Interview of Soka Gakkai Movement

1. How long has the Soka Gakkai movement existed?

The Soka Gakkai was founded in 1930 in Japan by an educator, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. When it was founded, it was called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (“Association for Value-Creating Education”). T. Makiguchi’s idea was to provide children with an education that would enable them to create positive values in their lives and in society. After the war, Josei Toda, a disciple and close associate of T. Makiguchi, rebuilt the movement that had been destroyed during the war and changed its name to Soka Gakkai (“Association for Value Creation”). He was convinced that his master’s philosophical system was not only about education but about all areas of society. The values underlying the movement are those of the teachings of the Buddhist reformer monk Nichiren (13th century). For T. Makiguchi, the human being is a creator of values and his actions are aimed at the search for individual and collective happiness. He found in the practice of Nichiren Buddhism the most meaningful method for human beings and society.
In France, the Soka movement has existed since 1961. In 1963, a director of the movement was appointed in the person of Dr. Yamazaki, also responsible for Europe. The first Buddhist centre was Dr. Yamazaki’s small flat, and in 1965 a modest room was rented in Neuilly. Since 1969, the official centre has been in Sceaux, near Paris.
As France and Europe developed, a European centre was opened in Trets, near Marseille, in 1975. Today, we also have a regional centre in Nantes and, since 2014, a Buddhist centre in Paris, in the 14th arrondissement.

2. What is the history of this movement?

The history of the Soka Gakkai begins with the Buddhist monk Nichiren (1222-1282), who lived in 13th century Japan. Nichiren was a spiritual master in the Lotus Sutra lineage, a major teaching of Mahayana Buddhism preached by the historical Shakyamuni Buddha during the latter part of his life. During Nichiren’s time, Japan was going through particularly difficult times, marked by natural disasters, internal struggles between the ruling clans (military-samurai government) and the constant danger of invasion by the Mongol Empire.
Various Buddhist schools existed and each, supported by the government, prayed in its own way to end the calamities that afflicted the country. Nichiren, after a thorough study of all the Buddhist teachings, came to the conclusion that these schools had gradually moved away from the intention of the Buddha and his wish to enable human beings to reach the same state as he did, i.e. Buddhahood. For Nichiren, society could only break the deadlock by revitalising each individual within it, not by praying to transcendental deities and Buddhas and hoping for external help from them.

