Soka Gakkai International
Soka Gakkai International flag
|Formation||January 26, 1975|
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is an international Nichiren Buddhist lay organization founded in 1975 by Daisaku Ikeda, the Soka Gakkai's third president. The SGI serves as the umbrella organization for the Soka Gakkai's international presence, which reports adherents in 192 countries and territories. It characterizes itself as a support network for practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism and a global Buddhist movement for "peace, education, and cultural exchange." The Soka Gakkai International is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with official ties to the United Nations.
International expansion of the Soka Gakkai began after World War II, when some Soka Gakkai members married mostly American servicemen and moved away from Japan. Expansion efforts gained a further boost in 1960 when Daisaku Ikeda succeeded Josei Toda as Soka Gakkai president. In his first year as president of the Soka Gakkai, Ikeda visited the United States, Canada, and Brazil. The Soka Gakkai's American headquarters officially opened in Los Angeles in 1963.
The Soka Gakkai International was formed at a meeting in Guam on January 26, 1975. Representatives from 51 countries attended the meeting and chose Ikeda as the SGI's founding president. The SGI was created in part as a new peace movement, and its founding meeting was held in Guam in a symbolic gesture referencing Guam's history as the site of some of World War II's bloodiest battles, and proximity to Tinian Island, launching place of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
The SGI-USA was one of the organizing groups for the first-ever Buddhist conference at the White House, held in May 2015.
In June 2015, the SGI-Italy was recognized by the Italian government with a special accord under Italian Constitution Article 8, acknowledging it as an official religion of Italy and eligible to receive direct taxpayer funding for its religious and social activities.
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) comprises the movement's global network of affiliated organizations. As of 2011, the SGI reported active national organizations in 192 countries and territories. The SGI is independent of the Soka Gakkai (the domestic Japanese organization), although both are headquartered in Tokyo.
National SGI organizations operate autonomously and all affairs are conducted in the local language. Many national organizations are coordinated by groups such as a women's group, a men's group, and young women's and young men's groups. National organizations generally raise their own operational funds, although the SGI headquarters in Tokyo has awarded funding grants to smaller national organizations for projects such as land acquisition and the construction of new buildings. SGI-affiliated organizations outside of Japan are forbidden to engage directly in politics.
While the national organizations are run autonomously, the Tokyo headquarters of SGI disseminates doctrinal and teaching materials to all national organizations around the world. The Tokyo headquarters also serves as a meeting place for national leaders to come together and exchange information and ideas.
The election or nomination of the leaders is typically not decided by the SGI's general membership but by a board of directors. Leadership below national staff, however, has been liberalized; in the United States for instance, the nomination and approval of leaders includes both members and organizational leaders in the process. Dobbelaere notes the election of the presidents, as well as a process of "nomination, review and approval that involves both peers and leaders" in choosing other leaders.
Beliefs and practice
SGI members practice Nichiren Buddhism as interpreted and applied by the Soka Gakkai's first three presidents: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. SGI members believe in karma and that the most expedient path to enlightenment is through the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. SGI members identify three basic elements for applying Nichiren Buddhism to daily life: faith, practice, and study.
The daily practice of SGI members centers on chanting the mantra "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo," which translates to "Devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra", or "Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Supreme Law." Once in the morning and again at night, SGI members do gongyo ("assiduous practice"), during which members chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and recite selections from two chapters of the Lotus Sutra, "Expedient Means" (chapter 2) and "The Life Span of the Thus Come One" (chapter 16). Gongyo is typically performed in front of a Gohonzon, a scroll considered to be the supreme object of devotion on which is written the daimoku (in other words, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) and signs of buddhas and bodhisattvas who are prominent in the Lotus Sutra. The Gohonzon itself is housed in a butsudan, an altar that is opened during chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and gongyo.
