Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Aug 31, 2012 3:56 pm

To start, I'm not a member of Soka Gakkai. Never have been, and never will be. So, let me explain why I ask this question....

It seems that portrayals of Soka Gakkai are polarized. Current members, of course, praise it as the way to salvation, often saying that it saved their lives, etc. And I suppose it's understandable that former members would talk about the negative things, or else they wouldn't be "former" members. And, of course, the "c word" gets thrown around a lot about Soka Gakkai (ahem, cult; some people say it's a cult).

Anyway, even though I'm not a member of Soka Gakkai and never will be, I do read some of their materials. (The reason I will never be a member is because I really want something very "traditional." I've heard that, though based in Japan, Soka Gakkai in the US is only about 10% Japanese and has no priesthood. The temple I attend now has many long-time Japanese American members, and a priest straight from Tokyo.) I'm aware that there are controversies and even scandals regarding Soka Gakkai, but I'm also aware that such things exist in all religions. I mean, I was raised Catholic -- and my former church recently lost its priest for, um, a reason I'm not going to mention....

Anyway, something recently occurred to me. Even though I am not a member of Soka Gakkai, I think I owe it a lot. If not for Soka Gakkai, many of us here in the US wouldn't have even heard of Nichiren Buddhism. So, though I am not a member, I see positive things that came out of the organization, and even feel a type of affection for it.

Does anyone have anything to add? (I really don't mean to start controversy with this. I'm just sincerely asking this question. If it gets controversial or whatever, hopefully a moderator can just delete this thread. Thanks.)
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby UniversalWorthy » Fri Aug 31, 2012 4:08 pm

Well, let me say that, as an ex-member who has no plans to ever return for a variety of reasons, I think that I have to agree with you on a very basic, logical basis. When I used to defend the organization against various claims (most of which were implying the "C" word), I would say that "Buddhism is free to choose," meaning that the genuine practice is something that one finds for oneself even amidst all of the perceived 'junk.' In other words, I used to say that it was each person's responsibility to make their practice either one kind of experience or another. I've since drifted a little bit away from that position insofar as I am careful to understand that 'cult'ure itself is a kind of Cult, any kind of culture. So, in a sense, one should fight one big "C" word (Cult or Culture) with another big "C" word (Critical thinking).

However, from my own personal experience, I don't know how I would have ever graduated from an academic embrace of buddhism to actual buddhist practice (specifically Nichiren) if it wasn't for that organization.

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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:14 pm

I left Soka Gakkai only very reluctantly. I was third generation Soka Gakkai. My family helped build the organization in the United States. I only left when I could not agree with some of their basic teachings anymore and found the Mentor-Disciple thing oppressive, stifling, and ultimately, self-destructive. I also could not abide by their involvement in Japanese politics which I believe has come to be one of the driving forces in the Japanese organization; they have lost their focus in the thrall of political power. I won't go into it here, but if you are curious to know, I will share my views with you offline. When I realized that changing would be impossible - that the mold has for the most part been cast, it was time for me to go my own way.

There are many positives.

I don't know of any other Buddhist group or organization that is so heavily oriented to outreach and introducing Buddhadharma to others.

Many Buddhist groups in the US that I am aware of are very limited in their appeal; people who come to join tend to be from narrow, homogenous socio-economic backgrounds. I don't know of any other Buddhist groups that have active communities in places like the South Bronx, and Wichita, and Beverly Hills. SGI has brought Buddhism into all corners and been able to open the Dharmagates for everyone. One of the things people notice first about SGI is the diversity. This is a great community of bodhisattvas.

Despite the criticisms of the leadership, their hearts are in the right place. These are on the whole, good, sincere people who really want to make their lives and the broader society, better. They want to improve, but I feel like they've created a feed back loop that drives the best among them away and over time a community of co-dependents, petty tyrants and yes-men has developed. As well intentioned as leaders are, they have difficulty overcoming their own petty world views and when those kinds of people are given authority, they use it to jealously put down others who might genuinely have much to offer. Good people. Not the brightest, not the most "expansive" and inspiring personalities, not the best types to have as leaders.

I don't have antipathy for SG. When I think about them, I feel disappointment at what could be.

