Common Soka Gakkai Myths

Well, the forces of Sansho Shima are upon me – if only I was a better linux administrator, then maybe I’d have finished the job I started 4 hours ago! While I wait for it to complete, I thought I would upload this article I have been thinking about in the past week or so.

I’m a member of the SGI in the UK. I have read plenty of criticism of the SGI, and it saddens me deeply. As you read this, bear in mind, I’m just a normal member of a normal district – I’m not a leader, nor do I have have any other role within the SGI. I have a family, hobbies, and a busy career to pursue.

I just feel I have to write this because I would hate to think that anyone interested in joining would be put off by the hateful slander some people (mostly adherents to the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood) seem to spend their lives creating.

Myth 1 – The SGI is a cult

This has to be THE most ridiculous accusation I ever heard. SGI members care about each other’s happiness – why would we want to cause suffering? Yes, we hold firm beliefs, and we may refute what we believe to be incorrect teachings, but that’s where it ends. We don’t go around committing acts of terror, blackmailing, or coercing others to comply with our world view.

The SGI has never demanded or pressured me to:

  • distance myself from non buddhists or buddhists of other schools.
  • distance myself from my family.
  • worship, venerate or otherwise focus my practice on SGI president Daisaku Ikeda instead of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
  • only buy my buddhist accessories (Butsudan etc) and goodies from the SGI.
  • pay for my Gohonzon.
  • give my money or possessions to the cause.

Yes, a local SGI leader (whom I am glad to call a friend) wanted to ensure I had somewhere suitable to put the Gohonzon in my home before I received it – so what? This is nothing sinister, and is more a chance to meet and talk, and answer any questions. If the embodiment of enlightened were to visit your home, you’d want to be respectful – wouldn’t you?

Myth 2 – The SGI Gohonzon is a photocopied fake

Mine isn’t (a photocopy or a fake). The Gohonzon provided to members of the SGI is based on the Gohonzon inscribed by 26th High Priest Nichikan in 1720.

Yes, it may have been tidied up (electronically or otherwise) a little from the original for mass production.

Yes, it’s a printed copy (lithographic I think, but I may be wrong) – again, so what!

No it isn’t an occult object with “woo woo” powers that have somehow been weakened because it isn’t a copy of the Dai Gohonzon kept by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. I never understand this argument. Nichiren Daishonin himself inscribed a number of Gohonzons for his followers – none of them were exactly the same, yet all of them represent the same Mystic Law.

It is a scroll – a piece of paper. It is the focus of our worship, because what is inscribed on it represents the Mystic Law – which exists within us. If you think the one kept by the Priesthood or anyone else is somehow more powerful or different from your own life, then you are putting your faith in something outside of yourself.

Myth 3 – The SGI is undemocratic

An the point of this accusation is? I might have missed the boat here, but as far as I know, no leader of the main world religions is voted in. Leaders should be selected (and as far as I can see in the UK, they are) based on merit.

Do you really think that popular voting is going to improve the quality of people who are attracted to leadership of the SGI – or any organisation for that matter? Have to SEEN our political system?

If you feel that the SGI leadership in your district is corrupt, then BE the change that’s needed instead of whinging about it. Shine as a beacon in your district, and you will be recognised for it. Organisations are always subject to human mistakes. Nobody is perfect (but everybody is a Buddha).

Why the SGI attracts persecution

I could spend an eternity refuting petty allegations from the Nichiren Shoshu sect. It would be like trying to stop the flow of the Ganges.

The three powerful enemies will continue to attack the SGI because it is made up of those who are genuinely trying to reveal buddhahood in themselves and others in accordance with the Daishonin’s teachings.

The people of the Latter Day of the Law are cynical, doubtful and fearful – they cannot believe in altruism when they see it because their hearts are so clouded with greed, anger and foolishness. Like Icchantika‘s they have been exposed to the wrong teachings so often, they are all but unable to develop faith in the correct teaching. This is a dark negative function in society and represents the first of the three powerful enemies.

The priesthood represent the second powerful enemy, doing their best to control the SGI membership to bend it to their will, fearful of lost status resulting from the SGI’s success.

The third, and most powerful enemy are like high priest Nikken. Regardless of any disagreement between Nikken and the SGI Sensei (Daisaku Ikeda), Nikken’s treatment of the laity displays contempt for the Daishonin’s spirit, and an utter disregard for the human heart.

Personally, I would welcome Nikken into my home to open a dialogue that might lead to reconciliation. If Kosen Rufu is the genuine aim of the priesthood, then there should be no reason he would refuse me. I know this will never happen, because like many priesthoods, Nikken is more concerned with the preservation of his own temporal organisation and status than revealing buddhahood in others. He wants to control the SGI membership, in much the same way as priesthoods of the non-buddhist faiths have tried to control their adherents since the beginning of recorded history.




