Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
SGI members integrate Buddhist practice into the daily rhythm of their lives. They aim to develop and strengthen their lives through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and by studying the teachings of Buddhism. The basic morning and evening practice, known as gongyo, consists of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra. This is usually carried out at home but can also be done together with others. The aim of this practice is to develop one's Buddha nature--the qualities of courage, wisdom and compassion--thereby tapping the energy needed to tackle one's challenges, transform one's life and contribute to the happiness of others. In countries where there is an SGI organization, members and guests meet to share experiences of their practice and study together at regular monthly discussion meetings. Practice naturally leads to a sense of empowerment and responsibility, and SGI members aim to positively impact the communities in which they live.
SGI members embrace Nichiren Buddhism, following a Lotus Sutra-based practice formulated by the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren. The Lotus Sutra is considered by many in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition to be the fullest expression of the teachings of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha who was born in present-day Nepal some 2,500 years ago. The Lotus Sutra is revered for its embracing message that all people possess the Buddha nature, both men and women. The image of the pure lotus flower growing in a muddy pond symbolizes how people can develop this enlightened state of life in the midst of their daily problems and struggles. Nichiren studied all available Buddhist texts and investigated the many competing schools of Buddhism of his day before concluding that the Lotus Sutra epitomized the true compassionate intent of Shakyamuni. Today, SGI members study the letters and treatises of Nichiren and his analysis of the Lotus Sutra, as well as the Lotus Sutra itself and commentaries by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.
There are no set rules that regulate the lives of SGI members, but they are encouraged to live constructive and contributive lives and to respect the laws and norms of the societies and cultures in which they live. Based on conviction in the dignity and inherent worth of all human beings, as taught in the Lotus Sutra, individuals are trusted to develop the ability to see the true nature of their thoughts, words and actions, and the wisdom to make the right choices for their lives. Practicing Buddhism naturally leads one to refrain from denigrating and destroying life and to wish to support and encourage others. The SGI Charter lays out the broad goals of the organization and its vision of contributing to a peaceful, just and sustainable world based on the principles of Nichiren Buddhism.
The practice of Buddhism focuses not just on benefiting and developing oneself, but on the needs of others as well. Through exchange, dialogue and contact, people at any stage of their practice can learn more than they can by practicing in isolation. Newcomers are always encouraged to raise questions. Buddhist practice is not easy, requiring self-discipline, and seeing one's own life clearly can be tough--this is why support from others is important as people strive to bring out their highest potential. Through the extensive network of the SGI organization, people can receive encouragement, build links of friendship and support, and offer support to others. As a group dedicated to achieving a positive change in the world, SGI is also able to have more impact than individuals acting alone, for instance through awareness raising exhibitions or community-based projects.
In the broadest sense, SGI actively promotes peace, culture and education based on a belief in positive human potential and respect for the dignity of life. There are three main levels on which SGI contributes to society. Most significant are the efforts of millions of individual SGI members in their own families, societies and workplaces, where they aim to promote high ideals, help resolve conflict and support the development of capable people. In addition, local SGI groups in individual countries undertake projects such as environmental clean-ups, displays and discussions about nonviolence or a culture of peace and cultural exchanges. At the international level, SGI is a firm supporter of the United Nations, with liaison offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna. It is active in public education with a focus on peace and disarmament, human rights and sustainable development, as well as providing humanitarian assistance in response to natural disasters and participating in interfaith activities. SGI is also engaged in various NGO networks and partnerships at the local, national and international level.
At the heart of Buddhism lies the belief that each individual has limitless positive potential and the power to change his or her life for the better. Through their practice people can become more fulfilled and happier and also able to contribute more to the world. Buddhism teaches that a universal Law (dharma) underlies everything in the universe, and that all life is interconnected. It also holds that we are all ultimately responsible for determining the direction of our own lives. A change in our mind or heart can lead to a change in our external circumstances and affect those around us.
Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist priest, formulated the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a practice through which anyone can bring their life into harmony with the dharma or the greater life of the universe, thereby experiencing greater wisdom, courage, life force and compassion. Enlightenment conjures the image of people practicing austerities in the quest for extraordinary powers beyond the reach of ordinary people. However, Nichiren taught that enlightenment is the fusion of our subjective wisdom with objective reality--a full understanding of the realities of this world. Enlightenment is not a fixed point we someday finally reach. Enlightenment means constant, daily challenge and the renewal of our determination to grow and positively impact the lives of those around us.
