Soka Gakkai ［創価学会］: “Value-Creating Society.” A Buddhist lay organization founded in Japan on November 18, 1930, by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi (1871–1944), who became its first president, and his disciple, Jōsei Toda (1900–1958), later its second president. Makiguchi was an educator and scholar who had been developing an original pedagogical philosophy gleaned from his long experience as a teacher and elementary school principal. He regarded the creation of values that are conducive to a happy life as the purpose of education. In 1928 he encountered the teachings of Nichiren (1222–1282) and the Lotus Sutra and found in them resonance with his philosophy of value. In June of that year, he converted to Nichiren Shōshū, one of the Nichiren schools.
Toda, also an educator, quickly followed his mentor in conversion. Makiguchi made the Lotus Sutra the foundation of his philosophy of education and wrote The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, which Toda published. The publisher of the work was listed as the Soka Kyōiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society) by the two educators, and its publication date, November 18, 1930, is regarded as the founding date of the Soka Gakkai. At that time, the group consisted principally of teachers and educators interested in Makiguchi’s educational theories and practice.
Although the society met informally, it was not until 1937 that its inaugural ceremony was held in Tokyo with more than sixty attending. At its first general meeting, in December 1939, Makiguchi was named president of the society and Toda general director. Three hundred to four hundred members gathered at the second general meeting in 1940. By this time, Makiguchi was focusing his attention on Buddhism, specifically the teachings and practice of Nichiren, as a means for leading a life of the highest values and greatest good. He conducted discussion meetings at which members talked about the results of their Buddhist faith and practice, which he referred to as experimental evidence of its efficacy. The membership of the Soka Kyōiku Gakkai increased to some three thousand by the early 1940s.
By the 1930s, Japan was following a course of militarism, pursuing a war with China, and finally, in 1941, it sparked the Pacific theater of World War II with its attack on Pearl Harbor. To unite and rally the people for the war effort, the militarist government had adopted Shinto as the state religion as well as various measures to restrict freedom of thought, expression, and religion. It ordered all religious denominations to enshrine Shinto talismans in their places of worship, and private citizens to do so in their homes. People were required to worship the Sun Goddess, the legendary progenitor of the imperial line. Makiguchi refused such Shinto worship as contradictory to Nichiren’s teachings. This led to his being detained by police in May 1943 for a week.
The following month, Soka Kyōiku Gakkai leaders were summoned to Taiseki-ji, the head temple of Nichiren Shōshū. Not only did the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood submit to the government demand but its administrators also suggested in the presence of its chief priest that Soka Kyōiku Gakkai members also accept the Shinto talisman. President Makiguchi refused to comply on the grounds that this would violate the teachings of Nichiren and his successor, Nikkō. The priesthood’s response to this was virtually to expel them from Nichiren Shōshū by barring them from visiting Taiseki-ji.
In July 1943, charged with violation of the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, and with lese majesty against the emperor, Makiguchi and Toda were arrested and imprisoned. Subsequently, nineteen other leaders of the organization were also rounded up and imprisoned. Makiguchi died in prison at age seventy-three on November 18, 1944, having continued to challenge the religious and political views of his captors until the end.
While in prison, Toda immersed himself in the study of the Lotus Sutra, prayer, and contemplation, and experienced two kinds of realization. First, he came to realize that the Buddha described in the sutra is life itself. Second, he awakened to his identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth described in the Lotus Sutra. Consequently, he resolved to propagate the sutra’s teachings widely and to rebuild the organization he and Makiguchi had founded.
Toda was released on parole on July 3, 1945. Amid a war-ravaged Japan, he set out to reconstruct the organization, renaming it the Soka Gakkai in 1946. His dropping of “Kyōiku,” or “Education,” from the name reflected his vision for the organization to include people from and contribute to all fields and strata of society, transcending its role as a society of educators. Toda became the second president on May 3, 1951, pledging on that occasion to achieve a membership of 750,000 households. At that time, the membership was only around 3,000. In August 1952, the Soka Gakkai was legally incorporated as an independent religious organization. By 1957, the membership had reached Toda’s goal of 750,000.
In September 1957, Toda issued a declaration calling for the abolition of atomic and hydrogen bombs, urging young people to work toward that end. In addition, he had a Grand Lecture Hall built and donated to Taiseki-ji, and events to celebrate the opening of this structure were held throughout March 1958. On March 16, Toda attended a gathering of six thousand young people at Taiseki-ji, where he entrusted them with the future of the Soka Gakkai and propagation of Nichiren’s teachings. He died on April 2, 1958.
