The Soka Gakkai Buddhist practice has its roots in the life-affirming philosophy of Nichiren, the 13th century Japanese sage. Nichiren’s teachings assert that all people, regardless of cultural heritage, gender, capacity or social standing, have the power to overcome life’s inevitable challenges, to develop lives of great value and creativity and to positively influence their communities, society and the world.
Nichiren believed that Buddhism should enable people living in the real world and facing real problems to become empowered and change their lives for the better. By applying the Buddhist practices of compassion, courage and wisdom to their daily lives, Soka Gakkai members become “engaged Buddhists,” living actively in the world.
Soka Gakkai, which means “value creation society,” was founded by Japanese educator Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in 1930. It was brought to the United States after World War II largely by Japanese women who had married American military. Despite the fact they spoke little English, these pioneering women succeeded in introducing the religion to thousands of Americans, finding their greatest success in the 1960s with young people who were open to new ways of thinking and who were attracted by the movement’s emphasis on world peace. The movement has since matured to become the largest and most diverse Buddhist community in the United States, with 300,000 adherents and more then ninety centers across the country.
Soka Gakkai had a relationship with the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu, but it was begun as an organization of lay people and is that today. As such, it encourages its members to take on voluntary leadership roles at every level of the organization.
Soka Gakkai International-USA today is led by General Director Daniel K. Nagashima from its headquarters in Santa Monica, California.
SOKA GAKKAI INTERNATIONAL–USA
1930: Soka Gakkai is founded by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) in Japan as a study group of reformist educators. Makiguchi was strongly influenced by the writings of the Buddhist teacher Nichiren and found his philosophy of education reform to be consistent with Nichiren Buddhist principles. Soka Gakkai educators believed that learning should be focused on cultivating individual potential rather than the rote memorization demanded by the state. [Imperial Rescript on Education]
1943: Makiguchi and his disciple Josei Toda (1900-1958) actively resist the militaristic Japanese government’s imposition of State Shinto and are imprisoned as “thought criminals.”
1944: Makiguchi dies in prison, but Toda survives.
1945: Toda is released shortly before the end of World War II and sets out to rebuild and expand Soka Gakkai. He redefines the organization’s mission from education reform to promoting the practical application of Nichiren Buddhist principles for the betterment of society as a whole.
1951: Toda becomes president of Soka Gakkai. He also establishes Soka Gakkai as an independent religious corporation. Although he retains spiritual affiliation with Nichiren Shoshu.
1954-55: Soka Gakkai comes to the United States, brought by the Japanese wives of American military stationed in Japan.
1958: Toda dies, having fulfilled his pledge to develop the Soka Gakkai to a membership of more than 750,000 households in Japan.
1960: Daisaku Ikeda, a leading disciple of Toda’s, becomes the third president of Soka Gakkai and expands its vision into a worldwide movement. Ikeda visits the United States and lays the groundwork for establishment of the American headquarters.
1975: Soka Gakkai International, the global Soka Gakkai association, is founded with Ikeda as its president.
1991: Disagreements that had been brewing for years between Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu over the authority of the priesthood result in the excommunication of the entire lay organization and its leadership. Soka Gakkai once again becomes a Buddhist organization led entirely by lay people.
2005: Soka Gakkai International celebrates the 30th anniversary of its founding. Today, the organization numbers more than 12 million members in 190 nations and territories, with as many as 300,000 members in the United States.