Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Mon Sep 03, 2012 10:03 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:This is why "scholars" prefer the term "New Religions." :)


Its up for debate, but Soka Gakkai is not really a Shinshukyo (New Religion). I guess some scholars put it in that category. My professor did not, but he's outside the mainstream in many respects. When you consider other Shinshukyo, it becomes apparent that Soka Gakkai is really not like them. They are fairly mainstream Buddhist in many of their views, albeit, on the 'popular' rather than 'orthodox' end of the spectrum.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Sep 04, 2012 8:49 am

Why do they get labeled a New Religion then?
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Tue Sep 04, 2012 1:39 pm

Because some scholars put them in that category.

Other scholars do not.

"Shinshukyo" is a term coined by some scholar in a religion department some decades back. Since then, there have been debates about what is and what is not "Shinshukyo". In the last 20 years there is yet a new label called "Shinshinshukyo" "New 'New Religions'" for movements that emerged since the 70s.

Its all rather tedious and meaningless unless your subject of study is Japanese Religions.

Some people use the term as a pejorative. If you actually know about the academic meaning of the term, its kind of innocuous. If you don't, and you assume that "old" religions are better than "new" religions, it could be used as a slur. Kind of silly when you take a survey of religions and think of the outlandish things people think are true in the name of religion simply because its a belief that's been held for a long time. Its like, once a story enjoys a certain level of esteem and passes a certain vintage, it enjoys a level of perceived legitimacy regardless of how crazy the story actually is.

:shrug:
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Tue Sep 04, 2012 3:56 pm

All I could figure it that there is a huge stigma to the word "cult," and so people wanted a new term. The term "New Religion" or "New Religious Movement" is obviously preferable to "cult," because as you pointed out -- the term cult gives visions of people falling over dead in the jungle whilst holding a cup of cool-aide. New Religion, obviously, sounds much more legitimate. And that's an excellent question you raise, and one that I've heard raised before: why believe that just because something is more established it isn't more crazy than what could be brand-new?
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Tue Sep 04, 2012 4:26 pm

Hi OB,

One thing I need to stress is that 'Shinshukyo' is a technical term used by scholars who study Japanese Religions. It does not apply to religious movements outside of Japan except to the extent that they have expanded their presence overseas. I think I might be a stickler about this because I have been trained as a religion scholar. What we mean by "Shinshukyo" and what lay people seem to mean when they adopt the term "New Religion" to describe something are often at variance.

Another example, we (religion scholars) use the term "cult" without the pejorative connotations. Nichiren Buddhism can be described as "the cult of the Lotus Sutra". Similarly, there are Amida cults which would include most, if not all, Pure Land Buddhism. There are cults to Kannon/Kuanyin/Avalokitesvara that transcend sectarian divides. Christianity can be described as the "Cult of Christ"; Islam the Cult of Allah.

"Cult" as used by the broader community has a very different meaning than the technical term scholars use. My point is, "shinshukyo" is not a politically correct substitute for "cult". It refers to religious movements that are a mix of indigenous Japanese religions (that include kami worship and Shamanism) and Buddhism - but Buddhism usually to a lesser degree. Shinshinshukyo (New New Religions) also include non-Japanese influences like Hinduism and Judeo-Christian ideas. These are rough descriptions, and some movements fit more neatly into these categories than others. A Shinshinshukyo would be the infamous Aum Shinrikyo whose members staged the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo.

Soka Gakkai is not considered Shinshukyo by my professor because their ideas are predominantly Buddhist in nature. Contrast with "actual" Shinshukyo like Tenrikyo.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:28 pm

Yes, thank you. I first became aware of that type of use of the word "cult" when I was a teenager and started reading about Latin American history and read about the "Cult of Masculinity" within that continent. (I authored the Wikipedia article about Eva Peron: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Per%C3%B3n ) So, I've been aware for some time that "cult" does not necessarily always mean a group of people with strange religious beliefs who kill others. But when used in a religious context, that is usually the general perception. To call a religion "a cult" will mean, to the average person, "a religious group that is relatively new, crazy, and somewhat dangerous."

I am also aware that the term (shinshukyo) referred only to Japanese religions.

