitted to each successive emperor who ascended the throne up to and including the present emperor. Thus has her virtue been transformed into the August Virtue of His Majesty which, shining down on the people, brings them happiness. ... In light of this, who is there, apart from His Majesty, the Emperor himself, to whom we should reverently pray?"[22]

With its leadership decimated, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai disbanded.[26][29] During interrogation, Makiguchi had insisted that "The emperor is an ordinary man ... the emperor makes mistakes like anyone else".[24]:40–41 The treatment in prison was harsh, and within a year, all but Makiguchi, Toda, and one more director had recanted and been released.[26] On November 18, 1944, Makiguchi died in prison of malnutrition, at the age of 73.

Toda: 1945-1958

Jōsei Toda, second President of the Sōka Gakkai

The new Soka Gakkai

Jōsei Toda was released from prison in 1945 and immediately set out to rebuild what had been lost during the war. In February 1946, the organization was officially re-established, now under the shortened moniker Sōka Gakkai (lit. "Value-creation society"). While progress was slow for the first few years, the monthly magazine Daibyaku Renge (大白蓮華?) began publishing in 1949, and the newspaper Seikyo Shimbun in 1951 - the same year that Toda formally assumed presidency.[30] During his acceptance speech, he placed a formidable challenge to the congregated members: to convert 750,000 families before his death. Toda added: "If this goal is not realized while I am still alive, do not hold a funeral for me. Simply dump my remains in the bay at Shinagawa."[31]:285–286

Aggressive proselytizing

Toda adopted an aggressive and controversial method of proselytizing, based on Nichiren teachings on shakubuku (折伏), often translated character for character as "break and subdue", sometimes as "forced conversion".[32] Shakubuku, essentially, is the more assertive of two different methods of proselytizing traditionally employed by Nichiren adherents, in which the proselytizer aggressively confronts a non-adherent about the falsity of their beliefs. Toda's brand of shakubuku was of an unusually aggressive nature and would come to give Soka Gakkai a reputation of militancy. It also resulted in widespread criticism in the popular press and, remarkably, also by other Buddhist sects.[5][12][33]

A 1955 report tells of a typical shakubuku session. Three or four young members called on the house of a young women for several days in succession, each time warning her that she had one week to join the Gakkai, or some terrible calamity would befall her home. On the last day they threatened to not move until she gave in - at two o'clock in the morning, she finally allowed them to sign her name.[5]:104 In eyewitness reports of a similar session in 1964, Gakkai members surrounded a home, yelled and made noise for hours until the residents relented and agreed to join.[34]:82

Threats of divine vengeance and bodily harm were frequent, and a child's illness or death could be attributed to not having already joined the Gakkai.[34]:82 Local leadership would often destroy the household Shinto altars of new members.[11] There was infrequent violence, but also violent actions taken against Soka Gakkai members: "... veteran adherents from the Toda era speak of being driven away from houses by residents who doused them with water and pelted them with stones."[31]:287[34]:49

When the Religious Corporation Law came into effect in August 1952, the Soka Gakkai legally registered as a religious corporate body. The same year, Toda was required to deliver a statement to the special investigations bureau of the Department of Justice to the effect that Soka Gakkai members would refrain from the illegal use of violence or threats in their proselytizing.[35]:217

While shakubuku was a controversial practice, it was certainly successful: during Toda's presidency, the Gakkai's official ledgers count an increase from 3,000 households to the 750,000 that Toda had demanded at the outset of his presidency - thereby smoothly avoiding the need to meet Toda's request that his body should be dumped in Shinagawa bay.[31]:285–286 While the use of violence and intimidation as a part of the shakubuku in modern times has been dismissed as "excessive zeal on the part of uneducated members" by the organization itself, the evidence shows that much of it was actually organized by its high-ranking leaders.[36]:74 Whether or not the 750,000 number was strictly true or not, the Gakkai's membership had certainly grown. Many of the new recruits had been found among the "downtrodden classes" in the larger urban areas who had sometimes been excluded from the benefits of the "upward swing" during the postwar reconstruction boom.[37]

