Filed in Nichiren

Soka Gakkai - The Next Ten Years

In Japan Soka Gakkai has ten million followers and is the most dynamic Buddhist organization in that country. In America, it's among the fastest growing Buddhist traditions. Yet, its complex and tumultuous history has left it shrouded in misunderstandings.Richard Hughes Seager

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Soka Gakkai has its origins in Japan in the decades prior to the Second World War. It was founded as a lay organization by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a progressive educator and convert to Nichiren Shoshu, an umbrella school comprising some forty sects dedicated to the teachings of Nichiren. A thirteenth-century reformer, Nichiren criticized Pure Land and other schools for being subservient to the state and for not empowering common people. Seven hundred years later, this criticism was leveled once again by Makiguchi.

During World War II, Soka Gakkai was crushed by the government when its leaders were imprisoned for their defiance of State Shintoism, a religion used by the government to bolster its militaristic expansion. After Japan's surrender, the movement was rebuilt among dislocated and impoverished Japanese by Josei Toda, who had survived imprisonment. Relying on the right to religious freedom that had been written into the Japanese constitution during the American occupation, Toda infused the movement with ideals of democratic individualism and peace activism. At about this time, Soka Gakkai also took on the characteristics of a mass movement.

© Soko Gakkai International-USA

Soka Gakkai became the most dynamic lay group in Nichiren Shoshu. In other affiliated groups lay parishioners belong to the sect largely on the basis of custom and heredity. Priests provide them with services such as memorials for the dead and with opportunities for limited religious study in an association of temples with headquarters on the flanks of Mount Fuji. Between 1950 and 1990, Soka Gakkai built many new temples for Nichiren Shoshu, contributed money to refurbishing existing temples, and labored to maintain harmonious relations between its own members and parishioners and priests. Tensions between Soka Gakkai's modernism and the priesthood's traditionalism, however, led to periodic conflicts over authority, doctrine, and the interpretation of Nichiren. These became acute under Toda's successor, Daisaku Ikeda, the architect of Soka Gakkai's current internationalism. Tensions came to a head in 1991, at which time Soka Gakkai was excommunicated from Nichiren Shoshu.

Since 1991, Soka Gakkai has become a fully independent lay movement. As with many contemporary religious movements, members now undertake sacramental roles once played by priests. The organization has also been thoroughly restructured. Soka Gakkai International is an umbrella organization headquartered in Tokyo that helps to coordinate the efforts of aUtonomous groups in Japan and in more than one hundred other countries, all together referred to as "the Gakkai." In the U.S. the group is now called SGI-USA . . .

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