SGI members often speak about the positive impact that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has on their lives. This is hard to comprehend and is something that can only be experienced on an individual basis. Often people trying the practice are encouraged to try chanting even a small amount regularly for a while, in order to see the effect it has. The 13th-century priest Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the full truth of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. By chanting "Nam," or devotion to the essential message of the Lotus Sutra, we activate the state of Buddhahood in our lives. Rather than being a prayer to an external being, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is an expression of the determination of the human spirit, seeking to come into rhythm with the reality of the universe. Through continuing in this practice of determined intention we bring forth our highest potential from within our lives.
Desires are integral to who we are and who we seek to become. Were we to completely rid ourselves of desire, we would undermine our individual and collective will to live. The teachings of Nichiren stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment. For people living in the midst of ever-changing, stressful realities, those challenges are an effective spur to committed Buddhist practice. Through continuing in Buddhist practice, one's life naturally develops and desires transform from those that only benefit oneself, and which will only bring transient happiness, to desires that benefit both oneself and others and even the world at large.
SGI does not have priests and temples, but rather lay leaders and community centers. Daily practice is carried out at home and discussion meetings are usually held on a local level in people's houses. SGI members live and work in society and integrate their practice into the daily routine of their lives. Soka Gakkai and SGI were previously affiliated with the Nichiren Shoshu (orthodox) school but now feel that Nichiren's intention of enabling all people to reveal their Buddha nature is best served through a community-based grassroots lay organization.
Yes. To have many things on our minds, even during our Buddhist practice, is human. The goal of practice in the SGI is to strengthen our positive qualities and create value in life. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we naturally develop the ability to focus and to see ourselves and our own minds more clearly. We are then better able to direct them in the most constructive direction. Nichiren speaks of the need to "Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you." Calming the mind may come as one benefit from chanting but it is not a prerequisite and it is not the goal of the practice. The aim is to tap the vitality, wisdom and compassion innate within us, and apply those qualities to how we live. The goal of Buddhism is to win in life and contribute to the happiness of others--both pursuits needing constructive thought and action.
Daisaku Ikeda writes essays, articles and books on the Buddhist philosophy of Nichiren and the Lotus Sutra to inspire and encourage the members of SGI around the world. His focus is on making profound Buddhist truths applicable to daily life. Several times a month he meets with SGI and Soka Gakkai members to share his perspectives and encourage them in their efforts to put Buddhism into practice. His focus is often on youth, as he is always concerned with passing on what he has learned. He also meets and corresponds with leading figures to discuss global issues and ways of building a more peaceful world.
Daisaku Ikeda believes in the positive potential of human beings and that it is possible for us to coexist in peace as well as in harmony with our environment. He holds that sustained dialogue can bridge the gaps which divide us. He believes that vast possibility for creating a better world can be sparked by the inner change or "human revolution" of even a single person. Ikeda's beliefs are based on the core principles of Nichiren Buddhism and the Mahayana tradition as expressed in the Lotus Sutra. These principles include:
Born in Tokyo in 1928, Daisaku Ikeda experienced firsthand the horror of war. He determined to devote himself to building peace, and particularly to healing relations between Japan and China. For over 50 years, he has also consistently taken action toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, organizing petition drives, issuing proposals and writing articles to that end. Ikeda's efforts to build peace range from citizen diplomacy during the Cold War, particularly helping to lessen tensions between China and the USSR, to ongoing dialogues aimed at increasing mutual understanding with a wide range of people from around the world--over 50 of his dialogues have been published in book form. As president of SGI, Ikeda has also issued annual peace proposals since 1983 containing ideas grounded in Buddhist humanism for viable responses to global issues. Ikeda has also established several institutions promoting peace, humanistic education and cultural exchange.
Many SGI members view Daisaku Ikeda as their mentor due to the depth of his understanding of Buddhism and his exceptional scholarship. His continuous efforts to encourage others to deepen their understanding and become empowered through the philosophy and practice of Buddhism also awaken a response. Ikeda often stresses how he owes everything to his own teacher or mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda (1900-58), who in turn regarded Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), the founder of the Soka Gakkai, as his mentor. The tradition of passing down teachings from mentor to disciple, or teacher to student, has a long history in Buddhism. The commitment of the mentor, or teacher, is solely to passing on what he or she has learned and encouraging the development of the disciple, or pupil, so that eventually the disciple surpasses the mentor. In this way the continual development of Buddhism is assured. SGI members speak of the shared commitment of mentor and disciple to spreading the peaceful principles of Buddhism throughout the world. More than any theoretical explanation, it is through the life-to-life connection of the mentor-disciple relationship that people can gain encouragement and develop their ability to overcome the challenges they face.