The "raccoon dog festival" incident

The relationship with the parent organization Nichiren Shoshu worsened considerably during Toda. Specifically notable was what went down in the Gakkai annals as the "raccoon dog festival incident" on April 28, 1952. A group of 4,000 men belonging to the Gakkai's youth division headed to Taiseki-ji, the Nichiren Shoshu head temple, to harass a priest named Ogasawara who had allegedly cooperated with the authorities during the war. The group of men was led by President Toda and Daisaku Ikeda (who would eventually become the organization's third president) themselves. When Ogasawara initially refused to apologize, the men mobbed him, tore off his vestments and tagged him with a placard reading "raccoon dog monk". He was forcibly carried to Makiguchi's grave, where he was made to sign a written apology.[38][39]:698–711 Toda, who claimed to have only hit Ogasawara twice during the ordeal, was temporarily banned from entering the temple.[38][40] Though no legal action was taken, this incident helped establish the organization's reputation as a violent cult.[39]:705–711

Increased membership

The Jozaiji temple.

In October 1954, Toda made a speech to over 10,000 Gakkai members while mounted on a white horse, proclaiming: "We must consider all religions our enemies, and we must destroy them."[11][31]

The Gakkai's teachings at this point became more restrictive and lower ranking members were no longer allowed access to more difficult books.[41] One source notes that the laws of the Gakkai were "taught in graded classes."[24]:142

With the rapid increase in membership, Toda "... focused on 'cultural activities' aimed at winning broad-based support ... in particular Toda decided that Soka Gakkai should enter the political area",[35]:206 and the Sōka Gakkai first entered into politics in 1955.[37] Toda's view was that according to the teachings of Nichiren, the day was soon to come when the true teachings of the Gakkai would become the law of the State and when Sōka Gakkai became the ruling government, a "national altar" would be built at Mount Fuji.[41]

Toda passed away on April 2, 1958. The funeral was held at his home, but the coffin was afterwards carried past weeping, chanting crowds to the Ikebukuro temple Jozaiji, where he was buried.[24]:84 The then prime minister Nobusuke Kishi attended the funeral - something that scandalized "quite a few Japanese" but was a testament to how the Gakkai had grown to a force to be reckoned with under Toda.[38]:116[42]

Ikeda: 1960-

Daisaku Ikeda, third President of the Soka Gakkai
The Shōhondō hall of the Taiseki-ji temple. Constructed in 1972, demolished in 1998.

Jōsei Toda was succeeded as president in 1960 by the 32-year-old Daisaku Ikeda. Ikeda had been "Toda's point man" in the aggressive shakubuku campaigns of the 1950s and one of the leaders of the violent "raccoon dog festival" in 1952, but he would nonetheless come to be a moderating and secularizing force.[24]:77[38] Ikeda formally committed the organisation to the principles of free speech and freedom of religion and urged, from 1964, for a gentler approach to proselytizing.[24]:97[citation needed]

International expansion

Under Ikeda's leadership, the organization expanded further, both inside and outside Japan. Soka Gakkai's first chapter outside of Japan was founded in 1960 in California, as the "Nichiren Shoshu of America" (NSA), later "Nichiren Shoshu Academy", which grew at "a remarkable rate" and claimed some 200,000 American adherents by 1970.[43] The Soka Gakkai International was formally founded in 1975, on Guam.

Foundation of the Komeitō

In 1964, Ikeda founded the political party Kōmeitō ("Clean Government Party") which would grow into Japan's third largest political party by 1969.[44]

In 1970, a prominent university professor named Fujiwara Hirotatsu authored the book I Denounce Soka Gakkai in which he severely criticized the Gakkai, calling it "fascist" and comparing it to the early Nazi party. The Gakkai and Kōmeitō attempted to use their political power suppress its publication. When Fujiwara went public with the attempted suppression, the Gakkai was harshly criticized in the Japanese media. As a result, Ikeda announced that "Kōmeitō members of national and local assemblies will be removed from Soka Gakkai administrative posts."[45] In the aftermath, both Kōmeitō and the Gakkai were more heavily critiqued by sections of Japanese society and the public perception was weakened.[31]:295 The same year, Soka Gakkai was also embroiled in a separate scandal - it was discovered that the Gakkai had been wiretapping the home of Kenji Miyamoto, leader of the JCP. The illegal operation had been headed by Masatomo Yamazaki, then legal advisor and vice chairmen of the Gakkai.[46] This accusation though, coming as it did from the JCP, a political rival of New Komeito could have had political vindictiveness behind it.