The Soka Gakkai International is notable among Buddhist organizations for the racial and ethnic diversity of its members. It has been characterized as the world's largest and most ethnically diverse Buddhist group. Professor Susumu Shimazono suggested several reasons for this: the strongly felt needs of individuals in their daily lives, its solutions to discord in interpersonal relations, its practical teachings that offer concrete solutions for carrying on a stable social life, and its provision of a place where congenial company and a spirit of mutual support may be found. Peter Clarke wrote that the SGI appeals to non-Japanese in part because "no one is obliged to abandon their native culture or nationality in order to fully participate in the spiritual and cultural life of the movement."
Notable members of Soka Gakkai International include:
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – British-Nigerian actor best known for his roles on television, including Lost, Oz, and Game of Thrones
- Anthony Lee – American actor and playwright
- Belinda Carlisle - American singer best known as the lead singer of The Go-Go's
- Buster Williams – American jazz bassist
- Cheryl Boone Isaacs - American film executive and the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Christine Rankin – Former head of the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development and politician
- Courtney Love – American musician, songwriter, actress, and artist
- Dame Claire Bertschinger – British nurse who inspired Live Aid
- Duncan Sheik – American singer-songwriter and composer
- Hank Johnson – United States Congressman for Georgia's 4th congressional district
- Herbie Hancock – American jazz pianist, keyboardist, bandleader, and composer
- Howard Jones (musician) - English musician, singer and songwriter
- James DuMont - American actor.
- James Lecesne - American actor and writer of the Oscar-winning Trevor (film), co-founder of The Trevor Project
- John Astin – American actor best known for playing Gomez Addams on The Addams Family
- Mariane Pearl – French freelance journalist and former columnist and reporter
- Miranda Kerr – Australian model and author
- Naima Mora - America's Next Top Model (Cycle 4) winner, musician, author 
- Néstor Torres – American jazz flautist
- Orlando Bloom – British actor known for his roles in film, including The Hobbit trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Troy
- Orlando Cepeda – American former Major League Baseball first baseman and member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
- Patrick Duffy – American actor best known for his roles on television, including Dallas and Step by Step
- Roberto Baggio – Italian footballer and member of the FIFA World Cup Dream Team
- Ron Glass - American actor 
- Sabina Guzzanti – Italian satirist, actress, and writer
- Shunsuke Nakamura – Japanese soccer player, midfielder for the Scottish team Celtic F.C.
- Steven Sater – American playwright, lyricist and screenwriter best known for Spring Awakenings
- Suzanne Vega – American folk singer-songwriter
- Vinessa Shaw - American actress 
- Wayne Shorter – American jazz saxophonist and composer
In 2007, the SGI created "The People's Decade" campaign to increase public awareness of the anti-nuclear movement, and help create a global grassroots network of people dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons. In 2014, an SGI youth delegation met with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) regarding coordination of the SGI's efforts and UN efforts to increase grassroots movements for nuclear abolition.
The SGI has been in consultative status with UNESCO since 1983.
In its early years, the SGI was sometimes criticized for its use of shakubuku, an aggressive form of proselytizing that was subsequently moderated in the 1970s. The use of shakubuku by the SGI "virtually evaporated" in the 1990s.
In 1998, a report by the Select (Enquete) Commission of the German Parliament on new ideological communities stated that although the German branch of SGI was inconspicuous, it could be latently problematic due to its connection with the Soka Gakkai, which was called significant and controversial at the time. The report was criticized as politically biased and, in 1999, Germany's new government coalition rejected the committee's recommendations.
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- "UN OFFICE FOR DISARMAMENT AFFAIRS MEETS YOUTH REPRESENTATIVES OF SOKA GAKKAI JAPAN AND OF SGI-USA ENGAGED IN DISARMAMENT ISSUES". United Nations. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
- Endbericht der Enquete-Kommission Sogenannte Sekten und Psychogruppen, Page.105 (PDF; 6,5 MB)|quote=Some groups have little significance nationally, they are not involved locally in any serious political controversy and/or have attracted little public censure. Nevertheless, they remain a latent problem through being linked to international organisations that are significant and controversial elsewhere. One such example came to light at the hearing with Soka Gakkai, which in Germany is a fairly inconspicuous group, but is highly significant in Japan, the United States, and elsewhere. (Translated at http://www.csj.org/infoserv_articles/german_enquete_commission_report.htm)
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