3. What is the philosophy of the Soka movement?

To understand the philosophy of the Soka movement and its values, it is interesting to look at the life of its founder, T. Makiguchi, and the spirit that animated him. This spirit is in direct lineage with the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren, and has been passed on to his successors, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. It is also the spirit that animates the hearts of Soka Gakkai practitioners around the world today.
Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) was a teacher and headmaster of primary schools. He was an outstanding philosopher and pedagogue. He had a great interest in the human condition and his concern was always the happiness and well-being of his pupils and of all human beings. Japan in the first half of the 20th century was undergoing a transformation and was dominated by strong nationalism. T. Makiguchi suffered from the fact that young people were being educated only to become obedient servants of the state, whereas for him the purpose of education was to give children the means to be happy in their lives – but not just in the future, the child should be happy now, in his or her family and school. He wrote two books to express his thinking: ‘The Geography of Human Life’ and ‘Education for a Value-Creating Life’. T. Makiguchi believed that, based on Western philosophy, the three values necessary to be happy were: the beautiful, the good and the true. However, he added an important condition: a value that has been translated as “gain”, i.e. or concrete benefit to one’s life. This is not necessarily of a pecuniary nature, but rather in the sense of “need satisfaction”. For him, it was important to create values (by definition positive) that could concretely meet the needs of human beings. The greatest “Good” for him was to act so that every individual could live decently and experience true happiness. But not a selfish happiness. One’s own happiness goes hand in hand with that of the society in which one lives – this corresponds to the philosophical value of ‘good’. For example, when choosing a job, the criteria can be: a good job (which I like and which corresponds to my ethics), a good job (which is useful, at the service of society) and which earns me a living.
These happiness criteria are important for everyone and at the same time they contribute to the social environment. Since society is made up of a group of individuals, the more happy people there are with these virtues, the more harmonious and prosperous society becomes. For T. Makiguchi, it is therefore important that education leads human beings to develop wisdom, life force, resilience, compassion, etc., all of which are virtues inherent in society. – For T. Makiguchi, it is therefore important that education leads to the development of wisdom, life force, resilience, compassion, etc., all virtues that are inherent in life and that enable people to lead lives that, despite the difficulties of life, create values for themselves and for others.
As a teacher, T. Makiguchi put this principle into practice by encouraging children not only to acquire knowledge, but also to develop the wisdom and energy to face and transform difficulties into positive values for themselves and others. To develop good men and women who will contribute to their own and others’ happiness. In his later years, it was in his role as a religious reformer that his dedication to this cause was most clearly demonstrated. He was convinced that by developing great spiritual strength, human beings had the capacity to transform their lives.
In 1928, T. Makiguchi met a school headmaster who practised Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Buddhism then little known in Japan. He realised that the philosophical principles and practice of this Buddhism corresponded entirely to his own thinking and theory of values. Nichiren’s philosophy emphasises concrete action in society aimed at revitalising and developing the inner strength of each individual.
An important figure in the history of the Soka Gakkai appeared in T. Makiguchi’s life: Josei Toda. This young teacher admired T. Makiguchi and his thinking and became his close collaborator and supporter. Their relationship illustrates a fundamental principle in Buddhism, which consists of awakening to the law (Dharma) through the deep relationship of master and disciple.
As his Buddhist practice deepened, T. Makiguchi became aware that it was an effective means of creating the values of beauty, goodness and gain that he had theorised. From that moment on, supported by his young disciple, he firmly committed himself to making this teaching known, in order to give everyone the means to revolutionise their own lives, and thereby transform society.
In 1930, together with his assistant and disciple J. Toda, he created an association to put their ideas into action. At the beginning, it aimed to change education, as they were teachers themselves. Their conviction was that everything began with an education that would enable future actors in society to create values in society in order to be happy personally and to act for the well-being of society. This first association is called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (“Association for Value-Creating Education”), and its aim is to promote T. Makiguchi’s humanistic educational theories.
In the following years he moved towards a broader vision and developed the conviction that this philosophy concerns the whole of society, beyond the sole field of education. He travelled all over Japan teaching and encouraging people to create values in their lives based on Buddhism, and to build indestructible happiness.
This was the beginning of what has been the main activity of the movement up to the present day: discussion meetings by neighbourhood. For T. Makiguchi, as for Nichiren, the value of a religion is based on three criteria: literal proof (the texts), reason (is the teaching given reasonable, logical, not opposed to common sense) and factual proof (the concrete results), the third being the most important.
We can speculate about the protection or strength of this or that deity or God, the texts can be beautiful and convincing, but what is important are the results: have I concretely changed my life? Am I happy? This pragmatism has always been fundamental for Nichiren and his disciples. This is why, even now, some detractors, Buddhists of other schools or not, say that the Soka Gakkai is not really in the Buddhist tradition because it teaches that one can practise to solve material problems such as finding work, having money, recovering one’s health, etc., whereas, according to them, Buddhism should instead consist in annihilating desires and aspiring only to Buddhahood. But as J. Toda said, a philosophical system that denies attachments or desires is not reasonable. In the Mahayana, and especially in Nichiren Buddhism, it is not a matter of eliminating desires in order to attain absolute happiness, but rather, by one’s own strength, to transcend them and make them an opportunity to create values and develop positive virtues that contribute to happiness.

Practising brings out the wisdom and life force needed to solve our problems.
Nichiren tells us that there are three kinds of treasures for a human being: the treasure of the body (health), the treasure of the granary (enough to live on), and the treasure of the heart (inner strength or Buddhahood). The most important thing is to develop the treasure of the heart and then the other two will follow.
We see that indeed the most important thing is to attain absolute happiness or Buddhahood, but that daily needs are necessary. For many we do not live in monasteries or high in the Himalayas but in the concrete situations of modern life.
Many begin to practise to solve concrete problems and, in the process, develop their inner strength and strengthen their Buddhahood. Difficulties and desires become opportune means to develop one’s Buddhahood, where the mere fact of being alive is a happiness in itself.

With the development of the Soka Gakkai, T. Makiguchi’s actions were hindered by opposition from the government. In 1939, the latter promulgated a law for the regrouping of all religious currents under the banner of Shintoism and the cult of the Emperor. Aware that Nichiren’s Buddhism was in danger of disappearing, T. Makiguchi, together with J. Toda, opposed this decision by continuing to transmit this Buddhism to the heart of the people.

In order to take concrete action, he travelled all over Japan to teach and encourage people to create values in their lives and to forge indestructible happiness. This was the beginning of what has been the main activity of the movement up to the present day, bringing together 10 or 15 people locally in small meetings by neighbourhood to share concrete experiences of the benefits obtained through faith and practice. For him, as for Nichiren, the value of a religion is based on three criteria: literal proof (the texts), reason (is the teaching given reasonable, logical, not opposed to common sense), factual proof (concrete results).
In 1939, acting under the banner of Shintoism, the state religion, the government enacted a law to group all religious currents under this state religion. Realizing that Nichiren’s Buddhism was in danger of disappearing, he and J. Toda opposed this decision and continued to tirelessly transmit this Buddhism to the heart of the people.

The result was not long in coming, and after being pressured, he was imprisoned on July 6, 1943, along with J. Toda and twenty other leaders of the association. Faced with the pressure, the majority of these leaders renounced their commitment to the faith and only Makiguchi and Toda remained faithful to it. T. Makiguchi fought with all his strength for his convictions in the face of repeated interrogations and died, weakened, on 18 November 1944 at the age of 73.

Master and disciple were separated in prison. J. Toda continued his personal struggle through deep study of the Lotus Sutra and intense Buddhist practice. Through his relentless efforts to understand what the Sutra means by the Buddha entity, he experienced a profound spiritual awakening within his cell. He understands with all his life that the so-called Buddha is not a personage who physically lived in India but is the life force that governs the whole universe.
“The Buddha is life itself! It is the expression of life. The Buddha is in our life itself. But he also exists outside our life. He is the immensity of cosmic life. (quoted in D. Ikeda, The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, chap. 2, Acep.)
This experience awakened J. Toda to his mission to transmit Nichiren Buddhism widely in order to establish the foundations of peace and marked the renewal of Buddhism within the Soka movement.
J. Toda was released from prison on July 3, 1945, weakened by his imprisonment and saddened by the death of his teacher T. Makiguchi. Makiguchi, but with a fighting spirit to continue his master’s work.
On leaving prison, he decided to revive the association in a Japan completely destroyed by the war. In keeping with his master’s belief that Nichiren’s Buddhism concerned all spheres of society, he renamed the association Soka Gakkai (“Association for the Creation of Values”). Based on his spiritual experience in prison, he decided to rebuild the association with the conviction that every human being can bring forth Buddha nature from his or her life and thus obtain benefits in one’s own life and create lasting peace in society. He coined a new and modern expression for the manifestation of Buddha nature as “human revolution”. The only way to transform the world positively is through the change of the human heart. Only through a profound change in the life of each person, only through the awareness that every living being is Buddha, will respect for the dignity of life manifest in society. This is the challenge of what he calls the ‘human revolution’.

This is the guiding principle and foundation of Nichiren’s Buddhist philosophy. It is also the heart of the Soka Gakkai’s work. This spirit of Nichiren was passed on by T. Makiguchi to J. Toda, who himself endeavoured to pass it on to his successors.
In 1947 a decisive meeting took place between J. Toda and a young man of 19 years, Daisaku Ikeda. Impressed by J. Toda’s personality and conviction, the latter converted to Nichiren’s Buddhism and decided to devote his life to the realisation of the vow of peace of the man he soon considered his master.
Under the impetus, determination and efforts of J. Toda and his disciple D. Ikeda, the movement grew rapidly in Japanese society and reached thousands of people.
J. Toda, who had rebuilt the movement, decided to take responsibility for the development of the movement. He was appointed president on May 3, 1951. Under his leadership, Nichiren’s thought and deep conviction became the founding spirit of the Soka Gakkai, a gathering of people who wish to contribute to the welfare of society through their own development and concrete actions. It can be said that J. Toda was the one who gave the Soka Gakkai a social and cultural dimension.
J. Toda also strongly opposed nuclear weapons and made a historic declaration on September 8, 1957, the year before his death, in favour of their abolition.
Obviously, this rebuilding of the movement after the war and the energy deployed to transmit the Buddhist Law was not without its pains and obstacles. The more important a goal is, the more obstacles it meets. This principle has proven to be true, for from the very beginning of the movement to the present day, the Soka Gakkai has had to face many attacks. Since his release from prison, J. Toda had spared no effort. On March 16, 1957, feeling his health decline, he took part in a large youth rally during which he entrusted the realisation of world peace to the youth of the Soka movement.
He died on 2 April 1958 at the age of 60. The Soka Gakkai surpassed the number of 750,000 practising families and in 1960 his close disciple, Daisaku Ikeda, was appointed president of the movement. D. Ikeda, heir to the first two founding presidents, carries on their spirit on a worldwide scale.
Daisaku Ikeda’s thinking, like that of his predecessors, revolves around the idea that the key to lasting world peace as well as individual happiness lies in a transformation in each person’s own life, not in societal or structural reforms alone. This idea is expressed in this passage from his best-known work, The Human Revolution:

“A profound revolution in the character of a single person will help change the destiny of a society and that of all humanity.
D. Ikeda is a novelist and also conveys encouragement through his poetry and photography. His efforts are attested to by honorary degrees from several universities around the world. For years he has been engaged in dialogues with renowned people in their fields (religious, intellectuals, academics, etc.) and his dialogues for peace are published in several languages.

To better understand the Soka Gakkai at the dawn of the 21st century, we must also consider its relationship with the religious school born in the 13th century around Nichiren and the influence this had on the difficulties of reconstruction.
After Nichiren’s death the Mount Fuji School developed under the initiative of Nichiren’s close disciple, the monk Nikko Shonin. For seven centuries the school developed throughout Japan, with the appearance of various local temples, supported by local laypeople according to the danka religious system, common to the different currents (Zen, Nembutsu, etc.). The monks, headed by the great patriarch, were responsible for keeping the founder’s teachings alive, studying, practising and organising religious ceremonies.

When T. Makiguchi and J. Toda converted they were connected to this school. By creating the Soka Gakkai, they created a large, structured lay movement with the aim of making Buddhist values widely known in society, in contrast to the monks who practised and studied within the temples. For the founders of the Soka Gakkai, as we have seen above, a religion must make a concrete contribution to the improvement of society. This is the philosophy of T. Makiguchi’s values. We can say that they took Buddhism out of the temples by developing a “committed Buddhism”; this dimension of committed Buddhists is, even today, the characteristic recognised by observers and sociologists of the Soka Gakkai.

The fact that the Soka Gakkai is made up of lay people who are engaged in society challenges the “epinal image” that Buddhism is a philosophy, or a religion, that seeks to withdraw from society in order to develop its Buddha nature.

As the lay movement around D. Ikeda grew, a “cabal” was organised against the Soka Gakkai, starting in the 1980s, in order to separate the believers from D. Ikeda, and “bring them back” to the great patriarch, the head of the clergy. The various destructive actions (campaigns of defamatory press articles, lawsuits, etc.) did not discourage the lay members who affirmed their confidence in the Soka Gakkai and its president. As a result, the monks forbade believers to come to the temple, and in 1991, the Soka Gakkai and its millions of members were all excommunicated, a first in the history of religions! Since then, the Soka Gakkai has become an independent Buddhist school.

4. What are the values of the Soka movement?

The core value of the Soka movement is respect for the dignity of life. Every human being has Buddha nature and we are all equal. If I believe in my inherent Buddhahood, I awaken to the fact that it is present in all living beings, and so I respect myself and others. An illustration of this way of being is presented in a chapter of the Lotus Sutra, through the story of the bodhisattva ‘Never-Meaning’ (Fukyo).
The Never Despising Bodhisattva bowed to each person and said, “I deeply respect you. I will never have the audacity to despise you or be arrogant towards you, for you will all one day practice the Bodhisattva path and will inevitably attain the state of Buddha.
Nichiren’s Buddhism is profoundly humanistic because it addresses all human beings without exception and sees in them a Buddha in potential.
In Western humanism, from which I come, the human being is at the centre, dominating everything else, and the environment is at his service. Buddhist humanism is about all living beings, because all beings are endowed with the potential of Buddha nature, and all are therefore worthy of respect. I believe that this is a principle that will enable us to create a harmonious world.
Nichiren Buddhism is also humanistic as opposed to authoritarian. A government, a religious organisation must serve society and its people, not the other way around. Nichiren wrote: “The heart of [Shakyamuni’s] lifelong teachings is the Lotus Sutra, and the heart of Lotus Sutra practice is the Fukyo chapter. What is the meaning of the Fukyo Bodhisattva’s deep respect for human beings? The true meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha’s coming into this world was to offer a model of human behaviour. In this sense, Nichiren’s Buddhism is profoundly humanistic because it emphasises the human being and his or her sacred dimension and not hope in a transcendental being.

The deep intention that motivates the Soka Gakkai is the happiness of the living beings on this planet. To support each person so that he or she can become more self-reliant and happy by developing inner resources such as wisdom, life force and compassion.
Daisaku Ikeda, President of the International Soka Gakkai, has often emphasised the importance of the religious spirit in Nichiren’s teaching. He writes: “Religious spirit refers to the inner spiritual power to bring courage out of nihilism and hope out of despair, and is a spirit that encourages one to seek this spiritual power in oneself and in others, and in all universal phenomena. The religious spirit is the belief that we have the power within us to overcome any difficulty or impasse and to act positively to create new values. The religious spirit serves to perceive the eternal and the absolute in human beings, and it is to be desired for their lives to shine.
Buddhism is manifested in daily behaviour with a deep humanity. The Buddha is not a god above human beings, he is not a superior being. We are convinced of the positive potential inherent in every human being.

5. Is the Soka movement international? How is it organised and structured?

The Soka movement is indeed international, with more than 12 million practitioners in 192 countries. The organisations in the various countries, although autonomous, form a network: the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), whose headquarters are in Japan.
Soka Gakkai International is headed by Daisaku Ikeda, who founded it in 1975. Today he continues to pass on his commentary on the Buddhist teachings and his encouragement to practitioners around the world as a Buddhist master.
A body, corresponding to what could be called a “consistory”, is present in Japan, the place of origin of this Buddhism. It is a moral entity that represents the movement in the world and has the function of guaranteeing the teaching.
Thus, in each country’s organisation, the principles, doctrinal points and understanding of Nichiren’s texts are transmitted from Japan. Legally speaking, each local organisation has its own autonomous structure and develops in accordance with the country in which it exists.
In France, for example, we have our own specificity, in accordance with the secular republic and the laws of 1901 and 1905. For this reason, our movement in France is structured in three associations:
– A religious association: ACSBN (Association cultuelle Soka du bouddhisme de Nichiren) recognised as a religious entity.
– A cultural association: ACSF (Association culturelle Soka de fance).
– A commercial association: ACEP, which manages the publications, among other things.
The three associations are independent of each other.
These associations are also independent of the Soka Gakkai International. The financing of the few permanent members of the ACSBN and the ACSF and of the expenses related to the activities is only made by the donations of the French practitioners (about 20,000 people).

The main activity of the movement, in accordance with the spirit mentioned above, is dialogue and the transmission of concrete experiences in small meetings held each month in the homes of practitioners. There are about a thousand such meetings in France. This is the common point of all SGI organisations in the world, since the time of T. Makiguchi. The movement does not favour large demonstrations, even if in each country, as in Japan, large cultural events take place. Local discussion meetings are gatherings of 10 to 15 people where believers and guests come together to study, dialogue and share their experiences of practice. The Soka Gakkai practices Buddhism of the people, in the people and for the people. The discussion meeting is a gathering of ordinary women and men who dialogue about different aspects of life and encourage each other.
Through its cultural association the movement organises events, exhibitions, shows and conferences of general interest. Since 2000, many conferences (interreligious in particular) have been organised and held in our Buddhist centres. In 2016, an exhibition and international symposium on Buddhist sutras took place at UNESCO. The exhibition attracted 7,000 visitors. In December 2019, an exhibition and symposium on human rights education was also held at UNESCO, with partners from different faiths, UNESCO and UN representatives.
As people who have chosen the Buddha’s path we develop our state of life through faith, practice and study and simultaneously act in society individually or collectively as committed citizens.

