Soka Gakkai International

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Soka Gakkai International
Soka Gakkai International flag
Abbreviation SGI
Formation January 26, 1975
Headquarters Tokyo, Japan
  • Worldwide
Daisaku Ikeda
(26 January 1975 - )
Affiliations Soka Gakkai

The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is an international Nichiren Buddhist organization founded in 1975 by Daisaku Ikeda.[1] The SGI is the world's largest Buddhist lay organization, with approximately 12 million Nichiren Buddhist practitioners in 192 countries and regions.[2][3] It characterizes itself as a support network for practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism and a global Buddhist movement for "peace, education, and cultural exchange."[4]

The SGI is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with official ties to the United Nations.[2]


The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was formed at a world peace conference of Nichiren Buddhists on January 26, 1975 on the island of Guam.[5] Representatives from 51 countries attended the meeting and chose Daisaku Ikeda, who served as third president of the Japanese Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, to become the SGI's founding president.[5]

An SGI center in Chicago

The SGI was created in part as a new international 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.[6]

The Soka Gakkai's initial global expansion began after World War II, when some Soka Gakkai members married mostly American servicemen and moved away from Japan.[7] Expansion efforts gained a further boost in 1960 when Daisaku Ikeda succeeded Josei Toda as president of the Soka Gakkai.[8][9] In the first year of his presidency, Ikeda visited the United States, Canada, and Brazil, and the Soka Gakkai's first American headquarters officially opened in Los Angeles in 1963.[8][10]

In the year 2000, the Republic of Uruguay honored the 25th anniversary of the SGI's founding with a commemorative postage stamp. The stamp was issued on October 2, the anniversary of SGI President Ikeda's first overseas journey in 1960.[11]

In January 2015, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo reported that the SGI had been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, as confirmed by a Nobel Peace Laureate.[12]

In May 2015, the SGI-USA was one of the organizing groups for the first-ever Buddhist conference at the White House.[13]

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.[14][15]


SGI's 25th anniversary was celebrated by Uruguay with a commemorative stamp

The Soka Gakkai International comprises a global network of affiliated organizations. As of 2011, the SGI reported active national organizations in 192 countries and territories with a total of approximately 12 million members.[2] The SGI is independent of the Soka Gakkai (the domestic Japanese organization), although both are headquartered in Tokyo.[16]

National SGI organizations operate autonomously and all affairs are conducted in the local language.[16] 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.[17] 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.[17] SGI-affiliated organizations outside Japan are forbidden to engage directly in politics.[17]

While the national organizations are run autonomously, the Tokyo headquarters of SGI disseminates doctrinal and teaching materials to all national organizations around the world.[17] The Tokyo headquarters also serves as a meeting place for national leaders to come together and exchange information and ideas.[17]

The election or nomination of the leaders is typically not decided by the SGI's general membership but by a board of directors.[18] 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.[19] Dobbelaere notes the election of the presidents,[20] as well as a process of "nomination, review and approval that involves both peers and leaders" in choosing other leaders.[21]

Beliefs and practice[edit]

SGI members practice Nichiren Buddhism as interpreted and applied by the Soka Gakkai's first three presidents: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda.[22] SGI members believe in karma[23] and that the most expedient path to enlightenment is through the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.[16] SGI members identify three basic elements for applying Nichiren Buddhism to daily life: faith, practice, and study.[24]

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."[25][26] 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).[23][24] 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.[27] The Gohonzon itself is housed in a butsudan, an altar that is opened during chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and gongyo.[28]

SGI members also incorporate social interaction and engagement into their Buddhist practice.[29] Monthly neighborhood discussion meetings are generally held at the homes of SGI members.[24]

Since 1995, the SGI has formally officiated same-sex marriages. In 2008, the SGI-USA, which is headquartered in California, publicly opposed that state's Proposition 8 (which sought to prevent same-sex marriage), and the SGI coordinated with other progressive religious groups to support same-sex couples' right to legally marry.[30][31]


Evening view of an SGI Center in Milan, Italy

The Soka Gakkai International is notable among Buddhist organizations for the racial and ethnic diversity of its members.[16] It has been characterized as the world's largest and most ethnically diverse Buddhist group.[7][9][16][32] 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.[33] 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."[34]

In 2015, Italian newspaper la Repubblica reported that half of all Buddhists in Italy are SGI members.[35]


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.[36][37] 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.[38]

The SGI also promotes environmental initiatives through educational activities such as exhibitions, lectures and conferences, and more direct activities such as tree planting projects and the SGI's Amazon Ecological Conservation Center, which is administered by SGI-Brazil.[39] One scholar cites Daisaku Ikeda, SGI's president, describing such initiatives as a Buddhist-based impetus for direct public engagement in parallel with legal efforts to address environmental concerns.[40]

In India, Bharat Soka Gakkai (the SGI of India) debuted the traveling exhibit "Seeds of Hope," a joint initiative of the SGI and Earth Charter International. At the exhibit's opening in Panaji, the state capital of Goa, regional planning head Edgar Ribeiro spoke of lagging efforts to implement environmental laws and stated that "Only a people's movement can take sustainability forward."[41] In Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman University College President Datuk Dr Tan Chik Heok said that this exhibition helped "to create the awareness of the power of a single individual in bringing about waves of positive change to the environment, as well as the society."[42]

In November 2015 SGI signed on to the Buddhist Climate Change Statement representing "over a billion Buddhists worldwide" in a call to action submitted to world leaders at the 21st session of UN climate change talks held in Paris].[43] The statement affirms that Buddhist spirituality compels environmental protection and expresses solidarity with Catholic and Muslim leaders who have taken a similar stance. Described as "one of the most unified calls by a religion's leadership,"[44] the statement draws on the 2009 pan-Buddhist statement, "The Time to Act is Now: A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change," to which SGI-USA among others became a signatory in early-2015.[45]

Aid work[edit]

SGI conducts humanitarian aid projects in disaster-stricken regions. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, local Soka Gakkai facilities became refugee shelters and distribution centers for relief supplies. Efforts also included worldwide fundraising for the victims, youth groups, and spiritual support.[46][47]

In 2014, SGI-Chile members collected supplies to deliver to emergency services and refugee centers after that country's devastating Iquique earthquake.[48]


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.[49] The report was criticized as politically biased and, in 1999, Germany's new government coalition rejected the committee's recommendations.[50]

Notable members[edit]

Notable members of Soka Gakkai International include:


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Further reading[edit]

  • Causton, Richard: The Buddha in Daily Life: An Introduction to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. Rider, 1995; ISBN 978-0712674560
  • Seager, Richard: Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the Globalization of Buddhist Humanism. University of California Press, 2006; ISBN 978-0520245778
  • Strand, Clark: Waking the Buddha: How the Most Dynamic and Empowering Buddhist Movement in History Is Changing Our Concept of Religion. Middleway Press, 2014; ISBN 978-0977924561

External links[edit]

Official SGI websites

Affiliate websites