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date: 08 December 2019

Sōka Gakkai

Summary and Keywords

The Sōka Gakkai is a lay Buddhist movement, originating in Japan, that bases its religious practice and worldview on the Lotus Sutra-centric teachings of the Kamakura-era priest Nichiren (1222–1282). Following Nichiren, members of the Sōka Gakkai consider the practice of reciting Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō—the Daimoku, or title of the Lotus Sutra—to a copy of a character mandala (Gohonzon) originally inscribed by Nichiren to be the fundamental means for attainment of enlightenment. Also modeling themselves on Nichiren, the membership takes an active interest in the social and political realities of this world. In Japan, this engagement has taken various forms, including electoral support for a political party made up largely of Sōka Gakkai members, and globally, as activities in the fields of nuclear disarmament, sustainable development, human rights education, and humanitarian assistance.

Founded in 1930, the organization was suppressed during World War II. In the postwar era, its rapid growth, driven by a campaign of aggressive proselytization, as well its ongoing involvement in politics, has generated considerable controversy within Japanese society. Even as the organization has matured institutionally, and in its relations with other faith traditions, an exclusive commitment by members to a single faith practice makes it an outlier within the Japanese religious landscape.

The Sōka Gakkai in Japan currently claims some 8.27 million member families, making it the nation’s largest and most active religious movement. Outside Japan, under the rubric of Sōka Gakkai International (SGI), official statistics give membership totals of 1.75 million in 192 countries and territories, with 94 organizations incorporated under local national laws. More than half of the membership outside Japan—slightly more than 1 million—are said to be in Asia and Oceania, with South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore among the sites of large and active memberships. Other countries with significant national movements include Brazil, the United States, India, and Italy.

While the Sōka Gakkai was originally associated with the Nichiren Shōshū sect, long-standing tensions over the respective roles of priesthood and laity came to a head in a decisive schism in 1991, since which the two groups have pursued independent paths. Following the schism, the Sōka Gakkai has given more central emphasis to the “mentor-disciple relationship,” in particular as this relates to the first three presidents of the organization: Makiguchi Tsunesaburō (1871–1944), Toda Jōsei (1900–1958) and Ikeda Daisaku (1928–).

Keywords: Buddhism, Nichiren, Japanese religion, Sōka Gakkai, Sōka Gakkai International (SGI), Ikeda Daisaku, Makiguchi Tsunesaburō, Toda Jōsei, Kōmeitō, Buddhist humanism, religion and politics, globalization of religion

Historical Overview

Founding and Early History

The founder of the Sōka Gakkai, Makiguchi Tsunesaburō, was born in 1871. Trained as an educator, he spent most of his adult life first as a teacher and then principal in Tokyo public elementary schools.

In 1928, through the mediation of a fellow school principal, Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Shōshū, one of the smaller sects of Nichiren Buddhism known for its doctrinal rigidity. On November 18, 1930, Makiguchi published, with the assistance of his disciple Toda Jōsei, the first volume of his magnum opus, Sōka kyōikugaku taikei (The System of Value Creating Pedagogy). This was the first occasion for the term Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai (“Value Creating Education Society”), to appear in print, and it has come to be commemorated by the organization as the date of its founding.

Over the course of the 1930s, the organization and its activities took on an increasingly religious tone; from the middle years of the decade, Makiguchi began to express views increasingly at variance with the official dogma of the emperor’s divinity, at the time enforced through an elevation of Shintō rites and practices to the status of a state-sanctioned religion. When, in the early 1940s, the military-dominated government mandated acceptance and enshrinement of the amulet of Amaterasu, the tutelary deity from whom the imperial line was said to be descended, Makiguchi, considering this incompatible with his religious convictions, refused and encouraged the members of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai to refuse also.

In June 1943, Makiguchi, Toda, and other leaders were summoned by the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood to the sect’s head temple, where they were urged to accept the talisman, which Makiguchi again refused to do. In July 1943, Makiguchi, Toda, and other top leaders of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai were arrested on charges of lèse-majesté and violating the Peace Preservation Law, the principal legal device for the suppression of dissent. On November 18, 1944, Makiguchi died of malnutrition while still confined in the Tokyo Detention Center. The organization, which had counted some 3,000 members prior to its suppression, had been effectively dismantled.

Toda Jōsei was released on July 3, 1945. During his detention, he dedicated himself to the study of the Lotus Sutra and the recitation of its Daimoku or title, Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō in Nichiren’s formulation. Through this, Toda experienced a religious awakening that would propel his efforts to rebuild the organization, which he renamed Sōka Gakkai, in the postwar era.

In August 1947, Toda met Ikeda Daisaku, who had been brought to a Sōka Gakkai discussion meeting by a friend. Ikeda soon after joined the organization, inspired by Toda and determined to make him his mentor in life. The two developed a relationship of mentoring and collaboration, and Ikeda would succeed Toda as leader of the movement after the latter’s death in 1958.

On May 3, 1951, Toda, who had been general director of the organization under Makiguchi, became its second president, announcing his determination to achieve a membership of 750,000 households. “If this goal is not realized while I am alive,” he declared, “do not hold a funeral for me. Simply dump my remains in the bay at Shinagawa.”1

The prewar Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai had published a number of periodicals, and this was continued by Toda’s Sōka Gakkai, which began publishing the monthly Daibyaku renge (Great White Lotus), in July 1949, and the newspaper-format Seikyō shimbun (Sacred Teachings), in April 1951. Initially published thrice monthly, it became a weekly in September 1953 and a daily in 1965. Hand-delivered by members, it now claims a daily circulation of approximately 5.5 million.2

Following Toda’s inauguration as president, the organization set out on a “great march of propagation.” Toda appears to have had considerable personal charisma and a capacity for inspiring people to great personal and organizational exertion. Against a backdrop of postwar deprivation and dislocation, the organization entered a period of dramatic growth.

In November 1951, Shakubuku kyōten (Handbook of Propagation) was published. This contained Toda’s essay on the mystery and eternity of life in conjunction with the key teachings of the Nichiren tradition, as well as specific refutations of the belief systems of other religions, both traditional and new. In September 1952, Toda registered the Sōka Gakkai as an independent religious body under the 1951 Religious Corporations Act.

The holding of small group discussion meetings (zadankai), which had been promoted by founding president Makiguchi as a means of sharing faith testimonials, encouraging doctrinal study and propagation activities, became a core organizational activity under Toda. The simplicity of its message, the tight-knit, intergenerational support network provided by the multilayered organizational structure, and a focus on Buddhist practice as a vehicle for transforming real-life circumstances all contributed to the Sōka Gakkai’s acceptance, particularly among the marginalized strata of Japanese society. The membership grew rapidly, with women’s and youth cohorts taking an especially active role, from around 5,000 households at the time of Toda’s inauguration, to almost 800,000 by the time of his death in April 1958.

Starting in 1954, Toda encouraged selected members to stand for political office and the membership at large to support them; a total of 53 Sōka Gakkai-sponsored candidates were elected to office in the local elections held in April 1955; three members gained seats in the July 1956 elections for the House of Councillors (the upper house of Japan’s bicameral legislature). In the early years of the Sōka Gakkai’s involvement in politics, the objectives were often framed in overtly religious language, sparking public concern that the group would seek to impose its brand of Nichiren Buddhism if it gained political power.

Six months prior to his death, in September 1957, Toda spoke at a gathering of approximately 50,000 youth members and urged them to take up the cause of abolishing nuclear weapons, stating that this was his prime injunction to them.

