Soka Gakkai

Doctrines The teachings of Soka Gakkai (Value-Creating Educational Association) are derived from those of Nichiren (see NICHIREN), via the Nichiren Shoshu sub-sect from which Soka Gakkai formally split in the 1990's. Nichiren's teachings however have been considerably modified in Soka Gakkai by the integration of the 'value-creating' (so-ka) educational philosophy of the first founder of Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.
Central to Soka Gakkai's philsophy are the ideas of 'human revolution' (i.e. personal and social transformation) and the Tendai concept of 'one thought, three thousand worlds'. According to Soka Gakkai, human beings can change themselves, and through changing themselves change the world. Change for the better is brought about by chanting the powerful daimoku or title of the Lotus Sutra 'nam-myoho-renge-kyo'. The effect of chanting this phrase, which embodies the essence of the enlightened mind of the Buddha, is radically to elevate one's mental and spiritual state within the 3,000 possible states of mind, which range from the experience of hell to perfect supreme enlightenment. Since 'body and mind are not two' (i.e. they are a unity), the transformation of the 'inner' or mental state is reflected in transformed behaviour and therefore social influence. If enough people practice daimoku whole societies and eventually the whole world will be transformed.

History Soka Gakkai was originally formed in 1937 by a forward-looking schoolteacher, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo (1871-1944). Makiguchi had already attempted with some success to apply his 'theory of value' to the education of children. When Makiguchi discovered Nichiren Buddhism late in life he came to the conclusion that the chanting of the powerful daimoku provided a key to the creation of value which had been missing hitherto. The society crumbled under government pressure to conform to wartime religious legislation, and Makiguchi died in prison during World War 2 following his refusal to compromise his religious beliefs by merging his association with other Nichiren sects he believed to be heterodox. His associate Toda, Josei (1900-1958), revived the organisation in the early 1950's, emphasising the business and health benefits of chanting. The organisation grew rapidly. Under the leadership of the next President Ikeda, Daisaku, who is still de facto leader of the organisation despite formal organisational changes, it had become by the 1960's the largest and most successful lay religious movement in Japan. The Soka Gakkai's organisational structure (based on locality, gender and age-group) and the simplicity and openness of its practices (it claims no secret doctrines, restricted initiations or religious specialists with access to esoteric knowledge) have contributed to its remarkable stability during rapid growth. It has attracted substantial opposition in Japan, particularly in the early decades after the war when it sponsored a political party, the Komeito, in breach of the constitutional separation of religion and state. In 1991 the Soka Gakkai finally split from its notional 'parent' priestly lineage, the Nichiren Shoshu sect, and it now exists as an autonomous lay Buddhist organisation with followers in most countries of the world.

Symbols The central symbol for Soka Gakkai is the gohonzon (object of worship) which comprises a wooden tablet or paper copy of the title of the Lotus Sutra, the daimoku, chanted by believers during their spiritual practice. Nichiren's name is inscribed below the title, which is surrounded by the names of various Buddhist and other Japanese divinities.

Adherents It is difficult to arrive at an accurate figure for Soka Gakkai membership. New members tend to be counted as families (so one new adherent may be interpreted by the organisation as including 4-5 members of his or her family). Members who leave or cease to practice are not recorded. Estimates vary from over 16 million (the organisation's own assessment of its membership in 1970) to outsiders' informal estimates of perhaps 4-5 million active members today. Whatever the true figure, Soka Gakkai is a very large organisation which can count perhaps 1 in 15 Japanese people among its membership at some point in their lives, and it has thriving overseas branches in many countries (for example, there are 3,500 members in the UK).

Main Centre
 Soka Gakkai, 32 Shinanomachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160