Monday, 8 September 2008

Soka Gakkai International (wikipedia)

Sōka Gakkai International ("International Value-Creation Society"; also, SGI) is the international umbrella organization for Sōka Gakkai-affiliated lay organizations in 192 countries. Adherents practice Sōka Gakkai's particular form of Nichiren Buddhism, and is the largest group of Nichiren Buddhists worldwide. SGI's Japan-based parent, Sōka Gakkai, was formed in 1930 and is closely associated with the New Komeito, an influential Japanese political party. However, the SGI no longer officially financially supports this party. The Sōka Gakkai International, the global organization, was founded in 1975 and characterizes its organization as a support network for practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism. SGI members, are actively engaged in numerous community-based programs to promote cultural exchange and understanding among peoples as well as activities to propagate the Buddhism that they practice.

The different SGI organizations and its international president, Daisaku Ikeda, have been collectively or individually criticized by members of the media, intellectuals, and politicians in several countries and at various times for some of their actions and policies. For instance in 2007 some questions were raised in the UK Parliament by two M.P.s concerning an allegation by a "member of the public" that the SGI, the New Kadampa Tradition and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order indulged in "cultish behaviour." Although letters were received from a number of members of the public complaining about cultish behavior, no action was taken.[1]

Conversely, it has been praised by many independent people and organizations. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says, "I am upbeat about Japan... we found good people there... like Daisaku Ikeda and the Sōka Gakkai, that support what we're doing."[2] Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union, is quoted as saying, "President Ikeda is a philosopher, a thinker, and a poet with a grand vision and a big heart. He is working not only for Japan but for the sake of the entire world."[3] In October 2006, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda received his 200th honorary doctorate and has received 150 honorary citizenships.[citation needed]

History

Sōka Gakkai was founded as the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai (創価教育学会, lit. "Value-Creation Education Society") on November 18, 1930 by Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and his colleague Josei Toda. Makiguchi sought to reform Japan's militaristic education system into a more humanistic one that would support the full development and potential of Japan's youth. His ideas on education, and his theory of value-creation (創価, sōka), are explored in his 1930 work Sōka Kyōikugaku Taikei (創価教育学体系, The Theory of Value-Creating Pedagogy). In Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, he found a religious philosophy that reflected his educational theories, which led to the establishment of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai. Eventually, the focus of the organization began to shift, as Makiguchi came to the conclusion that the practice of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism itself could allow each individual to develop their potential within and attain Buddhahood. However, Makiguchi and Toda's thinking was in direct conflict with the goals of the state. When the Japanese government more rigorously enforced Shinto's position as the state religion (State Shinto) with the enactment of the Religious Organizations Law of 1939, a move designed to impose stricter governmental controls over religions,[4] and began to demand that all citizens enshrine Shinto talismans in their homes[5] Makiguchi, Toda, and 18 other Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai members resisted, refusing the talismans. For refusing to cooperate with the government by compromising their religious beliefs, the two educators were sent to prison. Makiguchi died there at age 73; Toda was later released and, after World War II, rebuilt the organization, renaming it Sōka Gakkai to reflect the extension of its membership beyond educators only. Over the years, the Sōka Gakkai experienced a period of rapid growth in Japan. An organization, Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA, later also called Nichiren Shoshu Academy, Nichirenshoshu Sōkagakkai of America, and finally Sōka Gakkai International – USA), was formally organized in the United States on October 13, 1960. Today, Sōka Gakkai International and Nichiren Shoshu have parted ways. SGI now has a membership of somewhere between 100,000 to 300,000 practitioners in the United States.[6] Sōka Gakkai International (SGI) was founded in 1975 as the International Buddhist League to act as the international leadership of national Sōka Gakkai organizations.

From the 13th century until the 20th century, Nichiren Buddhism was practiced almost exclusively in Japan. Sōka Gakkai emerged as the largest lay organization of Nichiren Buddhist practitioners and today, Sōka Gakkai membership accounts for nearly 10 percent of Japan's population.[7]

When religious freedom took hold in Japan following World War II, Sōka Gakkai began to spread Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, initially across the country, then eventually across the globe, as practitioners relocated from Japan and as non-Japanese practitioners returned to their home countries, taking the practice with them. In response, Sōka Gakkai began to develop a program of international outreach. In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda, then third president of Sōka Gakkai, made a journey that took him from Japan to the United States, Brazil and Canada. During this trip he met practitioners in each of these countries and began laying the foundation for what would later become Sōka Gakkai International. In 1975, SGI was formally founded, with Daisaku Ikeda as its president.

Even though SGI was initially affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu, they are becoming more and more distinct. SGI's primary purpose is to provide a supporting organization for its practitioners. On its website, SGI defines its purpose as follows.

