Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a lay Buddhist movement that brings together more than 12 million people around the world in 192 countries and territories. The SGI was founded on January 26, 1975, on the war-ravaged island of Guam. The location was deliberately chosen, to send a message that a place most affected by war could become a beacon of peace.
The SGI movement, however, has its roots in 1930′s Japan, in the struggle against thought control by the Japanese militarist government of the time.
1930 – 1935: Soka Gakkai founded
The Soka Gakkai (literally, Society for the Creation of Value) began as a study group of reformist educators started by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), an author and educator. In 1928, at the age of 57, Makiguchi had encountered Nichiren Buddhism, finding within it a holistic philosophy that accorded with his own thinking. Makiguchi was passionately dedicated to the reform of the Japanese educational system. His theory of value-creating education is centered on a belief in the unlimited potential of every individual and regards education as the lifelong pursuit of self-awareness, wisdom and development.
The publication of the first volume of Makiguchi’s The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy on November 18, 1930, marked the establishment of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, forerunner of the Soka Gakkai.
1935 – 1945: Opposition to the militarist government
1935: Social reform
Makiguchi emphasised independent thinking over rote learning and self-motivation over blind obedience. This directly challenged the Japanese authorities of the time, who saw the role of education as molding docile servants of the state. Led by Makiguchi and his closest associate Josei Toda (1900-58), the Soka Gakkai grew from being a group dedicated to educational reform into an organization with a membership of several thousand people focusing on propagating the values of Buddhism to reform society.
1943: Fighting government oppression
The 1930s, which had seen the rise of militaristic nationalism in Japan, culminated in the country’s entry into World War II. The militarist government imposed State Shinto ideology on the population as a means of glorifying its war of aggression, and cracked down on all forms of dissidence. The refusal of Makiguchi and Toda to compromise their beliefs and lend support to the regime led to their arrest and imprisonment in 1943 as “thought criminals.” Due to government suppression during this time, the organization was effectively crushed.
1944: Death of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi
Makiguchi resisted all attempts to persuade him to embrace State Shinto and thereby demonstrate support for the militaristic Japanese government. He held fast to his convictions and died of malnutrition in prison in 1944. More information on Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: http://www.tmakiguchi.org.
1945 – 1958: Post-war reconstruction
1945: Active, socially engaged Buddhism
Josei Toda (1900-1958) was an educator, entrepreneur and publisher, who in his early 20s had found a teaching post at the school where Makiguchi was principal. Toda soon became a close protégé of Makiguchi, and followed him in practicing Nichiren Buddhism, in co-founding the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, and finally, into prison for standing up to the militarist government. Though his mentor died in prison, Toda was released from prison a few weeks before the war ended.
While in prison, Toda had intensively studied and practiced the Lotus Sutra. His efforts brought him to a clear realization that Buddhahood is a potential inherent in all life, and deepened his confidence that all people could manifest this enlightened life condition through practicing Nichiren’s teachings. He emerged from prison with the deep conviction that it was his mission to spread the message of the Lotus Sutra as widely as possible in order to construct a peaceful world.
Toda set out to rebuild the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai amidst the confusion of postwar Japan and renamed it the Soka Gakkai (Society for the Creation of Value). He promoted an active, socially engaged form of Buddhism as a means of self-empowerment, a way to overcome obstacles in life and tap inner hope, confidence, courage and wisdom.
1957: Call for Nuclear Abolition
In September 1957, Toda made an impassioned declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, which he deemed a manifestation of the darkest aspects of the human heart. He asked the youth of the Soka Gakkai to work for their abolition, and this movement became the start of the organization’s activities for peace.
More information on Josei Toda: http://www.joseitoda.org
1960 – The Present: International development
1960: A worldwide movement
Daisaku Ikeda, a close disciple of Toda, had experienced the horrors of war in his youth. Ikeda had worked closely with Toda for 11 years on the mission to reconstruct the Soka Gakkai. In 1960, Ikeda succeeded Toda as president of the Soka Gakkai.
Ikeda immediately set about building the foundations of an international movement, traveling overseas to meet with and encourage the first Soka Gakkai members outside of Japan. These members pioneered the development of Soka Gakkai in their various countries, leading to the growth of an international membership.
Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was founded on January 26, 1975, at a peace conference that brought together Soka Gakkai members from 51 countries and territories, held on the island of Guam, site of some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. Ikeda became the first president of SGI. In 1995, SGI adopted the SGI Charter and confirmed the movement’s primary objective of contributing to global peace.
The SGI under Ikeda’s leadership has become one of the largest and most diverse Buddhist movements in the world, fostering grassroots activities promoting nuclear abolition, sustainability, human rights education and cultural exchange. To help build solidarity for peace, Ikeda has also founded a number of institutions in the fields of culture and the arts, peace research and education.