View Full Version : Soka Gakkai (SGI)
2004-12-19, 01:31 AM
In my time in Japan I have met a lot of strange individuals, and encountered a lot of strange experiences, but by far my strangest experience has been my relationship with the Japanese Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai. I have heard that nearly 10 per cent of the people in Japan are members of this sect, and that is has a tremendous amount of political power (it is in a coalition with the LDP now to keep Koizumi in power). But the odd thing is, I can't find any references to Soka Gakkai on Gaijin Pot. That is why I decided to start my own thread, which I can cultivate. I am interested in finding out from Soka Gakkai members: why did you join this group?; and what has it done for you? Has it really changed your life? What is the deal with Soka Gakkai leader Daisaku Ikeda? (If you are not familiar with his name you are probably familiar with his face, hanging from ads in almost every train carriage in Japan, usually posing with some foreign dignatory like Nelson Mandela, with a cheesy peacy grin on his face.) Why do so many Japanese people consider Ikeda to be a god? (He looks like just another salary man to me, but many Japanese worship the ground that he walks on.) For example, my boss said he would willingly sacrifice his life if Ikeda-sensei commanded it. To me, Soka Gakkai seems like just another cult. But there are millions and millions of people in Japan who would argue otherwise. So to all the Soka Gakkai and SGI International members out there -- I am waiting for your contributions. Do you really think Ikeda-sensei can change the world? Let me know what you think!
2004-12-19, 10:59 AM
I don't know too much about the S. G. I. situation in Japan, but when I lived in England I knew a couple of people who were regular devotees of the London chapter of S. G. I.. One of them was British(married to a Japanese woman) and he said that SGI was only trying to promote world peace. I never went to one of their meetings, but they seemed a fairly regular couple and completely normal. So I don't think you can call it a cult, it really is just a branch of Buddhism as far as I can see. I often went out with the British guy to the pub and he behaved just as any other guy in the pub would. S. G. I. doesn't seem to prohibit any forms of entertainment such as alcohol, sex, tobacco, coffee, etc which is very different from religions based on Christianity such as the Mormons etc.
However, the SGI may be different in Japan as far as I know. But honestly speaking I didn't find the SGI in London to be anything to be concerned about. I should make it clear that I am not myself a member, and I am not trying to promote them in any way shape or form. But the original tone of your post seemed somewhat negative, as if you were likening them to the Aum Shinrikyo cult. As far as I can tell, that is unfair as they certainly don't seem to engage in any kind of strange or illegal activities. Okay, so they publish a slightly wacky magazine, but that is hardly the worst crime in the world now, is it?
Of course, if anybody has more details regarding the Japanese version I will defer to your superior knowledge.
2004-12-19, 11:03 AM
By the way, their London meeting hall is very big and they claim to have over one million members in the UK alone. They are obviously not strapped for cash. Again, however, this is not a crime in and of itself. So unless you have some real facts based information directly linking them to illegal activities, I don't think you can portray them in the same light as Aum Shinrikyo.
2004-12-19, 11:42 AM
I reserve judgement on the entire "cult/not-cult" bit since they could be seen as being a cult when shown in one light, but as a "not-cult" in another.
They have a very charismatic leader who is likened as being a living bhoddavista (sp?). Any opponents to Ikeda-san, are dealt with very harshly by members even to the point of receiving death threats. They are a powerful force, both in the Diet and in Japan itself and this makes a lot of people nervous for good reason. But they also do a lot of good, a lot of charity, and a lot of fund-raising.
Every SGI member I've known has spoken very highly of SGI and Ikeda-san, and how they're trying to bring about world peace. Of course, a lot of this is not through actual work, but it's more of a "spiritual" thing. They accomplish this through, of all things, chanting.
That's right, they chant the same mantra over and over again and this is supposed to help people. Don't ask me how this is supposed to work as I don't beleive a word of it.
2004-12-20, 11:56 AM
I don't know too much about the S. G. I. situation in Japan, but when I lived in England I knew a couple of people who were regular devotees
I think they dont deserve to be called a cult
adherents of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices
First of all,,, they are not exclusive.
They are actually very much like the sect of Nichiren Buddhism. The practice etcetera.
The difference is they have a lager proactive goal. Which is truer to the Mahayana tradition. I like the religion of Sokka Gakkai myself.