6. Sokka Gakai and the environment, which positions?

There is an important principle in Buddhist philosophy: the inseparability between self and environment (in Japanese, esho funi). According to this principle, the human being has a close relationship with the world of human relationships but also with the natural environment.
Human beings and their environment are deeply part of the same entity called “life” or Buddha nature. We are not individualities separated from others but live in close interrelation (interdependence). Thus, to create suffering to living beings is to harm oneself.
Nichiren Buddhism explains that all living beings inherently possess ten states of life. At any given moment a human being moves from one state to another. He may be in a state of greed at one moment (when he is hungry, for example) and in a state of temporary joy after having satisfied his need. An external stimulus may also trigger anger but an hour later he may be in an act of compassion towards a human being. Everything changes at every moment and the environment is a reflection of the person’s dominant state.
If the dominant state of a majority of human beings is anger then the world is at war. If it is greed then resources disappear for the benefit of a few. If the dominant state is the Buddha state then the environment becomes peaceful.
As Nichiren wrote: “If the minds of living beings are impure, their earth is also impure, but if their minds are pure, their earth is pure. There is no such thing as pure or impure earth per se. The difference lies only in the good or evil within our minds.
Changing one’s heart, or mind, in depth, therefore becomes the main challenge for a Buddhist practitioner. This is what we call the “human revolution”.
The human revolution is about changing our lives and the lives of humanity. Our great challenge, I believe, is to transform our largely self-centred way of thinking into compassion for all living beings. To dedicate one’s life, by going beyond the ego, to the development of the “greater self” common to all and acting to remove suffering. This effort and perseverance is characteristic of the Bodhisattva in Great Vehicle Buddhism and includes the whole planet, i.e. human beings and their environment.
Every year since 1983, on January 26, the anniversary of the founding of the International Soka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda writes a proposal for peace in areas such as education, disarmament and the environment. This proposal was sent to various world figures and to the UN.
In these proposals and other texts, the environment is often addressed as a major issue, as early as 1978. In an article entitled The Problem of the Environment and Buddhism, published by the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in 1990, he states:
“The visible desertification of the planet corresponds precisely to the spiritual desertification of the life force. The relationship that human beings have with nature is intimately linked to interpersonal relationships, as well as to the relationship of the self with its inner life. The selfishness of people whose ‘inner environment’ is polluted and desolate invariably manifests itself in the domination, dispossession and destruction of the outer environment.”
In a proposal written on sustainable development in 2002, he called for a UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development and stated:
“In the case of environmental problems, which can be so vast and complex (…) information and knowledge alone can leave people wondering what it all means for them, without knowing exactly what concrete steps they can take. To counteract these feelings of helplessness and disconnection, education should encourage an understanding of how closely environmental issues relate to our daily lives. Education must also inspire the belief that each of us has the power and responsibility to effect positive change on a global scale.

In his 2012 peace proposal (Sustainable Development Conference, Rio+20), Daisaku Ikeda supports the idea that human beings can be the great actors of positive change:
“Although physical resources are limited, human potential is infinite, as is our capacity to create value. The real importance of the concept of sustainable development is (…) to be taken in a dynamic sense, to stimulate effort, to compete, to create positive values and share them with the world and future generations.
In its cultural and humanistic sphere, the Soka movement has multiplied environmental actions, exhibitions and conferences around the world, based on the importance of the actions of a single individual.

7. Sokka Gakkai, a movement of influence?

Indeed, the Soka Gakkai is influential in that it has 12 million practitioners in 192 countries, including 8 million in Japan. Such a common force based on the determination to create a peaceful world is bound to have an impact.
Taking the issue from a spiritual perspective, Buddhism tells us that living beings inherently have a set of common life states (see above). Suffering, greed, animality, anger etc. but also compassion and the Buddha state, which represents life force, wisdom and compassion. A large number of human beings expressing their Buddha nature have a profound influence on society by directing it towards creating values and respecting the dignity of life.
The movement is also influential through its actions and those of its president, Daisaku Ikeda, particularly concerning the abolition of nuclear weapons and the environment. For decades, Daisaku Ikeda has been initiating and continuing dialogues with leading intellectuals and religious representatives to find solutions to the troubles of our time.