For SGI members, Buddhism is a practical philosophy of individual empowerment and inner transformation that enables people to develop themselves and take responsibility for their lives. As lay believers and engaged Buddhists, SGI members strive in their everyday lives to develop the ability to live with confidence, to create value in any circumstances and to contribute to the well-being of friends, family and community. The promotion of peace, culture and education is central to SGI's activities.

Daisaku Ikeda has led SGI since the death of Second President Josei Toda in 1958. A disciple of President Toda, Ikeda succeeded him in 1960 as Sōka Gakkai president and became president of the larger Sōka Gakkai International upon its creation in 1975.

Ikeda is, however, a controversial figure.[8] For example, prior to 1979, many SGI leaders implied that Ikeda was equal to or superseded Nichiren as the True Buddha and suggested that a novel authored by Ikeda, the Human Revolution, was the gosho of the present age, the gosho being Nichiren's writings[9] When he challenged the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood on doctrinal grounds, his challenge was considered an act of heresy, particularly by a priesthood that viewed and asserted itself as the ultimate authority in Nichiren Shoshu doctrine. In April 1979 Ikeda resigned his positions as Sōka Gakkai president as well as head of all Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations (Hokkekō Sōkōtō) to apologize for his organization's deviations from Nichiren Shoshu doctrine (which Sōka Gakkai was bound to observe by its contemporary rules of incorporation) and the ensuing turmoil.[10]

Sōka Gakkai members suggest that Ikeda's resignation was the action of a man who did not want to be responsible for creating a rift among the practitioners. Regardless of the rationale, however, a division between the followers of Nichiren Shoshu, and those who aligned themselves with Ikeda's positions, did occur, and continues to be a source of controversy and disagreement amongst practitioners. Shortly after giving of the organization's presidency, Ikeda became honorary chairman of Sōka Gakkai in part as a response to Sōka Gakkai members' dissatisfaction with his vacating of the presidency. As of January 2008 Ikeda remains honorary chairman of Sōka Gakkai and president of SGI.

Split with the priesthood

Hokkekō experienced a spurt of fast growth in the early to mid 1990s following a split between the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and Soka Gakkai over doctrinal and practical differences. Friction between the two surfaced as 1990 drew to a close, sparking an inflow of Soka Gakkai members into Hokkekō that accelerated for a while after Nichiren Shoshu stripped Soka Gakkai of its status as a lay organization on November 28, 1991. Though Nichiren Shoshu still considered individual Soka Gakkai members as lay followers until a rule change in 1997, most mistakenly believed that they had been excommunicated along with the Soka Gakkai organization. Hokkekō growth has since slowed substantially but is now more organic.

Hokkekō is not affiliated with any political organizations.


The fundamental practice of Sōka Gakkai and SGI members is derived from Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a form of Nichiren Buddhism.[11] However, due to a number of ongoing issues and disputes that existed between then High Priest Nikken Abe and the leadership of Sōka Gakkai, Nichiren Shoshu excommunicated the entire membership of both the Sōka Gakkai in Japan, as well as the entire SGI (Soka Gakkai International) as its lay organizations in November 1991 - although both together easily exceeded upwards of 11 million members worldwide.[12] SGI President Daisaku Ikeda was excommunicated in 1992. Until 1991, Sōka Gakkai had been a lay organization closely affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu, and members who had joined a temple retained their temple membership as individuals. In 1997, these Sōka Gakkai and SGI members lost their standing as temple members unless they renounced their affiliation with Sōka Gakkai and SGI.

SGI and Nichiren Shoshu are now independent of one another. For more on the background, history and views of the Sōka Gakkai International and Nichiren Shoshu split, see the external links below.

Doctrine

Hokkekō experienced a spurt of fast growth in the early to mid 1990s following a split between the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and Soka Gakkai over doctrinal and practical differences. Friction between the two surfaced as 1990 drew to a close, sparking an inflow of Soka Gakkai members into Hokkekō that accelerated for a while after Nichiren Shoshu stripped Soka Gakkai of its status as a lay organization on November 28, 1991. Though Nichiren Shoshu still considered individual Soka Gakkai members as lay followers until a rule change in 1997, most mistakenly believed that they had been excommunicated along with the Soka Gakkai organization. Hokkekō growth has since slowed substantially but is now more organic.

Hokkekō is not affiliated with any political organizations.


Nichiren (日蓮) (1222–1282) was a Japanese Buddhist monk who, having studied the entirety of Shakyamuni's teachings and the commentaries of the leading Buddhist scholars of the day, proclaimed that the Lotus Sutra was the ultimate teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha and that, in Shakyamuni's own words, it was the one true teaching. Nichiren declared that the title of the Lotus Sutra, Myoho-Renge-Kyo, crystallized the essence of the sutra and that therefore the invocation Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enabled a practitioner to embrace the entirety of the teaching and to thereby manifest the life-condition of Buddhahood. A key passage in the Lotus Sutra explains that every individual possesses this life-condition, albeit as a latent Buddha nature. The essence of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin taught, was that all men and women, regardless of social class, are inherently endowed with this Buddha nature and could therefore attain Buddhahood. "Nichiren" is a name he chose for himself when he embarked on spreading his teaching on April 28, 1253. It literally means "Sun Lotus". The word "Daishonin" is an honorific title meaning "great holy man" as practitioners believe him to be the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

Nichiren taught that by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon (御本尊)—a mandala he inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters representing the enlightened life of the True Buddha—anyone can bring forth her or his inherent Buddha nature and become enlightened. Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism taught that Buddhahood is not a static state of being, but exists in mutual possession of other states of being (referred to as the Ten Worlds). This concept is better known as ichinen sanzen, the Three Thousand Realms in a Single Moment of Life. Therefore, practitioners believe that Buddhism must be practiced not in a land or a mystic state, but in each person's daily life. This is experienced as the result of continuous effort to engage one's highest life condition, or Buddha nature, to overcome the inevitable obstacles and struggles we all face. In so doing, one establishes an unshakable state of happiness characterized by peace, wisdom, and compassion, and this ultimately permeates every aspect of one's life. In accord with the Buddhist concept of eshō funi, the oneness of person and environment, each individual has the power to then positively affect the environment around him or her. SGI practitioners call this process a "human revolution." Nichiren Daishonin argued that when and if human beings fully embraced his teachings, the peace they would develop within would eventually be reflected in the environment as peace in society at large.

Practice

The basic practice of SGI members is based on faith, practice, and study. Faith entails chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo daily and reciting gongyo (the Expedient Means and Life Span Chapters of the Lotus Sutra). The duration of chanting tends to depend upon the individual member; typically it will start off minimal (5 to 10 minutes morning and evening), but long term practitioners frequently chant for at least half an hour or an hour morning and evening. Some members will occasionally chant daimoku tōsō ("chanting struggle"), which is extended chanting over several hours in a single day.

Practice involves chanting as described above, plus participation in the community and sharing Buddhist practice with others. Study is the dedication of some part of ones life to the reading of important Buddhist teachings, most important among them the study of the collected writings of Nichiren Daishonin, called gosho. Many gosho have been compiled in a two volume edition in English, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin I and II. These translations are based on a Japanese volume called Nichiren Daishōnin Gosho Zenshū (The complete works of Nichiren Daishonin), which was compiled by 59th Nichiren Shoshu High Priest Nichiko Hori and published by Sōka Gakkai in 1952. Translations are available in, or are being undertaken into, other languages. Additional reading materials include the Lotus Sutra, the writings of Daisaku Ikeda, and other writers and scholars of the Lotus Sutra and of Nichiren Buddhism. In North America, there is a weekly newspaper, the World Tribune, and a monthly Buddhist journal, Living Buddhism.

Followers of Sōka Gakkai and SGI believe that chanting energizes and refreshes the practitioner both spiritually and mentally, leaving him or her happier, wiser, more compassionate, more productive, and more prosperous in all areas of their lives. Chanting is also believed to have a positive impact on the world at large.

Sōka Gakkai and SGI's other constituent organizations hold regular grassroots gatherings known as discussion meetings. Available on a monthly basis, they are usually held in members' homes. Important events, monthly World Peace Prayers (Kosen Rufu Gongyo), commemorative meetings, and monthly study meetings are usually held in SGI community centers (larger centers are usually called culture centers). SGI claims 15 million members worldwide —12 million in Japan and 3 million elsewhere—especially in the U.S.A, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

SGI charter

Sōka Gakkai's official charter reads:

Purposes and Principles

  1. SGI shall contribute to peace, culture and education for the happiness and welfare of all humanity based on Buddhist respect for the sanctity of life.
  2. SGI, based on the ideal of world citizenship, shall safeguard fundamental human rights and not discriminate against any individual on any grounds.
  3. SGI shall respect and protect the freedom of religion and religious expression.
  4. SGI shall promote an understanding of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism through grass-roots exchange, thereby contributing to individual happiness.
  5. SGI shall, through its constituent organizations, encourage its members to contribute toward the prosperity of their respective societies as good citizens.
  6. SGI shall respect the independence and autonomy of its constituent organizations in accordance with the conditions prevailing in each country.
  7. SGI shall, based on the Buddhist spirit of tolerance, respect other religions, engage in dialogue and work together with them toward the resolution of fundamental issues concerning humanity.
  8. SGI shall respect cultural diversity and promote cultural exchange, thereby creating an international society of mutual understanding and harmony.
  9. SGI shall promote, based on the Buddhist ideal of symbiosis, the protection of nature and the environment.
  10. SGI shall contribute to the promotion of education, in pursuit of truth as well as the development of scholarship, to enable all people to cultivate their individual character and enjoy fulfilling and happy lives.