The New Komeito Party was founded in 1998, and has been allied with the LDP since 1999. The New Komeito has generally supported the policy agenda of the LDP, including reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, proposed in 2014 by LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to allow "collective defense". Approval of this policy change came only after tense meetings between the party leadership and representatives of local branches, who reported that large majorities of party members in their districts were strongly opposed. It was approved only after party leaders promised to press for strict limits to the circumstances under which collective defense actions would be allowed.[47]


In 1965, Ikeda announced plans to build a Shōhondō (正本堂, True Main Hall), at Taiseki-ji, the head temple of Shōshū, to house the dai-gohonzon (大御本尊), the Nichiren mandala from which all other gohonzon are said to derive their power. Soka Gakkai's fundraising for the building was extremely successful - eight million contributors donated more than 35.5 billion yen in a timespan of only four days in October 1965, perhaps making it the largest private fundraising project in Japan's history.[31]:289–293

Ikeda and Soka Gakkai represented the Shōhondō as a "virtual" honmon no kaidan (本門の戒壇, roughly great ordination platform), one of the "three great treasures" whose construction would mark the completion of the entire nation's conversion to Nichiren's teachings. This led some Shōshū lay groups to object that the building should not be constructed until after all of Japan had actually been converted to Nichiren Buddhism.[31]:289–293 When the Shōhondō was completed in 1972, the controversy about the timeliness of its construction heated up, with some lay groups denouncing the Gakkai. Ikeda worked to improve the Gakkai's relationship with the priesthood, and when a Shōshū lay group called Myōshinkō protested against the Gakkai in 1974, they were excommunicated by Shōshū.[48] In 1976 the Nichiren Shōshū administration modified its liturgy to include a prayer for the success of the Soka Gakkai.[49]

Relationship with Noriega

From the mid-70's, President Ikeda fostered a close relationship with Manuel Noriega, before and during his period as military dictator of Panama. Noriega repeatedly visited the Taiseki-ji and Noriega hosted Ikeda on several visits to Panama. Both leaders praised each other's virtues in public statements.[50]:160 After a 1981 visit, Noriega named a scenic observation point on one of the Causeway Islands at the Pacific approach to the Panama Canal "Mirador Ikeda".[51] The Soka Gakkai reciprocated by creating a "Noriega Garden" (ノリエガ庭園) at one of its locales in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka.[17]:99–101

Friends of Noriega have alleged that Ikeda provided him with several million dollars' worth of assistance during the worst part of Noriega's crisis in 1987 and 1988, though Soka Gakkai spokesmen have repeatedly denied this.[3] Ikeda reportedly visited Noriega a couple of weeks before Noriega's capture, a visit that has remained unexplained.[52][53]

Dumped safe

In 1989, Japanese police found a safe containing 175 million yen on the grounds of an industrial waste company in Yokohama. Soka Gakkai's treasurer eventually stepped forward and claimed that the money had come from selling trinkets at temples belonging to the Soka Gakkai. Rather than prompting a tax audit, he had chosen to simply dump the money. The New York Times said that Japanese police seemed to suspect "that the money in the safe was part of a larger slush fund, stashed away for a needy political cause."[52][54][55]

Separation from the Shōshū priesthood

In 1978, Soka Gakkai's relationship with Shōshū soured over the role of priests and lay believers.[56] In 1979, the prayer for the success of the Soka Gakkai was removed from Nichiren Shōshū liturgy. Ikeda resigned from Soka Gakkai on April 24, 1979, retaining only an honorary title but maintaining presidency of Soka Gakkai International. It seems likely the conflict with the Nichiren priesthood was behind Ikeda's departure, and it has been suggested that the Nichiren priesthood demanded Ikeda's resignation.[48]

In July 1979, the head abbot of Shōshū, Nittatsu Hosoi, passed away. A controversy arose among Shōshū lay groups over the legitimacy of his successor, Nikken Abe. 200 monastic opponents of Abe eventually formed a group, Shōshinkai, which was soon expelled from the Shōshū.[57] Soka Gakkai supported Abe at this time.

