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Radically Inept
Saturday, May 15, 2004
  NPR : New Religions, Part III: Soka Gakkai

Well, the Wife and I were talking earlier, and she said she thought I'd like to know about a specific Buddhist sect that she'd heard about on NPR. Oh, and as much as I hate what has happened to NPR funding wise, and the increased begging and commercials, it still often seems to be a news source of choice for many of the people I know. I hear a lot of, "well, on NPR..."

So there was my NPR plug.

So, the Wife remembers enough of the name of this Buddhist sect, and gets close enough in spelling, that she googles it first try. Okay, but google did offer the correct chice option, so that gets at least partial credit. And then it got interesting, because we get here:
Welcome to SGI-USA.ORG:
"Soka Gakkai International (SGI)-USA is an American Buddhist association that promotes world peace and individual happiness based on the teachings of the Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism. Our members reflect a cross section of our diverse American society, representing a broad range of ethnic and social backgrounds "
Which sort of summed up the gist of what the Wife remembered about the group, and is pretty cool. So then we looked to see how they presented themselves in other regions like A Warm Welcome to SOKA GAKKAI (JAPAN)--Official English Site, and then got this:New Religious Movements Page: Soka Gakkai:
Beliefs: Both aforementioned co-founders contributed pieces to Soka Gakkai's belief system. First, Makiguchi is accredited with the connection between Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu (Metraux, History 22). He maintained that the each individual's ultimate goal is happiness (individual and societal), and only through the teachings of Nichiren as rendered by Nichiren Shoshu could one achieve such a goal.

Makiguchi outlined two crucial elements in understanding life and the external world: cognition (truth) and evaluation (value). While truth is empirically accepted by society, the individual makes his or her own value judgements (Metraux, History 25). The two must be fully understood and respected equally. Each individual controls his or her own destiny and must be able to distinguish between good and bad for him or her specifically. Individuals can achieve happiness and societies can achieve peace only through Nichiren's teachings (Metraux, History 26).

Toda Josei, the second president of Soka Gakkai, gave the organization its current character and direction. He is said to have reached enlightenment in prison, and he was to guide everyone to peace and prosperity (Metraux, History 34). He redefined Makiguchi's religious ideas and focused on the reformation of the human spirit (Metraux, History 23). In a world of bad karma (violence, greed, destruction), Soka Gakkai aims to lead humankind away from certain destruction and towards a peaceful world (Metraux, History 1).

Toda stressed not only the importance of education and understanding, but also the fundamental role of religious practice on the path the ultimate happiness. Presently, little reference is made to Makiguchi's value judgements. Instead, the emphasis in on the fact that individual salvation leads to universal happiness, and this salvation can be achieved through the daimoku and the Daigohonzon (Metraux, History 33). Daimoku refers the the chant, "Namu Mhoho Renge Kyo," which translates to "'I devote myself to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra'" (Metraux, History 6).

The Daigohonzon is the mandala that Nichiren composed in the tenth month of 1279 (Metraux, History 14), and is said to contain the Three Great Secret Laws. This symbolic object of worship is said to produce the salvation of humankind and was enshrined in Sho Hondo from 1972 to 1998(Metraux, History 14). As of April 1998, the sacred object is enshrined in the Hoanden building at Nichiren Shoshu's Head Temple at Taisekiji.

Soka Gakkai shares foundations with former "parent sect" Nichiren Shoshu in the teachings of Nichiren, a thirteenth century Buddhist monk. After all the reference to the teachings of Nichiren, here is a brief description of his major Buddhist concept upon which Soka Gakkai beliefs are based. Nichiren discovered the "ultimate truth" in the Lotus Sutra, which outlined two main points. All individuals are manifestations of Buddha nature, and he or she can achieve Buddhahood at any time (Metraux, History 8). The sutra embodies a human's only escape from the sufferings of this world.


Size of Group: Esimated at 8 million internationally at the time it was excommunicated from Nichiren Shoshu in 1992." [all emphasis mine]
Which comes across a little differently, and then this site includes this:
What led to such hostility and seperation? There are two sides to every story, and of course, Nichiren Shoshu has a different version of the events that surrounded the November 1992 excommunication of Soka Gakkai. According to the General Administrator of Nichiren Shoshu, Rev. Nichijin Fujimoto, Ikeda's problematic arrogance began with the 1972 completion of Shohondo. He documents Nichiren Shoshu's view of events that led to the split. One profound event in the series of accusations from Nichiren Shoshu is the "1977 Incidents" in which Ikeda is said to have seriously strayed from the "correct doctrines" of the Nichiren faith. He formally asked for forgiveness during a December 1977 service, and Soka Gakkai subsequently formally reaffirmed Nichiren Shoshu Doctrines. Despite efforts, this period marked only the beginning of frustrations and disputes between the two groups.

