Soka Gakkai International
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is an international Nichiren Buddhist lay organization founded in 1975 by Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai's third president. SGI serves as the umbrella organization for the Soka Gakkai's international presence and claims 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 nongovernmental 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. Soka Gakkai's American headquarters officially opened in Los Angeles in 1963.
The Soka Gakkai International was formed during a January 1975 meeting held in Guam. 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 foundational 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 International comprises the religion's international presence and has chapters in 192 countries and territories. It is independent of the Soka Gakkai domestic Japanese organization, although both are headquartered in Tokyo.
National SGI organizations operate autonomously and all affairs are conducted in the local language. Many chapters are subdivided into groups such as a women's division, a men's division, and young women's and young men's divisions. 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. National organizations 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. The Tokyo headquarters also serves as a meeting place for national leaders to come together and exchange information and ideas.
Beliefs and practice
Soka Gakkai adherents practice Nichiren Buddhism as interpreted and applied by the Soka Gakkai's first three presidents: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. They believe in karma and that humankind's only hope of surviving is through this practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Members identify three basic elements for applying Nichiren Buddhism: faith, practice, and study.
The religious practice centers on chanting daimoku–the phrase "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo"–which translates roughly to "I commit myself to the wonderful dharma." 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 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.
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
- John Astin – American actor best known for playing Gomez Addams on The Addams Family
- Roberto Baggio – Italian footballer and member of the FIFA World Cup Dream Team
- Dame Claire Bertschinger – British nurse who inspired Live Aid
- Orlando Bloom – British actor known for his roles in film, including The Hobbit trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Troy
- Belinda Carlisle - American singer best known as the lead singer of The Go-Go's
- 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
- Sabina Guzzanti – Italian satirist, actress, and writer
- Herbie Hancock – American jazz pianist, keyboardist, bandleader, and composer
- Cheryl Boone Isaacs - American film executive and the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Hank Johnson – United States Congressman for Georgia's 4th congressional district
- Howard Jones (musician) - English musician, singer and songwriter
- Miranda Kerr – Australian model and author
- Anthony Lee – American actor and playwright
- James Lecesne - American actor and writer of the Oscar-winning Trevor (film), co-founder of The Trevor Project
- Courtney Love – American musician, songwriter, actress, and artist
- Shunsuke Nakamura – Japanese soccer player, midfielder for the Scottish team Celtic F.C.
- Mariane Pearl – French freelance journalist and former columnist and reporter
- Christine Rankin – Former head of the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development and politician
- Steven Sater – American playwright, lyricist and screenwriter best known for Spring Awakenings
- Duncan Sheik – American singer-songwriter and composer
- Wayne Shorter – American jazz saxophonist and composer
- Néstor Torres – American jazz flautist
- Tina Turner – American singer, actress, author, and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Suzanne Vega – American folk singer-songwriter
- Buster Williams – American jazz bassist
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.
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