The doctrinal dispute centered on interpretations of the meaning of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, in particular the "treasure of the Sangha", which according to Nichiren Shōshū refers to the Priesthood, while - according to the Soka Gakkai - anyone who practices true Buddhism is a member of the Sangha.[49] This dispute related to the concept of religious authority: "The priesthood claims that it is the sole custodian of religious authority and dogma, while the Soka Gakkai leadership argues that the sacred writings of Nichiren, not the priesthood, represent the ultimate source of authority, and that any individual with deep faith in Nichiren's teachings can reach enlightenment without the assistance of a priest".[56]

In 1991, Nichiren Shōshū administration published a list of points where they perceived Soka Gakkai to have deviated from Shōshū doctrine. Soka Gakkai was no longer considered a lay group of Shōshū, and its leaders, including Ikeda, were excommunicated. Many Japanese members of the Gakkai left at this time, believing that a cult of personality was developing around Ikeda which departed from Nichiren's teachings. Others left the organization out of concerns that they would no longer be able to enter Shōshū temples and have traditional pilgrimages and funerals. In response, Soka Gakkai began collecting names of Shōshū members across the country and held regular prayer sessions to attempt to "defeat" (打倒 datō) them.[31]:300 In one incident, Gakkai members broke into a Shōshū temple during a religious service and beat a defector into unconsciousness.[58] Soka Gakkai began fabricating evidence that the Shōshū administration had engaged in illicit conduct.[59] Households were allowed to belong to both organizations until 1997, when Shōshū requested that all its members leave Soka Gakkai. In that year, Shōshū demolished the ¥35 billion Shōhondō building at Taiseki-ji.

In December 1999, Soka Gakkai was found guilty of libel against Shōshū. The Gakkai's official newspaper, the Seikyō Shinbun, had printed a doctored photo of Abe's 70th birthday party, claiming that it showed him cavorting with geisha.[60] Following the guilty verdict, the Seikyō Shinbun reported that it had been found innocent of all charges.[61][62] In July 2000, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform disclosed that a private investigator hired by Soka Gakkai had illegally stolen National Crime Information Center records pertaining to Abe. The committee expressed concern that no arrests were made.[63]

According to Prof. M. Bumann, of the University of Lucerne, Switzerland, the cause of the split was the friction between hierarchical tradition and democratic modernity: "A spirit of openness, egalitarianism, and democratization pervaded the SG, embodying and giving new life to the idea of self-empowerment. In 1991, these liberalizing developments led to the split between the Japan-oriented, priestly Nichiren Shōshū and the lay-based, globalized SGI."[64] In an analysis of books studying the expansion of SGI after the split, Prof. Jane Hurst of Gallaudet University viewed the split as the result of: "lay members seeking religious support for their lives, priests seeking perpetuation of hierarchical institutions".[64] Ian Reader, on the other hand, saw "corrupt and scandalous behavior on both sides."[59]

Beliefs and practices

Further information: Nichiren Buddhism and Nichiren Shōshū

Until the 1991 split with the Nichiren Shōshū, Sōka Gakkai existed within the Shōshū framework as a hokkeko, a form of lay organization. The split was to a degree caused by disagreements over the interpretation of Nichiren teachings, though this was not the main issue.[65] While the two movements still share most of their canon, the Sōka Gakkai leadership, specifically Ikeda, has produced certain writings which have acquired a canonical status within Sōka Gakkai, such as Ikeda's book "Human Revolution", which in some ways sets it apart from its former parent organization.[66]

Lotus Sutra

Main article: Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is one of the most popular and influential Mahāyāna sutras, of uncertain authorship. The sutra presents itself as a discourse delivered by Gautama Buddha toward the end of his life. The oldest parts of its text were probably written down between 100 BC and 100 AD: most of the text had appeared by 200 AD.[67] While most Mahāyāna denominations regard the Lotus Sutra as important, a characteristic of Nichiren Buddhism is the elevation of the Lotus Sutra to the only true revelation of Buddhism. The sutra is the basis for the two central focuses in Nichiren Buddhist practice: the daimoku and the gohonzon.[43][66]