I can't list all of the positives I got from SG, and I worry where my children will get those positive influences now that I have broken with that community. This is a real problem for me.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:18 pm

Queequeg wrote:Many Buddhist groups in the US that I am aware of are very limited in their appeal; people who come to join tend to be from narrow, homogenous socio-economic backgrounds. I don't know of any other Buddhist groups that have active communities in places like the South Bronx, and Wichita, and Beverly Hills. SGI has brought Buddhism into all corners and been able to open the Dharmagates for everyone. One of the things people notice first about SGI is the diversity.


I came to this thread with the intention to post something like this comment, which is to my mind the most important positive contribution SGI has made at least in North America. There is another: SGI is good at getting people into a routine of daily practice. The content of that practice may be debated, but the act of getting to it on a daily basis is an excellent thing to make routine.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:35 pm

Jikan wrote: SGI is good at getting people into a routine of daily practice. The content of that practice may be debated, but the act of getting to it on a daily basis is an excellent thing to make routine.


Totally agree.

I also wanted to temper my criticism of the leadership.

One of the things that makes SGI so effective as a missionary organization is the organizational structure. It creates a strong community and peer group that helps to foster the sharing of their teachings and providing ready examples of peers also undertaking and struggling with similar things in practice. That organizational structure is also one of the weaknesses as it creates a monolithic, hierarchical structure. These structures have a way of amplifying whatever personality is plugged into it. Some part of the organization thrive because of good leaders. Some are problematic because of bad leaders. Hierarchy, and the legacy of top-down Japanese organizational culture is very problematic.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:53 pm

As some people consider this a cult, it makes me wonder at the Dharma Wheel Terms of Service which have a heading relating to Controversial Groups and then can only agree on Vajrayana and then only one named group - I think it should be clarified in ToS that discussion of ALL controversial groups is banned, SOME (named) or NONE.

After all, it's not as though corruption, sex scandals and dodgy Gurus are limited to the Tibetans.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Fri Aug 31, 2012 7:31 pm

Blue Garuda wrote:As some people consider this a cult, it makes me wonder at the Dharma Wheel Terms of Service which have a heading relating to Controversial Groups and then can only agree on Vajrayana and then only one named group - I think it should be clarified in ToS that discussion of ALL controversial groups is banned, SOME (named) or NONE.

After all, it's not as though corruption, sex scandals and dodgy Gurus are limited to the Tibetans.


I don't particularly care if SG is talked about or not, but banning ALL "controversial groups" is not a principal I can get behind. Carried out too formalistically, it might have the effect of shutting down this entire site: every aspect of Buddhism, and even the whole, is controversial to someone someplace.

I think the Buddha's approach to promulgation of the rules of conduct might be the best guide - no sense in formulating rules before there is something to regulate. The conversation here has been civil and on the up and up. I see no reason to shut it down. That's just my view, and am not wedded to it. If the community deems otherwise, I think that it would be appropriate to have a frank and open discussion to discuss the merits of taking such an action before taking any such action.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Fri Aug 31, 2012 8:06 pm

The real problem with "controversial groups" is not the controversial bit per se, but the behavior of advocates and proponents in internet discussion boards. I think Queequeg's harpoon has hit the whale in the eye: we'll solve the problem if there's a problem to solve.

Frankly, I'd like to see more open discussion around SGI on this board and not less, since it is an organization that has touched the lives of many international Buddhists. It would be beneficial to get a well-rounded and comprehensive look at the phenomenon from the point of view of insiders, outsiders, and former participants.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Blue Garuda » Sat Sep 01, 2012 5:45 am

Interesting.

I actually posited three options : NONE, SOME or ALL controversial groups to be specified in the ToS. My preference is for there not to be any restriction and deal instead with any bad behaviour, as they do on other forums.

So SGI would either be assessed by the Admins and Mods as part of a ban on all controversial groups, be individually permitted or banned, or not assessed at all as there would be no restriciton.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Sat Sep 01, 2012 11:23 am

Thank you everyone for the responses. I'm pretty stunned here. Obviously, this IS a hot topic. From what I know of Soka Gakkai, the positives (as some have pointed out) are as follow: strong outreach organization; made most of us aware of Nichiren Buddhism to begin with; likely the most diverse of all Buddhist groups in the US; teaches a strong daily practice. The negatives, as I have heard, are as follows: cult-like tendencies*; no priesthood; and hard to get out of.

