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Barbara O'Brien

Buying Respect for Ikeda?

By April 2, 2010

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I defend Soka Gakkai International (SGI) from accusations that it is a cult whenever I see them. I sincerely do not think it is a cult, and SGI members I have met do not seem to me to be brainwashed. But news stories like this don't make defending SGI easier.

SGI has offered to give $180,000 to the city of San Francisco in exchange for naming a gate to Franklin Square Park after SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. The gate would include a plaque to Ikeda's mentors. According to the city's Recreation and Park's Department, $80,000 would be used for construction and landscaping of the gate, and $100,000 would go to the Recreation and Park Department for "general operating support."

Yesterday the offer was on the agenda of a Recreation and Park Commission public meeting , but I don't yet know if the city has decided to accept or reject it. Given the economic crisis in California, that much money would be hard to turn down, I would think.

What little local reaction I have seen has been negative, however. President Ikeda has no connection to the park, which makes the proposed dedication of the gate an act of transparent vanity.

Buddhism has a rich history in San Francisco, beginning in 1853, when the first Buddhist temple in America was built there. It would be a lovely gesture to dedicate a public monument to a Buddhist from San Francisco's past. Or, the gate could be dedicated to "world peace" or "humanitarianism" or some other altruistic principle. SGI could still get its name on the plaque, for the sake of public relations.

But SGI's practice of lavishing large amounts of money to buy honors for Daisaku Ikeda does not speak well for Ikeda, or SGI. And it doesn't make Buddhism look good, either.

Update: I have learned the commission has recommended accepting the gift. The gate is to be named the "Ikeda Peace Gate," which is a shade less creepy (to me) than the "Daisaku Ikeda Gate." But plain ol' non-attached "Peace Gate" would have been so much better.

Comments
April 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm
(1) natalie says:

I don’t see any problem with it. Often people donate money to have a bench fitted with a plaque for a loved one who has died, and who may or may not have hung out at the park. When people make donations to buildings, there are often areas with plaques recognizing those donors.
I don’t see this as unique or especially weird in any way whatsoever.

April 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

Natalie — Ikeda isn’t dead. And I cannot imagine a teacher or leader, lay or otherwise, from another Buddhist tradition who would even WANT stuff named after him. They are far more likely to insist that nothing ever be named after them. Like I said, it’s transparent vanity, which is very un-Buddhist.

April 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm
(3) natalie says:

People who donate to buildings and receive plaques in those buildings are generally not dead either. It’s a common practice for donations.

I don’t think it’s vain. It’s just the way of the world.

April 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Natalie — vanity plaques might be OK if the “philanthropist” doesn’t claim to be the spiritual leaders of a large number of Buddhists. Even then, I think it’s extremely unusual for a philanthropist to insist that whatever his gift builds be named for him. It’s more common for the object to be named for an organization or foundation or as a memorial.

However, for someone who claims to be a Buddhist spiritual leader, such vanity is a big warning flag that ought to concern you. I say again, if the leader of any other school of Buddhism — or an abbot, or a priest, or a monk — went around insisting that his institution spend money all over the place buying him honors and having things named after him, it would be a major scandal.

April 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm
(5) natalie says:

Also, Barabara–and I’m sorry to clog up your comments with my prattling–having one’s name associated with a contribution is common in Buddhist history. Kings have done it when donating money to temples. Go to an “ethnic” Buddhist community in the U.S. and you’ll see people’s names listed as sponsors of Kathina and other festivals, or read Gregory Schopen’s account of monks and nuns making donations accompanied by inscriptions of their names: http://tinyurl.com/yzeat2t

April 2, 2010 at 4:31 pm
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

having one’s name associated with a contribution is common in Buddhist history.

There’s a huge, honking difference between “having one’s name associated with a contribution” and “offering to contribute to a public park on the condition that a gate be named after oneself.” If you can’t see that, you’re blind. And if you can’t see that a Buddhist spiritual leader should be held to a different standard from others — the standard being the teachings of Buddhism — then you’re doubly blind.

April 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm
(7) brooke says:

Barbara, we’ll have to agree to disagree about whether Soka Gakkai is a cult. I have more than 15 years of personal experience and direct involvement with members and former members of that organization, and I did not come lightly or superficially to the conclusion that it is a cult — specifically a cult of personality centered on the aggrandizement of Daisaku Ikeda.

Your assessment is right on target, here. SGI has spent billions of dollars in a global campaign to plaster Ikeda’s name on streets, buildings, parks, and monuments throughout the world. SGI has lobbied local governments to endorse Ikeda’s greatness with official proclamations, etc. It’s endless.

It’s not about Buddhism or peace. It’s about serving Ikeda’s vanity, and feeding the vanity of Ikeda’s followers who crave validation of their great sensei.

I agree with you completely on this point.

April 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm
(8) Barbara O'Brien says:

brooke, I agree completely about the cult of personality. I’ve met people who really were in cults, however, and SGI members I’ve met aren’t like culties at all.

April 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm
(9) natalie says:

Barbara–I’m happy to share our opinions on things, but I’m disturbed by your willingness to go straight to name-calling (“you’re blind,” “you’re double blind”). Perhaps I actually might have read your comment and said, “Oh, good point” if you hadn’t resorted to that. I find that sort of conduct rather un-Buddhist as well.
Best wishes.

April 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm
(10) Barbara O'Brien says:

Natalie — we’re not talking about a simple difference of opinion. It’s a denial of reality. I have nothing against SGI per se, and I don’t think SGI itself is a cult, but the organization is damaged by the cult of personality surrounding Ikeda, and that’s plain as day to everyone who is not caught up in it. Wake up.

Perhaps I actually might have read your comment and said, “Oh, good point” if you hadn’t resorted to that.

No, you never would have done that. You would have continued to twist yourself into pretzels defending Ikeda, and you will do that no matter what anyone says to you.

April 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm
(11) Bill Aiken says:

Without addressing all the dimensions of this interesting conversation, I do want to point out that the donation being considered by the City of San Francisco is not from the SGI, but rather from a bay area resident who is also an SGI member. It is my understanding that this donation will both name the gate and provide significant operating funds for overall care of this community park.

Best wishes,

Bill Aiken
Director of Public Affairs
Soka Gakkai Internaitonal-USA

April 2, 2010 at 8:18 pm
(12) natalie says:

Whoah there with the rage. I have no attachment to the view I presented. I was just interested in bringing up Buddhist history to enrich the conversation. I barely know a thing about SGI or Ikeda, so no–I would not have “twisted myself into a pretzel” defending him. I thought we were just having a friendly conversation. I don’t mind being wrong. I’m wrong all the time. I didn’t realize you would take my casual reflections so personally. I’m sad to see it, frankly. We could have easily had a friendly conversation. :(

April 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm
(13) Barbara O'Brien says:

I barely know a thing about SGI or Ikeda,

If that’s true, then I apologize. Be advised, then, there is a lot of history to this situation not brought up explicitly in the post that might change your perspective (for example).

April 3, 2010 at 10:50 am
(14) Joe Isuzu says:

Bill Aiken “Without addressing all the dimensions of this interesting conversation”

He actually stuck to the point. So I broach the peripherals.

I always bristle when I read people writing about what is or isn’t so called “buddhist” behavior. If you defined a Buddha as an enlightened person, and from most of what I’ve read, defining enlightenment is beyond the intellectual which is inclusive of language, then you ca only display “Buddhist behavior” by being indicative, which is not actual. But thinking that there should be a “Buddhist” way to behave is definitely an organizational issue which can either be labeled humanism or “cult like” and exclusive in the same sense that Puritanism, Christianity, Islam, etc., can be considered a cult. (But then so can Coke and Pepsi in their efforts to cajole loyalty.)

