Soka Gakkai International
|Formation||January 26, 1975|
(26 January 1975–present)
Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is an international Nichiren Buddhist movement founded in 1975 by Daisaku Ikeda, as an umbrella organization of Soka Gakkai, which declares approximately 12 million adherents in 192 countries and territories as of 2017, more than 1.5 million of whom reside outside of Japan as of 2012. 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 (SGI) was formed at a world peace conference on January 26, 1975, on the island of Guam. 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. 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.
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. Expansion efforts gained a further boost in 1960 when Daisaku Ikeda succeeded Jōsei Toda as president of the Soka Gakkai. 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.
In 2000, 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.
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. It also recognizes the Soka Gakkai as a "Concordat" (It: "Intesa") that grants the religions status in "a special 'club' of denominations consulted by the government in certain occasions, allowed to appoint chaplains in the army – a concordat is not needed for appointing chaplains in hospitals and jails – and, perhaps more importantly, to be partially financed by taxpayers' money." Twelve other religious denominations share this status.
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. 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 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. Karel 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.
SGI members adhere to the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism as interpreted and applied by the Soka Gakkai's first three presidents Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda, incorporating social interaction and engagement into their Buddhist practice. Monthly neighborhood discussion meetings are generally held at the homes of SGI members.
Soka Gakkai Malaysia since 2005 has held a non-competitive biennial "Run for Peace" to raise awareness of nuclear disarmament and in support of culture of peace in the community—reportedly "the largest peace run in the country held in 28 locations nationwide and involving some 115,000 runners."
In Dubai, the SGI Gulf association has hosted since 2008 an annual "Poetic Heart" symposium, partnering with other organizations and involving international and local artists as well as poets of all ages.
Organizational practices in the United States have been characterized as socially inclusive Buddhism. 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 coordinated with other progressive religious groups to support same-sex couples' right to legally marry.
In 2012, then-President of the Republic of China Ma Ying-jeou remarked that the Taiwan Soka Association had been recognized for its involvement the past 16 years in the general welfare of society, education and religious teaching, highlighting its disaster rescue and relief efforts in the wake of Typhoon Morakot in 2009.
In November 2019, the Soka Gakkai Peace Committee in Japan helped organize the international conference "No Justice Without Life," at which Mario Marazziti of the Italy-based Community of Sant'Egidio, among others, advocated for a moratorium on the death penalty. The Italian Buddhist Institute Soka Gakkai had earlier endorsed the Community of Sant'Egidio's international appeal "Moratorium 2000," which was launched in 1998.
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."
Initiatives promoting peace, culture and education
According to Yoichi Kawada, director of the Tokyo-based Institute of Oriental Philosophy, the SGI defines itself as a "movement for contributing to peace, culture and education" based on its "interpretation and practical application of the ideas in the Lotus Sutra." SGI engagement as a religious NGO affiliated with the United Nations in policy discussions on issues including human rights, sustainable development and peace building is similarly described, in the phrasing of its Charter, as contributing to peace, culture and education.: 15, 16, 30 
Since 2007, the SGI has collaborated closely with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to develop educational programs and raise awareness on nuclear disarmament, particularly among young people. The SGI also partnered with ICAN to promote the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted at the United Nations in July 2017, and for which ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN, stated in a July 2017 interview that the "SGI has been one of our greatest partners in the fight to abolish nuclear weapons."
To further increase public awareness of the anti-nuclear movement, the SGI also created "The People's Decade" campaign, which since 2007 has developed 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 the UN efforts to increase grassroots movements for nuclear abolition.
In 2008, then-High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte characterized SGI's work toward nuclear disarmament as linking human security with the fundamental goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.
According to Pax Christi International, on March 28, 2017, a joint statement of Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weapons, initiated by the SGI, was delivered by Pax Christi Philippines during the first UN negotiating conference for the treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. More than 20 religious leaders affirmed through the joint statement their shared "aspirations for peace and for a world where people live without fear," praising world leaders in attendance for "the courage to begin these negotiations" and calling on States not in attendance to join the June–July session of the conference.
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. The center is engaged in reforestation, the creation of a regional seed bank, and experiments in sustainable agroforestry. 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.
In India, the 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." 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."
In November 2015, the 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. 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," 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.
The 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.
In 2015, SGI-USA was part of the organizing committee that convened a day-long conference in Washington, DC of 125 Buddhist leaders to discuss Buddhism and civic activism in the United States. The conference identified climate change and the environment, education and peace and disarmament as popular priorities.
Notable members of the Soka Gakkai International include:
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – British-Nigerian actor best known for his roles on television, including Lost, Oz, and Game of Thrones
- Anne Louise Hassing – Danish actress
- Belinda Carlisle – American singer best known as the lead singer of The Go-Go's
- Beverly Glenn-Copeland – U.S.-born Canadian musician, songwriter and singer
- Buster Williams – American jazz bassist
- Carmen Consoli – Italian singer and songwriter
- Celeste Lecesne – American actor and writer of the Oscar-winning film Trevor, co-founder of The Trevor Project
- 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
- Claire Bertschinger – British nurse whose work inspired the formation of Live Aid and Band Aid
- Claudia Jessie – British actress
- Courtney Love – American musician, songwriter, actress, and artist
- Craig Taro Gold – American author, entrepreneur, actor, singer-songwriter, producer, and philanthropist
- David Bennett Cohen – blues musician
- Duncan Sheik – American singer-songwriter and composer
- Hank Johnson – United States Congressman for Georgia's 4th congressional district
- Hayley Mills – English actress, former Disney child star
- Herbie Hancock – American jazz pianist, keyboardist, bandleader, and composer
- Hisashi Iwakuma – Major League Baseball player, pitcher on the Seattle Mariners
- Howard Jones – English musician, singer and songwriter
- John Astin – American actor best known for playing Gomez Addams on The Addams Family
- Mariane Pearl – French freelance journalist and former columnist and reporter
- Néstor Torres – American jazz flautist
- Nick Jago – British drummer known for being a former member of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
- Orlando Bloom – British actor known for his roles in film, including Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Troy
- Orlando Cepeda – American former Major League Baseball first baseman and member of the Hall of Fame
- 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
- Sabina Guzzanti – Italian satirist, actress, and writer
- Shan Serafin – American film director, screenwriter and novelist
- 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
- Tina Turner – American-Swiss singer, dancer, actress, and author
- Vinessa Shaw – American actress
- Wayne Shorter – American jazz saxophonist and composer
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Today, the group has a self-declared membership of 8.27 million households in Japan and more than 1.5 million adherents in 192 countries abroad under its overseas umbrella organization Soka Gakkai International, or SGI. Recent scholarship challenges theses figures and points to a figure in the neighborhood of two percent of the Japanese population.
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Official SGI websites
- Official website
- SGI Office for UN Affairs – SGI website on its NGO consultative work with the United Nations
- People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition II – SGI website supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- Common Threads – SGI blog supporting a culture of peace
- sgi.org/ru – Official SGI website in the Russian language