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10 Responses to Common Soka Gakkai Myths

  1. PM Saunders April 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    I am relatively new to Nichiren Buddhism and I won’t lie, I have heard many of the accusations of SGI being a cult and something akin to Ikeda worship among many SGI locations. However the thing I also come across is that many who feel there is too much Ikeda worship just let it go and focus on their chanting/practice. It isn’t really an issue for them. After going through things you have said here, I realize I should give SGI a fair shot. I actually happen to live a couple miles from one (I think). I shall have to go there next chance I get. 🙂

    • steve April 22, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Before I joined, I also wondered about the veneration of Daisaku Ikeda. I resisted at first (out of my own arrogance and inherent suspicion of any leader), but once I took the time to read and truly understand some of his material I came to appreciate the great effort this man has put into the lay movement. Yes, you will meet some people who talk constantly about president Ikeda, but please take things at your own pace, and make up your own mind 🙂 Very best wishes.

  2. Dolly October 18, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Well, I have just been introduced to SGI by my husband’s friend and am in the middle of reading a recommended book. For years I have hoped to find my own spiritual path but have been put off by infighting and dogma of each. The comments above, although well-intended, just reinforce the views based on my experiences. Why is there always a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ and a rubbishing of another’s views – defending, attacking. Too much like war for me. Very sad. Am abandoning this exploration.

    • steve October 18, 2012 at 11:54 am #

      Hi Dolly,

      I’m really sorry you’re experience so far has put you off. I no longer practice within the SGI for various reasons, some of which overlap with yours.

      I now practice with the Community of Interbeing in the UK… The way we practice is…

      Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

      I have taken a break from writing on the blog while I adjust, and gain more insight into the teachings, but hope to add more stuff soon. Please avoid strong emotions regarding the Dharma. There are truths everywhere we look. Just keep looking 🙂

  3. Lawm February 11, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    Actually, the way members held Daisaku Ikeda to be some type of rock star is what turned me off to SGI. I remember some of the woman talking about meeting him and how all the ladies were screaming like he was a Beatle. This made me feel really uncomfortable. I don’t mind learning from a teacher or following their teachings, but the worshiping of another human always makes me suspicious. It’s okay, I respect that other people feel differently and that this is what others believe and follow. I on the other hand have found great comfort in meditation and mindfulness. I will say that my time spent with SGI years ago did help me to be more open minded and continue to search further.

    • steve February 17, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

      Hi Lawm, I guess we all owe the SGI a debt of gratitude in one way or another. Like you, I now find meditation and mindfulness practice a far, far more positive experience. But that’s just me – I’m not prescribing the practice to the world, nor do I feel any inclination any longer to rant about why I think Nichiren Buddhism is fundamentally broken. Everyone to their own – the important thing is to focus on suffering and it’s remedy – not to fight over the means by which that is achieved 🙂 Thank you for your comment. Steve.

  4. TSJ August 3, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    I grew up in the SGI. I joined in 1974. I am from Los Angeles. I can only speak from my experience of the American organisation.

    I belonged to this organisation when it was NSA. To this day, the message has always been ‘If you truly want to advance in your practice, you need to take President Ikeda as your mentor/master’. Now no member or leader will ever verbally say this to you, but believe me, the pressure is there. The leaders I had were caring and sincere. Nothing stopped them from fighting for the happiness of a member.

    Whilst there were things that needed changing in the organisation before 1990, it was a good place to practice. And people were receiving benefits. And I mean REAL benefits.

    I have been on both sides: the SGI and the priesthood. This is the conclusion I have come to: The Priesthood by itself can’t fully manifest its full potential. The SGI by itself can’t manifest its full potential. Each group by themselves is a half of what should be a whole! Both the SGI and the priesthood each have positive attributes that can both create benefit! It’s just such a shame that both sides can’t work together. And you know whose growth has been inhibited by this fallout? The members. As far as I’m concerned, the SGI today is an ersatz version of what it once was. And I still can’t understand why the Juryo chapter was cut out of gongyo. People in the SGI will tell you it’s just a repeat of A&C, but it isn’t. If you read the translation of the Juryo chapter, it is very clear that what is said isn’t a repeat.

    For those of you SGI members out there who believe everything you are fed by what President Ikeda or the hierarchy leaders said about the split: How does anybody know what really happened? How do you know that everything that President Ikeda said was true? You’re just going to assume that the whole priesthood is corrupt and that’s it? The SGI has made mistakes too. The organisation is not a democracy. Like any two-way relationship, no one person/group is at fault.

    For a short time, I did practice with the Hokkeko members here in the UK. But when I wanted to change to a different group that was more UK-based and closer to my home, my sponsor could not understand why I wanted to leave. He only cared about increasing the membership of his group, and he tried to put pressure on me to stay with his group. This sponsor then claimed that ‘Nikko Shonin gives strict guidance about changing temples.” Yeah, right. So when I talked to the leader of the group who I wanted to join, he basically told me he couldn’t come to chant with me because he didn’t want to make my sponsor angry or cause ‘onshitsu’. What the SGI (NSA) taught me in youth division that if you’re a bodhisattva of the earth, every member is precious no matter where that person practices and there is nothing wrong with chanting with that person regardless of what district/headquarters they belong to. I will always be grateful to the things I learned in the SGI USA up until 1991.