Ikeda’s Presidency

Following Toda’s death, Ikeda Daisaku was widely recognized as his heir apparent. Ikeda had worked under Toda’s direct tutelage and had led highly successful propagation and election campaigns. Ikeda was formally inaugurated as the organization’s third president in May 1960; he continued Toda’s legacy of energetic proselytization, leading a growth in membership to 3 million households by 1962 and 7.5 million by 1970. The Sōka Gakkai in Japan currently claims some 8.27 million member families.3

The Kōmei (often translated as “Clean Government”) Party was founded by Ikeda in 1964. In the January 1967 general election, for the first time, Sōka Gakkai-supported candidates ran for seats in the House of Representatives, gaining 25 (of a total of 486 seats for the body). In the December 1969 election, 47 Kōmei Party candidates were elected to the House of Representatives, and the party received just over 10 percent of the popular vote. It was now the third largest party in the Japanese Diet. The party took generally centrist positions and became known for its anti-corruption stance and success in introducing social welfare legislation.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Ikeda founded a number of educational and cultural institutions, starting with the Institute of Oriental Philosophy (1962); the Minshu Ongaku (democratic music) or Min-On Concert Association (1963); the Sōka Junior and Senior High Schools (1968); Sōka University in (1971); and the Fuji Art Museum (1973).

In September 1968, Ikeda addressed a gathering of Sōka Gakkai university students; in this speech he called for the normalization of relations with China, the recognition of the Beijing government and its seating at the United Nations in place of the Taipei government.

In May 1974, following the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations, Ikeda traveled to China for the first time. In September 1974, he traveled to the Soviet Union, meeting with Premier Aleksey Kosygin. In December 1974, he visited China a second time, meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai, hospitalized, at the time, for cancer treatment. In January 1975, Ikeda traveled to the United States, where he met with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Ikeda has described these meetings as a form of citizen diplomacy, in which he conveyed the concerns and intentions of the different parties in an effort to defuse tensions.

In 1970, in response to an incident in which Kōmei Party politicians had attempted to dissuade a publisher from releasing a book highly critical of the Sōka Gakkai, it was announced that clear institutional separation would be established between the religious and political bodies. The degree and nature of the Sōka Gakkai’s influence on party policy has remained the subject of considerable speculation, but has not been adequately documented. The party’s commitment to domestic programs of social welfare and environmental protection, as well as a foreign policy stance that stresses peaceful diplomacy, are seen as broadly compatible with the Sōka Gakkai’s values; Sōka Gakkai members have remained the Kōmei Party’s core source of electoral support.

From around this time, propagation efforts in Japan slowed, and membership stabilized at around 8 million member households. A period of institutional maturation and diversification began, symbolized by an emphasis on the secular values of “peace, culture, and education.”


Immediately following his inauguration as third president, Ikeda initiated efforts to internationalize the movement, starting with travels to North and South America in October 1960. In 1961, he traveled to Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia. In these and subsequent travels, he met with and encouraged fledgling Sōka Gakkai memberships. In the United States, many early members were Japanese “war brides” who had married American servicemen; elsewhere they were more typically employees of Japanese companies or (as in Brazil) people with roots in the Japanese immigrant community.

Where there was a sufficient core of members, Ikeda established districts and chapters, making the corresponding leadership appointments. The first organization to be incorporated outside Japan was in the United States, in 1963.

Although the pace at which each national organization has “localized”—with general membership and leadership responsibility shifting away from the original Japanese transplants—has differed, the demographics of established organizations typically present a cultural and economic profile reflective of the host society. In this sense, the Sōka Gakkai has achieved a degree of international reach and integration largely unseen in other Japanese Buddhist schools or new religions.4

In January 1975, representatives from fifty-one countries and territories met in Guam, where they created an umbrella organization for Sōka Gakkai Buddhists around the world. This became the Sōka Gakkai International (SGI), with Ikeda as its first president. Since as early as 1966, the Sōka Gakkai’s stated policy has been that affiliated organizations outside Japan would never engage in political activities.5 Thus far, this has proven to be the case: while individual SGI members have run for political office in a number of countries, they have done so without the organized support of fellow SGI members or the endorsement of the constituent national organization.

In April 1979, Ikeda resigned as president of the Sōka Gakkai, to be succeeded by Hōjō Hiroshi (1923–1981). Ikeda retained his position as SGI president.

Peace Activities

In its literature, the Sōka Gakkai traces the inspiration for its peace activities, in particular its advocacy for nuclear weapons abolition, to the speech made by Toda in September 1957.

In 1974, Sōka Gakkai youth members began collecting and editing testimonials of wartime experiences in what eventually became an 80-volume series entitled “To the generations who do not know war.” A similar series collected and edited by women members came to 20 volumes.

Sōka Gakkai youth members collected 10 million signatures for the abolition of nuclear weapons. These were delivered by Ikeda to then UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in January 1975. Similar petition drives for nuclear abolition were held in 2000, 2010, and 2014.

Since 1983, Ikeda has issued annual “peace proposals” in which he presents philosophical perspectives on peace and conflict resolution as well as making specific proposals for, inter alia, structural reforms of the United Nations. Sōka Gakkai members and organizations worldwide look to these proposals as providing a theoretical basis as well as a general agenda for socially engaged activities.

The Sōka Gakkai (and/or SGI) has established consultative and collaborative relations with a number of United Nations agencies, including the UN Department of Public Information, the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. These NGO activities have been focused primarily on education and public information outreach, rather than specific policy advocacy or lobbying. They have taken the form of international exhibitions on such themes as nuclear disarmament, human rights, and sustainable development. In recent years, SGI representatives have attended key international conferences and, in this capacity, have cooperated with other civil society representatives, including the representatives of other religions.

In addition to his proposals, Sōka Gakkai members look to Ikeda as an exemplar of dialogue across differences. Over the course of decades, Ikeda has met with a wide range of political, intellectual, and cultural figures including: Arnold Toynbee, André Malraux, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Joseph Rotblat, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Pérez Esquivel, Linus Pauling, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams, Abdurrahman Wahid, and Hu Jintao. Many of Ikeda’s interlocutors, among them Toynbee, Gorbachev, Rotblat, and Pauling, have collaborated with him in published dialogues.

In July 1981, following Hōjō Hiroshi’s death, Akiya Enosuke (1930–) became the fifth president of the Sōka Gakkai.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Sōka Gakkai’s program of institution building continued. Tokyo Fuji Art Museum was established in 1983, followed by Sōka Women’s College (1985), the Boston Center for the 21st Century (established 1993; renamed Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in 2009), the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research (1996), and the Makiguchi Foundation for Education (1996). In 1987, Sōka University of America was established in Southern California, becoming a four-year liberal arts college in 2001.

Schism with Nichiren Shōshū

In the early 1990s, relations with the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood, which had been marked by tension and collaboration since the lay organization’s founding, deteriorated decisively. In November 1990, Ikeda gave a speech that was interpreted within the priesthood as demeaning their status, in particular the role of the high priest. The conflict escalated quickly, culminating a year later in the priesthood’s excommunication of the entire global membership of the Sōka Gakkai.

Following the schism, Sōka Gakkai members in Japan began conducting their own funerary services, breaking with a long-standing cultural tradition whereby the ceremonial intercession of Buddhist priests was seen as necessary to ensure the safe passage of the dead to their next existence. From 1993 onward, members worldwide were encouraged to return the Gohonzon scroll previously conferred by the priesthood, to be replaced by a new one issued by the Sōka Gakkai. In May 1998, the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood had the Shōhondō (Grand Main Temple), donated by the Sōka Gakkai in 1972, torn down.

In October 1999, the Kōmei Party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), starting its first sustained experience of being a governing party since its formation. The LDP–Kōmei coalition was voted out in 2009, but was returned to power in the December 2012 general election.