On May 3, 1960, Daisaku Ikeda (1928– ) became the third president at age thirty-two. Ikeda had worked and studied under Toda for more than ten years, helping him rebuild his businesses after the war and playing a key role in achieving the membership target Toda had set for the Soka Gakkai. Under Ikeda’s leadership, the organization grew rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s and expanded abroad. It broadened its focus to include activities in support of peace, culture, and education. In January 1975, in response to the needs of an increasing international membership, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was established, and Ikeda became its first president. As of 2015, it is a worldwide network of more than twelve million members in 192 countries and territories. Ikeda stepped down as the third president of the Soka Gakkai in 1979 and became its honorary president, while continuing to serve as president of the SGI.
In pursuit of a lasting peace, he has tirelessly conducted dialogues and exchanges with scholars, cultural figures, and political leaders from around the world. He has also made many proposals concerning global issues such as disarmament, the abolition of nuclear weapons, and environmental protection. In 1968 Ikeda proposed the normalization of China-Japan relations and the conclusion of a bilateral peace and friendship treaty. He also acted to realize his proposals and build lasting friendship with China at the grassroots level. During his second visit to China in 1974, he met with Premier Zhou Enlai.
Ikeda has also established several institutions to promote peace, culture, and education, including Soka University and other Soka schools, the Min-On Concert Association, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, and the Institute of Oriental Philosophy. In the 1990s he founded the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue (initially called the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century) and the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, both dedicated to peace studies. In addition, as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of the United Nations dedicated to peace, the Soka Gakkai and the SGI actively encourage support for the United Nations and sponsor peace and anti-nuclear weapons exhibits and fund-raising campaigns for refugees. The Soka Gakkai publishes numerous books and periodicals, as well as a daily newspaper, Seikyō Shimbun.
In the 1950s, the Soka Gakkai sponsored candidates for political office, and in 1962 a political group supported by the Soka Gakkai was formed. In 1964 Ikeda founded the political party Kōmeitō (Clean Government Party) with the aim of promoting social welfare and pacifism. In 1970 Kōmeitō became separate and independent from the Soka Gakkai. While Soka Gakkai members continued to form its prime constituency, it was stipulated that no members of Kōmeitō could hold positions in the religious organization.
In 1964 the Soka Gakkai built and donated the Grand Reception Hall to Taiseki-ji, and in 1972 the Grand Main Temple, or Shō-Hondō.
Around 1977 a group of Nichiren Shōshū priests began to attack the Soka Gakkai, in a failed effort to establish direct control over the membership. Again, at the end of 1990, the priesthood, headed by Nikken Abe, launched a series of measures against the Soka Gakkai aimed at its dissolution, culminating in its excommunication without prior notice in November 1991. In the process, the priesthood refused all requests for dialogue with the lay organization. Nikken Abe then began a program of destroying key temples and structures at Taiseki-ji that had been donated by the Soka Gakkai, including the celebrated Grand Main Temple. The Soka Gakkai outspokenly condemned these acts, pointing out the doctrinal and moral errors of the priesthood. Ultimately, however, these events marked a new era of self-determination and freedom for the Soka Gakkai, which was no longer bound by the priests’ conservative ritualism or their authoritarian and dogmatic interpretations of doctrine.
Based on the philosophy and practice of Nichiren’s teachings, the Soka Gakkai advocates an individual inner reformation it calls “human revolution,” the ultimate goal of which is a peaceful world and the happiness of humanity. It upholds the Lotus Sutra philosophy that all people inherently possess within them the Buddha nature, the potential for enlightenment, and can bring it forth through Buddhist practice. Based on this teaching, the Soka Gakkai has been endeavoring to establish the sanctity of life and the dignity of humanity as fundamental universal ideals. The Soka Gakkai does not view Buddhism as an exclusively spiritual or metaphysical pursuit, but as an applied philosophy of life. It encourages Buddhist practice as a means for people to develop the character, wisdom, and strength to improve themselves and their circumstances, to contribute to society, and to help bring about happiness and peace in the world.
In 2013 the Soka Gakkai opened the Hall of the Great Vow for Kōsen-rufu in Shinanomachi, Tokyo, as the central feature of its Headquarters complex. The central Gohonzon of the Soka Gakkai is enshrined there and members from around the world visit to pray for and renew their resolution to achieve world peace. It houses a conference room commemorating the achievements of the Soka Gakkai's founding presidents, Makiguchi, Toda, and Ikeda.