*I really don't mean to start controversy. And if what I've been told is incorrect, please someone correct it, okay? But I've heard that Soka Gakkai is a difficult organization to leave once you have joined; years ago, I heard that this is a key component to a cult (easy to get into; hard to get out of). And I've heard that before they bestow a Gohonzon upon you, they search your house to make sure there are no other religious figures in your house. I couldn't imagine submitting to such a thing. It's a test I would fail.

I suppose it's like anything in life. Some good, some bad.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Sat Sep 01, 2012 3:48 pm

There are other negatives that are often cited in online discussions on SGI. These have to do with practice and motivation for practice, for instance. I'm not interested in leading this discussion in that direction, however. Related threads can be found on DW, and new ones can be started, if anyone is interested in going there.

The more fundamental question to my mind isn't the name brand that is attached to a temple or an organization (eg making sure you're getting the best bang for your buck, the top brand... a Tibetan lama I once met called this "SUV Buddhism," disparagingly). What matters is whether a particular temple or group or teacher offers a situation in which you can learn, grow, develop, in practice and understanding. If you can, then it is a good temple. If you cannot, then you need to move on (here Queequeeg's comments in this thread are highly relevant).

So, in the case of SGI, what needs to be asked? I'd start here: What are people learning in SGI? How do people practice? What is taught, and what is not? &c.

--two bits from a native Oregonian. YMMV.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Sat Sep 01, 2012 5:06 pm

Jikan wrote:What matters is whether a particular temple or group or teacher offers a situation in which you can learn, grow, develop, in practice and understanding. If you can, then it is a good temple. If you cannot, then you need to move on (here Queequeeg's comments in this thread are highly relevant).

So, in the case of SGI, what needs to be asked? I'd start here: What are people learning in SGI? How do people practice? What is taught, and what is not? &c.

--two bits from a native Oregonian. YMMV.


Interesting. I think there are actually a lot of Buddhists in Oregon.... I saw the Dalai Lama in Pioneer Square in Portland in, I believe, 2003. About 30,000 people showed up to see him, which I believe is more than in San Francisco. But I digress. :)

About SGI, reading your post made me realize that, in a way, I'm kinda, sorta an "unaffiliated SGI member," if such a thing is possible. I read a meditation book by Ikeda every day. I have a few other books by them. I work with some of their materials -- every day. I recently started attending a Nichiren Shu temple, and they are impressed that I know both the Hoben and Juryo chapters -- and I have SGI materials to thank for that.

I guess at base I sort of don't like the divisions. Why can't everyone just be a "Nichiren Buddhist," you know? I guess I'd like to just see the positive. But that's life. Both exist. I mean, sometimes I think that, due to the negative I've heard about SGI, I shouldn't use their materials. Then I think that it can't be all that negative when their materials have been so helpful for me. THEN, I think, well, if their materials have been so helpful, maybe I should attend one of their meetings ... then I remember that talk of it being a cult and I think, no way -- I'll never go. Hmm.... :shrug:
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:14 pm

I don't like sectarian divisions at all. I'm interested in Buddha Dharma without adjectives. One of the things I like about the Ekayana approach to Buddha Dharma is its inclusiveness & elision of divisions. That said, organizations are needed in order to perpetuate the teachings (no organizations or institutions means mere anarchy is loosed upon the world). Organizations thrive on distinctions. We do this; they do that. What to do?
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Blue Garuda » Sat Sep 01, 2012 8:58 pm

Jikan wrote:I don't like sectarian divisions at all. I'm interested in Buddha Dharma without adjectives.


Fail. LOL :)

Depending on which is the noun, both Buddha and Dharma could be adjectives describing the other.

So make your choice - which one do you drop. ;)

Actually, no need as you could treat the two words as a compound noun - some do so overtly: 'Buddhadharma' .
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Sun Sep 02, 2012 2:31 am

Buddha Dharma is a compound noun, like coffeepot, basketball, or doghouse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_co ... ound_nouns

It's also an interesting subject that is marred by overly constipated sectarian divisions.

:focus:
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Sun Sep 02, 2012 9:16 pm

Jikan wrote:What are people learning in SGI?