Chanting of the daimoku

See also: Buddhist chant

One of the major focuses in Nichiren Buddhism is the daily morning and evening chanting of the mantra Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō (南無妙法蓮華経, Hail the Marvelous Teaching of the Lotus Sutra), commonly referred to as the daimoku (題目, the title).[43] Soka Gakkai teaches that through this chanting, one can gain this-worldly benefits that range from health, wealth and happiness to world peace.[68] Gakkai doctrine has never shied away from materialistic desires, whether it's for this or the next life: Toda, Gakkai's second president, once advised: "I recommend that you accumulate good fortune [through chanting and performing shakubuku] in this life, so that in the next existence of life, you can be born into a family possessing five Cadillacs."[31]:289 Ikeda voiced a similar sentiment in 1962: "I sincerely wish you will ... chant the Daimoku and practice Shakubuku for the sake of gaining great divine favor until you come to lead as majestic a life that you can say assuredly, 'I am the happiest in the world.'"[69]

The daimoku can apparently also be used for destructive purposes. After the tumultuous 1991 split with the Nichiren Shōshū, Gakkai members were encouraged to chant for the destruction of the sect and of Nikken Abe, its head priest. Local Japanese chapters routinely passed out lists of nearby Shōshū temples for members to focus on in their daily chants.[31]:302


Sōka Gakkai gohonzon

The gohonzon (御本尊, roughly principal image of worship) is a diagram (mandala) calligraphed on white paper containing the names of the major bodhisattvas and Buddhas described in the Lotus Sutra. It is the major object of worship on Nichiren altars both in temples and in individual practitioner's homes and plays a large part in Nichiren practitioner's religious lives. It is facing the gohonzon that the daimoku is chanted.[43][70] To SGI Nichiren Buddhists, the gohonzon symbolizes the superiority of the Lotus Sutra over other religions and Buddhist sects.[71]

The power of all gohonzon are taught to flow from the dai-gohonzon (大御本尊, large gohonzon), the camphor wood original carved by Nichiren himself, housed in the Taisekiji temple.[70] Toda likened the dai-gohonzon to a "happiness-producing machine" capable of realizing absolute happiness in one's lifetime.[31]:289

The gohonzon has been a point of great contention between the Nichiren Shōshū and the Soka Gokkai since the 1991 schism. According to Shōshū doctrine, the high priest at Taisekiji has the exclusive ritual authority to consecrate and issue new gohonzon to all practitioners, but the priesthood has since the excommunication refused to issue any gohonzon to Gakkai members.[70] For the Gakkai, this problem was partly solved in 1993 when the group began to have gohonzon replicas made from a 1720 transcription of the dai-gohonzon, conferred to the group by the Jōenji temple, one of a handful of temples that voluntarily left the Nichiren Shōshū together with Soka Gakkai in 1991.[31]


Beginning with Toda Josei, Soka Gakkai has taught that "life-force" (生命 seimei?), is an omnipresent, creative power derived from the Buddha, understood as the foundation of faith and practice at Soka Gakkai. This force is said to emanate directly from the gohonzon and it is through chanting of the daimoku that this power can be released, bringing happiness to the chanter. In Toda's own language, "by embracing this life-force, everything is enjoyed, nothing is suffered. This is called liberation."[72]:113

Happiness is therefore an indication of participation in life-force. In proclaiming that faith is imperfect until it guarantees happiness for the greater number, Soka Gakkai is at odds with the doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu.[72]:122–3 The writings of Nichiren are also lacking in this utilitarian concept.[72]:126 Toda's belief that salvation comes from synchronizing one's vibrations with the eternal life force is a soteriology unique among Nichiren groups.[73]

Views on priesthood

The Soka Gakkai teaches that it is possible to attain enlightenment without the assistance of traditional temples and without a system of priesthood, for any person with deep faith in Nichiren's teachings.[74]


The Soka Gakkai puts great emphasis on pacifism, especially under Ikeda's leadership. The group's peace activities can however be traced back to the Toda era - at an athletic meeting in 1957, Toda called for a complete ban on nuclear weapons. A 1975 petition drive against nuclear weapons by the Gakkai's youth division garnered 10 million signatures, and was handed over to the United Nations.[75]:84

Soka Gakkai's pacifist stand has however been questioned for the group's support to the non-pacifist political party Komeito, without denying that the group is very active in "trying to establish the basis for world peace".[75]:84 In Japan, there is a widespread negative perception of SGI's pacifist movement, which is considered to be mere public relations for the group.[14]


Reason for controversy was the seemingly aggressive form of conversion or recruitment of new followers called shakubuku (Japanese 折伏; English: "break and subdue"), at least in the past.[76] Although the movement has distanced itself from this aggressive form of recruitment of new followers, the term continues to be used.[77]


