August 25, 2010
Soka Gakkai -A Cult of Power
*Disclaimer: I realize there are many people involved with the SGI movement that are good, decent people, as this is not a criticism of them.ďż˝ These are my own conclusions from first person testimonies of former members, including two people I know.
A friend of mine, who a few years ago took an interest in Buddhism, recently confided in me some very distressing stories of his time as a member of Soka Gakkai International (SGI). For many years, former members and even close relatives of active members have been sharing stories alleging a âcultâ like environment inside the SGI organization. In Japan, the SGI controversy is a big story, involving many allegations of criminal activities including bribery, assault, money laundering, kidnapping and extortion. It is obvious that SGI works differently in different areas and countries, as the stories of some that have been former SGI members have not been inflammatory towards the organization, and have even had some positive things to say. However, as a Buddhist, I feel the massive amount of information out there concerning the conduct of SGI cannot go unexamined.
Many times, it is difficult to objectively place the label of âcultâ on an organization, since much of the evidence is anecdotal in nature, usually from former members. However, some serious consideration of these allegations in needed, given the sheer volume of people coming forward with very similar stories over a span of the last three decades. These various stories have circulated online as well as in the mainstream press for quite some time now, with countless websites discussing the experiences of former SGI members, some even forming support groups. The patterns of accusations are fairly similar, and below are the most common ones reported by former members:
- -Relentlessly stalking of perspective members in attempts to persuade them to join. Some methods employed were multiple phone calls to the personâs home and work, physically showing up at the personâs home or work and even some reports of being followed and harassed with veiled verbal threats in some cases. New members once in, are treated very well, befriended by other members, including those in authority. Once the person has an emotional investment in the organization, SGI slowly begins the hard sell of increasing their investment of time and money, and the transformation into becoming an SGI advocate.
-Insistence that its members frequently purchase religious paraphernalia, only available through SGI affiliated stores, which they say are required to participate in the SGI activities. There is a strict ban on these products being purchased outside of SGI, and members that have purchased these items from an outside source have been threatened and harassed, and told that âbad karmaâ will follow them. The primary item to the member is a thing called a Gohonzon scroll. According to the SGI website: âThe Gohonzon is the object of devotion, in the form of a scroll, that practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism enshrine in their homes and is the focal point of their daily practice of morning and evening sutra recitation and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.â The scroll is obtained through a mandatory donation, and if a member leaves the organization, they are required to return the scroll.
-Members are frequently urged to ârecruitâ new members from the personâs pool of family or friends, or even from complete strangers. This is called âshakubukuâ which means âto break and subdue.â Former members do mention the use of monthly quotas that were supposed to be met when working on âshakubuku.â And if these quotas werenât met, they would be chastised in front of other members for their lack of effort and faith, and told of their increased âbad karma.â Sometimes, it was reported that SGI officials would ask for a list of a memberâs family and friends, and pursue recruitment without the consent of the member.
-Chanting is a very important aspect of SGI practice, and members are encouraged to âtestifyâ to other members in an audience format, what material things they have acquired because of diligent chanting. If a person said that a situation in their life wasnât getting better, they werenât chanting hard enough or giving enough time and devotion to SGI. Chanting is taught to reduce oneâs âbad karmaâ and increase happiness, and it also said to aid in the progression towards a goal of âkosen-rufuâ, or a peaceful harmonic society. Members are also told of the great fortunes that awaited those who put forth enough effort into SGI.
-Critics and former members of SGI have been the subject of intense scrutiny, legal threats and smear campaigns. If a member leaves or threatens to leave, they are subject to various degrees of harassment, usually ending with all the friends they had inside the organization, at the urging of SGI officials, disowning them.
-Members were expected to participate in almost daily meetings and programs, and were again chastised as weak and lacking faith for missing these events. The events were part discussion of Daisaku Ikeda writingâs, the founder of SGI, and part encouragement to recruit new members and purchase additional SGI paraphernalia. These meetings were often also used to praise members who brought in new members, and chastise those who didnât. This reinforcement is an important part of keeping their members hooked, by pointing out the good things that happened to them in their lives as the direct result of their participation in SGI activities.
These patterns of organizational behavior, from the information supplied by many former members, are typical of many religious cults; Devotion and support to a person, Daisaku Ikeda, and an organization, SGI, are the keys that make one happy and reduce suffering. SGI officials are reported to constantly reinforce that mindset in the form of punishments and rewards to its members, which in turn are trained to recruit new members. Those that spoke up are belittled and shamed, and those that conformed to the program were rewarded, all in a very public manner. The most loyal are put in positions of authority, which is predicated on 'lure, invest, break, remold, rewire and control'; it certainly fits all the definitions of cult like organizations. Many former members have said that the Buddhist teachings, after SGIâs split with the traditional Japanese Nichiren, took a back seat to Daisaku Ikeda own writings and idealization of his personality. It is certainly one thing for a âleaderâ to exploit the fears, desires and weaknesses of individuals for personal gain; itâs a whole other level of depravity to build an entire self sustaining system for the sole purpose of organizational multiplication.
In the last 10 years, SGI in the US and Canada has changed quite a bit, in attempts to soften their public image after incredibly bad press that SGI received from former members. In fact, as other of these types of organizations have done, such as Scientology, SGI has been known to dig up dirt on anyone who criticizes them or they feel is a threat as a religious rival. This information became public knowledge in several high publicized controversies, which further harmed SGI's image in the public.
So, is SGI in North America a cult? I think there is strong evidence to point that it was, and to some extent, certainly continues to exhibit some of the same strong arm tactics of its past. There are indeed several members who disagree, and argue SGI has been the target of various disgruntled former members and religious rivals. The answer here really is which side of the story you ultimately believe.
Here is a video that SGI openly promotes Daisaku Ikeda and his work as influential and praiseworthy of that of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Its called Ghandi, King, Ikeda - Three Peace Makers for the 20th Century.
Here are further links about SGI: