Buddhism of ordinary people: The Soka Movement

Soka Global Movement is a society of ordinary people of diverse background, who aim to transform their life, overcoming hardships and working for inner peace and world peace. 

Soka is a Japanese word for “Value Creation”, promoting Peace, Culture and Education based on the teachings Nichiren Buddhism. 

Nichiren Buddhism is based on the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that helping others transform suffering through the Bodhisattva practice is the way to live a happy meaningful life.

What are the aims of Soka? 

The aim of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) - the Global Movement of Buddhism -  is to work for peace and happiness of all people, starting from empowering the individual to reveal own p
otentials and transform own life to the highest humanistic values. 

SGI is acknowledged by many intellectual observers and cultural institutions as a society of “ordinary people’s modern Buddhism”.

The United Nations awarded SGI a Medal of Peace – in 1983.

Why does the expression “KosenRufu” used as the goal of Soka?

The meaning of KoenRufu is spreading the teachings of “peace and harmony”.

It is about attaining inner peace and harmony on the individual’s level,

and then spreading the spirit of peace and harmony in society.

  1.        “Helping people become happy and improving the world – this is kosenrufu

Daisaku Ikeda, The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol.6 p.112

  1.       “… when we align our hearts with the development of kosen-rufu,

we can break through the shell of our own selfish ego”.

SGI Newsletter No. 9604, The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace

Opposition of Religious Cults

to the Soka Movement

To judge any social movement, a reason-based impartial observer can from correct understanding by examining both: who is supportive and who is opponent - to that movement.

Opposition to Soka 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 Soka Movement

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

SGI is acknowledged by the United Nations as an NGO working for peace and contributing to Interfaith and to Refugees Committees of the United Nations, having its permanent representations in U.N. through two offices in New York and Geneva.

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.”  Encountering the Dharma, Richard Hughes Seager


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 dom
ain 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 400 recognitions on SGI by 2022.  President Ikeda shared dialogue with world figures of education, science and human rights has been published - over 80 books some translated to various languages.  .

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

Linus Pauling (Twice awarded Nobel Prize 1954 & 1962),     N. Mandela (1993), Michael Gorbachev (1990), Wangari Maathai (2004), and Rosa Parks (Nonviolence Peace Prize 1994), Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, and others.

Openness vs Isolation : Soka opposition to cults

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 and imposing authoritarian views.

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

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.

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.

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

Democratising Buddhism and Fighting against Fanaticism

Author: Darshams                                    Homepage