The oneness of the mentor-disciple relationship is an important aspect of practicing and spreading Buddhism. Detractors have looked upon Soka Gakkai's version of the mentor and disciple relationship as a cult of personality for its focus on SGI President Ikeda.[78] Outside observers describe Ikeda's role as a process where Sōka Gakkai "began a decisive transformation from an organization run by Ikeda to a group dedicated to Ikeda".[79]

Associate Professor of Religion at Hamilton College, Richard Seager writes: “The oneness of the mentor-disciple relationship is described not in terms of demands and duties as many critics imagine it to be, but in terms of choice, freedom and responsibility. It is the disciple’s choice and decision to follow the mentor’s vision for their common goal. In response, it is the mentor’s wish to raise and foster the disciple to become greater than the mentor.[80]

Soka Gakkai's Tokyo headquarters


Soka Gakkai was originally a lay organization of Nichiren Shōshū, meaning it was necessary to belong to Shōshū to be a member of the Gakkai and was stripped of its status as a lay organization of Nichiren Shōshū. There are several other lay organizations within Shōshū as well as members of Shōshū who belong to no organization.

Formally, the Soka Gakkai International is the umbrella organization for all national organizations, while Soka Gakkai by itself refers to the Japanese arm. Soka Gakkai International maintains an international political presence as a registered non-governmental organization with the United Nations.[31]:273

SGI has been in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 1983. As an NGO working with the United Nations, SGI has been active in public education with a focus mainly on peace and nuclear weapons disarmament, human rights and sustainable development.[81]

Though a lay organization, there are a handful of temples and ordained priests affiliated with the Gakkai: the Kenbutsuji in Kyoto, the Kōryūji in Yūbari, Hokkaido, the Jōenji in Oyama, Tochigi, for example. These temples were previously affiliated with the Nichiren Shōshū but voluntarily left after the split.[31]:301

In recent decades it has become quite difficult for academics and other outsiders to get access to reliable information about the Soka Gakkai's inner workings. As a result, there is a paucity of independent in-depth studies of the organization.[82]


According to statistics from the Agency for Cultural Affairs (a body of the Japanese Ministry of Education), the Japanese organization had 5.42 million individual members in 2000.[83]

Soka Gakkai has, together with its international offshoot Soka Gakkai International (SGI) been described as "the world's largest Buddhist lay group and America's most diverse".[84] Soka Gakkai International claims a total of over 12 million adherents.[85] The lion's share of these belong to the Japanese organization, whose official membership count is 8.27 million households.[86] Even that number, however, has been questioned by several authors: Murakami (2007) suggests 2.5 million individuals,[87] Shimada (2007) 2.5 million households,[88] and Numata (1988) around 5 million individuals.[89]


The organisation’s leaders are not known to undergo any democratic election process may it be on international, national or congregational level. Any bodies that do conduct such a decision making process are not known to the public nor to its adherents.

List of Presidents

List of Presidents of Soka Gakkai

  1. Tsunesaburō Makiguchi (18 November 1930 – 2 May 1944)
  2. Jōsei Toda (3 May 1951 – 2 May 1960)
  3. Daisaku Ikeda (3 May 1960 – 24 April 1979)
  4. Hiroshi Hōjō (北条浩) (24 April 1979 – 18 July 1981)
  5. Einosuke Akiya (18 July 1981 – 9 November 2006)[90]
  6. Minoru Harada (9 November 2006 – present)[24]:94[90]

Honorary President of Soka Gakkai

  1. Daisaku Ikeda (24 April 1979 – present)

President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI)

  1. Daisaku Ikeda (26 January 1975 – present)

Japanese politics

See also: New Komeito

Soka Gakkai's initial forays into politics met with conflict. On April 23, 1957, a group of Young Men's Division members campaigning for a Gakkai candidate in an Osaka Upper House by-election were arrested for distributing money, cigarettes, and caramels at supporters' residences, in violation of elections law, and on July 3 of that year, at the beginning of an event memorialized as the "Osaka Incident," Ikeda Daisaku was arrested in Osaka. He was taken into custody in his capacity as Sōka Gakkai's Youth Division Chief of Staff for overseeing activities that constituted violations of elections law. He spent two weeks in jail and appeared in court forty-eight times before he was cleared of all charges in January 1962.[91]