However, I took a class at the university this past term where Soka Gakkai WAS referred to as "A New Religion in Japan." And while you may differ or say it's incorrect (I personally have no agenda either way in the matter), some sources DO refer to shinshukyo as being translated as "New Religion."
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:47 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:However, I took a class at the university this past term where Soka Gakkai WAS referred to as "A New Religion in Japan."


Fair enough. I think there is disagreement among scholars about that.

The question seems to come down to whether a group could be said to actually be a novel religion or whether it is related to an established group.

For instance - a pretty clear case of New Religion would be Tenrikyo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenrikyo

Soka Gakkai is a peculiar case. It is an organization that was originally set up as a sort of club for educators. Many of the members were also Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists. It seems that members discussed and promoted pedagogical theories based on or dovetailing with Nichiren Shoshu teachings. It was only after World War II that it broadened its scope from merely being a club for educators to a club for everyone and focusing its purpose to promoting the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu as a salve for the sufferings of people in the post war period. Soka Gakkai was not a distinct religion, but rather a club of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists.

I think it can be said that Soka Gakkai is now, and for the recent past, become its own religion, but that is a tentative assertion. They still claim to be Nichiren Buddhists, and although not emphasized, they still for the most part abide by Nichiren Shoshu teachings. The alienation from the Dai-Gohonzon, one of the center piece issues in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism is problematic for Soka Gakkai. This problem is largely just glossed over.

There are some scholars who think Soka Gakkai is a Shinshukyo - there are others who don't. I tend toward the latter - they're Buddhism to me, albeit a somewhat idiosyncratic one promoting some controversial ideas that may not quite be orthodox. I understand the arguments of those who do think its Shinshukyo - I draw the line differently.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:42 am

Queequeg wrote:The alienation from the Dai-Gohonzon, one of the center piece issues in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism is problematic for Soka Gakkai. This problem is largely just glossed over.


What is the Dali-Gohonzon? And how is one aliented from it?
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby dsaly1969 » Thu Sep 06, 2012 3:59 pm

I was introduced to Lotus Sutra centered practice through SGI. I quickly found that I was uncomfortable with their distinctive teachings which were at variance with mainstream Buddhism as well as the mentor-disciple focus on Ikeda. So I left and found a far more congenial home for me in Rissho Kosei-kai (RKK).

RKK tends to consider itself more a Lotus Sutra school than a Nichiren school (RKK does not view Gosho/Goibun as authoritative) although it has congenial relationships with both Nichiren Shu and Tendai. They have been a ecumenical partner with the Unitarian Universalist Association for many years). Compared to SGI, RKK has a more mainstream Buddhist, "Ekayana", and interfaith perspective even though the daily practice is similar to SGI's. The differences in practice are more recitation of portions of the Lotus Sutra and smaller amounts of Odaimoku - and the recitation is done in English so you can mindfully consider and integrate what you are chanting. I also think hoza is RKK's greatest and most distinctive contribution to Buddhist practice.

However, I still think highly of SGI and its adherents - I generally met very nice people who may have been a touch overzealous but generally sincere in their concern. Certainly they have been one of the most successful in spreading and opening Buddhadharma to populations that the mainstream have not reached. As someone who is a former Mormon, I would say there are some similarities between Mormonism (or Jehovah's Witnesses - funny enough some of my Nichiren Shu friends who left Soka Gakkai were former Jehovah's Witnesses) and SGI - including the "missionary zeal" and different "theology".
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Thu Sep 06, 2012 5:37 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:
Queequeg wrote:The alienation from the Dai-Gohonzon, one of the center piece issues in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism is problematic for Soka Gakkai. This problem is largely just glossed over.


What is the Dali-Gohonzon? And how is one aliented from it?


Oh, you just gave me a good laugh. Maybe it should be called the "Dali-Gohonzon"! The stories around it are pretty surreal.