Some of the best modern writings about buddhism and metaphysics outside of tibet (albeit currently silenced by china) today comes from SGI. If you like buddhism this sub-sect that has a good amount of literature.
They also perform another function. There is not much community in Japan. but they perform this function for many.
2004-12-28, 03:41 PM
here is an interesting site with regards to sgi:
i first started looking at sgi earlier this year. i was in india studying buddhism when i met a german lady who was a member of sgi. she was always trying to get people to come to her room for evening chanting sessions. she actually managed to get quite a few people to join her. she hounded me a bit and passed me some literature. she was just certain that since i live in japan, sgi would be perfect for me.
i ended up calling my husband to ask him about sgi. his words were disturbing. he said, "stay away from her." "i have lost a lot of family members to soka gakkai."
when i got home, i tried to talk more about it with him, but it seems to be a bit of a sore subject.
i have to agree with westsan, sgi literature is provocative. but i am not keen with the push. one would think that an organization with as much money as sgi would be doing more to help those less fortunate instead of spending money building huge universities and building up their membership worldwide.
i recommend reading some tchih nhat hahn.
2004-12-29, 11:50 PM
Thanks to those who posted. And to notoierunihon, I am sorry if I sounded negative -- I am cynical about a lot of things, my own self included. To be honest, I have met a lot of Soka Gakkai members, and I have never had any trouble with them. I have been to barbeques with members and not once was religion mentioned. We ate, got drunk, soft-core porn magazines were produced and passed around (this was the danshibu crew, so it was part of the male bonding), dirty jokes were told, nampa missions were arranged and we ended up convincing a group of high school girls at a cherry blossoms session that I was in fact Tom Cruise!. So, it was a whole lot more fun than hanging around a bunch of born-again Christians. There was no religious talk or arm-twisting at all. Soka Gakkai has been good to me, all things considered. But I could never believe in it. My main criticism of the philosophy -- it is too simplistic. It has no depth, and the Soka Gakkai books and magazines and newspapers repeat the same basic points again and again. I don't think Soka Gakkai members are encouraged to be curious, to push the boundaries, to challenge their leaders (Ikeda included). But living in a democracy is about challenging your leaders -- if Ikeda was a real man he would encourage Soka Gakkai members to challenge him, to make fun of him -- no man or woman is perfect, after all. For example, at all the Soka Gakkai meetings they sell collected volumes of Daisaku Ikeda's photographs. Now I am no photographic genius, but even with my pathetic camera, I can take better photos than him. His photos suck. If I met just one Soka Gakkai members who was honest or aware enough to concede that point, my opinion of the group would change. It has never happened -- nobody will say anything bad about him. This is unhealthy -- this is where Fascism is born. Every Soka Gakkai member I have ever met will robotically praise Ikeda as a genius and a perfect photographer, poet, peacemaker, statesman, humanitarian, etc. He (Ikeda) reminds me of those dictators in South-East Asia who start dabbling in film-making, produces monumentally lousy movies, but the media are forced to praise El President's genius as a great director. There is a dose of Fascism in Soka Gakkai, in my opinion. Even though the individual members I have met are, like most Japanese, pretty cool.
2004-12-30, 09:56 PM
I have always found SG and SGers to be a little like Amway. The emphasis on networking, calling up old friends and acquaintances to attend events, patronising each other's businesses, etc. Other than that, although The Native Opinion of them and the organisation is often quite jaundiced, they seem like a pretty regular bunch. Certainly no cult, and definitely no Aum Shinrikyo. It is probably the most mainstream of the New Religions, and certainly no weirder than any other organised religion I know of.
Normal Japanese claim that they are insular, but that may be as much an effect of the popular attitude towards them as any active attempt to ghetto-ise themselves
The Amway bit is annoying though, esp. when they won't take no for an answer. Sometimes they come canvassing door to door. I sometimes claim to be a Devil Worshipper. Given that they come by at 7:30 in the morning, I probably look like one. Less annoying than those brain dead JoHos, though.
PS NotoBoyo, Nice critique. That is the kind of direct, non-judgemental engagement we have been asking for (not that we're all perfect at sticking to The Rules all the time; not even Me ;)). BTW, this is NOT meant to be patronising. I feel so Christmasy. :p