Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a lay Buddhist organization upholding the tradition that originated with Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) and developed as it was inherited by India’s Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, China’s T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo and Japan’s Dengyo and Nichiren.
The specific Buddhist tradition embraced by the SGI is based on the Mahayana scriptures and the Lotus Sutra in particular. The SGI is engaged in faith practices and activities in society that correspond with the compassionate spirit of the Lotus Sutra in the contemporary world.
related article Establishment and Postwar Reconstruction On November 18, 1930, a relatively unknown Japanese elementary schoolteacher called Tsunesaburo Makiguchi published the first volume of The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, which outlined the child-centered educational philosophy he had developed through his many years of engagement in education. The founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni, was born some 2,500 years ago to the royal family of an area in what is now Nepal. Shakyamuni observed the sufferings of aging, sickness and death and, although he was then young and healthy himself, perceived that they were unavoidable aspects of human life. He renounced secular life and embarked on a quest for a true philosophy that would elucidate the meaning of life for all people.
Shakyamuni studied both traditional teachings and new teachings of his time but was not satisfied. He practiced meditation and contemplated deeply upon the root cause of suffering and a way to overcome it. Through this, he awakened to the eternal and universal law permeating the universe and the lives of each and every individual. This Law (Dharma) to which Shakyamuni awakened is the essence of Buddhism.
Shakyamuni realized that people were suffering due to ignorance of the sanctity of their own lives and to self-centeredness arising from attachment to elusive desires and destructive egotism. He taught that by awakening to the universal Law one could release oneself from the smaller self and manifest one’s pure state of life. He explained that this was the most dignified and essential quality needed in order to live fully human lives.
In other words, his aim was the revival of human vitality and the awakening of unsurpassed dignity in individuals’ lives so that they could unlock their boundless potential through activating their inner wisdom.
Shakyamuni also stressed that an awareness of the dignity of one’s own life should lead to respect for the dignity and value of the lives of others.
Following Shakyamuni’s death, his teachings, at the core of which were always compassion and wisdom, were compiled into various sutras, which became the basis for the establishment of a system of doctrines and schools of Buddhism.
The Mahayana Buddhist movement about 500 years after Shakyamuni’s time constituted a kind of Buddhist Renaissance, during which many new sutras were compiled, the Lotus Sutra being one of them.
The Lotus Sutra describes Shakyamuni’s vow made in the distant past to elevate the life state of all living beings to that which he had attained. It states that this vow was fulfilled in teaching the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra repeatedly calls for acts of compassion in order to inherit and actualize Shakyamuni’s eternal hope.
The Lotus Sutra is a great literary work in the form of a dialectic that takes place between Shakyamuni and his disciples. Through these dialogues, we learn that all people possess the life condition of the Buddha and the Buddha’s wisdom. The Sutra also clarifies the path to enlightenment for all people. Secondly, it clarifies that the teachings in the Lotus Sutra represent the foundational teaching of all Buddhas. Thirdly, it teaches that at times when people have fallen into suffering, disbelief and worry, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra should be shared among the people as it will provide hope, courage and security. The Lotus Sutra expresses the essential wish to attain unshakable happiness for oneself and all others and reveals Shakyamuni’s core teaching of how to lead people to overcome the root cause of suffering.
Learning from this sutra, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, T’ien-t’ai, Miao-lo and Dengyo devoted themselves to enabling people to reveal their unlimited potential within their respective cultural contexts.
The Lotus Sutra has been transmitted and embraced down the centuries across numerous cultures. In India, Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu widely propagated the ideas and teachings of Mahayana Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra. In East Asia, in the sixth and eighth centuries respectively, T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo from China wrote about the superiority of the Lotus Sutra over various other sutras. In the ninth century, Dengyo introduced their teachings to Japan and worked to promote widely the concept of enlightenment of all people, as expounded in the Lotus Sutra.
Through this, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and Shakyamuni’s true intent became clarified and universalized, gaining a multilayered richness.
related article The Ten Factors of Life Underlying the astounding diversity of life’s manifestations are ten common elements. Buddhism calls these the “Ten Factors of Life.” Nichiren, who lived during a time of great conflict and upheaval in 13th-century Japan, empathized greatly with the suffering of the people and searched for a way to overcome suffering.
His intention was to become a true disciple of Shakyamuni, who taught Buddhism as a way to realize the genuine happiness and dignity of all people. Through his studies of the Buddhist sutras and his predecessors’ commentaries, he realized that it is the Lotus Sutra that enables the infinite potential of all people to flourish and permeate throughout society.
Strongly determined to actualize a harmonious society, Nichiren worked to establish true happiness and dignity for humanity. Although he suffered oppression and persecution from those in power who adhered to what he saw as mistaken beliefs about Buddhism, Nichiren risked his life to encourage and revitalize the people, just as the Lotus Sutra taught. Through this process, he established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, inscribing as the object of devotion a mandala known as the Gohonzon. Nichiren established a concrete practice for attaining Buddhahood based on the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
Nichiren’s guiding principle throughout his life was to uphold human dignity as a spiritual backbone for human society toward the creation of a peaceful world where people can enjoy fulfilling lives.
related article Lotus Sutra The Lotus Sutra is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential sutras, or sacred scriptures, of Buddhism. This process continues an effort—ongoing since Shakyamuni’s times—to overcome the deep-seated and destructive nature of egotism that erodes human life and society. Today, the members of the SGI, based on the teachings of Nichiren, have inherited this mission. Their task is, in short, the realization of a new humanism—the pursuit of happiness for both self and others, where trust, value creation and harmony are key.
Through their daily practice, people are able to challenge various obstacles and, through the process of chanting, reflect deeply on themselves and draw forth hope and a spirit of challenge and courage. They are also able to develop a sense of values firmly grounded in humanity and construct a rich personality. SGI Buddhists call this process of inner-motivated change, “human revolution.”
The practice of Nichiren Buddhism concerns itself with realizing one’s inherent potential and fulfilling one’s responsibility to the fullest, whether it be in the home, community or workplace. It is also about proactively contributing to finding a solution to the various problems facing the world. SGI members are committed to promoting the importance of peace and the ideal of respecting the dignity of life and human rights through various activities, such as through holding exhibitions about the threat of nuclear weapons or humanitarian relief activities. The SGI is also working to raise awareness of environmental issues confronting the planet.
The SGI is an organization dedicated to revitalizing this legacy of Buddhist humanism, at the core of which are belief in the Buddha nature and compassionate action to reveal that nature. This is a legacy inherited from Shakyamuni and passed down by Nichiren.
Regarding it as the essence of Buddhism, the SGI aims to transmit this tradition and spirit in contemporary society and onward into the future.