The Kōmei Party’s participation in successive ruling coalitions has both symbolized and accelerated the process of mainstreaming the Sōka Gakkai’s religio-political status within Japanese society. At the same time, it has raised questions regarding the compatibility of the religious organization’s commitment to peace and the political party’s pragmatic decision making, in particular regarding issues of national security and military realignment.

In November 2006, Harada Minoru (1941–) became the sixth president of the Sōka Gakkai.

In November 2013, the Sōka Gakkai opened the Daiseidō (Hall of the Great Vow) as part of its headquarters complex in central Tokyo, creating a focal point for the organization’s religious functions.


The Sōka Gakkai’s conversion efforts were conducted under the banner of shakubuku—a two-character term (lit. “break and subdue”) found in the Lotus Sutra to indicate propagation involving the direct refutation of erroneous beliefs as opposed to a more gradualist approach. These efforts were driven by the conviction that “false religions are the source of all misery,”6 and taxonomies of the ills arising from different religions were a key feature of early conversion activities. Shakubuku thus involved a pointed critique of religious traditions that may have been practiced by families for generations, often playing a key role in funerary and other rituals associated with the veneration of ancestors.

The exclusive devotion demanded by Nichiren doctrine was seen as necessitating the elimination of all other objects of worship—from Shintō talismans to Buddhist altars—as a precondition for conversion. While Sōka Gakkai policy required that any such objects be disposed of by the inductee as an expression of their free choice,7 this policy was not always followed, and the act itself was seen as violating traditional conceptions of loyalty to a family’s sect or practice. Such activities gained the Sōka Gakkai a reputation as a violent religion (bōryoku shūkyō) in the press and were accompanied, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, by incidents of ostracization in rural communities sometimes resulting in denial of access to communally managed resources or to family graves on the grounds of the temples of other sects.

While much of the critical reaction to the Sōka Gakkai in the early 1950s was consistent with prevailing academic and media discourse surrounding popular or new religions—that they were irrational and appealed to the desire of the masses for “worldly benefits”—the organization’s entry into politics in the mid-1950s attracted unprecedented levels of attention. Anxieties were intensified by the Sōka Gakkai’s use of such terminology as “the fusion of the Buddhist and secular law” (ōbutsu myōgō), and references to a “state-established high sanctuary” (kokuritsu kaidan), which became the focus of concerns that the organization’s ultimate objective was to use state power to impose its religious beliefs.

In 1970, as the political scientist Fujiwara Hirotatsu was preparing to publish a book highly critical of the Sōka Gakkai, it came to light that Kōmei Party officials had met with the author and publisher of the book and had urged them not to publish the book in its current form. The incident was brought up in the Diet as a potential infringement of constitutional guarantees of free speech, generating intense controversy. On May 3 of that year, Ikeda addressed a meeting of Sōka Gakkai members to which various cultural and literary figures, as well as print and broadcast media, were invited. While denying any intention to interfere with freedom of speech, Ikeda acknowledged that the politicians’ actions had “caused those concerned to feel pressured and caused a great deal of concern in society as a whole”8 and apologized for this. Together with the institutional separation of the religious organization and political party, it was announced that the religious terminology that had aroused public concern would no longer be used.

Along with the organization’s evident wealth (it owns hundreds of meeting places and facilities throughout Japan), Ikeda’s personality, leadership style, intentions, overseas travels, and meetings with prominent figures have continued to be the focus of intense speculation, derision, and criticism, most persistently from Japan’s raucous tabloid press.

In 1976, the tabloid monthly Gekkan pen began publishing a series of articles accusing Ikeda of having inappropriate relations with a number of women. The Sōka Gakkai sued for libel, with the Tokyo District Court finding for the plaintiffs in 1983.

Ikeda’s overseas activities and awards (he has received numerous honorary degrees, most prominently from universities in China) have been portrayed as a quest for a recognition that has eluded him domestically. For his part, Ikeda has described his motivation as the desire to promote understanding of the Sōka Gakkai’s ideals and goals, in this way protecting fledgling Sōka Gakkai memberships in different national settings, while forging ties of trust and mutual understanding among cultures.

Religious Practices and Beliefs

The Nichiren Heritage

The Sōka Gakkai locates itself within the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition, identifying its active proselytization and sociopolitical engagement as expressions of the bodhisattva ideal of compassionate action. In recent years, “engaged Buddhism” has been incorporated into its self-definitional discourse. Doctrinally, it asserts the full compatibility of its teachings and practices with those propounded by Nichiren, which, since the schism with the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood, it has referred to as “Nichiren Buddhism.” Prior to the schism, it often positioned itself as an association of lay followers of the Nichiren Shōshū sect, but this was consistently paralleled with assertions of interpretive uniqueness and independence.

Nichiren asserted that the Lotus Sutra represented the culmination of the Buddha’s teachings and encouraged exclusive devotion to this sutra. He based this on the view that the Lotus Sutra alone offered a path to enlightenment for all people—including those, such as women and people of the “two vehicles” (Śrāvakayāna and Pratyekabuddhayāna; practitioners advanced in their intellectual understanding but excessively attached to that understanding), to whom it was elsewhere closed.

The Lotus Sutra’s message of universal enlightenment was elaborated into a philosophical system by the Chinese Buddhist teacher Zhiyi (538–597, founder of the T’ien T’ai school), from whom Nichiren drew his core theoretical framework, including such concepts as the mutual possession of the ten worlds (Jpn jikkai gogu) and three thousand realms in a single thought moment (ichinen sanzen). For Nichiren (and the Sōka Gakkai), the significance of these concepts is that they posit Buddhahood as an ever-present, immanent possibility in all people, regardless of differences of gender, educational background, capacity for intellectual understanding, etc.

Like other Japanese Buddhist schools that arose in the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), such as Pure Land and Zen, Nichiren’s innovations centered on the simplification and concretization of the means of practice. To this end, he focused on the title of the Lotus Sutra in its translation into Chinese by Kumārajīva (343/344–413)—Chn Miao-fa-lien-hua-ching; Jpn Myōhō-renge-kyō—which, according to such T’ien T’ai teachers as Miao-lo (711–782), contained the very essence of the entire 28-chapter sutra. By appending namu (a transliteration of the Sanskrit namas, to offer obeisance), Nichiren derived Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō, which he said expressed the ultimate law by which all Buddhas throughout the universe had become enlightened.

Later in his career, Nichiren took the theoretical developments of T’ien T’ai Buddhism and gave them visual expression as a mandala, or Gohonzon, in which exemplars of the various conditions of life, from Hell to Buddhahood, are represented by their names written in Sino-Japanese characters. As Nichiren described in a letter written to a female follower in 1277: “It is the object of devotion that depicts Shakyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One, seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha, and the Buddhas who were Shakyamuni’s emanations as perfectly as a print matches its woodblock. Thus the five characters of the Lotus Sutra’s title [myō hō ren ge kyō] are suspended in the center, while the four heavenly kings are seated at the four corners of the treasure tower. Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are side by side at the top.” Nichiren then describes the representatives of other states of life, including deluded, destructive ones, represented in the Gohonzon and states that, “Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess.”9

Nichiren asserted that the practice of chanting the Daimoku or title of the Lotus Sutra, Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō, with faith in the Gohonzon enables all people to “display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess,” that is, to manifest their Buddha nature and attain the state of ultimate enlightenment in their present form.

Sōka Gakkai members are encouraged to seek enlightenment through the daily chanting of Daimoku and the recitation of key passages of the Lotus Sutra. Individual and group study of Nichiren’s writings, as well as the guidance of the first three presidents, and regular participation in discussion meetings are all considered essential. Acceptance of a printed scroll Gohonzon marks initiation and official membership.