Criticism

In spite of their declared mission for peace, culture and education, the SGI and Sōka Gakkai are also a focus of criticism and controversy. Sōka Gakkai, the Japanese organization, has a reputation for involvement in Japan's political arena. Though officially the two are separate, it is closely affiliated with the New Komeito, a major political party in Japan. Though SGI and New Komeito both publicly deny any relationship, and declare that they are separate organizations,[13] accusations that Sōka Gakkai in effect controls New Komeito persist.[14]

Another point of contention concerns SGI's application of the principle of oneness of mentor and disciple. According to SGI, the oneness of mentor and disciple relationship is a very important aspect of living a full life, for every human being; detractors see SGI’s version of the oneness of mentor and disciple relationship as a cult of personality for its current focus on SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, as well as the two preceding presidents—and founders—Josei Toda and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. SGI defenders argue[citation needed] that in most cultures, and for most human beings, the idea of looking to those who have come before us, and finding a person who one can feel a kinship with, that one may look to as an example for how to live one's life, for guidance, encouragement and support, is a common part of human development, and that their establishing a lasting relationship with such an individual is an important part of life; furthermore, the keystone to the concept of oneness of mentor and disciple, when compared with what may initially appear to be similar concepts, lies in the fact that a) both are to stand together, without any difference whatsoever but that of each other's mission and b) that both are to draw from the same source (i.e. Nichiren's "Ultimate Heritage of The Law") and propel each other towards ever greater achievements, as the mentor is seen as a failure when the disciple is unable to surpass or exceed the mentor's own accomplishments.

SGI members attribute this view to the oneness of mentor and disciple relationship of Nichiren Buddhism, which they describe as the central pillar upon which the practice and the organization have developed: Shakyamuni was the mentor to Nichiren; Nichiren, the mentor to his disciples; and they, mentors to future practitioners. Makiguchi took Nichiren as a mentor in his life, while Toda took Makiguchi as his. Ikeda continued the tradition with Toda as his mentor, and now members throughout the world have chosen Ikeda, whom along with Toda, Makiguchi, Nichiren, and Shakyamuni, can all be considered mentors in life, as they exemplify this compassionate spirit of supporting others to excel in their own individual missions, all the while sharing the same "vow" of the Bodhisattva, exemplified by a stanza of the 16th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra that states: "This is my constant thought; at all times I think, how can I cause all living beings, to achieve the body of a buddha, without distinction".

To critics of Ikeda and SGI, this relationship is viewed as symptomatic of a cult of personality. Critics also question the authority and authenticity of Ikeda's writings. The use of the familial term sensei (“teacher,” “master”) to refer to Ikeda is looked upon with suspicion and considered to be symbolic and further evidence of a cult of personality. Many SGI members view Ikeda and his life as a great example of how to use the practice in their own lives. He is viewed as an inspiration and an example of the power of one person to have a substantial positive effect on our world. For many members, Ikeda, as well as Shakyamuni, Nichiren, Makiguchi, Toda, and a host of other like minded philosophers, and thinkers around the world, are taken as models for how one may build their own lives around ideas of peace, culture, and education, and within all levels of their lives—family, work, friends, and society at large.

Critics of SGI and Ikeda are suspicious of the way he is considered by members to be a living embodiment of the power of the practice of SGI Buddhism. They assert that members are pressured to view Ikeda as their mentor in life. They are also suspicious and distrustful of the idea of mentor-disciple relationships, and question the motivation behind SGI’s application of the concept, as unfortunately this misunderstanding of the concept of 'oneness' may be have been misread not only by those who have found something to oppose in the organization's history—which after all, has been written by human beings in a perpetual process of self-improvement often referred to as "Human Revolution" (jap: Ningen Kakumei) but amongst members themselves, who have had to struggle with its interpretation through close to five decades of rapid growth and development, which has not only spanned the globe geographically, but also across cultures, ethnical and societal backgrounds and circumstances, as the organization prides itself in being as inclusive as it can be, in its compassionate search for these so-called "Boddhisattvas of the Earth".

There is controversy about the degree of religious tolerance practiced by Sōka Gakkai members. Official materials state all other religions, including other Buddhist denominations, are viewed as valuable in as much as they are able to support the happiness, empowerment, and development of all people. SGI claims that religious tolerance and a deep respect for culture are strongly emphasized in the organization.[15] However, there has been an acrimonious rift between SGI and Nichiren Shoshu.

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