It is a Nichiren 10 World Mandala inscribed on a plank of wood. Nichiren Shoshu claims that it was a special Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren to be enshrined at the Root Gate Ordination Platform for the benefit of all humanity. According to them, this special Gohonzon was entrusted to his disciple Nikko Shonin who took it with him when he left Mt. Minobu after Nichiren's death. Nikko then apparently left it at what became Nichiren Shoshu's head temple, Taisekiji, when he moved on to found his seminary in Omosu (Kitayama Honmonji). Nobody heard of this Dai-Gohonzon until at least the 15th century. It was apparently a very closely guarded secret. It wasn't enshrined until the 19th century. It has since been a money-making draw for pilgrims - that is for sure.

I'm not quite sure why its supposed to be so special, but is tied in with their claims that their school holds the "True" lineage from Nichiren. I think they make some claims that all Nichiren inscribed Gohonzon predating the Dali-Gohonzon are ineffectual. I think it has something to do with that Gohonzon formalizing the entrustment by Nichiren (a.k.a. the Root Buddha) of the Lotus Sutra to all humanity, or something like that. Its been a long time since I gave any thought to this. Lots of far fetched proposition that basically amount to their claim as the ONLY legitimate Nichiren Buddhism school.

Who knows? Sounds like BS. Probably is.

No other Nichiren schools give any credence to these stories, including other Nikko lineage schools.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:14 pm

Hi Dsaly,

I've thought that if I were going to join a club again, I would consider RKK.

I really appreciate their efforts to publish English language resources, especially with a broader Lotus oriented scope and their appreciation of scholarly research. I am grateful for their support of people like Paul Swanson in his efforts to translate Zhiyi's Mohochikuan. I hope he is able to complete the project and I hope RKK continues their projects.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby dsaly1969 » Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:20 pm

And it really is a club.... Really all traditions in Buddhadharma are expedient means - just join one if it helps you to support your practice. It's probably why I never spent too much energy worrying about SGI after I left. Obviously Soka Gakkai works for many people.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:21 pm

Queequeg wrote:
OregonBuddhist wrote:Oh, you just gave me a good laugh. Maybe it should be called the "Dali-Gohonzon"! The stories around it are pretty surreal.


I write about the Dalai Lama every once in a while. I think I subconsciously mixed those two terms up: "Dai" and "Dalai." Just dropped the "a," or added an "L.". :)

I actually have heard of the "Dai-Gohonzon." But "heard" is all I've done. I had assumed it was inscribed by Nichiren himself. I thought it was huge. I've heard of stories of some gohonzons that are, like, 10 or 20 feet tall. I guess I had made the assumption that this was the case with the Dai-Gohonzon. But apparently not. So, it's only an issue of Nichiren Shoshu? By the way, how does one become alienated from it?

Thanks for the interesting history.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:31 pm

OregonBuddhist wrote:I write about the Dalai Lama every once in a while. I think I subconsciously mixed those two terms up: "Dai" and "Dalai." Just dropped the "a," or added an "L.". :)


Ah. I was thinking of the surrealist painter, Salvatore Dali.

I actually have heard of the "Dai-Gohonzon." But "heard" is all I've done. I had assumed it was inscribed by Nichiren himself. I thought it was huge. I've heard of stories of some gohonzons that are, like, 10 or 20 feet tall. I guess I had made the assumption that this was the case with the Dai-Gohonzon. But apparently not. So, it's only an issue of Nichiren Shoshu? By the way, how does one become alienated from it?

Thanks for the interesting history.


Its actually not that big - on the larger side for a Gohonzon, but not terribly large. Probably 3ft tall 1.5 feet wide? Its been a long time since I saw it. I used to go every summer.

What I meant by being alienated from it is that since the schism between Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu, Soka Gakkai members don't go on pilgrimage to Taisekiji to pray there anymore. This used to be a significant practice for Soka Gakkai members. As far as I know, Nichiren Shoshu welcomes people to visit but does not recognize Soka Gakkai affiliation to mean anything. Soka Gakkai members, on the other hand, have cut themselves off. Anyway, alienation plays out from the conceptualization of what the DaiGohonzon is supposed to mean in Shoshu teachings. No one else considers their claims about the Dai Gohonzon as having any genuine substance.

With that said, I don't think any of this means spit to most Soka Gakkai members today - the schism was in 1991 or so? over 20 years ago. Soka Gakkai has been teaching all kinds of other theories since then.

