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History of SGI

The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a worldwide network of lay Buddhists dedicated to a common vision of a better world through the empowerment of the individual and the promotion of peace, culture and education. It currently consists of 84 constituent organizations and has 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide. The SGI was founded on January 26, 1975, but the movement has its roots in 1930s Japan and the struggle against the thought-control of the Japanese militarist government of the time. The Buddhism practiced by SGI members is based on the teachings of the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren and his interpretation of the Lotus Sutra.

Educational Reform (1930 - 1935)

1930Soka Gakkai founded

The Soka Gakkai (literally, "Society for the Creation of Value") began in 1930 as a study group of reformist educators. Its founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) was an author and educator, inspired by Nichiren Buddhism and passionately dedicated to the reform of the Japanese educational system. His theory of value-creating education, which he published in book form in 1930, is centered on a belief in the unlimited potential of every individual and regards education as the lifelong pursuit of self-awareness, wisdom and development.

The publication of the first volume of Makiguchi's Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The Theory of Value-Creating Pedagogy) on November 18, 1930, marked the establishment of the Soka Gakkai.

Makiguchi (left) and his pupilsMakiguchi (left) and his pupils

Opposition to Military Government (1935 - 1945)

1935Social reform

Makiguchi's emphasis on independent thinking over rote learning and self-motivation over blind obedience directly challenged the Japanese authorities of the time, who saw the role of education as molding docile servants of the state. Makiguchi and his closest associate Josei Toda (1900-58) began to develop the Soka Gakkai from its origin as a group of educators dedicated to educational reform into an organization with a broader membership focusing on the propagation of Buddhism as a means to reform society.

1943Fighting government oppression

The 1930s saw the rise of militaristic nationalism in Japan, culminating in its entry into World War II. The militarist government imposed the State Shinto ideology on the population as a means of glorifying its war of aggression, and cracked down on all forms of dissidence. The refusal of Makiguchi and Toda to compromise their beliefs and lend support to the regime led to their arrest and imprisonment in 1943 as "thought criminals."

1944Death of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi

Despite attempts to persuade him from his principles, Makiguchi held fast to his convictions and died in prison in 1944.

Toda lecturing on the writings of Nichiren, 1954Toda lecturing on the writings of Nichiren, 1954

Postwar Reconstruction (1945 - 1958)

1945Active, socially engaged Buddhism

Josei Toda survived the ordeal and was released from prison a few weeks before the war ended. While in prison, Toda had studied the Lotus Sutra and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo intensely, reaching the revolutionary insight that "the Buddha" is life itself; he came to a deep conviction that it was his mission to spread the message of the Lotus Sutra as widely as possible, and resolved to dedicate the remainder of his life to this endeavor. He set out to rebuild the Soka Gakkai amidst the confusion of postwar Japan, expanding its mission from the field of education to the betterment of society as a whole. He promoted an active, socially engaged form of Buddhism as a means of self-empowerment--a way to overcome obstacles in life and tap inner hope, confidence, courage and wisdom.

He used the term "Human Revolution" to express the central idea of Nichiren Buddhism, that all people can change their lives for the better and attain enlightenment in this lifetime. This message resonated especially among the disenfranchised of Japanese society, and before Toda's death in 1958 there were approximately one million members.

1957Call for nuclear abolition

In September 1957, Toda made an impassioned declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons as a manifestation of the darkest aspects of the human heart. He asked the youth of the Soka Gakkai to work for their abolition, and this movement became the start of the organization's activities for peace.

Ikeda with Soka Gakkai members, 1958Ikeda with Soka Gakkai members, 1958

International Development (1960 - 2010)

1960A worldwide movement

Toda was succeeded as president in 1960 by the 32-year-old Daisaku Ikeda, who had also experienced the horrors of war as a youth. Ikeda immediately set about building the foundations of an international movement, traveling overseas to meet and encourage the first pioneer Soka Gakkai members outside of Japan. He also founded a series of institutions to help build solidarity for peace, in the fields of culture and the arts, peace research and education. The SGI under his leadership has emerged as one of the largest and most dynamic Buddhist movements in the world, fostering and promoting grassroots activities in areas such as nuclear abolition, sustainability and human rights education and cultural exchange.

SGI membersSGI members

HISTORY OF SGI

History of SGI viewed through the lives of the first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai.

History of SGI viewed through the lives of the first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai.

SGI Quarterly series on the history of SGI.

SGI Quarterly series on the history of SGI.