What is the Soka Gakkai?

The Soka Gakkai (“Society for the Creation of Value,” or “Value Creation Society,”) is the largest, most influential sect of Nichiren Buddhism in the world today (and one of the most controversial contemporary Buddhist organizations.) The society originated in 1930 in Japan as a lay Buddhist educational movement that respected the dignity of children and championed their right to an education that served them as individuals, rather than merely as servants of the state. Its founder, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, was arrested during World War II for opposing the Japanese military regime and died in prison as a result of malnutrition and harsh interrogation.

While studying the Lotus Sutra in prison, Makiguchi’s disciple Josei Toda experienced a radical conversion experience, after which he reinterpreted the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism to bring them in line with the needs of modern people. The Soka Gakkai grew rapidly under his leadership after World War II, quickly becoming the largest lay Buddhist movement in Japan. The society retained its interest in education but quickly expanded its mission to include championing the rights of the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised and, most significantly, opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Daisaku Ikeda assumed leadership of the Soka Gakkai after Toda’s death in 1958. Honoring the final wishes of his mentor that he disseminate the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world, Ikeda founded Soka Gakkai International (SGI) in 1960. Since then, the movement has developed a strong secular identity that has allowed it to spread easily outside Japan. With some 12 million members in 192 countries and territories, the SGI is the world’s largest lay Buddhist movement. In some Western countries—Brazil and Italy, for example—it is the predominant form of Buddhist practice. Conflict with Nichiren Shoshu led to the excommunication of Soka Gakkai in 1991.


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