This is a pretty typical restatement. It might be considered higher philosophy in SGI circles. Prompted me to face-palm. Don't even know where to start with what's wrong with it.

http://www.sgi.org/resource-center/study-materials/the-buddhist-concept-of-the-human-being-from-the-viewpoint-of-the-philosophy-of-the-soka-gakkai.html
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Sun Sep 02, 2012 9:32 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:I guess at base I sort of don't like the divisions. Why can't everyone just be a "Nichiren Buddhist," you know?


Because some Nichiren Buddhists say you have have to be like them to be a Nichiren Buddhist - Like SGI, for example.

That's me being flippant.

The reality is that there are differences. One of the biggest in the Nichiren community is the identification of Nichiren as the Eternal Buddha. Sounds like an innocuous assertion, but in terms of teachings and practice, it makes a huge difference. It changes the significance of the Lotus Sutra, previous Buddhist teachings, all the way down to what it means to be you.

The question then turns to what did Nichiren actually teach? What did Dengyo teach? What did Zhiyi teach? What did the Buddha actually teach?

Distinctions are based on what people say these people taught. And the competing stories can have profound impacts on your life - 30 years devoted to one creed as opposed to another is going to result in very different lives.

I guess I'd like to just see the positive. But that's life. Both exist. I mean, sometimes I think that, due to the negative I've heard about SGI, I shouldn't use their materials. Then I think that it can't be all that negative when their materials have been so helpful for me. THEN, I think, well, if their materials have been so helpful, maybe I should attend one of their meetings ... then I remember that talk of it being a cult and I think, no way -- I'll never go. Hmm.... :shrug:


If you want to study Nichiren Buddhism, study Nichiren.
Forget Ikeda's commentary. Limit yourself to primary sources like translations of Nichiren's writings published by SGI. Ignore the footnotes and end notes. Try and understand what Nichiren taught, rather than what Ikeda or anyone else teaches about what they think Nichiren taught. If you can, try and get other resources like translations of Nichiren's writings done by others, like Nichiren Shu. Both are translations reflecting idiosyncratic interpretations, but maybe with alternate versions you can get an approximate sense of the text.

SGI is not a cult like Jim Jones. They're more like Mormons. Very sincere bunch of folks who have a tendency to lay it on a little thick and get creepy. Its all out of a sincere desire to save you.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby rory » Mon Sep 03, 2012 3:47 am

Good advice; stick to the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren's own authentic writings and you can't go wrong.

I'd say SGI translations are not trustworthy as many terms are mistranslated to further their view that Nichiren is the Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha is some left-over Buddha.

It's wiser to use the University of Hawai'i Press' edition of Nichiren's letters, which were done under the aegis of Nichiren Shu. Not perfect but so far the best translations we have, as forged and inauthentic gosho are excluded and terms are translated with more clarity.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:36 am

Queequeg wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:SGI is not a cult like Jim Jones. They're more like Mormons. Very sincere bunch of folks who have a tendency to lay it on a little thick and get creepy. Its all out of a sincere desire to save you.


Interestingly, that's exactly how I've always viewed SGI: as akin to Mormonism, or the Mormons of the Buddhist world. I suppose this is because I see a parallel between their elevating Nichiren and the Mormons elevating Brigham Young.

I should probably clarify, by the way, that I personally have never thought of SGI as "a cult." I can't really have any opinion about SGI because I've never been to a single meeting. I've simply "heard" people say that "it's a cult." Further, I should say that the people I've "known" (online only) who are members of SGI have been very nice. Beyond that ... I'm sure we all know the common argument: the only thing that makes something look like "a cult" is when it is new and relatively small by comparison to the larger and more established religions. The larger religions would appear cult-like if we allowed ourselves to admit it. This is why "scholars" prefer the term "New Religions." :)

As for finding Nichiren's actual writings .... I'd love to, but I've heard that a lot of them are false. Which of his writings are real?

Thanks.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Mon Sep 03, 2012 2:30 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:As for finding Nichiren's actual writings .... I'd love to, but I've heard that a lot of them are false. Which of his writings are real?

Thanks.


We got a thread for that:

viewtopic.php?f=59&t=9663
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