    Maybe Nikken Shonin did do the things he was accused of. Maybe he didn’t. What’s wrong with the priest drinking Saki with a geisha girl? The High Priest is human too. Of course he’ll make mistakes. Can’t he have a good time? Just because she was a geisha girl, doesn’t mean she was a prostitute. It doesn’t necessarily mean the High Priest was having sex with this girl. Anybody who knows anything about Japanese society knows that a skilled geisha girl would be insulted to be referred to as a prostitute! And anyway, he stepped down from his position. Maybe he knew he was in the wrong, but was too proud to admit it. And anyway, he’s not the High Priest anymore.

    I don’t feel I can practice with the SGI because I feel as a member I’m not being told the entire truth about things behind the scenes. And in my experience, the SGI is constantly changing the rules and contradicting itself, and I’m just not comfortable with that.

    On the Hokekko side of things, I don’t feel I can practice in a group run by someone who would put the priesthood and the feelings of a leader first instead of thinking of the health and welfare of a disciple of the Daishonin. I don’t know if other leaders of Hokkeko groups are like this, but I’m not practising with somebody who won’t help nurture my practice.

    I think President Ikeda has done a lot of wonderful things by contributing to the spread of the Daishonin’s Buddhism throughout the world. I myself have been encouraged by his guidance and other writings. But somewhere along the way, I feel he went off the path. This is not slander. It’s just my observation. Daisaku Ikeda is a human being like everyone else. And I have a right to my opinion.

    I think the Priesthood is crucial and we can learn a great deal from them. They have knowledge of doctrines that are over 800 years old. We can’t just throw that away. I think the Priesthood needs to work on its communication skills in interacting with the lay people. I feel the Priesthood and the SGI should try and sort out their distances and re-unite. For the health and welfare of all practitioners of the Daishonin’s Buddhism.

    When the SGI and the Priesthood can sit down and try to work out their differences, I will return to an organisation-based practice. Until that day comes, I will practice on my own and focus on learning the Daishonin’s teachings and the teachings of the late President Josei Toda. And maybe we just need to start from scratch again and rebuild a new organisation; just like President Toda did in 1945.

  5. Nolan September 19, 2015 at 4:18 pm #

    I thought, in regards to Daisaku Ikeda, what was most interesting, was the fact that he did the opposite of a rock star. He actually stopped attending meetings, and instead focused on writing letters of encouragement, facilitating dialogues, and furthering the cause for Kosen Rufu by publishing countless books, so people can make their own decisions. A lot of the books in the book stores at SGI centers aren’t even written by Ikeda.

    You’ll never agree with everything you hear, but I just thought the notion of SGI necessarily perceiving Ikeda as some kind of a rock star, as opposed to a role model, is false on the members (who venerate in this way) part. The law is always the highest, and the law exists equally among all people. No matter what anyone tells you, you are the law. Period.

    • steve February 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

      I think half the problem with Daisaku Ikeda is that he is so geographically distant, and so highly venerated within the organisation, that a little bit of Ikeda worship is unavoidable – simply because A significant number of people will be predisposed to that sort of behaviour – and organisations are only made of people, after all. I had to smile at your last statement – I can almost see Silvester Stallone in Judge Dredd stating “I am the law!” – have a great week, and sorry for the slow reply.

  6. Pamela January 27, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

    In my darkest hour my so called buddhist family abandoned me. I always kept my distance from sgi because I don’t agree with many of the things they say. I never chanted to get stuff. I still think this is absurd. I chanted to feel my budda nature and being Jewish I always knew that chanting to an object is the biggest form of adultry. They started to come to my house to do home visits. I guess since I didn’t show up to meetings they wanted to check up in me. They love bombed me and told me I should chant for the stuff I wanted but It always felt crazy to do this and it is. Then when I was in a dark dark period of pain dealing with serious anxiety due to very serious life and death issues that gave me so much anxiety I couldn’t even function rather than help me.They just let me drown I can go into details but it is too painful. Looking back remembering so of the “guidance” they told me is bone chilling. I can’t go into it now but honestly I can’t even imagine even a stranger who didn’t chant to ever say what they said to me. I can’t even imagine any human being on earth with any blood in them at all to behave as they did to me. I am talking about 3 leaders who have been chanting over 25 years.I will never get over the shock of what they said which at the time put me into such a stare of ptsd I was unable to even function. That’s what their advise did to me. I know I am responsible for my own life but words can to so much damage. A good deal of what passes of as “truth”completely goes against the lotus sutra.Sorry don’t want to go into it.But I suggest anybody who is serious about buddhism study the lotus sutra carefully on your own and not just rely on the sgi magazine because a lot of its meaning gets very distorted. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that a lot of mind control is happening in this organization and it is very corrupt. It seemed shiny on outside but it is rotten on the inside. I am not writing to be an sgi brasher.I am merely trying to prevent people from the hurt and pain I have gone through from being a member. This organization in my opinion is not pure. To me it is like an artificial plants compared to a real plant. I really feel sorry for the innocent people who get sucked in.It has cause my life so so much damage.

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