There is no way to give a label to what an individual who donates money to San Francisco in an effort to keep up a public park in the name of someone they admire. It could be admiration. It could be idolatry. After thirty-five years in the NSA/SGI-USA I say that there are definitely cult like behaviors being encouraged. At least back in the day we were trying to be an American buddhist organization. So the question I always seem to ask my fellow SGI members is, are you a disciple of Ikeda or a follower? Most don’t see a difference because there really isn’t a choice and he is being presented like the Pope, infallible. I can also say that there are some, not nearly enough, free thinkers who continue to combat this. But it’s very difficult to remain engage when opinions have been hobbled. This not empirical just a silly guesstimate, but I venture to say that if the number of ex-SGI/NSA members outnumber those who remain under the organization’s umbrella ten to one, the same would hold true in reverse of those who remain engaged in an effort to encourage their fellows not to be coerced and think for themselves. Coerced is a strong word. But the SGI-USA leadership pyramid has been inverted because in directing it’s leadership in behavior, what I was rankling about at the beginning, and they have all been forced to sign a declaration of faith or be “disqualified”. Now that is very Scientology like! And because of this, the learning funnel has also been reversed: instead of broadening your study, an example that Mr. Ikeda himself set, the membership’s being directed to a smaller and smaller way of thinking by the SGI publications. That may not be humanistic, but it certainly is human behavior.

April 3, 2010 at 2:44 pm
(15) Ricardo Del Rio says:

Hi Regards everybody

I am a SGI member from Venezuela.
I have been practicing Buddhism into Soka Gakkai since 32 years ago, with my eyes 100% opened.

Current i am 52 years old, industrial psychologist and Human Resources Consultant, living in Caracas.

I can say, from my personal experiencie I am not brainwashed member and never I saw the SGI acting like Cult.

So, Let me please to reply about the cloud of things called cult of personality surrounding Ikeda

Ikeda has discussed with so many people including both each of members of Gakkai and world leaders to deepen mutual understanding and promote peace.
His discussion was over one thousand times so far and some of the examples are as follows.

1) In 1972 and 1973: Great historian Arnold Toynbee—this dialogue was edited in one book “Choose Life- A dialogue” and it was translated into more than 24 foreign languages and used as textbook in many universities.
2) In 1990 and 1995: Former South African President Nelson Mandela
3) In 1993: American Human Rights Activist, Rosa Parks
4) In 1993, 2000, and 2003: Former USSR Premier Mikhail S. Gorbachev
5) In 1987, 1990, 1993: Linus Pauling, the Laureate of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Peace
6) In 1996: Former Security General, Boutros Boutros-Gali

Ikeda discussed with those figures sincerely on peace and both expanded and deepen the friendship. Being well versed in each country’s culture and history, he won their sympathy.

In order to have meaningful discussion, he continuously keep reading and studying on other culture, tradition, history, literature and so on. Ikeda’s dialogue is not only just discussion but citizen diplomacy. Here is one example. He once went to the communist countries also to have sincere dialogue, seeking for peace as follows.

1) 1974 May: First trip to China
2) 1974 Sep: Visits to USSR and meeting with Premier Aleksey Kosygin
3) 1974 Dec: Second trip to China: Dialogue with Premier Zhou Enlai

He was internally and externally criticized for visiting the communist countries at that time. Many people asked him why he would go to the communist countries which denied

religion. He answered “Because there are people there.” His believed that human beings could understand with each other and overcome different ideologies.

From 1983 until now onward Ikeda have written SGI Peace Proposal every year in January commemorating the founding day of SGI, suggesting both philosophical and practical matters for creating peace based on Nichiren Buddhist teaching. The topic varies from social matters to international politics. Here are the titles of the proposals from 1998 to this year.

1998: Humanity and the New Millennium: From Chaos to Cosmos
1999: Toward a Culture of Peace: A Cosmic View
2000: Peace Through Dialogue: A Time to Talk Thoughts on a Culture of Peace
2001: Creating and Sustaining a Century of Life: Challenges for a New Era
2002: Dialogue – Opening the Way to a Global Civilization Thoughts on the Humanism of the Middle Way
2003: A Global Ethic of Coexistence: Toward a “Life-Sized” Paradigm for Our Age
2004: Inner Transformation: Creating a Global Groundswell for Peace
2005: Toward a New Era of Dialogue: Humanism Explored
2006: A New Era of the People
2007: Restoring the Human Connection: The First Step to Global Peace
2008: Humanizing Religion, Creating Peace
2009: Toward Humanitarian Competition: A New Current in History
2010: Toward a New Era of Value Creation

Ikeda also makes proposals to some of the international conferences. For example, his proposal to establish a “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development” was adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Moreover he contributed some peace, environmental, and educational proposals to newspaper and magazines, and it enlightened many people so far. Thus his proposals was paid much attention by many world leaders as well as many citizens and considered seriously. This campaign for enlightenment is one of Ikeda’s great nonviolent achievements.

Ikeda has also been a prolific writer with more than one hundred works,ranging from Buddhist philosophy to dialogue with outstanding personalities,poetry, children’s stories and photographic collections. His works have been translated and published in more than 30 languages, by the organisation and commercially. Furthermore, Ikeda has been awarded over 200 academic honours and has received the title of honorary citizen from more than 500 cities and countries around the world.

Since 1960, Ikeda has travelled to every continent to propagate Soka Gakkai and has established national and international institutions that have enhanced the movement’s visibility and demonstrate its aim to exert influence over both local societies and matters of global concern. He meets continuously with internationally acclaimed writers, artists, politicians, scholars, scientists and others. Such intense activity in Japan as well in the global scene can be bad interpreted as a way of work for create cult to personality and not as a Buddhist thinker, spiritual master, peace builder, and educator.

So, there is no doubt that Ikeda constitutes a classic case of a charismatic leader who invigorates his followers and inspires them to dedicate themselves enthusiastically to the common cause. In doing so he plays a similar role to that of business leaders in managing their organisations through appeals to their corporate cultures. Among other qualities, a good business leader is expected to be a good team-builder, to get the best from his/her human capital and be a good motivator, to create a positive working environment.

In conclusion I call to Mr. Ikeda, President of SGI, from the bottom of my heart, ‘SENSEI’ (“mentor” or “teacher” in Japanese). He is teaching me alot of paths for make worldpeace reality and not just beautiful words.

I am not waiting some reader here think about Ikeda as Sensei, of course, but if you are admiring others persons in the world, I have the right to admire Ikeda.

I am convinced that the secret of Mr. Ikeda’s success is his character and his behavior as a human being, his passion for world peace based upon humanism, and it gradually is influencing the enviroment surrounding Ikeda.
It is ok for me. For others is Bono, Bush, Zico, Obama, the Pope, etc.
That´s the life.

April 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm
(16) Barbara O'Brien says:

Ricardo, there are countless Buddhist teachers on the planet with equally impressive credentials — some more so, actually — but no one is spending money like a drunken sailor seeing to it they are all similarly “honored.” It makes Ikeda look vain and cheap, and if you all had genuine respect for the man as a spiritual teacher (and assuming he is not, in fact, vain and cheap) SGI would stop doing stuff like this.

April 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm
(17) Ricardo Del Rio says:

Thanks Barbara.
I have (not had) genuine respect by Ikeda, the Pope, and each person because each one is making theirs best efforts aligned with theirs beliefs. I am not judge and my self i have strong and weak aspects for improve.

Barbara, with all my respect don´t worry if Ikeda is looking vain and cheap.
I am not suffering about this. He is not suffering about and more than 12 millions of worldwide disciples and friends (non-buddhist) are not suffering about.
Why?
Because when someone know the real reasons behind the actions, – making your best for help others, and build worldpeace- you are not worrying about what are thinking the others, because you are not talking with words, you are talking with actions, with your life.

You are Journalist, and you know very well there are situations and events, confused, with bad perceptions, mistakes and wrong information.
So, what is important?
To do, the action, to pray (or meditate) and to act at same time.

I respect your opinion about GKI exhibition. You have the right to see, to think, to feel, to talk, aligned with your ideas. It is normal.
I am not agree with Nobel Prize for Obama, but it is my personal opinion.
So
that´s the life.
World peace and Happines is not possible if we dont try to practice the active tolerance and respect, always respect, even if you are not agree with me.

Best regards,
from Caracas

Ricardo Del Rio

PS: This url http://www.sgi.org/proposals.html is very interesting and is supporting our vision and words here.

April 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm
(18) Barbara O'Brien says:

Barbara, with all my respect don´t worry if Ikeda is looking vain and cheap.

I don’t worry in the least that Ikeda appears to be vain and cheap. I am telling SGI members, in all kindness, that YOU ought to be worried that Ikeda is vain and cheap.

April 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm
(19) Mark Rogow says:

For Ikeda and his top lieutenants, SGI is an ATM, a never ending supply of tax-free cash and salaries commensurate with the highest paid corporate executives. “Peace” sells quite well. In this muddied age, the Dharma is free and those who exploit the Dharma for personal gain will fall into hell.

Salaries of Top SGI Inc. Officials Date: Fri, 29 Aug 1997 17:11:31 -0600 The following information is provided to you courtesy of the Yotsuya Tax Office, Tokyo, Japan.

The declared income of Daisaku Ikeda is listed as follows:

(The dollar amounts are listed at the exchange rate of 100 Yen to U.S. $1.00)
1971 – 62,050,000 Yen ($620,500.00)
1972 – 84,340,000 Yen ($843,400.00)
1973 – 113,570,000 Yen ($1,135,700.00)
1974 – 135,330,000 Yen ($1,353,300.00)
1975 – 121,980,000 Yen ($1,219,800.00)
1976 – 78,700,000 Yen ($787,000.00)
1977 – 51,490,000 Yen ($514,900.00)
1978 – 83,350,000 Yen ($833,500.00)
1979 – 34,500,000 Yen ($345,000.00)
1980 – 39,010,000 Yen ($390,100.00)
1981 – 75,030,000 Yen ($750,300.00)
1982 – 57,420,000 Yen ($574,200.00)

From 1983 to 1987, and 1993, the amount of income as calculated from the amount of income tax paid:

1983 – 32,000,000 Yen ($320,000) based on 14,030,000 Yen paid as income tax
1984 – 72,000,000 Yen ($720,000) based on 39,700,000 Yen paid as income tax
1985 – 60,000,000 Yen ($600,000) based on 30,950,000 Yen paid as income tax
1986 – 85,000,000 Yen ($850,000) based on 49,810,000 Yen paid as income tax
1987 – 87,000,000 Yen ($870,000) based on 51,510,000 Yen paid as income tax
1993 – 170,000,000 Yen ($1,700,000) based on 87,150,000 Yen paid as income tax

Income of SGI President, Einosuke Akiya for 1993 as calculated from the amount of income tax paid:

55,260,000 Yen ($552,600), based on 18,420,000 Yen paid as income tax.

Income of SGI Vice President, Norimasa Yahiro for 1993 as calculated from theamount of income tax paid: 52,830,000 Yen ($528,300), based on 17,610,000 Yen paid as income tax.

Income of SGI General Director, Kazuya Morita for 1993 as calculated from the amount of income tax paid: 41,610,000 Yen ($416,100), based on 13,870,000 Yen paid as income tax.

Income of Vice President, Jun Aoki for 1993 as calculated from the amount of income tax paid: 30,720,000 Yen ($307,200), based on 10,240,000 Yen paid as income
tax.

Note: There are approximately 200 vice presidents. Even at a salary of U.S. $200,000 each per year, that amounts to $40,000,000.00 (Forty million dollars) paid out of the contributions from members. This does not take into account the numerous other staff salaries.

Now, lets say, for example, a leader is making $416,000 a year as a salaried top senior leader, a Bodhisattva for hire, so to speak. Your kids are attending in the best schools, you have a mortgage of say $4500.00, you have a life insurance premium of $1000.00 per month, and you have other expenses totalling perhaps $10,000.00 per month. You are trained to promote SGI Buddhism and go here and there, lecturing on Ikeda’s guidance and his take on the Daishonin’s teachings. But all of a sudden, while you are doing your hour of Daimoku a day and studying president Ikeda’s guidance for an hour and the Gosho for twenty minutes, you have a realization that Shakyamuni is in fact the Eternal Buddha.

What do you do? You are not trained to function in the private sector, you aren’t exactly an engineer, or a doctor or a romance novelist. Your children depend on you, your wife depends on you and you have a lifestyle to maintain. Do you do the right thing and begin to teach contrary to the party line, risking your excellent salary that you receive to do the Buddha’s work? The Daishonin clothed himself in deerskins who died a natural death in the forest. He sometimes lived on brachen. Yet he always gave 110%. Something is wrong here and if the SGI members can’t see it, we have to conclude by virtue of their lack of actual proof (insight) that there is validity to the charge of them practicing a false Buddhism and there is brainwashing in the SGI (since they can’t even question the obvious). The top SGI leaders are parasites in the bowels of the lion.

April 4, 2010 at 10:15 am
(20) Ashoka says:

The practice of tithing — as part of ones spiritual practice — is something that is found in many traditions. What is most often the case, however, is that a part of this practice involves secrecy, i.e. refraining from publicly announcing the donation.

The reasons for this are easy to see, in terms of Buddhist practice at least. What makes the Paramita of generosity a paramita — a perfection — is the understanding that ultimately there is no giver, no “thing” given, and no “receiver” of the gift. In other words, the giving — related to nondualistically — becomes an expression of the understanding that there is no real difference, no real separation, between the giver and the receiver. It is this understanding that is the source of the deepest power and benefit of the practice of tithing.

To the extent that someone makes a big public to-do about their giving — insisting that a monument be erected, engraved with their name, to ensure that everyone knows that it was this-person-and-no-other that made the donation —- it’s a pretty obvious clue that what’s going on has much more to do with worldly/mundane/political power, than it does with the authentic spiritual practice of tithing — the Perfection Of Giving.

April 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm
(21) David says:

Barbara, perhaps you can consider this: the SGI is a cult that operates in a non-traditional “cult-like” manner. Other cults could take a lesson from them. There is no question that the organization manipulates its members and manufactures consent in a very subtle and effective way.

I want to laugh (and/or cry) when I hear people who are currently involved in the SGI claim that it is not a cult. How would they know? They lack the necessary objectivity to make such an assessment. Only those on the outside really have the distance required to see it for what it is. As a former member who has no particular axe to grind, I believe, the SGI is a cult.

Barbara, you hit the nail on the head when you say that SGI members you’ve met are not like culties–that’s because this is a new kind of cult and it does not fit the usual paradigm.

Brainwashing is a hot word. Basically it means “mind control.” Does the SGI control the minds of its members? The SGI attempts to controls their opinions (regarding Ikeda and the worthiness of the organization, etc.), and to a large extent controls their behavior and activities. Of course, there are various shades and degrees to this control, but it is control nonetheless.

The members are told they must support Ikeda is they want to see progress in their spiritual journey. That alone raises a lot of red flags. The idea that one’s Buddhist journey cannot be complete without pledging loyalty and allegiance to one person is absolutely wrong from every perspective you can think of, including a Buddhist perspective.

By itself the controversy over the naming of the park is no big deal. But when within the context of the totality of attempts to glorify Ikeda, it is very disturbing. Soka means value creation. What value is created by having a park named after Ikeda? Wouldn’t more value be created by using all the energy and money expended in this effort to feed the hungry?

An enlightened person has no ego. An enlightened person is not concerned whether his or her good works are recognized or not, because they understand that it doesn’t matter. The good has been done and that is all that is important.

Everyone, please watch the PBS special “The Buddha” which starts showing Wednesday, April 7. It should be very interesting, and those in the Nichiren traditions who have been subject to a one-sided and misleading presentation of the historical Buddha’s life may learn something. Hell, we all may learn something.

April 6, 2010 at 10:15 am
(22) Barbara O'Brien says:

this is a new kind of cult and it does not fit the usual paradigm.

Or, maybe it just isn’t one.

You’re getting into trouble when you try to sort religion into “cult” and “not cult,” because just about any religion can look kind of cultish to people standing outside of it.

Right now the Catholic Church is going through all kinds of contortions because it has been discovered that what we might call “upper management” was covering up sexual abuse of adolescents and allowing it to continue. And the Church’s response to public outcry has been to close ranks and accuse others of being anti-Catholic. This tells me there is a lot of institutional corruption in the Church, and that “upper management” is more concerned with covering their own behinds and protecting the institution than in serving the values of the religion. Cults sorta kinda act like this, too, but I’m not going to call Roman Catholicism a cult.

April 6, 2010 at 12:47 pm
(23) David says:

Barbara, you do make a point about “cult” and “non-cult.” Such labels are often meaningless.

However, following your point to what would seem its logical conclusion, either everything is or is not a cult.

If you are going to insist that the SGI is not a cult, then you must accept the notion that cults exist.

So far, the only reason you have cited for believing that the SGI is not a cult is that you have met some members and they do not seem cult-like. I have met some Scientology members over the years and they looked fairly normal and did not appear on the surface to be culties. Yet, I would not hesitate for a moment to call Scientology a cult.

I submit that it is nearly impossible to understand the SGI unless you have been in it or had more than a casual exposure to it. Call the SGI what you will but for every positive aspect they display, there is a negative aspect that, to me, overwhelms the positive.

I think there is more to it than just a case of Mr. Ikeda being vain. The glorification of this leader and the “personality cult” surrounding him is part of the overall agenda of the organization. I believe personality cults like this are ultimately dangerous.

April 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm
(24) Barbara O'Brien says:

However, following your point to what would seem its logical conclusion, either everything is or is not a cult.

No, not logical, and not Buddhist. Objectifying everything and sorting it into bins of “this” or “that” is not good practice. All phenomena are empty of inherent existence, including groups. Nothing “is” anything.

Labels get in the way of understanding. Things are what they are. Forget the label.

April 6, 2010 at 8:50 pm
(25) David says:

“All phenomena are empty of inherent existence, including groups.”

This is a statement that comes from the standpoint of the ultimate truth. What we are discussing here, to me, is in the realm of the everyday, relative truth. If you know your Nagarjuna, then you are aware that there is a difference between the two and that the ultimate truth cannot be obtained independently of the relative truth.

However, even from the view of the ultimate truth, I think we can say that groups do have personalities, traits, and behavioral patterns.

To my mind, if you are going to say that a) the SGI is not a cult and b) you are not prepared to call Roman Catholicism a cult, then you are accepting that the label of “cult” exists and is applicable in some cases. What I think this does, and I explained myself badly, is posit two extremes, cults and non-cults.

What I am trying to say that the SGI is either in the middle somewhere or is a new brand cult that does not fit in the usual definitions.

And yes, labels and definitions are, ultimately, empty but, as Nagarjuna pointed out, unless we employ them we are left with silence, we cannot communicate.

Finally, Buddhism does not deny the existence of “existence”, so to say that things do not have an inherent existence does not sound quite right to me. What is denied is the existence of “svabhava” or inherent being, self-being or self-becoming, i.e. the notion that thing posses an essence that is permanent and independent.

April 6, 2010 at 10:29 pm
(26) Mark Rogow says:

The SGI calls themselves variously, “A life philosophy”, “Buddhist association for peace, education, and culture”, ‘Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism”, “Value Creation Society”. Others call them Ikedaism, or Gakkaism.

I don’t care if they are a cult, a religion, an association, or a society. I don;t care what they call themselves or what others call them. I only care that they call themselves “Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism” because they are neither followers of Nichiren nor Buddhism.

April 7, 2010 at 2:04 am
(27) arthur says:

For sixty years you’ve mentored us, Daisaku
Your spirit’s truly entered us, Daisaku
When we see sad girl pushing pram
We say to her “you ought to chant Nam
Myoho Renge Kyo, Madam”
Daisaku

You lift the king and beggar up, Daisaku
You help each keep his pecker up, Daisaku
Your words lift Boris Becker up
And even Desmond Decker up
And even Chubby Checker up
Daisaku

The whole world loves you such a lot, Daisaku
Now you’re on your chamber pot, Daisaku
Mentor what a life you’ve lived!
So, therefore, mentor, take this gift
Of Daimoku on your stair-lift
Daisaku

April 7, 2010 at 8:32 am
(28) robin says:

David,

Taisaku Ikeda does not really wish to receive all or these honors, ride in chauffeured limousines, or stay in luxurious 5 star hotels. He endures all this suffering for the sake of the members. Promoting Mr. Ikeda as a world leader, on par with Ghandi and King, allows SGI members an opportunity to create boundless good fortune. When I think of his great sacrifice, it brings tears to my eyes.

One time, while Ikeda in New York, there was some foul up on his flight plans. He was forced to ride on a train, with the unwashed masses. I was told he handled that painful ordeal with grace. What a guy!

robin

BTW, when I heard of this, it really did bring tears to my eyes.

April 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm
(29) Brian says:

I joined SGI in the 80s, and left a couple of years ago because, it seemed to me, that the organization had traded in teaching Buddhism for Ikeda, nothing but Ikeda, all the time, 24/7. The final straw, for me, was when SGI started teaching that the Mentor (i.e., Ikeda) Disciple relationship is the “essence of the Lotus Sutra.” That was such a wild distortion of the dharma, I just couldn;t continue.
And things have gotten worse. I noticed a short while back that the Boston Research Center had been renamed the Ikeda Center. And now this. Let’s see if I have this right: some person has $180,000 available to donate to
charity, and would like to finance a public park with it, but only if it can be used to further SGI’s Ikedamania??? Sick, sick, sick.
This is a sad business. The SGI used to offer so much to so many.

April 7, 2010 at 9:53 pm
(30) robin says:

Buying Respect for Ikeda?
http://buddhism.about.com/b/2010/04/02/buying-respect-for-ikeda.htm#commentform

I was a general member of Soka Gakkai for 30 years; and have been pretty much independent for 8 years. I see the Gakkai as a business, a sales & marketing organization that sells religion. I think the closest thing in the United States would be the large mass marketed evangelical Christian groups; the so called ‘Televangelists.’ Of course, in the US, the Gakkai does not use television; they use ‘on the ground’ network marketing.

I used to suspect that Soka Gakkai was sort of the PTL Club of Japan; with Ikeda in the role of Bakker. Or maybe the PTL Club was a wannabe Soka Gakkai of the USA? I do not necessarily mean that in a bad way. Had Bakker not been so greedy and hedonistic; less of an Elmer Gantry, he might have done some good. Maybe a closer parallel would be Pat Robertson’s 700 Club / CBN, the late Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and Ralph Reed’s Christian coalition, all rolled into one? The late Oral Roberts was an earlier Ikeda like figure in the USA. I think the SGI is far more successful. Ikeda probably has more influence in Japan, than all the televangelists combined have in the USA.

The Gakkai also goes a little further with the veneration of Ikeda, maybe a lot further. In western culture, it seems over the top, odd, or even creepy, to name a lot of things after a leader while he is still active and/or alive. If it were the Nichiren Center, the Makiguchi Hall, or the Toda Gate; or if Ikeda were retired, I doubt so many eyebrows would be raised. Maybe the difference is East Asian / Japanese culture? Perhaps it seems odd to others that Americans tend to wait to honor someone, by naming things after them, until they are retired or deceased? I really do not know. It seems like the way they plaster Ikeda’s face everywhere; shades of Mao, Saddam Hussein, or Kim Jong Il, would be creepy in any culture.

At any rate, at the present time, it appears that the Soka Gakkai exists to market Daisaku Ikeda as sort of the Mahavira — the Hero of the world; or the Lokanatha — the World Honored One, of the new global age. Their aim always was and still is to establish “The Third Civilization.” This was actually supposed to be achieved by now; I think the target date, prior to the split with Nichiren Shoshu, was May 3 2001.

Finally, Barbara makes some good points about applying the ‘cult’ word here. IMO, Soka Gakkai International is more like a wealthy, powerful multinational corporation, whose primary business is religion. They also have their hands in media, publishing, education, and politics. Again, that sounds a lot like Robertson and the 700 Club. One difference is SGI seems to put more emphasis on Ikeda than the Buddha or Nichiren. The PTL Club still puts Jesus in the center. Ikeda is not only the messenger, to a large extent, he is the message. I think the veneration of Ikeda is not only excessive; but also hurts them. It is embarrassing enough that I can be part of it. Of course, they did not ask me.

April 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm
(31) Barbara O'Brien says:

Robin — Thank you for your comments. Your comparison of SGI to the 700 Club makes sense to me. Of course, it’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s a lot closer than calling SGI a cult. I’ve met SGI members who seem to be wholehearted practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, not brainwashed culties, so I don’t want to denigrate them.

Regarding naming things after Ikeda and Asian culture — I wouldn’t know about that. I do know that in Buddhism “perfection of giving” is one of the Six Perfections, a very important teaching, and the ideal is to give with no attachment, ideally anonymously. Monks in Japan who go on begging rounds wear big straw hats that partly obscure their faces and eyesight, so that giver and receiver remain anonymous to each other. Offering money only on condition that some public structure be named after a living person who is the head of the donating organization is a bit creepy by western standards, but by Buddhist standards it’s immoral.

April 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm
(32) robin says:

Corrections to my submitted comments:

The *700* Club still puts Jesus in the center. Ikeda is not only the messenger, to a large extent, he is the message of SGI. I think the veneration of Ikeda is not only excessive; but also hurts them. It is embarrassing enough that I can *not* be part of it. Of course, they did not ask me.

April 8, 2010 at 5:25 pm
(33) Richard says:

I have always associated Daisaku Ikeda with World Peace, i. e. kosen rufu. As for the dollar figures put forth by Mr. Rogow I can only say that I was not aware the SGI was lagging so far behind. I guess it would be worthwhile if he were to take a look at the $13 million dollar advance Joe Osteen got for his latest book or the $75 million dollar annual income of his church but that should not be what we are all about. I respect Joel Osteen as much as I respect Daisaku Ikeda. I think this entire matter of the gate is as Don Imus would say “more information than we need.” If this newsletter is to be about religion and Buddhism let’s stick to it and stay out of politics. It will be a much better newsletter if we stop analyzing individual motives.

April 9, 2010 at 8:16 am
(34) Barbara O'Brien says:

I guess it would be worthwhile if he were to take a look at the $13 million dollar advance Joe Osteen got for his latest book or the $75 million dollar annual income of his church but that should not be what we are all about.

It’s not really useful to compare Ikeda to a faux Christian religiosity promoter like Osteen. It would be more useful for you to compare Ikeda to Buddhist teachers in other traditions. There are several Buddhist teachers who are well known, have a worldwide following, and have written a lot of books, also. Unlike Christianity, however, one of Buddhism’s central practices is to renounce self-aggrandizing and to loosen the grip of ego. Other than some vague teachings about being humble, Christianity really doesn’t go there. If the best you can come up with is, well, Christians are worse, then that’s pretty lame.

April 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm
(35) robin says:

Barbara,

On the Asian culture thing, I was just reaching for some explanation. I have heard that rationale . excuse for the ‘Ikedalotry.’ That it is just an Asian thing. I was also kind of reminded of the business people that paid for photo-ops with a former President. However, I do not think it is true that this is typical of Asia. I agree with you that actively seeking recognition is 180 degrees from what one would expect of a Buddhist; from East Asia or anywhere else.

At any rate, SGI does actively seek out honors for Ikeda; honorary degrees, literary awards, official Daisaku Ikeda Days, getting things after him, photo ops of him with famous {and even infamous} people, and so on. I guess the intention is to provide him with the credentials of a VIP, a person of prestige and importance; as well as those of a great scholar, a great poet, a power broker, and so on.

It is all so excessive, it winds up looking contrived. It is like padding a resume. Or creating a cover. There might be a long paper trail; but no substance. SGI can present Ikeda as a person with all of these overwhelming credentials. However, people are going to want to know what he did, other than raising and donating lots of cash, to actually earn them.

April 9, 2010 at 8:22 am
(36) Barbara O'Brien says:

It is all so excessive, it winds up looking contrived. It is like padding a resume. Or creating a cover. There might be a long paper trail; but no substance.

Awhile back I tried to tie someone down on the subject of what specifically Ikeda has done to warrant promoting him as a champion of world peace, and as you say, it’s all very vague. You get a list of papers he has written and world leaders he has met with, or at least has had a photo op with, but there’s nothing tangible. As you say, it looks like resume padding.

April 8, 2010 at 5:35 pm
(37) Kevin Toliver-Lyons says:

I totally agree Barbara. “Peace Gate” would have been perfect and if the city of SF had done this on their own accord it would have spoken volumes about Mr. Ikeda and the roots buddhism has rooted in the city of SF. So called “Respect Purchasing” diminishes said respectfulness of the individual and the whole idea of honoring the spirit of the person in question…also please visit my Buddhist blog called Every Now And Zen at
http://everynownzen.wordpress.com/

Thanks
Kevin Toliver-Lyons

April 8, 2010 at 6:37 pm
(38) JoeBuddha says:

Wow, looks like it’s hit the fan this time. Allow me to put my two cents worth in here.

For the record, I’ve been a leader in the SGI off and on for many years. I’ve never paid too much attention to the public personna of the SGI, or to what folks of other faiths or forms of Buddhism want to say about it. If you want to talk, we’ll talk, but screaming at each other is neither dignified nor Buddhist, and doesn’t accomplish anything anyway. Please let me explain MY faith, which is the only one I’m qualified to explain anyway:

1) President Ikeda is an old man. He is a teacher by word and example and still has a lot left to say in a limited time. If I hang on his words, it’s not because he’s god’s envoy on earth or Nichiren reincarnated. It’s because soon he won’t be here to listen to. Some people treat him almost like a god and some people challenge him to respond to them. It is up to your faith, and everyone has a different level of maturity.

2) Strangely enough, we who choose Mr. Ikeda as our mentor kinda like the guy. Why wouldn’t someone want to create a monument in his name? I wouldn’t, but that’s me. I see parks named after politicians, billionaires, and religious leaders all the time. Sorry, but I just don’t see the big deal.

3) Contrary to popular belief, we practice Buddhism to BECOME enlightened. Position in the heirarchy is no guarantee that you’re higher in your level of understanding. It can mean you’re better as an administrator, or you have more time, or you just need to work harder. The fact that leaders aren’t enlightened just isn’t a revelation to me.

4) I practice the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. Daisaku Ikeda practices the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. If you have a problem with that, please practice something else. If you think I’m NOT practicing correctly, feel free to let me know what I’m doing wrong. Don’t just assume that because I follow Mr. Ikeda I can’t be a Nichiren Buddhist, however.

5) As to the Ikeda worshipping, again, some of us have problems understanding what both he and Nichiren are saying. Both will tell you to value the Law and not the persons. However, sometimes it takes a while to be able to hear that point. SGI takes you at whatever level of understanding and enlightenment you happen to be, even if it’s zero. Climbing out of that hole can be a daunting task, especially for those of us (myself included) who aren’t really of a spiritual bent. I work very hard to help my members and my leaders to grow past the personality cult, and it works, but it takes time.

Sorry for the meandering thread of this response, but I’d say the thread of this post is a bit meandering as well. Feel free to call us a cult if you think that gives you a handle on what we do; my faith and practice are not contingent on what anyone else thinks.

Respectfully yours.

April 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm
(39) DuSGIsted says:

Barbara, SGI is very much like a cult. Members must substitute their own identities for that of the group. The vehicle for this control is a piece of paper called a gohonzon that is the central object of worship for SGI members.

There really isn’t anything special about these gohonzons, but the SGI persuades people that they must have one issued by the SGI. You are considered to be a sort of heretic or bad buddhist if you think otherwise. Many people welcomed into the organization are in vulnerable situations – they have medical, financial or personal problems, for example – and the SGI becomes a kind of personal and social support group. This is actually a very positive aspect, and most all of the members are really wonderful people, it seems. But once you realize that you are just being jerked around by the organization – new members even receive cheap imitation gohonzons, while 15-year practitioners get ‘nicer’ ones – well, poof! The welcome mat gets yanked away.

There seems to be no point to this organization other than aggrandizing and promoting Ikeda, and its ‘leaders’ are little more than followers climbing the rungs of authority and control over subordinates.

While current members may not act or talk like culties, try talking to former members; you will get a different perspective.

And yes, I know, I only feel this way because I have personal problems, I don’t worship this phony artwork, it’s all my fault, blah, blah, blah.

April 8, 2010 at 9:06 pm
(40) Barbara O'Brien says:

DuSGIsted, my understanding is that veneration of the gohonzon has been part of Nichiren Buddhist practice since the 13th century. It’s not just an SGI thing.

While current members may not act or talk like culties, try talking to former members; you will get a different perspective.

Oh, believe me, I know what you’re saying. I’ve also met a lot of SGI members who bailed out in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was a mess. I’ve also met a lot of members who just want to do the practice and don’t give a bleep about the “home office” in Japan.

April 9, 2010 at 12:08 am
(41) Ian says:

Barbara, you closed one thread claiming it was getting too contentious, and now here you are making some pretty nasty claims about Ikedasensei. Do you want to fight about it or just have your own soapbox for insults?

April 9, 2010 at 6:59 am
(42) Barbara O'Brien says:

here you are making some pretty nasty claims about Ikedasensei.

I’m not making “claims” about Ikeda. I’m pointing to what he is doing publicly and saying it’s creepy, it’s un-Buddhist, and it makes SGI look bad.

April 9, 2010 at 12:13 am
(43) iui says:

,,,,,,

April 9, 2010 at 10:05 pm
(44) John Sumner says:

Hello Barbara-

I have a very good friend/co-worker who introduced me to SGI/Nicherin Daishonin- the only thing was, prior to this, I had spent about 1-2 years in study and some super-novice-level practice of Zen (It all started with “Buddhism Pure and Simple” by Steve Hagen). It was because of this that I had some idea of Buddhism (at least from the zen perspective). I went to a “meeting”, and actively participated, mostly to show respect to my friend, but also to explore a different school of Buddhism. Granted, this was only one expereince- on the plus side, I found the people to be genuinely ‘good’ people, not really cult-like per se. There is a lot of chanting and sutra-recitation, whereas in zazen it is mostly meditation with some sutra recitation. Ultimately, however, I could not come to grips with the ‘it’s a miracle’ paradigm- chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”, when most have never read the Lotus Sutra seemed a little odd, but then crediting this chant with ‘success and victory’ was where I personally had to part company. I believe Nicherin had very good motivations, but his penchant for condemning other Buddhist schools in Japan, to the exclusion of his own, I think is contrary to what the Buddha stood for. I think Ikeda, from what I’ve read of him, is a very good person in some respects, but let’s face it, he runs a business, a spiritual business, not any different from the born-again mega churches in the USA. In a way, a good thing resulted for me- It solidified my commitment to follow the ‘zen path’ for lack of a better term. This is not to elevate zen- from what I’ve read, there is controversy in zen centers like anywhere else. I guess the bottom line is what works for the individual- for me it was the quite way of zazen, and living the way we are taught in the Dhammapada. Call me old-fashioned!

April 10, 2010 at 7:06 pm
(45) Ian says:

“I’m not making “claims” about Ikeda. I’m pointing to what he is doing publicly and saying it’s creepy, it’s un-Buddhist, and it makes SGI look bad.”

If you’re referring to the assertion in your opening post, that has already been factually corrected by Bill Aiken.

If you have other examples to support your assertion that President Ikeda is un-Buddhist and creepy, I’m willing to hear them.

April 10, 2010 at 9:29 pm
(46) Barbara O'Brien says:

If you’re referring to the assertion in your opening post, that has already been factually corrected by Bill Aiken.

The fact is that, for some reason, there is a long-standing pattern of SGI pouring out money to purchase honors for Ikeda. That has not been “factually corrected” by anybody.

If you have other examples to support your assertion that President Ikeda is un-Buddhist and creepy, I’m willing to hear them.

You are not willing to hear them, but I will tell you anyway. Expecting credit for a gift is a violation of dana paramita, the perfection of giving. I don’t know if Nichiren Buddhism recognizes the paramitas, but the rest of Buddhist certainly does. If a living teacher from any other school of Buddhism behaved like this, it would be a massive scandal. It really does reflect very badly on SGI, and I’m sorry you are unwilling to see that.

April 12, 2010 at 5:00 am
(47) Ian says:

Tell me more about this “long standing pattern.”

April 12, 2010 at 7:59 am
(48) Barbara O'Brien says:

Tell me more about this “long standing pattern.”

Just look him up on Wikipedia and then try to tell us that most of those honors and awards weren’t purchased. Few will believe you.

April 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm
(49) Andy Hanlen says:

Barbara, I have just now encountered this blog site, and I want to congratulate you on your views, and on your practice of allowing such a great discussion.

Good luck with your efforts, and please be aware that you are not alone in your outlook.

Cheers!

April 13, 2010 at 9:08 am
(50) Ian says:

So receiving honors is proof that they were awarded illegitimately?

Bill Gates is rich. Do few believe his money wasn’t stolen?

April 13, 2010 at 1:19 pm
(51) Barbara O'Brien says:

So receiving honors is proof that they were awarded illegitimately?

After the ridiculous stunt with the traveling “Gandhi, King, Ikeda” exhibit, this is all fairly transparent. Ikeda may be a nice guy, and he’s certainly a successful promoter, but other than grow the SGI organizations his “accomplishments” are all on paper. Ikeda hasn’t done anything to deserve such awards. And please don’t be so tiresome as to repeat again how many papers he’s sent to the UN about how much he loves world peace, and how many world leaders he’s had lunch with. Show me a real, tangible, hands-on accomplishment, not papers and photo ops.

Also, please note that I’m happy to drop this any time you are. I have nothing against SGI itself.

April 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm
(52) Ian says:

maybe you’re right, it’s too contentious. some posts have been less than respectful. it may sound like attachment to inferior teachings, but maybe right speech should be observed strictly.
I don’t know.

So I’ll set aside who’s right or what’s true and seek to be understood. Is this about what you’ve read in the news and you didn’t know about these controversies until relatively recently? Are you familiar witht the work of its earlier presidents ,or its history? If I’m insulting your knowledge of Buddhism, I humbly apologize, I knowyou know plenty. I’m idly wondering where your negative impression comes from, and yes I’m abandoning all confrontation or argument before I find another Buddhist news story or study topic to blog about.