8. There are several Buddhisms I believe, what is the relationship of the Soka Gakkai to other Buddhist streams?

When we say “Buddhism”, in fact there are Buddhisms. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived 6 centuries BC, taught from 30 to 80 years, in order to enable all human beings to reach the same state of absolute happiness as he did. His aim was to eliminate the suffering associated with birth, illness, old age and death by developing a great state of life that would overcome the causes of suffering associated with the human condition.
He began to preach, adapting to the different people he met, and created around him a group of disciples who became the Sangha: monks, women and men who shared his teaching.
At the age of 72, and for eight years, he gave a new teaching, preaching that all the teachings given up to that point were provisional and only intended to prepare for the essential teaching. All living beings have inherent Buddha nature and therefore all human beings, without distinction, are equal. He explained that he had not attained the Buddha state in this life but was in fact Buddha from all eternity, that he had awakened to the law that governs all things in the universe and that everyone can experience the absolute happiness characteristic of the Buddha state. For this reason, there are not several teachings or practices but only one “Single Vehicle” consisting of basing oneself on the ultimate law of the universe, respecting it, greeting it, reciting it and transmitting it for the awakening of all.
This teaching was oral. After his death his great disciples gathered in a council to faithfully collect the teachings of their master. Later, after a number of councils, the teachings were written down in documents called sutras.
Much later, dissensions occurred within the Sangha (Buddhist community) and the teaching was divided into two main streams, the Theravada (Hinayana or “Small Vehicle”) and the Mahayana (Great Vehicle).
Theravada restores the life and teaching of the Buddha to the letter (Buddhism of the ancients) and has spread throughout South East Asia. Mahayana emphasises the intention, the mind of the Buddha, over the letter, which is to enable human beings to attain Buddhahood without changing their appearance in this life. For Theravada Buddhists, we can attain a great state of life close to Buddhahood or Buddhahood itself after many lives. In the Mahayana, and mainly in Nichiren Buddhism, one can attain Buddhahood in this life without changing one’s appearance by practising the Bodhisattva path.
The multitude of schools is due to the fact that during the “geographical” transmission, the teaching changed, locally (in India) and then by moving to China, Korea and Japan or by spreading to South-East Asia or North to Nepal and Tibet. In each period Buddhism adapted to local cultures.
Basically, the aim of all the schools is to enable everyone to experience happiness. Simply, different masters appeared who each interpreted the Buddha’s teaching and different practices were established. In the Lotus Sutra, the teaching followed by Nichiren, and before him Tiantai and Dengyo in China, are included all the practices. According to this current of Buddhism, it is traditional to say that there are the teachings prior to the Lotus Sutra (provisional) and that the latter is the definitive teaching preached by the Buddha in the last period of his life.
In this sense the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra is inclusive and not exclusive. All of the Buddha’s teaching from the beginning is contained in the “One Vehicle.
Of course, this is our belief as practitioners of this Sutra. Other schools, based on other sutras, understand it differently. But what is important is the fact that we are all disciples of the Buddha and motivated by compassion for all living beings. Despite our differences in doctrine or practice, we all participate in the happiness of society.

9. What are the external signs that characterise this movement?

Unlike other Buddhist schools (including the one from which the Soka Gakkai originally emerged) and institutionalised religious streams, the Soka Gakkai differs in that there is no ‘robed’ clergy. We have a Buddhist master who passes on the teaching as well as elders in the faith, but there is no hierarchy. Religious ceremonies (weddings, funerals, commitment vows) are conducted by lay ministers.
It may seem paradoxical to speak of lay people when we are practising a religion, but this term should be taken in the sense of the absence of a permanent religious position. Each believer has a direct relationship with his object of worship and a relationship in his heart with the one he has chosen as his spiritual master to live the teaching. Salvation does not come from an intermediary but from one’s own commitment to developing an autonomous faith. There is no believer superior to another, only fellow believers who share the same belief with their spiritual master.
On the other hand, contrary to what one might think of Buddhism as a philosophy or religion cut off from the world, reclining in temples and meditating, the believers in our movement are engaged citizens in society like everyone else. The Soka Gakkai, therefore, is characterised by sociologists as “engaged Buddhism”.
For myself, I am deeply spiritual and deeply secular. The practice of faith is personal to me and I try to act in society as a good citizen respecting all opinions. Religion in the 21st century can indeed be ‘secular’. It is a gathering of people sharing a religious faith autonomously, with a teacher, their equal, without being under the religious authority of a clergy.