In parallel with this individual soteriology, Nichiren also contended that a society’s prevailing conditions can be explained by its collective relationship to the Buddhist dharma. Where the people and their leaders embrace the true dharma, there will be peace and flourishing; where they reject it and persecute those who follow the true teachings, disorder and decline will inevitably follow. As he wrote in a letter to a follower in 1280, “Buddhism is like the body, and society like the shadow. When the body bends, so does the shadow.”10

Nichiren further asserted that persecutions incurred in the course of courageously refuting erroneous doctrines will enable believers to expunge their individual negative karma, opening the way to enlightenment as well as correcting society’s underlying spiritual orientation. Nichiren’s 1260 submission of his treatise Risshō ankokuron (On Establishing the True Teachings for the Peace of the Land) to the highest level of Shogunate authority was undertaken based on this logic.

In this treatise, Nichiren quoted the Great Collection Sutra as part of his practice of “remonstrating with the sovereign.”

Though for countless existences in the past the ruler of a state may have practiced the giving of alms, observed the precepts, and cultivated wisdom, if he sees that my teaching is in danger of perishing and stands idly by without doing anything to protect it, then all the inestimable roots of goodness that he has planted through the practices just mentioned will be entirely wiped out … Before long, the ruler will fall gravely ill, and after his life has come to an end, he will be reborn in the great hell.11

Nichiren interpreted the repeated exiles and attempts on his life, provoked by his outspoken criticism of established religious and secular authorities, as confirmation that he was indeed the “votary of the Lotus Sutra,” bringing its message of universal salvation to the people of the corrupt Final Dharma age (mappō).

Interpreting for Modernity

At the start of the 20th century, Nichiren’s ideas were the subject of renewed attention and interpretation. His this-worldly focus and direct engagement with social and political realities caused many Japanese thinkers, both within and outside traditional Nichiren schools, to see him as modeling a form of Buddhist practice relevant to the modern world. Interpretations ranged from the emperor-centered “Nichirenism” of Tanaka Chigaku (1861–1939) to the tender, cosmic lyricism of the poet Miyazaki Kenji (1896–1933) and the Nietzschean transcendence of Takayama Chogyū (1871–1902).

Makiguchi’s 1928 reception of Nichiren Shōshū was mediated by Mitani Sokei (1878–1932), a fellow school principal and author of a detailed exegesis of Nichiren’s Risshō ankokuron, and it is likely that this text played an important role in the conversion process.

Makiguchi’s thinking at this point was already the product of his decades-long attempt to effect a synthesis between premodern Japanese sensibilities—such as an East Asian appreciation of the natural and social embeddedness of human existence—with Anglo-American pragmatism and continental idealism. These critiques coalesced as his theory of value, which prioritized the subjective experience of value over disembodied “truth.” For Makiguchi, an enhanced capacity to “create value,” the ability to generate the values of beauty, gain, and good for oneself and others, constituted the essence of human happiness. He saw this, in turn, as the purpose to which education and religious faith should be directed. Makiguchi’s pragmatic approach to religion—his insistence that the validity of faith propositions could be subjected to empirical verification—established a template that has continued to characterize the Sōka Gakkai.

Makiguchi adopted Nichiren’s teaching of persecution undergone for the sake of the dharma to frame the significance of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai’s 1943 suppression by the authorities. This logic—sometimes psychologized in terms of people’s deep resistance to authentic happiness—has likewise been employed by the Sōka Gakkai to explain negative reactions from potential converts as well as from society as a whole.

Toda Jōsei’s Mass Appeal

Makiguchi’s reception of Nichiren may be seen as representing an encounter between a Buddhist worldview and the values of scientific rationalism or secular humanism, something that contributed to its acceptance among the educators who made up the core of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai’s initial membership. In contrast, Toda offered a more distinctly religious message that carried greater mass appeal.

During his imprisonment in the final years of World War II, Toda engaged in intense, prayerful recitation of the Daimoku and experienced a religious awakening in which he saw that the term “Buddha” referred to “nothing other than life itself ,”12 and that it was his mission as one of the Bodhisattvas Emerging from the Earth (jiyu no bosatsu) described in the Lotus Sutra to share this truth with the people of Japan.

Within the Sōka Gakkai, Toda’s awakening in prison is accorded great significance. In a published dialogue on the Lotus Sutra conducted with leaders of the Sōka Gakkai’s Study Department responsible for doctrinal issues, Ikeda Daisaku stated: “Mr. Toda’s enlightenment that the Buddha is life itself is a declaration that life is the absolute and supreme reality. It was his initial challenge to all warped and twisted points of view that would destroy the dignity of human life.”13

Toda also had a talent for expressing Buddhist concepts in easily accessible formulations, referring, for example, to the Gohonzon as a “device for manufacturing happiness.”14 Toda’s knack for recasting Buddhist concepts in accessible language extended even to the idea of enlightenment. In September 1947, the president of Tokyo University, Nambara Shigeru (1889–1974), delivered a speech to the university’s graduating class in which he stated the greatest imperative for Japanese society in the wake of defeat in the war was not a political or economic revolution, but a “human revolution” (ningen kakumei). Toda seized upon this term, using it to express the fundamental change in life orientation that would be wrought by committed Buddhist practice (specifically, the chanting of the Daimoku and proselytization activities). In Toda’s recasting, the enlightenment of human revolution was not an ineffable inner realization, but a fully embodied experience of what he termed “absolute happiness.” Thus, he spoke of and urged his followers to achieve health revolution, personal finance revolution, family revolution, etc.—to employ their Buddhist practice as a means of effecting concrete changes in the material conditions of life.

Like the vitalist aspects of Toda’s approach, this stance was, in many senses, compatible with the approach attributed to the “new religions” that (re)emerged in the postwar era. At the same time, the ethos and praxis of the Sōka Gakkai—such as exclusive devotion to a single faith, energetic proselytization, engagement with political realities—were transgressive of a number of social and religious norms. These included the pervasive distaste among Japanese intellectuals for “irrational” popular religions, the long-standing privileging of educated religious hierarchies over lay believers in established sects, and the modern norm of confining religion to private, interior realms. The Sōka Gakkai’s transgression of this last norm through direct electoral engagement was particularly salient in a postwar Japan struggling to define the contours of its renewed democratic dispensation and the roles to be played by civil society actors, including religious groups.

Ikeda’s Recasting: Peace, Culture, Education

During the late 1950s, and in particular after the presidency was acceded to by a dynamic, youthful leader (Ikeda was 32 when he was inaugurated in 1960), the Sōka Gakkai exhibited considerable optimism as the rapid expansion of the organization’s membership made the goal of converting the Japanese populace appear close at hand. Nichiren’s vision of this was often cited:

The time will come when all people will abandon the various kinds of vehicles and take up the single vehicle of Buddhahood, and the Mystic Law alone will flourish throughout the land. When the people all chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the wind will no longer buffet the branches, and the rain will no longer break the clods of soil. The world will become as it was in the ages of Fu Hsi and Shen Nung [legendary Chinese sovereigns said to have presided over eras of peace and flourishing]. In their present existence the people will be freed from misfortune and disasters and learn the art of living long.15

At the same time, however, the Sōka Gakkai generally avoided describing kōsen-rufu, a phrase from the Lotus Sutra meaning to “declare and spread widely” the Buddha’s teachings, in terms of millennialist inevitability. Rather, it was posited as the outcome of the cumulative effect of human revolution undertaken in the context of many individual lives.

