Is Soka Gakkai International a Cult?

To judge any social movement, a reason-based impartial observer should first know and understand who is supportive and who is opponent - to that movement.


                        Opposition to the Soka Gakkai, in historical chronology, started with the aggression of the military authorities of Japan during the II W W.  While various temples proudly published their support for the war, the Soka Gakkai refused to declare support for the ‘emperor worship’ and refused cooperation with the military authorities.  In response, the military authorities banned Soka magazine from publication, and then disbanded the whole organisation, accusing its leaders as being “Criminal of Thoughts” detaining them in prison.

After the war, the same spirit of opposition and hatred to SG continued through the media of fascist inclination, which fiercely rejects Soka teaching of humanism and nonviolence (and rejects the teaching of Bodhisattva, taught in Soka Buddhism as a world-citizen).

Another major opponent to SGI is the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu temple, known for their  feudal administration, which aimed at controlling the religious beliefs of Soka members, issuing an authoritarian demand of “absolute obedience” to the High Priest. 

Both opponents of SGI invest heavily in mass media to spread tabloid rumours and their views of hatred, affecting many unsuspecting readers.


                  Support to the SGI has been steadily growing in the international community of education and culture, human rights institutions and interfaith circles.

SGI is acknowle
dged by the United Nations as an NGO working

for peace and contributing to Interfaith and to Refugees Committees. SGI and has permanent representations in U.N. through two offices in New York and Geneva.

The United Nations issued the SGI with a medallion of Peace in 1983.

The growth and popularity of SGI attracted the interest of academic scholars, who investigated its working and teachings of humanism and social involvement.  Many impartial observers attribute the popularity of SGI to its modern spirit of engagement and openness to the world:

“According to M. Bumann, Seager, Dobbeleare, Metraux, Hurst and others, "A spirit of openness, egalitarianism, and democratization pervaded the SG, embodying and giving new life to the idea of self-empowerment.”


Nichiren Buddhism as presented by SGI has been recognised as a world-religion:

In June 2015, the SGI-Italy (Soka Gakkai Italian Buddhist Institute) was recognized by the Italian government with a special accord under Italian Constitution Article 8, acknowledging it as an official religion of Italy.

Another supporter of SGI in the religious domain is Dr Lawrence Carter of Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel,  In his book: “How My Interfaith Journey with Daisaku Ikeda Made Me a Better Christian” - Dr Carter offers his full support to the SGI movement.

SGI teachings of Buddhism has attracted the interest of the academia, and its founder, Ikeda was invited to give lectures on the humanism of Nichiren Buddhism, a total of 32 lectures in various universities:

USA (7 lectures) , China (6), Russia (2), India(2), Brazil, Mexico, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Argentina, Macau, Philippines, Hong Kong, Turkey, Spain, Nepal, Cuba and Italy.

In total, the academic community of education and art has conferred up to 385 recognitions on SGI by 2018.  President Ikeda shared dialogue with world figures of education, science and human rights has been published in 81 books .

Some of the world figures who supported SGI were Nobel Prize Laureates:

Linus Pauling (Twice awarded Nobel Prize 1954 & 1962), N. Mandela (1993), M. Gorbachev (1990), Wangari Maathai (2004), and Rosa Parks (Nonviolence Peace Prize 1994)

Openness vs Isolation

What are the characteristics of a cult? Cults have certain characteristics, and a study of various cults show that the most notable feature of a cult is its “closed doors policy” or isolation from society.

The fact that SGI is actively involved in the social sphere of culture, peace and education – speaks about its openness to the world.

Another characteristic of a cult is the authoritarian system of leadership.  SGI structure and beliefs do not allow for any authority to be imposed on its members. History records the stand of SG against the cultish nature of authority, as with opposing the Emperor worship and the “Absolute Obedience” to the High Priest - that are examples fitting the description of cults.

Opposing the Cult of Emperor Worship

The first two founders of the Soka Gakkai were arrested (1943) for refusing to cooperate with the militarist authorities, and were charged with being ”Thought Criminals”. During interrogation, the first president of the Soka Gakkai, Mr. Makiguchi had this to say about the cult of worship and blind obedience to the emperor:

“The Emperor is a common mortal…The Emperor himself should not be telling people to be loyal to him. This should be struck from the ‘Imperial Rescript on Education’…To slander the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren is to invite certain punishment”.

Post war period did not weaken the animosity of right-wing extremists against the Soka Gakkai.  In his discussion about this subject, the founder of SGI, P. Ikeda, explains that the “cult of race” or “cult of nation” is basically an evil “cult of power (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 5 p.105).

Opposing the Cult of High Priest

Most studies about the nature of cults in general agree that cult leaders assume a “divine position” over ordinary believers who are led to accept their own inferiority.  This observation about cults perfectly fits the claim of the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu temple - which SGI rejected - a claim of being “superior” to ordinary SGI members - demanding acknowledgment of his “absolute authority”:

” To talk about the priesthood and laity with a sense of equality are of great conceit. In fact, they correspond to the five cardinal sins…”

Nichiren Shoshu Head Temple's chief administrator, Nichijun Fujimoto, 12 Jan.1991.

Positioning themselves as “superior” in their

“spiritual position” -

the Priesthood demanded from ordinary believers “Absolute Obedience” to their authority.

SGI rejection of this spirit of arrogance and control over people’s spiritual life, resulted in  excommunication of the whole organisation (1991) – an event which added to international acknowledgement of SGI as standing up against authoritarianism and domination in the field of spirituality over ordinary individuals.

Ordinary Person vs Divine Leader

Various studies on cults mention that cult members accept a belief that their leaders have special divine status. This feature of cults, however, merges with the reality of some legitimate religious organisations such as the Christian Churches and Tibetan Buddhism.

Obedience to the Pope originates from the belief in his infallibility, a leader “without error” in judgement - as he is believed to deliver the teachings of the Holy Spirit.

Prostration is a ritual of obedience practiced also in Tibetan Buddhism.  In fact, Traditional Buddhism allows for assigning a “divine character” not only to a current leader but to the whole system of priesthood which is believed to inherits divinity in its linage.

A “Master” or “Lama” in Tibetan Buddhism is always referred to by “His Holiness”  implying an achievement of a “distinguished spirituality” or “holiness” - as compared with other lower stages of spiritual development of ordinary believers.  This distinction is accepted in all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and notably in Gelug school of the Dalai Lama, where the “Holiness” of the leader is also extended to his successors.

Although Nichiren Buddhism rejects the belief in a special “divine status” of a leader or priest, however, the system of Nichiren Shoshu priesthood is based on assigning a special status of the High Priest, which demands from ordinary believers absolute obedience, a central matter of dispute between the Priesthood and SGI.

SGI leadership emerges from ordinary people who dedicate their life for the protection and propagation of Nichiren Buddhism, and who provide a role model of behaviour in society.

The concept of mentor-disciple in SGI Buddhism is based on
  the “oneness of purpose”

of both: the teacher (of Buddhism) - and the recipients (of the teachings).  In this regard, SGI essentially follows Nichiren as its original teacher - and the three mentors (Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda) who applied Nichiren Buddhism to today’s modern environment.

In particular, SGI president Ikeda, provided the actual proof of the ability to endure hardships and overcome obstacles, becoming a model of success in establishing a world wide organisation - which offers humanistic teachings and provides an environment for members’ self-development.

Transparency  vs  Secrecy

Some Tibetan religions – such as “Bon” Tradition – depend on secretive rituals in their practice, yet such sects are recognised by the media as legitimate religions. The element of secrecy and selectiveness is evident in all groups which are based on guru authority, superstitious beliefs and closed rituals.

SGI structure and functions are all open to society with no secretive or hidden teachings, and its simple practice - as taught by Nichiren - features flexibility, and rational way of thinking.