Daisaku Ikeda has written over 1,000 books on themes from Buddhism to health, peacework and youth. Over 50 are dialogues with experts in different fields. Many books have now been translated into other languages. Choose Life, his seminal dialogue with British historian Arnold Toynbee, has been translated into 28 languages. Ikeda's major works available in English are listed here: www.daisakuikeda.org/sub/books/books-by-category.html
SGI members are active in contributing to their local communities and see the ultimate aim of Buddhism and the SGI as the creation of a just, sustainable and peaceful world. SGI groups all over the world undertake projects suitable to the local situation and culture. This could be through cleaning a local park, holding a discussion on women's role in building peace, or showing an awareness-raising exhibition in a library. SGI focuses its education efforts on the themes of peace and disarmament, sustainable development and human rights. SGI's social engagement can also be seen in the day-to-day activities of individual SGI members who are contributing to the betterment of their communities, families and workplaces.
Viewing nuclear weapons as a threat to the right to life itself, in 2007 SGI also created the People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition, which aims to foster a global grassroots network dedicated to a nuclear-weapon-free world.
SGI believes that the United Nations, for all its flaws, is a vital organ for international cooperation which enables issues to be tackled on a global level. To help amplify the message of the UN, SGI has initiated public education programs in support of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World and the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. As a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with formal ties to the United Nations, Soka Gakkai in Japan has been associated with the UN Department of Public Information and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) NGO Liaison Unit since 1981. SGI has been in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 1983. SGI UN liaison offices located in New York, Geneva and Vienna actively support UN processes and cooperate with other NGOs to promote disarmament, human rights education and interfaith collaboration.
Buddhism emphasizes the possibility of inner transformation--a process of bringing forth our full human potential. There is a common perception that the discipline and focus necessary for such a process requires a set of ideal circumstances not available to most. Nichiren Buddhism, however, teaches that it is only by squarely facing the challenges that confront us amidst the harsh contradictions of society that we can change our own lives and the world for the better. While the role of institutions or governments is important, change that starts within each person's life is seen the surest way to tackle the problems facing the world in the 21st century. Many people feel hopeless about these issues, but SGI stresses that people have the power to change their circumstances, and its public education and outreach projects aim to inspire people and equip them with information that they can use to make a difference in their communities.
SGI organizations around the world, from Singapore to Australia and Spain, are engaged in interfaith dialogue and cooperation, believing that it is important for faith groups to find common ground and work together to resolve the complex issues facing humanity. SGI members regularly participate in the Parliament of the World's Religions and other interfaith forums. SGI's representative to the UN in New York served as president of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the UN from 2004 to 2007.
As an NGO, SGI is engaged in concrete constructive efforts to promote nuclear abolition, human rights education and education for sustainable development, in cooperation with other NGOs and UN agencies. For unique historical reasons, the Soka Gakkai in Japan is the main endorsing body for the New Komeito Party, which has a platform of policies aimed at peace, environmental protection and support for the vulnerable. For more information on the nature of the relationship between New Komeito and Soka Gakkai see www.sokaissues.info/home/why-politics.html. SGI organizations outside Japan do not engage in political activities.
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If you are moving to another country and would like to get in touch with the SGI organization in your new location, please contact the national headquarters of your original SGI organization, before you leave if possible. They will assist you in making the necessary arrangements such as sending your name and contact information to the SGI organization in the country to which you are moving and issuing you a letter of introduction.
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The SGI Quarterly magazine highlights activities of the SGI, presents stories and reflections on a Buddhist approach to life and brings together voices of a diverse range of individuals and groups exploring creative responses to the shared challenges of our time. PDF and ePub versions of the SGI Quarterly can be downloaded here. For permission to reprint material from the magazine, please send an e-mail to: quarterly[at]sgi.org
Mr. Ikeda does not have an email address. Letters may be sent to him at the following address:
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda
Josei Toda International Center
15-3 Samon-cho, Shinjuku-ku
In your letter, please remember to state your name, full address and other pertinent information, such as your local SGI organization if you are an SGI member.
For information about Mr. Ikeda's life and achievements, please go to http://www.daisakuikeda.org.