In December 1964, Ikeda began writing a novelized account of Toda Jōsei’s life and leadership during the early phase of the organization’s reconstruction. According to Ikeda, the core theme of the novel, as well as its title, is human revolution, a process whose scope of influence he describes as follows: “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation, and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”16 The novel has taken on canonical status within the Sōka Gakkai, and this formulation is seen as the essential expression of the core dynamic of inner change and social engagement, one fully compatible with Nichiren’s vision.

The new president also oversaw the development of a more expansive definition of the movement’s objectives. As Ikeda put it in his May 1970 speech: “Kōsen-rufu, therefore, does not mean the end-point or terminus of a flow, but it is the flow itself, the very pulse of living Buddhism within society.”17 This statement was indicative of a gradual shift in focus away from numerical propagation goals, toward ensuring that Buddhist values played a shaping role in society as a whole. From around this time, there was also increasing stress on the themes of “peace, culture, and education.” Today, kōsen-rufu is often linked to the idea of human dignity, or the inherent dignity of all life, and the ideal of a society in which such dignity is universally realized.

One thread linking Sōka Gakkai’s success in postwar Japan and in a range of national settings can be seen in the movement’s consistent engagement with key aspects of modernity. In the years following his conversion, Makiguchi sought to bring scientific modes of thinking into conversation with Nichiren Buddhism through a stress on universal causality and empirical verification. In the postwar era, Toda created rational bureaucratic organizational structures that facilitated conversion activities and ensured that new converts were provided with fine-grained pastoral attention. Toda’s tutelage of Ikeda in the 1950s centered on inculcating familiarity with contemporary developments in a spectrum of modern disciplines, something Ikeda says was done with a future of global propagation in view. It is probably also significant that the movement was, from its inception and over the course of its development, based in the major urban centers of Tokyo and Osaka.

The idea of universal causality gives rise to a highly rational cosmology—one that is ultimately free of random or meaningless residue. In the Sōka Gakkai’s interpretation, the past-oriented explanatory power of karma is counterbalanced with the possibility of creating positive causes—and thus value—through present exertions in faith. On an organizational level, collective support and a sense of shared purpose are set against a strong doctrine of individual responsibility—“Ultimately, you yourself are the protagonist of your human revolution.”18 These elements together have proven an effective and convincing formula for confronting the atomizing and disempowering forces of modernity, including in its contemporary manifestation in globalization.

Also important in the success of the Sōka Gakkai in gaining adherents internationally is that these core teachings have been expressed and implemented flexibly in different cultural settings. To this end, the organization has deployed the concept of zuihō-bini. This is translated in the Sōka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism as “the precept of adapting to local customs” and defined as follows: “in matters the Buddha did not expressly either permit or forbid, one may act in accordance with local custom so long as the fundamental principles of Buddhism are not violated.”19 The SGI Charter, adopted in October 1995, states that, “SGI shall, through its constituent organizations, encourage its members to contribute toward the prosperity of their respective societies as good citizens.”20

Relations with Nichiren Shōshū

Because it provided the system of doctrine and terminology on which the Sōka Gakkai drew for much of its interpretative efforts—and housed the character mandala (Dai-Gohonzon, object of worship) that was seen as the source of religious power and legitimacy—Nichiren Shōshū has at times been described as the “parent sect” of the Sōka Gakkai. This characterization is not entirely accurate, however, as the Sōka Gakkai from the outset maintained its identity as an organization of lay believers, in which they exercised autonomy and leadership. Makiguchi, for example, encouraged his followers to learn to recite the liturgically significant portions of the Lotus Sutra, something typically reserved for Buddhist priests. To quote a passage from the official record of Makiguchi’s interrogation following his arrest in 1943:

I personally disliked the idea of formally becoming a priest. If I were to become ordained and have a temple, I would be confined in my actions to the teachings of Nichiren Shōshū. It would hardly be appropriate for me to promote my theory of value at a temple. I believe that my real purpose is fulfilled in remaining a lay believer and introducing my theory of value into the faith principles of Nichiren Shōshū. This is where the unique characteristics of the Sōka Kyōiku Gakkai are to be found.21

Confluence of interests, the shared experience of postwar devastation, and Toda’s personally warm relations with some members of the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood made the first decades following the end of World War II a period of relatively successful collaboration between the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood and the Sōka Gakkai. Hori Nichikō (1867–1957), 59th high priest of the Nichiren Shōshū head temple Taiseki-ji, for example, was widely recognized for his scholarship and was personally close to Toda. Hori supported the Sōka Gakkai’s efforts to produce, in 1952, a collection of the writings of Nichiren accessible to lay believers by guiding the rendering of treatises originally written in classical Chinese into Japanese. For the Sōka Gakkai, the priesthood offered a lineage connection to Nichiren and a historical pedigree that would distinguish it from the “new religions” of the era. For the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood, the large and growing Sōka Gakkai membership was a welcome source of financial and logistical support.

In the postwar period, the Sōka Gakkai donated more than 350 temples to Nichiren Shōshū, most prominent among them being the Shōhondō (Grand Main Temple), completed in 1972, to house the Dai-Gohonzon mandala considered to be fundamental to the sect. The structure was said to symbolize the wings of a crane opening in flight, with seating for 5,400 lay believers and 600 priests. It is said to have cost more than 35 billion yen.

Following the completion of this edifice, the number of monthly pilgrims to the Nichiren Shōshū head temple greatly increased. The significance of the Shōhondō relative to certain texts attributed to Nichiren—whether it represented the achievement of kōsen-rufu, and whether it could only be the fulfillment of such prophecy if officially sanctioned by “imperial edict and shogunal decree”22—became an object of controversy particularly among priests with a more fundamentalist-literalist orientation.

Sōka Gakkai criticism of the priesthood had always focused on the latter’s passivity, its unwillingness to actively engage in conversion or pastoral activities. Such criticisms can be found in Sōka Gakkai publications, including those published under Makiguchi’s prewar leadership. Related to this was the implicit criticism that the priesthood had become ossified and too comfortable in its traditional role and privileges, failing to make efforts to give expression to Buddhist ideas in forms accessible to modern society.

For its part, the priesthood found the Sōka Gakkai’s assertiveness troubling and harbored suspicions that the Sōka Gakkai leadership’s regular expressions of deference, although voiced in the most elevating registers of honorific language, were not in fact heartfelt. These suspicions were further heightened by a number of Ikeda’s statements made in the period 1977–1978, in which, inter alia, he asserted that the Sōka Gakkai comprised both a lay and ordained aspect, and that its activity centers were the functional equivalent of temples. (Thus donations made by members to the Sōka Gakkai carried the same significance as a source of merit traditionally attributed to offerings made to priests and temples.) The priesthood demanded a public retraction of this position, with which the Sōka Gakkai complied. In April 1979, Ikeda still felt compelled to resign as president of the organization.

The conciliatory gesture of Ikeda’s resignation could not permanently obscure, much less resolve, the structural contradictions between a dynamic lay movement with an increasingly international orientation and a priesthood whose attachment to strict dogmatic purity and limited number of adherents had kept it on the periphery of Japanese society—and thus largely insulated even from domestic pressures for adaptation and change.

Tensions resurfaced in the late 1980s and, on November 28, 1991, the priesthood excommunicated all Sōka Gakkai members worldwide who refused to pledge exclusive allegiance to Nichiren Shōshū. The great majority of Sōka Gakkai members globally chose to remain with the lay movement over an association with the priesthood, and today the Sōka Gakkai celebrates this event as a “Day of Spiritual Independence.”