April 16, 2010 at 10:21 am
(53) Barbara O'Brien says:

Is this about what you’ve read in the news and you didn’t know about these controversies until relatively recently?

No, it’s about what I’ve learned by observing SGI (from back when it was still NSA) and talking to current and former members since the late 1980s or so, and also what I’ve learned by researching its history in articles and books over a long period of time.

April 16, 2010 at 4:13 am
(54) Ian says:

oops sorry meant to say I’ll seek to understand, not to be understood.

April 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(55) Nancy says:

Oh, so sad for you Natalie that you don’t know enough about what you are talking about. Vanity, self-centeredness, and you are a somewhat expert on Buddhism, non-attachment and the like.

Mr. Ikeda is a good man who has done great things. But, he also is asborbed in vanity. No truly spiritual individual is so self important that he wants to attach his name (oh, I’m so important) to any object let alone a gate. You really need to do your home work and the history of Soka Gakkai. After you learn the truth, you’d have another opinion about brainwashing and what a cult is. I’m really surprised at you are so naieve about what deep, dark past of the former NSA, now renamed as the Soka Gakkai. I could tell you some things from my experience. It goes to show you that ignorance is bliss. Until, of course, you learn the truth and they do a very good job at hiding it.

April 19, 2010 at 11:07 pm
(56) Ian says:

Do tell, Nancy.

April 22, 2010 at 10:02 am
(57) Claude, Chiba, Japan says:

Hi Barbara,

Long time member of SGI (1982-).

I joined in London, after the whole nam myo ho renge kyo thing completely flipped my switch. I was 17 at the time and absolutely insane with religious fervor.

I come from an Islamic/Catholic background, but my parents never gave me religion, thankfully. I was the epitome of rationalistic European thinking.

The chanting just sucked me in, allowing me to truly, for the first time, at least in this lifetime, commune with the cosmos, whether it was the sun and the moon, or my own mother and father who I rediscovered in a completely new light.

I have lived in numerous countries and in each one, been a member of that country’s SGI organization. I can state categorically that the SGI is not a cult, and that Daisaku Ikeda is the real deal. He’s the real mccoy.

To start going on about ego and all this is to miss the most important point. In my mind buddhism is not about renouncing ego, but in the end, at your deathbed, being able to confidently answer the question of what have you done to improve life for yourself and others. It is just so clear to me that Sensei has done more than a million men, for all of the happy members, people like me whose lives have been transformed.

Sensei’s job is not to find idolators, but to convey the correct direction in life for people. He has just done so much, through teaching the members about world culture, broadening their minds and giving them the tools to continue what is in fact a very difficult practice.

Even if I had quit chanting in 1984 or so, or died, my debt to the Daishonin, and Sensei as his envoy in the 20th and 21st centuries would be boundless.

Anyway, I could go on, but as for the park or bridge or whatever it is in San Francisco, come on, whatever the motivation for funding it and asking that it be named after President Ikeda, how can something be any more innocent than this? Maybe it was a member who just feels appreciation to Sensei and wants to repay that by having a park or bridge named after him (not talking about renaming the Golden Gate bridge, but come to think of it….), why not?

Who says that we all have to act like saints or virtuous priests or whatever? We are all simply human, and rather than attempting to be virtuous, I think courage is a more important quality. What is virtue anyway? True virtue is taking the action so that you and others can become happy.

Sorry I can’t say more, as I am not privy to the SGI’s public relations activities, but I can vouch for Sensei, following numerous experiences such as being there when he met Rosa Parks, who he treated with the deepest respect and affection, and having him serve as the inspiration to explore the great writers of the world, people like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.

My reading of the great writers of the world has enriched my life imeasurably, and this is something I undertook solely at the instigation of Presidnet Ikeda, when I read his theses on their works.

Actually he himself is a great writer, and I would encourage you to pick up some of his books and read them, any of them. They are good and you will probably come away with a new perspective.

He’s not an egoist. Far from it. He is a man of great sincerity who cares for and loves humanity and the precious members of the SGI. He really cares, and he has really made a difference. I would venture that he has done more good for the world than any other single individual in his lifetime.

Well, I felt the need to throw my 15 cents in, and that’s it. Not a very sophisticated response but from the heart.

April 23, 2010 at 7:17 am
(58) Barbara O'Brien says:

It is just so clear to me that Sensei has done more than a million men, for all of the happy members, people like me whose lives have been transformed.

A genuine Buddhist teacher would tell you that you transformed yourself. The fact that you think Ikeda did something for you reveals he is a second-rate (if that) teacher.

The more you praise him, the more obvious it is that he’s not worthy of the praise.

April 23, 2010 at 8:36 am
(59) Shayan says:

I did not even know of SGI till a good friend, a man of science, got drawn into it , and now I can hardly say I know this man. After many discussions with my friend now I am inclined to think that it is a cult, at least for vulnerable people. Most people are… most people who get drawn towards spiritual leaders are vulnerable. And chanting to get all that he desires, that hardly seems like a path of enlightenment.

May 11, 2010 at 5:09 am
(60) Buddy says:

Well it is cult like and every sports team has become part of a corporate cult. Have you heard of Busch Stadium, Coors Stadium, United Center? Ikeda is more corporation than spiritual leader. Each SGI center is just a Ikeda bookstore. If the Ikeda family leaves SGI then it will be a spiritual organization. Right now, it is Ikeda and Son International. There is not much pressure to contribute, but “Study” groups always entail buying his books. Sad, the people belonging to the organization are great. Few organizations don’t get someone with sticky fingers, especially spiritual organizations. It is too easy, there is a level of trust not in other corporations. Remember Vatican banking?

June 13, 2010 at 6:23 pm
(61) Johan says:

Having met countless SGI-ers over the years, SGI is nothing but a pathetic cult that deludes its followers into believing that chanting nonsense as long as possible all day every day somehow brings more money, a better job, you name it. Question them and they get angry…. what has this got to do with “peace”?

The center of it all is some printed scroll and countless books by some egotistical japanese billionaire businessman.

Organizations like this give proper religion a bad name.

June 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm
(62) Barbara O'Brien says:

Johan — I don’t like ad hominem attacks on an entire school of Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism is a legitimate school of Buddhism that has been practiced since the 13th century. The gohonzon — the scroll — has been a feature of Nichiren Buddhism practice all these centuries. I also have met many SGI members, and many have been sincere practitioners with good understanding of Buddhism. There have been a lot of things done by SGI under Ikeda’s direction that were, shall we say, unwise, and I think the organization would be better off with entirely new leadership, but that’s something SGI has to work out for itself.

June 14, 2010 at 6:29 pm
(63) plenty moron says:

Good people, I was in SGI/NSA for 22 years. I still participate with some cherished members. I love St. Nichiren’s mantra, but people, people: it’s a CULT. I knew it from the very beginning when I was 25 years old. The organization teaches one positive message: be an eternal optimist, but it is based on a narrow interpretation of St. Nichiren’s work. IT’S A CULT and it’s tremendously wealthy and yes, listen to Barbara, there is plenty of vanity involved. IT’S A CULT, albeit a subtle one.

June 14, 2010 at 6:47 pm
(64) plenty moron says:

Johan, sir, your comment was thoughtless. Chanting is not nonsense, and there is no such thing as “proper” religion. Religion stems from a natural impulse to be in awe of our existence. That’s it. All religion does is superimpose a few ramshackle ideas on this gorgeous universe. But there are techniques that work to improve the mind (mind/body/”spirit”) and chanting is one of them. Check your knee-jerk reactions.