Such turbulence seemed to gain intensity and in 1990 Soka Gakkai launched formal complaints about Nichiren Shoshu's authoritarian abuse of power (Hurst 122). Around that same period the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood removed Soka Gakkai's Chairman, Ikeda Daisaku, from his position as a representative of the priesthood's lay groups (Astley 167). Soka Gakkai subsequently accused Nichiren Shoshu of spending the lay organizations money on expensive foreign cars and the like while not doing their job properly (Astley 168). Soka Gakkai saw themsleves as a vehicle for Nichiren Shoshu's teachings and focused on the ultimate goal of world wide dissemination (Astley 169).

Allegations flew in both directions, and in February 1991 rumors surfaced in the news about Nichiren Shoshu's plans to sever ties with the lay group (Hurst 122). Speculation concurs that President Ikeda and President Nikken of Nichiren Shoshu had a falling out over slanderous comments captured on tape. President Ikeda maintained that the taping was secretive and the comments taken out of context (Astley 169). Nichiren Shoshu officials also claim that Soka Gakkai failed to comply to three conditions for their incorporation.
And, that site is just plain interesting reading. And, on we travel to this:Welcome to SokaCult.com which is a seriously bizzarre site, I think it has something to do with their style of presentation:
Jealous Lies of Corrupt Journalists

What is the mainstream press saying about Soka? They love us and praise us because we are such a great, humanistic organization. However, some corrupt newspapers have printed lies about Soka. Soka has many enemies who are angry and emotional and only wish to destroy true Buddhism. Here is a sampling of their falsehoods. You must not believe a single word, except where we are praised.
Then this, but now I'm lost as to which order this was supposed to come in, but"Welcome to SokaCult.com:
"Maybe you sense that something is off or just not right about SGI, and maybe you have noticed cult-like aspects. Do not be alarmed. There is a simple explanation. It is because of the difference between 'American' culture and 'Japanese' culture. What many Americans do not like about SGI is really just Japanese culture. For Americans to criticize Japanese culture is racist. Other problems in SGI can be explained as the difference between 'village' culture and 'ocean' culture. One is closed and suspicious, while the other is open and friendly. SGI has multiple personalities, but this is only natural since we are an organization of human beings. If you think SGI is a cult, you must learn to be more tolerant of your fellow humans. Soka wants to be your friend!

World domination is not our aim. Rather, we seek to establish a harmonious global family of humanism under the banner of Soka that will lead the world for 10,000 years and more, creating waves of peace and Buddhist Democracy. Is that so wrong? If you dedicate your life and fortunes to this cause, you will be living the noble life of a human being. Otherwise, you will not be able to fulfill your dreams. It's only logical. Buddhism is reason."
And, after all that we find the NPR story that had started the quest:
NPR : New Religions, Part III: Soka Gakkai:
"As part of our series on new religious movements, NPR's Mandalit del Barco explores a modern version of Buddhism known as Soka Gakkai. It's an import from Asia, brought to the United States by Japanese war brides. In the 1960s, it caught on with anti-war hippies. Now it has more than 300,000 adherents in the United States, most of them middle class, from all ethnic groups."
It's provides yet a different reality to the group. {I can't seem to get direct link to the audio file, so due to my ineptness, you'll have to go the site and link from there}

Well, so what can you wind up believing after all that? I think it just reinforces my belief that a way to sound good mental health is to avoid to the degree possible contact with organized religion. Seems to me, as soon as they organize they all think they have 'the truth', and then spend all their time trying to get you to give them your money so they can finance more...What? Truth? Why should truth cost money? Why do I need other people to believe what I believe? Look, if you can't get past the crap and see the truth that's not my problem. I haven't actually found 'THE truth' yet, but then, I don't really expect that there is a 'THE truth'. I look forward to ever increasing complexities of ambiguity.

It's late, but I think I'll come back to this topic sometime over the weekend. 
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