The Impact of the Schism

Since the schism, the Sōka Gakkai has deployed a number of interpretative strategies relative to what it now terms “Nichiren Buddhism.” These strategies were shaped by the need to meet a range of disparate goals, including: maintaining consistency with earlier interpretations to a degree that would be comfortable for members long familiar with those interpretations; establishing the Sōka Gakkai’s independent religious authority and autonomy; creating a heritage that would sustain the movement and serve as a referent for internal and societal legitimacy; satisfying the needs of a growing non-Japanese membership for whom the intra-Nichiren doctrinal debates that had distinguished Nichiren Shōshū were opaque or irrelevant; and creating greater compatibility with modern academic engagements with Buddhist texts.

Ikeda’s dialogue on the Lotus Sutra with the leaders of the Sōka Gakkai Study Department, serialized in the monthly Daibyaku renge from 1995 to 1999, probably represents the most systematic effort to meet these diverse imperatives. Later published in six volumes, the dialogue provides a chapter-by-chapter exegesis of the Lotus Sutra. The subtitle of the work, “A discussion on religion in the twenty-first century,” conveys the scope of its ambition.

While Ikeda and his interlocutors draw on the T’ien T’ai hermeneutics developed in China and Japan, as well as those of Nichikan (1665–1726), the 18th-century high priest regarded as the most significant systematizer and “restorer” of doctrinal clarity in the Nichiren Shōshū school, they do so with great freedom. For example, the T’ien T’ai classification and periodization of the sutras, according to which Shakyamuni preached the Lotus Sutra in the last eight years of his life, had long been treated within Nichiren Shōshū doctrine as historical fact. In contrast, in the dialogue there is a straightforward acknowledgement that contemporary research places the compilation of the major Mahāyāna texts, including the Lotus Sutra, in the first centuries of the Common Era. Where conflicts with long-standing interpretative texts are substantive, Ikeda and colleagues often drill down to the motivations underlying the text, which are typically ascribed to the Buddha’s determination to share a message of salvation with all people, of all levels and styles of understanding.

The term “Buddhist humanism” has gained an important place in the Sōka Gakkai’s self-definitional lexicon in the post-schism period. In Ikeda’s dialogue on the Lotus Sutra and on numerous other occasions, he has frequently referenced Bodhisattva Never Disparaging (Jpn Fukyō Bosatsu)—a figure in the Lotus Sutra who endures harsh abuse and persecution in order to share a message of capacity for enlightenment—as embodying the ideal of Buddhist humanism. In this way, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging offers a paradigm of compassionate engagement with others.

The increased focus on Bodhisattva Never Disparaging has paralleled the Sōka Gakkai’s use of the language of human dignity as a key self-definitional concept. In like manner, there has been an adoption of the secular terms and goals generated by UN-centered processes, such as sustainability, human development, and human security. There has also been a broadened referencing of Buddhist scriptures, with more regular attention to texts not particularly valued by Nichiren or the Nichiren Shōshū exegetical tradition.

The status of the Gohonzon enshrined at the Nichiren Shōshū head temple Taiseki-ji has been another key focus of contention. From the postwar reconstruction period and, in particular, after the completion of the Grand Main Temple (Shōhondō) in 1972, the Great (Dai) Gohonzon of the second year of Kōan (1279) was treated as the ultimate source of religious authority. In the post-schism period, the Sōka Gakkai has stressed the universal salvific commitment underlying Nichiren’s inscription of the Gohonzon, expressed in its dedicatory phrase, “Bestowed up all the living beings of Jambudvīpa [the entire world]”; in November 2014, it issued a statement explicitly rejecting the idea of a unique locus of religious authority—an act with potentially important decentering implications for the movement.

The position that one special sanctuary exists in one particular place, and that the Gohonzon enshrined there is the fundamental Gohonzon, with all other Gohonzon only demonstrating any efficacy through a link to that Gohonzon—almost as if it were acting like a source of electricity that all others must be “plugged into” to function—is a view of the Gohonzon that can only hinder the substantive progress of our movement for worldwide kōsen-rufu in the present as well as in the future.23

One of the more visible changes in the religious modalities of the post-schism Sōka Gakkai has been an increase in interfaith activities. This was also codified in the 1995 Charter: “SGI shall, based on the Buddhist spirit of tolerance, respect other religions, engage in dialogue and work together with them toward the resolution of fundamental issues concerning humanity.”24 In Japan, the Sōka Gakkai’s communication and collaboration with other religious bodies remain very limited, although Shintō shrine-centered festivals (matsuri) have been redefined as expressions of local culture and participation by members welcomed as forms of community outreach. In other national and multilateral settings, there have been a number of collaborative engagements with the representatives of other faith traditions, including participation in joint statements by faith communities on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

There have also been independent activities by national organizations designed to respond to the interests and needs of their respective societies. Such activities include a youth anti-violence movement in the United States, activities for nuclear abolition and the abolition of the death penalty (Italy), and for biodiversity and ecological integrity (Brazil).

Since the schism, the Sōka Gakkai has increasingly stressed the importance of the “mentor-disciple relationship.” Over the history of the movement, the intense loyalty directed toward the successive presidents by the membership has sparked charges that the organization is little more than a cult of personality. Today, the first three presidents are referred to as the “Three Founding Presidents,” with the implication that the example of their lives, as well as the written record of their ideas (Ikeda’s complete works comprise 150 volumes in Japanese), contain the charismatic essence and interpretive guidelines that will be required by the movement going forward.

The three founding presidents are themselves seen as embodying an ideal of discipleship, seeking the truth of Buddhism through their respective mentors, and putting the mentor’s teachings into practice. This relationship is presented as embodying and making possible the realization of universal human values, and Ikeda in particular has frequently cited examples of discipleship from outside Buddhist, or even religious contexts, such as the bonds between educators, researchers, and others. More than a competing form of lineage, the mentor-disciple bond is seen as the expression of a multigenerational commitment to a shared ideal—in this case that of “kōsen-rufu.”

The movement toward greater accommodation with the social norms and sensitivities of Japanese society is one that has been ongoing for some decades, with the 1970 “freedom of speech incident” as one turning point. Evidence of this can be seen in the evolving style of faith testimonials carried in the organization’s publications, where there has been a growing emphasis on psychological realizations and shifts in attitude over more dramatically visible outcomes. For example, where testimonials related to natural disasters in earlier generations were almost always focused on narratives of miraculous survival, this has been almost entirely absent with regard to the 1995 Kobe earthquake or the March 2011 Tōhoku compound disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. Rather, faith experiences arising from these disasters have centered on often very frank accounts of coping with feelings of grief and despair, as well as on contributions by Sōka Gakkai members in support of recovery efforts in their communities.

While the increasing recognition and interaction with other faith traditions can be located on a trajectory of maturation, accommodation and integration, so long as the Sōka Gakkai holds to an exclusive devotion to the practices prescribed by Nichiren, based on his interpretation of the Lotus Sutra, it will to some degree remain anomalous within the more syncretic religious landscape of Japan.


The intensity of feelings generated by the organization’s early phase of rapid expansion—the gulf between those who felt saved and those who felt harassed by the Sōka Gakkai—meant that there was, initially, only limited space for nuanced discussion regarding its nature and objectives. Supportive voices were loudly heralded in Sōka Gakkai publications, while a wide range of dark allegations, reflecting anxieties provoked, inter alia, by the organization’s political involvement and the memories of Nichirenist support for wartime militarism, shaped public perception.

Fujiwara’s I Denounce Soka Gakkai can be read as a compendium of early anxieties, expressed as comparisons to Communism, prewar Japanese fascism, and Nazism. More balanced academic accounts first emerged in the 1960s, from researchers using the methodologies of religious studies, anthropology, and the sociology of religion. Murakami’s Sōka Gakkai–Kōmeitō was one of these, a carefully researched account of the historical process of the Sōka Gakkai’s development, including the socioeconomic backdrop for the Sōka Gakkai’s decision to enter politics, by one of Japan’s leading religious scholars. Japan’s New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai, by the investigative journalist Murata Kiyoaki, reflected more than a decade of engagement with and writing about the organization.25

Cold War interest in Japan’s role as a stable ally also shaped the research questions posed by U.S.-based researchers, which tended to be sociopolitical or sociological. Dator’s Builders of the Third Civilization was developed through participant observation and has one of the earliest accounts of non-Japanese members and their motivations. White’s The Sokagakkai and Mass Society was one of the earliest methodologically rigorous sociological studies of the Sōka Gakkai to be conducted and published in English.26

The 1980s saw the growth of empirical research into the history of the Sōka Gakkai. Saitō’s Wakaki Makiguchi Tsunesaburō was the first biographical portrait to fully locate Makiguchi in the context of his times and the larger sweep of modern intellectual history. A special issue of the Journal of Oriental Studies edited by Miyata Kōichi brought together essays in English on different aspects of Makiguchi’s thought and praxis, as did Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944): Educational Philosophy in Context, a volume edited by Jason Goulah and Andrew Gebert that focused on Tsunesaburō's educational ideas. Machacek and Wilson’s Global Citizens is a collection of articles by established researchers with in-depth knowledge of the Sōka Gakkai. Levi McLaughlin paints a portrait of the organization that draws on historical analysis and fieldwork.27

Since the 1990s, there has been a proliferation of monographs on the Sōka Gakkai’s presence in different national and cultural settings. Among them are: Jane Hurst, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai in America (1992, USA); Phillip Hammond and David Machacek, Soka Gakkai in America: Accommodation and Conversion (1999, USA); Maria Immacolata Macioti, The Buddha within Ourselves: Blossoms of the Lotus Sutra (2002, Italy); Ronan Alves Pereira, “The Transplantation of Soka Gakkai to Brazil: Building ‘the Closest Organization to the Heart of Ikeda-Sensei,’” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2008, Brazil); and Helen Waterhouse, “Praying for the Dead in Soka Gakkai International: UK,” in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion (2013, UK). Others, including Karel Dobbelaere, Soka Gakkai: From Lay Movement to Religion (2001); Richard Hughes Seager, Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism (2006); Sor-Ching Low, “The Re-invention of Nichiren in an Era of Globalization: Remapping the Sacred,” in Journal of Global Buddhism (2010); and Daniel A. Metraux, How Soka Gakkai Became a Global Buddhist Movement (2010), have sought to provide an overview of the internationalization process.28

Stone’s Original Enlightenment places Nichiren in the context of Japanese Buddhism and the relationship between Nichiren’s thought and a newly emerging “nonlinear” paradigm of liberation. Hurst, Metraux, and Bocking all offer analysis of the causes and significance of the schism with Nichiren Shōshū.29

Efforts to come to grips with the significance of the Kōmei Party’s role in coalition politics since its 1999 entry into a ruling coalition include Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Japan: Soka Gakkai Youth and Komeito (2012) and George Ehrhardt et al., Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan (2014).30

Primary Sources

Since its inception, the Sōka Gakkai has produced a variety of periodicals, as well as large numbers of books and, more recently, audio-visual and web-based materials. In addition to periodicals, such as the Seikyō shimbun and Daibyaku renge, that are under the direct publishing auspices of the organization, various affiliated publications with specific audience orientations have been developed. As the movement’s internationalization has progressed, this culture has been mirrored in the efforts of national organizations to produce periodicals: currently more than fifty organizations produce their own publications, and many national and subnational organizations maintain a web presence.

The Japanese-language page for the Sōka Gakkai31 presents information about current activities, as well as a library of study materials, including online lectures on Nichiren’s texts.

The Soka Gakkai International32 site, in English, Spanish, and Chinese, provides explanatory materials, member testimonials, highlights of activities of national organizations, as well as study resources. It also provides links to a number of related websites, including the SGI YouTube Channel, the Nichiren Buddhism Library, the SGI Quarterly, and the official sites, with biographical information and text archives, of the three founding presidents: Daisaku Ikeda, Josei Toda, and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. The People’s Decade for Nuclear Abolition site provides information about the organization’s activities in this field.

Further Reading

Bocking, Brian. “Of Priests, Protests, and Protestant Buddhists: The Case of Soka Gakkai International.” In Japanese New Religions in the West. Edited by Peter B. Clarke and Jeffrey Somers, 117–131. New York: Routledge, 1994.Find this resource:

Chilson, Clark. “Cultivating Charisma: Ikeda Daisaku’s Self Presentations and Transformational Leadership.” Journal of Global Buddhism 15 (2014): 65–78.Find this resource:

Dator, James. Soka Gakkai, Builders of the Third Civilization: American and Japanese Members. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969.Find this resource:

Dobbelaere, Karel. Soka Gakkai: From Lay Movement to Religion. Translated by Olivier Urbain. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2001.Find this resource:

Ehrhardt, George, Axel Klein, Levi McLaughlin, and Steven R. Reed, eds. Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan. Japanese Research Monograph 18. Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2014.Find this resource:

Fisker-Nielsen, Anne Mette. Religion and Politics in Contemporary Japan: Soka Gakkai Youth and Komeito. New York: Routledge, 2012.Find this resource:

Fujiwara, Hirotatsu. I Denounce Soka Gakkai. Translated by Worth C. Grant. Tokyo: Nisshin Hodo, 1970.Find this resource:

Gosho Translation Committee, trans. and ed. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. 2 vols. Tokyo: Sōka Gakkai, 2003.Find this resource:

Goulah, Jason, and Andrew Gebert, eds. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944): Educational Philosophy in Context. New York: Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:

Hammond, Phillip, and David Machacek. Soka Gakkai in America: Accommodation and Conversion. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Hardacre, Helen. “Constitutional Revision and Japanese Religions.” Japanese Studies 25.3 (2005): 235–247.Find this resource:

Hurst, Jane. Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Ikeda, Daisaku, Katsuji Saito, Takanori Endo, and Haruo Suda. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: A Discussion. 6 vols. Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 2000–2003.Find this resource:

Ikeda, Daisaku, and Arnold Toynbee. Choose Life: A Dialogue. Translated and edited by Richard Gage. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007.Find this resource:

Kisala, Robert. “Soka Gakkai: Searching for the Mainstream.” In Controversial New Religions. Edited by James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen, 139–152. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Kodaira, Yoshihira, ed. Shakubuku Kyōten. Tokyo: Sōka Gakkai, 1958.Find this resource:

Low, Sor-Ching.“The Re-invention of Nichiren in an Era of Globalization: Remapping the Sacred.” Journal of Global Buddhism 11 (2010): 27–43.Find this resource:

Machacek, David, and Bryan Wilson, eds. Global Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World. London: Oxford University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Macioti, Maria Immacolata. The Buddha within Ourselves: Blossoms of the Lotus Sutra. Translated by Richard M. Capozzi. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002. The original was published in 1996, under the title Il Buddha che è in noi (Rome: Seam).Find this resource:

Makiguchi, Tsunesaburō. Makiguchi Tsunesaburō zenshu.10 vols. Tokyo: Daisan Bunmeisha, 1981–1988.Find this resource:

McLaughlin, Levi. “Sōka Gakkai in Japan.” In Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions. Edited by Inken Prohl and John Nelson. Boston: Brill, 2012.Find this resource:

McLaughlin, Levi. “Did Aum Change Everything?” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 39.1 (2012): 51–75.Find this resource:

Metraux, Daniel. “The Dispute between the Sōka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shōshū Priesthood: A Lay Revolution against a Conservative Clergy.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 19.4 (1992): 325–336.Find this resource:

Metraux, Daniel A. How Soka Gakkai Became a Global Buddhist Movement. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Miyata, Koichi, ed. “Ideas and Influence of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.” Special Issue, Journal of Oriental Studies 10 (2000).Find this resource:

Murakami, Shigeyoshi. Sōka Gakkai–Kōmeitō. Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1967.Find this resource:

Murata, Kiyoaki. Japan’s New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai. New York: Weatherhill, 1969.Find this resource:

Pereira, Ronan Alves. “The Transplantation of Soka Gakkai to Brazil: Building ‘the Closest Organization to the Heart of Ikeda Sensei.’” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35.1 (2008): 95–113.Find this resource:

Saitō, Shōji. Wakaki Makiguchi Tsunesaburō. Tokyo: Daisan Bunmeisha, 1981.Find this resource:

Seager, Richard Hughes. Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Shimazono, Susumu. From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Japan. Melbourne, Australia: Trans Pacific Press, 2004Find this resource:

Stone, Jacqueline. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Stone, Jacqueline. “By Imperial Edict and Shogunal Degree.” In Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition. Edited by Steven Heine and Charles S. Prebish, 193–219. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Toda, Jōsei. Essays on Buddhism. Translated by Takeo Kamio. Tokyo: Seikyō Press, 1961.Find this resource:

Toda, Jōsei. Toda Jōsei zenshu. 9 vols. Tokyo: Seikyō Shimbunsha, 1981–1988.Find this resource:

Urbain, Olivier, ed. A Forum for Peace: Daisaku Ikeda’s Proposals to the UN. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014.Find this resource:

Waterhouse, Helen. 2013. “Praying for the Dead in Soka Gakkai International: UK.” In Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion, Vol. 4: Prayer in Religion and Spirituality. Edited by Giuseppe Giordan and Linda Woodhead. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.Find this resource:

White, James W. The Sokagakkai and Mass Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1970.Find this resource:

Yampolsky, Philip, ed. Selected Writings of Nichiren. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.Find this resource:


(1.) Jōsei Toda, Toda Jōsei zenshu (Complete works of Toda Jōsei), 9 vols. (Tokyo: Seikyō shimbunsha, 1983–1990), vol. 3, 431.

(5.) Sōka Gakkai Overseas Bureau, The Nichiren Shōshū Sōkagakkai, (Tokyo: Seikyō Press, 1966), 200.

(6.) Yoshihira Kodaira, ed., Shakubuku kyōten (Handbook of propagation), (Tokyo: Sōka Gakkai, 1958), 309.

(7.) Toda, Complete Works of Toda, vol. 4, 392.

(8.) Daisaku Ikeda, “Shakai no sosei e daibunka undō” (A great cultural movement to revive society), Seikyō Shimbun, May 4, 1970, 4.

(9.) Gosho Translation Committee, trans. and ed. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, 2 vols, (Tokyo: Sōka Gakkai, 1999–2006), vol. 1, 831–832.

(10.) Gosho Translation, Writings of Nichiren, vol. 1, 1039.

(11.) Gosho Translation, Writings of Nichiren, vol. 1, 25.

(12.) Toda, Complete Works of Toda, vol. 3, 501.

(13.) Daisaku Ikeda, Takanori Endo, and Katsuji Saito. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, 6 vols, (Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 2000–2003), vol. 1, 37.

(14.) Toda, Complete Works of Toda, vol. 4, 144.

(15.) Gosho Translation, Writings of Nichiren, vol. 1, 392.

(16.) Daisaku Ikeda, The Human Revolution, 2 vols. (Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 2004), vol. 1, viii.

(17.) Daisaku Ikeda, “Shakai no sosei” (A great cultural movement) 4.

(18.) Daisaku Ikeda, Kibō no asu e (Toward a hopeful tomorrow). (Tokyo: Seikyō shimbunsha, 1995), 39.

(21.) Makiguchi Tsunesaburō. Makiguchi Tsunesaburō zenshu (Complete works of Makiguchi Tsunesaburō), 10 vols, (Tokyo: Daisan Bunmeisha, 1981–1988), vol. 10, 188.

(22.) Jacqueline Stone, “By Imperial Edict and Shogunal Degree,” in Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition, ed. Steven Heine and Charles S. Prebish, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 199–219.

(23.) Minoru Harada, “Reaffirming the Original Spirit of Nichiren Buddhism,” World Tribune, (December 12, 2014), 2–3.

(25.) Hirotatsu Fujiwara, I Denounce Soka Gakkai, trans. Worth C. Grant (Tokyo: Nisshin Hodo, 1970); Shigeyoshi Murakami, Sōka Gakkai–Kōmeitō (Tokyo: Aoki Shoten, 1967); Kiyoaki Murata, Japan’s New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai (New York: Weatherhill, 1969).

(26.) James Dator, Soka Gakkai, Builders of the Third Civilization: American and Japanese Members (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1969); James W. White, The Sokagakkai and Mass Society (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1970).

(27.) Shōji Saitō, Wakaki Makiguchi Tsunesaburō (Tokyo: Daisan Bunmeisha, 1981); Koichi Miyata, ed., “Ideas and Influence of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi,” Special Issue, Journal of Oriental Studies 10 (2000); Jason Goulah and Andrew Gebert, eds. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944): Educational Philosophy in Context (New York: Routledge, 2014); David Machacek and Bryan Wilson, eds. Global Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World (London: Oxford University Press, 2000); Levi McLaughlin, “Sōka Gakkai in Japan,” in Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions, ed. Inken Prohl and John Nelson (Boston: Brill, 2012a).

(28.) Jane Hurst, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); Phillip Hammond and David Machacek, Soka Gakkai in America: Accommodation and Conversion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Maria Immacolata Macioti, The Buddha within Ourselves: Blossoms of the Lotus Sutra, trans. Richard M. Capozzi (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002); Ronan Alves Pereira, “The Transplantation of Soka Gakkai to Brazil: Building ‘the Closest Organization to the Heart of Ikeda-Sensei,’” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35.1 (2008): 95–113; and Helen Waterhouse, “Praying for the Dead in Soka Gakkai International: UK,” in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion, Vol. 4: Prayer in Religion and Spirituality, eds. Giuseppe Giordan and Linda Woodhead (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013); Others, including Karel Dobbelaere, Soka Gakkai: From Lay Movement to Religion, trans. Olivier Urbain (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2001); Richard Hughes Seager. Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006); Sor-Ching Low, “The Re-invention of Nichiren in an Era of Globalization: Remapping the Sacred,” Journal of Global Buddhism 11 (2010): 27–43; Daniel A. Metraux, How Soka Gakkai Became a Global Buddhist Movement (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010).

(29.) Jacqueline Stone, Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999); Jane Hurst, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism;Daniel Metraux, “The Dispute between the Sōka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shōshū Priesthood: A Lay Revolution against a Conservative Clergy,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 19.4 (1992): 325–336; Brian Bocking, “Of Priests, Protests, and Protestant Buddhists: The Case of Soka Gakkai International,” in Japanese New Religions in the West, eds. Peter B. Clarke and Jeffrey Somers (New York: Routledge, 1994), 117–131.

(30.) Anne Mette Fisker-Nielsen, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Japan: Soka Gakkai Youth and Komeito (New York: Routledge, 2012); George Ehrhardt, et al., eds. Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan (Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, 2014).