But seriously, unless you are interested in Shoshu teachings, this stuff shouldn't mean much to you. If you are learning Soka Gakkai teachings, it might be helpful to understand where they are coming from, but it doesn't play much role in their present ideologies.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:11 am

Thanks for the response. I guess I was just totally, um, wrong in my understanding of the Dai-Gohonzon. I had thought it was, like, the "main" Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren himself, and revered by ALL Nichiren Buddhists. I guess I, perhaps oddly, thought it was kind of akin to the Vatican or something for Nichiren Buddhists, sort of the focalpoint of Nichiren Buddhism.

So, Nichiren himself may not have even inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon?

To be honest, I'm not that interested in Nichiren Shoshu's teachings. I'm interested primarily in the history of Nichiren himself.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby OregonBuddhist » Fri Sep 14, 2012 10:50 pm

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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby lobster » Sat Sep 15, 2012 3:43 am

that IS an interesting article :thumbsup:
Will go check them out. :woohoo:
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Jikan » Mon Sep 24, 2012 7:01 pm

I think SGI should get some credit for building (sometimes at great material expense) Buddhist institutions outside of Japan. Soka University outside of Los Angeles is a good example of this: a private liberal arts school with an explicitly Buddhist charter. I'd like to hear from faculty, students, and staff at Soka U on what has been attempted, what has worked, and what new initiatives are underway.

It's an important task to imagine just what a Buddhist education that prepares people for the contemporary world looks like, and to implement it. Soka U is in a position to contribute significantly to that project.

(If you think about it, the Lotus Sutra is concerned in many passages with pedagogy, with learning and guiding beings to the truth, creating situations in which people can learn, and so on)
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby infinitywaltz » Mon Sep 24, 2012 8:28 pm

Jikan wrote:Soka University outside of Los Angeles is a good example of this: a private liberal arts school with an explicitly Buddhist charter. I'd like to hear from faculty, students, and staff at Soka U on what has been attempted, what has worked, and what new initiatives are underway.

Soka University, much like Soka Gakkai itself, has not been without its controversies; I live in the general area of Soka University, and can recommend the coverage in the OC Weekly: http://www.ocweekly.com/2011-03-10/news/soka-university-of-america-aliso-viejo-gakkai/. (The OC Weekly is a southern California paper in the same vein of, and owned by, the Village Voice).

They've also been doing an advertising blitz on local radio stations for their new concert hall, for whatever that's worth.
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Re: Postive about Soka Gakkai?

Postby Queequeg » Mon Sep 24, 2012 8:44 pm

(If you think about it, the Lotus Sutra is concerned in many passages with pedagogy, with learning and guiding beings to the truth, creating situations in which people can learn, and so on)


I agree and would go you one further - I think it can be argued that Buddhism is all about pedagogy.

Buddhism did not start with the Buddha's enlightenment at Gaya, but at Sarnath when he first turned the wheel for the five ascetics (in terms of East Asian Lotus theory - it started with the Buddha's preaching of the Avatamsaka as the Buddha Vairocana).

The Lotus Sutra seems to say so, also. The Buddha concludes the 16th chapter where he reveals his life span explaining what he's been doing all these unfathomable kalpas since his original enlightenment saying:

BDK Translation, p. 230-1
Always aware of which sentient beings
Practice the path and which do not,
I teach the Dharma in various ways,
According to their ability to be saved.
I am always thinking:
By what means can I cause sentient beings to be able to
Enter the highest path
And quickly attain the Dharma?


Everything else in the Lotus Sutra is about how to carry out the Buddha's sole concern - explanation of expedient means, prophecies of enlightenment, description of benefits, entrustment, etc.

Zhiyi seemed to put it in those terms also - focusing on the what (four teachings) and how (four methods/siddhantas), describing practice in terms of the Six Stages of Enlightenment as "seeking above and edifying below", emphasizing "practice for oneself and practice for others", etc.

My impression about Soka University has been that they have been running from their Buddhist identity since opening in Aliso Viejo. They want to be a school emphasizing "Value Creation", not Buddha Dharma. Ikeda is celebrated, but Buddha makes only cameo appearances.
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