September 1, 2010 at 2:45 am
(65) Bruce Higgins says:

If I wish to contribute to my local park and hopefully improve upon it then that’s a great cause. If the SGI-USA member is inspired by President Ikeda and considers him a great and positive mentor that’s fine with me. However, if the sum I’ve read ($188,000) is accurate for future upkeep and naming rights, etc. It just makes me wonder in this day in age about this members reasoning and also quite frankly Mr. Aiken’s, as well. I’m not against naming a park after someone. I just question is it really necessary? Esp coming from an SGI-USA member. It’s a bit vain and arrogant. I thought we SGI-USA folks were a little deeper than that. There’s nothing wrong with wanting someone’s mentor to be noticed. I have been inspired by Pres. Ikeda many times. Yet, I think it better if it were me, to use a $188,000 in a diff light. Say for food and medicine for the SF homeless who by the way, may have slept in that very location. Shame on this out of touch member and shame on Mr. Aiken’s brief and aloof remarks.

November 28, 2010 at 3:18 am
(66) SteveP says:

I have enjoyed reading all of these posts, arguments for and against SGI. My feeling is that in all organised religion there are good and bad people. That’s life. I have spent 20 Years practising on and off with SGI since 1990. I received Gohonzon in July and returned it 2 weeks ago. I do have respect for Buddhism however there were several things that I observed and heard that didn’t sit right with me. I am now 45 and have been interested in Buddhism since I was about 15 or 16. I attended a kick off meeting in London last weekend and after much internal debate I decided that SGI was not for me. We are all adult human beings and we make a decision whether we wish to follow a certain religion, philosophy or a person. I have observed MOST members following Ikeda like he is a god. It appears to me that SGI is an extremely wealthy religious organisation claiming to promote culture and world peace. We were shown a Video of President Ikedas European travels and the awards he has been presented with. The dialogue completely in Japanese so it was reasonably hard to follow were it not for the American narrative translation.There was hardly any mention of Nichiren Buddhism or the Lotus Sutra and there must have been 100s of quotes about Ikeda.I guess if SGI and Nichiren Buddhism genuinely improves peoples lives then they are free to follow it. My problem comes when I am encouraged to introduce new members, give contribution and look up to a leader in a far off country that I have never met. I simply decided that SGI was not for me after all this time and I much prefer to follow Buddhism in my own time and in my own way rather than feel pressured to attend meetings, activities and to contribute money to an organisation for salaries and the upkeep of their buildings and centres. As far as I see it SGI is a multi billion $ empire and is extremely successful whichever way you want to look at it. My eyes suddenly opened to what SGI represents, for me, and I felt it was time to up and away. Now I feel liberated although breaking away was tough after what you might call “strong encouragement to stay” by the other members. If you attempt to leave you are just told that you need to strengthen your practice and chant more and that you are not following your practice closely enough. When I heard a member say that he felt that “everyone was looking for Gohonzon but just didn’t know it yet” and “this is the supreme religion” etc etc it changed my whole view around SGI. It seemed to me that meetings with so called open dialogue were certainly not the place to express any honest doubts or concerns about SGI and only positive discussions about what a massive impact SGI and Nichiren Buddhism had had on their lives seemed to exist. I think doubt and questioning is a healthy aspect of Buddhism and should be encouraged. I don’t know Ikeda and have no reason to make any comment negative or positive about the man. I think we all make our own minds up about whether we want to follow something or not and we are free to make a choice how we live our lives. I feel like I must show respect and compassion to every human being regardless of what they follow or where they come from, as a Buddhist. It works both ways.Thank you for the interesting debate. By the way, Steve Hagens Buddhism plain and simple was spot on for me and said it all. It actually was a major factor in my decision not to conform to and follow SGI any longer

November 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm
(67) Barbara O'Brien says:

Steve P — Thank you for your comment. I respect the Nichiren school and have met many SGI members who were sincere and dedicated Buddhists. But as a rule of thumb, whenever any religious institution’s message is more about its wonderful leaders than about the spiritual path itself — walk away.

January 4, 2011 at 11:32 pm
(68) Used2bSGI says:

Wow! What an amazing thread. Having practiced with the SGI for more than 2 decades, and having been a leader for many years as well–I can say SGI is a cult. It’s a benign cult, but a cult nevertheless. I agree with those who have written that most members are genuinely nice people. They have no diabolical agenda, neither does the organization or Ikeda. The mantra is an amazing thing to chant, but it’s not necessary to do it for hours or to expect it to fix everything or get everything. Some of Ikeda’s lectures and texts are good, but not that good when you read other teachers like Dalai Lama, Jack Kornfield, or Paramananda to name some. Of course SGI never deals with perspectives other than Ikeda’s to their detriment. Even without going outside SGI, they have MANY study leaders who could probably compete with some of the other teachers out there, but their lectures never appear–and even on the few occasions when they are heard from, you only hear them trumpet Ikeda’s greatness and they ALWAYS quote him.

January 4, 2011 at 11:33 pm
(69) Used2bSGI says:

I like Ikeda. I liked SGI, for the most part for a long time. But when the Gandhi-King-Ikeda exhibit appeared my break began. I hoped it would go away and it did not. The constant mentioning of his honorary doctorates was nauseating. Did they think all of us simply believed that any reputable or not reputable school just spontaneously chose him as this special individual? Furthermore, if he is comparable to Gandhi and King then we MUST hold him to their standard and then he fails miserably. Who are the oppressed, downtrodden, disenfranchised people in or out of Japan for whom he has laid his life on the line? What public positions has he taken on human rights violations in and out of Japan–in CHINA? No, he is treated like a rock star and manages SGI like a monarch. Does any SGI member actually believe that any leader or member has ever dared to disagree with him or criticize him to his face, publicly, or in print? SGI leaders are committed to extol his greatness even if it means alienating long-time members, newer ones, and guests. He is everything or your Nichiren practice is nothing.

February 1, 2011 at 2:36 am
(70) Safwan Zabalawi says:

Barbara,

I am 64 Australian of Arabic origin, SGI member for 27 years. I started chanting not because of any World Peace motivation, but because I had personal sufferings, which I could transform through SGI Buddhist practice. Ikeda’s guidance (to develop myself and stop blaming others) was a tremendous cause for my life. Blaming and accusing others was part of my bringing up in the Middle East. In terms of relationships before SGI: I was full of hatred towards English, Americans and generally Westerners, feeling even wishes of destruction of their societies and thoughts of revenge. All this hatred to others was transformed through sharing in SGI activities receiving help from “Western”-born members. I am full of gratitude to them and their humanity and work with them to contribute to humanity and peace.

1. Regarding this subject which started a long discussion-rant: please consider that should I have money I would certainly donated to SGI out of gratutude. Bill Aiken (11) made it clear how Ikeda’s name was proposed and by whom. What’s the problem?

2. In Australia, there is a yearly award (Australian of the Year) given to those of acknowledged achievements. If Criteria for awarding the title fit the achievements of a suggested candidate, then it is given. If one dislikes a winning candidate and implies bias of the awarding Committee,or putting awards on “purchase” then in Australia this would be court challenged under defamation law. Ikeda received awards from 300 Universities, and implying that the hundreds of professors who awarded him and others offered “purchase based” doctorates, or that they basically lack merit in judgement – this is detrimental to the world educational society. It is within the system of education world wide to acknowledge others achievements and this is what happened with Ikeda who was also endorsed by some NoblePrize Winners.

Safwan Zabalawi

February 1, 2011 at 8:58 am
(71) Barbara O'Brien says:

What’s the problem?

Once again — there’s nothing wrong with spiritual teachers receiving awards, if they come unbidden. But Ikeda obviously seeks rewards, which is a whole ‘nother thing. No Buddhist teacher I have ever worked with would allow his name to be associated with a purchased “honor.”

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