Is Soka Gakkai International a cult?

Is Soka Gakkai International a cult? Lets see…from Characteristics Associated with Cult Groups:

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.‪

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

‪The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

‪The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

‪The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

The leader is not accountable to any authorities.

‪The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

‪Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

‪The group is preoccupied with making money.

‪Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

‪Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

‪The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

I recall some experiences I have had with ex-members of SGI and while the stories I heard did not identify SGI as insidious as implied by some (crazy comments about world domination and such), I do think that the organization itself (not necessarily people that are involved with SGI) does raise some red flags…

A “Political Wing”. SGI’s political wing in Japanese politics is the New Komeito Party. While I don’t know anything about Japanese politics, I do believe that any religious organization that takes a heavy hand in politics is dangerous. Just look at what the Evangelical Christians have succeeded in American education.

Proselytizing – SGI makes a push towards converting others to their viewpoint. I have little respect for doorknockers or those that insist that their version is the right version

Cult of Personality – It seems that Ikeda comes first and the BuddhaDharma comes second.

Lay Organized – I love grass-roots Buddhism but SGI is in no way grass-roots. It is a mega-church of Buddhism.

Us vs. Them – SGI is a splinter group of Nichiren Shu and defines themselves as the “true” way versus all other practicing Buddhists.

So, to keep it short, I think SGI falls into some points of the cult checklist above but, at the same time, so do many organizations that are harmless in nature. From conversations w/former members, SGI was not violent in any way but the group members were rather heavy-handed w/members that questioned the group and organization (ie. inviting themselves over to a former member’s house for something that resembled an “intervention”).

[Just as an aside- I have no issue with Nichiren Shu as a Buddhist practice, nor centering one’s practice around the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren’s writings or the chanting of “Myo ho renge kyo”. What I do have issue with is Buddhism as big business, cults of personality and proselytizing. As such, SGI is not a cult in my book or by my definition but placed into the lofty rack of “annoying religious sect” alongside the Mormons, Evangelical Christians, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the New Kampada Tradition. That coupled with a hand in politics makes me uneasy. I suppose that my take home message is “Do you really want to be affiliated with a group like this when you could simply practice on your own?” Thanks for the comments!]

5 responses to “Is Soka Gakkai International a cult?

  1. Elizabeth Bathory

    Chanting is a form of hypnosis. At meetings, there is a long period of chanting and then whatever is said becomes believable. There are many “suggestions” fed to members that say, bad thngs will happen to you if: 1) you stop chanting 2) you don’t follow without question 3) you don’t believe our way is the only way, etc.

    Their only interest in you is whether you chant or not. They want to control your life and there is no allowable way to leave. Defamatory lies have been spread about people who’ve left and the incidents of dishonesty and insensitivity in this organizaton are enormous.

    Please, read up on “cults” so you can make informed decisions.

  2. Blanche Quizno

    Soka Gakkai and its international arm, SGI, were affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu and excommunicated by Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Shu is a different sect that has no connection to the SGI or to Nichiren Shoshu. After Nichiren died, the 6 senior priests, his closest disciples, all went their separate ways and established their own, competing sects. I guess when your intolerant religion causes you to make the stink eye at others, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll turn that stink eye toward the person sitting next to you.

  3. Anonymous Poster

    This is utter tosh.
    As a member of the SGI of ten years standing, I think I ought to address some of these accusations. I have no responsibility in the SGI other than as a member, so this is neither an elitist or dogmatic response.
    1. The extent to which members affiliate with President Ikeda is non-dictated. Of course, members follow his guidance and utilize it as an avenue for personal growth. Of course, there are some members who are perhaps slightly evangelical, and do perhaps follow a dogmatic stance more so that President Ikeda or indeed Nicheron Daishonin would probably wish themselves. However, the practice is flexible and illustrates that the buddha nature exists in all of us, and shuns hierarchy moreover. I personally use Ikeda’s guidance and find it very useful for my daily life, yet I certainly do not worship him or regard every word he uses as gospel. Nor do most members in my experience
    2. Wrong. We chant nammyohorengekyo to bring out our buddha nature. That is all.
    3. This is complete nonsense. If anything most members allow for question and even respect those with their own views on matters. I have attended meetings where people freely share their doubts about the practice with others, and they are neither respected any more or less than anybody else If anything having a questioning attitude is encouraged.
    3. I have been a member for 10 years, and never once have I been told what to do with my life. On the contrary, senior leaders tend to discourage giving advice on overly personal matters and instead prefer to give guidance on knowledge of the practice, how to chant, changing karma and so on. I was once advised during a guidance session on employment that I would probably be best visiting a carer adviser as the leader (rightfully so) added that it may be irresponsible of him to give any advice to me on such a serious matter as it may cause me suffering. It is a practical philosophy that encourages its members to be active members of society and fully embrace all areas of life. Of course , we encourage each other by raising one another’s confidence which often helps success, but absolutely nothing amounts to dictatorial requests of members.
    4. This is wrong. This following quote by Daisaku Ikeda proves this:
    “Many members believe that people’s status should be based on whether they practice or not. This is wrong. It is not buddhism. If you look at many people who do not practice, you find much which accords to the buddist way of life. It is how one lives ones life that matters not whether they practice”. In short, it is thought that everyone has the buddha nature, and there is absolutely no discrimination between anyone who practices and does not. Sure, I have family members and a spouse who practice, yet most of my family and friends do not practice this buddhism, and most of my hobbies and activities are not SGI related (as this is encouraged). This is the same with most members and if anything, we tend to discourage the SGI from becoming too much of a closed shop as buddhism equals daily life.
    The practice encourages a wide involvement in society and not just with other members.
    5. Members can donate if they so wish, this is not an obligation however. Upkeep of centers needs to be undertaken somehow, and the SGI is a non-profit organisation
    6. Conversion is not done aggressively, people are free to practice or not should they wish.
    7. Making money is not a big ideal of members. Of course, neither is poverty, but the demographic from my experience is much less materialistic thanthe norm.
    I can continue by stating how these above views are lacking evidence and misguided, Of course the SGI may not be perfect (perhaps there is no perfect organisation). But Daisaku Ikeda actually states that “religion exists for the sake of the people, not the other way around”. This is the antithesis of cult-like behavior.
    Thus people can use their practice in a manner flexible to themselves.

  4. “I attacked the Zen school as the invention of the heavenly devil, and the Shingon school as an evil doctrine that will ruin the nation, and insisted that the temples of the Nembutsu [Pure Land], Zen, and Ritsu priests be burned down and the Nembutsu priests and the others beheaded.” If Nichiren stated this, is it any wonder that any belief system that originated from his teachings should be so exclusive and intolerant of other traditions? Maybe the SGI did their best to be more inclusive and universal to appeal to more people in their way and so did Nichiren Shu. I am sure Nichiren was very sincere and had his own reason for making his statement in the historical context . I also do think he was extraordinarily courageous, compassionate and insightful in many ways but there is so much you can do with a fundamentally exclusive single way teaching if you want a truly universal faith system

  5. I have been around sgi for 20 years and what is written here is a flat out lie!!! Please educated yourself before you write nonsense. Thank you

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