10. Is the Soka Gakkai involved in humanitarian work?

Comme évoqué précédemment, la SGI agit dans l’esprit du respect de la dignité de la vie et concrètement pour l’établissement de la paix dans le monde. La paix n’est pas simplement l’absence de conflit armé, mais un processus de transformation des tendances destructrices présentes chez les êtres humains en énergies positives pour la création de valeurs.
Dans cet esprit, les organisations de la SGI dans les différents pays du monde agissent concrètement selon leurs propres contextes.
La SGI, par exemple, est reconnue comme ONG au sein des Nations unies depuis 1983 et depuis elle a soutenu :
• the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
•the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
•the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
•the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI)

It also participated in the Earth Summits in 1992 and 2002.
SGI received the Peace Prize in 1983 and the UNHCR Humanitarian Award in 1989.
In each country, initiatives are taken by practitioners. For example, fundraising for Asian and African refugees in 1973, campaigns for Vietnam and West Africa. The money raised was given to the UNHCR and other UN agencies to buy medical supplies and food, and to contribute to educational programmes in the countries and regions concerned.
One important point should be stressed. Of course, the SGI contributes to humanitarian actions, but this is not fundamentally its role. The mission it has given itself is the awakening of human beings and their transformation as we have seen. It acts, on the basis of the values and practice of Buddhism, so that each human being transforms his or her heart and acts in society in an autonomous way. The SGI carries out actions in its name, but mainly it is the practitioners who are the real actors of the change of society by their acts and their behaviours in their immediate sphere: family, work, district, associations, etc.

11. What are the Soka projects?

The projects are contained in the answers above. We will not cease to act in our local environment to be good citizens animated by the bodhisattva spirit. We will continue, each and every one of us, to make our human revolution in order to experience absolute happiness and thus positively influence our environment. We do not plan for everyone to practice Buddhism. Our only determination is: how to relieve suffering human beings?
Personally, I am the only one practising the Buddhist path in my family and I do not seek to convert my family. But I am convinced that if my Buddha state is dominant then my family can be serene. Of course, I hope that one day everyone will awaken to the diamond within them… but each to his own.
Each country is autonomous and organises events in the service of peace, exhibitions, conferences or cultural actions. There are no collective international actions organised by the Soka Gakkai.
In France, since the year 2000, we have organised conferences and exhibitions. We are very involved in interfaith. In 2016 we organised a major exhibition at UNESCO on the “Buddhist Writings” which was a great success (7000 visitors in 10 days) as well as a major conference with specialists on the Lotus Sutra. This exhibition was then presented in Rennes and Marseille and is planned for Lyon in 2020.
In December 2019, in partnership with other associations, representatives of UNESCO, the UN and member countries, we organised an exhibition and a symposium on “human rights education”, a project launched in 2005 by the UN.

12. The internet and especially web 2.0 is changing the game in terms of communication. How do you manage this revolution?

At the age of 55, a major French group entrusted me with the creation and running of a private company university. At the time, I explained to groups of managers that the raison d’être of a manager was to manage and anticipate change. When I was young, you entered a company and sometimes stayed there all your life. Now change is permanent. You have to adapt at every moment. And communication is essential, even if it is unfortunately sometimes misused.
In the Soka movement, the youth are very committed and they now live in the world of artificial intelligence. Communicating ideas and taking action through new forms of communication is a must. In SGI, we use all means of communication: social networks, websites, etc. The world is crossed by forces of change.
The world is crossed by forces of destruction and construction, by altruism and egoism, etc. We must not give way to what demeans human beings, and goes against respect for the dignity of life. It is important to counter this with messages that value humanity.
Not everything that is technology is good or bad in itself, it depends on us.
Human beings have developed great technical means and thanks to this we have made immense progress, if only in the field of health for example. The problem is not the technology or the web, they are only tools, but: who uses them and what are the motivations?
As we discussed earlier, whether it is technology, politics, culture or economics, until human beings show wisdom and compassion, we will go to the wall.
So, as Buddhists engaged in society, we use social networks and the internet in all the countries where we are present to communicate with each other and to make our humanist ideas for peace known.
In France, we have an official website where anyone can find answers to questions about our movement. It is important to have an official website because if it is true that everyone can create their own website, we cannot guarantee the reliability of the texts that are presented there.

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