While the political party New Komeito is nominally separated from the Soka Gakkai and has been so since 1970, some critics have alleged that the party is in effect controlled by the Gakkai as almost all party members are also members of the religious group and that their voluntary activities during election campaigns equal a de facto endorsement of the party.[92][93] Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution demands the strict separation of politics and religion.[94] While Kōmeitō claim that they fulfill and comply with those legal and constitutional demands, all of New Kōmeitō's past and current presidents have held executive positions in Soka Gakkai.[95][96]

The Japan Echo alleged in 1999 that Soka Gakkai distributed fliers to local branches describing how to abuse the jūminhyō residence registration system in order to generate a large number of votes for Komeito candidates in specific districts.[97] In the 1980s Akahata discovered that many Soka Gakkai members were rewarding acquaintances with presents in return for Komeito votes, and that Okinawa residents had changed their addresses to elect Komeito politicians.[98] This resulted in Soka Gakkai being harshly criticized by the Ryūkyū Shimpō and Okinawa Times.[99]

Power and wealth

SGI's president, Daisaku Ikeda, has been referred to as "the most powerful man in Japan".[19] The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that Ikeda cultivates the image of a "charismatic leader", although he has displayed a "violent temper" in private.[100] Former Mainichi Shimbun reporter Toshiaki Furukawa has alleged that the acquisition of personal awards and honors for Ikeda has been budgeted by the Gakkai as "charity services".[101]

In the 1990s, a Japanese parliamentarian alleged the Soka Gakkai had amassed wealth up towards $100 billion, though the organization denied this. Journalists writing for Forbes estimated the organization brings in at least $1.5 billion per year, while an Asiaweek article published in 1994 reported on a $2 billion figure from donations alone.[102][103] Religion scholar Hiroshi Shimada has estimated the wealth of the Japanese arm at ¥500 billion.[96] In 2004, Soka Gakkai as a religious organization alone was Japan's 170th largest corporation, and its earnings were over 100 times larger than any other religious organization.[104]:34

The Gakkai now owns most of the land around Shinanomachi Station in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and most of the businesses in that area advertise their Gakkai affiliation.[104]:41–44

In 1989, a Soka Gakkai-controlled museum auctioned two Renoir paintings for 3.6 billion yen (over $35 million), but only paid the seller 2.125 billion yen (roughly $20 million). An investigation discovered how most of the money had been apportioned, but roughly $3 million is still missing.[104]:51

Soka Gakkai fully owns the Seikyo Shinbun (聖教新聞), which has a readership base of 5.5 million, making it Japan's third most widely circulated newspaper.[105] The newspaper does not own its own printing equipment, instead paying the other major newspaper publishers to print the newspapers throughout the country - a strategy which has been criticized as an attempt to dissuade them from giving negative coverage to the organization.[96] Seikyo Shinbun regularly reports on President Ikeda's activities, making evident "the cult surrounding his figure".[11]

Educational institutions

[106] [107]


Elementary Schools

Junior and Senior High Schools

Junior Colleges


Soka University
Main article: Sōka University

Soka University is a private university located in Hachiōji, Tokyo, Japan founded in 1969. The school was opened to undergraduate students in 1971, while a graduate school was opened in 1975.

Soka University of America

The Soka University of America is a private university founded in 1987, located in Aliso Viejo, California, the United States. While the university claims to be secular and independent of Soka Gakkai, it is largely funded by the organization.[115] The expansion of the university over a flat meadow coveted by public parks officials wanting to build a visitor center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area precipitated a slew of litigations and a battle with the school and local environmentalists.[116][117]

Humanitarian Work

Soka Gakkai also conduct humanitarian aid projects in disaster regions. It not only dedicated to personal spiritual development but also to engaged community service. SGI-Chile members collected supplies to deliver to a relief center after the country's recent earthquake.[118]

Public perception and criticism

Soka Gakkai is rarely criticized in public forums. Television stations have a policy prohibiting mention of the link between Soka Gakai and Kōmeito, and major newspapers often print editorials attributed to Ikeda or report on Gakkai business, while overlooking news critical of the Gakkai. According to one account in Shukan Shincho, Japanese news media cannot handle the social and economic pressure that the Gakkai poses.[119]

See also


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Further reading


News media (websites)

External links