Having no “closed circles” in its structure of activities, or “degrees” of spiritual hierarchy, SGI’s focus - as stated in its guidelines - is on  contributing to the welfare of society: To work for the prosperity of society by being good citizens who respect the culture, customs and laws of each country”.

Engagement  vs  isolation

To dominate over their followers, cults usually discourage social engagement. The segregation of “us” and “them” in cults beliefs is expressed in particular through opposition to inter-faith dialogue.

SGI is one of the most active religious organisations in promoting dialogue with all people and conducting continuous Interfaith Dialogues, published in various books.  The wide spectrum of contacts and efforts in promoting humanism included not only engagement with people of different faith, but also with the non-religious:

I was attacked and criticised both at home and abroad for visiting nations that reject religion. My actions were misunderstood. Determined to go wherever there were people I travelled through the world planting the seeds of peace and friendship, transcending barriers of ideologies and national boundaries.” Ikeda, SGI Newsletter 4158

Engagement in the world of education is also expressed in linking students of different universities and schools around the world, as well as in networking cultural exchange in musical performances from various nations. The Peace Proposals submitted to the United Nations each year, are part of SGI involvement in UN global network of activities: “The only way to achieve peace is to reach out to the world in friendship and form alliance with the peoples of all nations. SGI Newsletter 4327

Individual’s freedom  vs  character suppression

Studies about cults point to cult leaders imposing restrictions on their followers, and in many situation interfering in members’ personal or family relationships. This can lead to weakening followers psychologically by making them dependent on cults’ policy in private matters.

Nichiren Buddhism is based on empowering the individual to courageously stand up to own rights.  Experiences of almost all SGI members mention about encouragement they receive for developing confidence and a feeling of self-worth through their activities in daily life.  Even if family members oppose SGI practice, members are encouraged to act with gratitude and appreciation to their families. On the importance of the individual, Ikeda says:

“ All people are equal. There is absolutely no distinction of superior or inferior among human beings. In our organisation there is no one above or below; everyone is equal”.

Faith into Action p194/195 

Ordinary persons  vs  charismatic leaders

In some organisations, a “charismatic” personality of a leader is considered as a desirable feature. For example, assigning a character blessing to their leader is accepted among Dalai Lama’s followers, and among various religious leaders.

The three founders of SG can be described as humble, ordinary individuals.  The recognition they gained was not because of a charming-special personality, but because of their selfless dedication to the happiness of people.

Sharing humanity  vs  self-righteousness

While all religions and cults declare their own beliefs as the only right and correct beliefs - SGI teaches the importance of accepting humanism as a bridging and uniting philosophy, common to the understanding of all people.

It is quiet common to find in Ikeda’s Peace Proposals, books and essays - references to the work or statements of non-Buddhist scholars.  SGI literature urges members to take examples of humanity’s thinkers - regardless of their nationality or religion - as models in dedication and achievements:

“There are many different religions, peoples and cultures in today’s world. The only way for humankind to join together in harmony amid such diversity is to return to the starting point of our shared humanity. This is the teaching of Buddhism and a Buddhist is someone who is dedicated to achieving peace and happiness for all people”.

The New Human Revolution vol.7 Chapter 3

SGI Invitation for dialogue

SGI is recognised by the United Nations as a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), and is regarded by various world leaders and thinkers - some Noble Prize Laureates - as an organisation working for global peace.  The recognition SGI has achieved was the result of members and leaders dedicated efforts and openness to exchange and dialogue.  Most criticism of SGI is generated by fanatic or nationalistic trends, which reflect their own rigid and discriminatory beliefs. 

Dialogue and openness offer the path for humanistic sharing:

Thinking leaders of any nation will surely have nothing but praise for the SGI once they understand its true purpose and nature. SGI aim is always the prosperity of each country and the happiness of people who live there. Our goal is for each member to become a good citizen who contributes to the well-being of society” .

The New Human Revolution Vol.7 Chapter 3.


Three Opponents of SGI                            Nationalists Cults              Fighting Fanaticism



                                                          The Three Goals of SGI