Soka Gakkai International-USA (SGI-USA) is the most diverse Buddhist community in the United States with more than 500 chapters and some 100 centers throughout the country. SGI-USA is part of the larger SGI network, which comprises more than 12 million people in 192 countries and territories around the world. SGI members base their practice on the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Buddhism, which teaches that each person has within the courage, wisdom and compassion to face and surmount any of life’s challenges. Based on core Buddhist principles such as respecting the dignity of human life and the interconnectedness of self and the environment, SGI engages in various peace activities, including human rights education, the movement to abolish nuclear weapons and efforts to promote sustainable development.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda
Daisaku Ikeda is a Buddhist leader, peacebuilder, prolific writer, poet and educator as well as the founder of a number of cultural, educational and peace research institutions around the world. As third president of the Soka Gakkai (Value-Creating Society) and founder of the Soka Gakkai International, Daisaku Ikeda has developed and inspired what may be the largest, most diverse international lay Buddhist association in the world today. Based on the 700-year-old tradition of Nichiren Buddhism, the movement is characterized by its emphasis on individual empowerment and social engagement to advance peace, culture and education. (Learn more about Daisaku Ikeda)
Neighborhood Discussion Meetings
SGI-USA is made up of approximately 3,000 neighborhood discussion groups across America. At discussion meetings people share with one another how they are applying their Buddhist practice in their lives. As religion journalist Clark Strand notes, “At an SGI-USA discussion meeting, every voice is heard. Such meetings are egalitarian in spirit, democratic in practice, and decidedly life-affirming in their vision of how Buddhist practice might contribute to the happiness of the individual and, in so doing, provide the foundation for a happy society.”
The Soka Gakkai (literally, “Society for the Creation of Value”) was founded in 1930 by reformist, educator and author Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, initially as a study group for educators. However, due to Makiguchi’s faith in Nichiren Buddhism, this group quickly developed into a broader-based movement focused on the ideals and practice of Buddhism. Makiguchi believed Nichiren Buddhism to be the greatest means for people to tap their hidden potential and that spreading Buddhist ideals of equality and respect for all life was the best way to realize his original goal of reforming Japanese education and society. Facing oppression from Japan’s militarist government, Makiguchi and his closest disciple, Josei Toda, were arrested and imprisoned in 1943 as “thought criminals.” Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. After his release, Toda continued to promote an active, socially engaged Buddhism as a means of self-empowerment—a way to overcome obstacles in life and tap inner hope, confidence, courage and wisdom. He used the term “Human Revolution” to express the central idea of Nichiren Buddhism, that all people are capable of attaining enlightenment in this lifetime. With Toda as president, the Soka Gakkai began to flourish in Japan.
Toda, who passed away in April 1958, was succeeded as president in 1960 by Daisaku Ikeda, who further developed the movement in Japan as well as on a global scale. Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was founded on January 26, 1975, as a worldwide network of socially engaged Buddhists dedicated to a common vision of a better world through the empowerment of the individual and the promotion of peace, culture and education. Under Ikeda’s leadership, the SGI has developed into one of the most significant engaged Buddhist movements in the world, fostering and promoting grassroots activities in such areas as nuclear abolition, human rights and education for sustainable living. It currently consists of 93 independent affiliated SGI organizations and has 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide.
Organization of Ordinary People
Nichiren Buddhism embraces two paramount beliefs: The SGI bases itself directly on the teachings of Nichiren as set forth in his writings and demonstrated in practice by the Soka Gakkai’s founding presidents. SGI members in 192 countries and territories have consistently shown the power of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism to transform their lives for the better and in contributing to their communities. (from An Introduction to Buddhism, p. 103) SGI does not have priests and temples, but rather lay leaders and community centers. Daily practice is carried out at home and discussion meetings are usually held in people’s homes. SGI members live and work in society and integrate their practice into the daily routine of their lives.