Soka Gakkai Buddha: What it actually means (Part 1)

In a May 2009 lecture on ‘On the Buddha’s Prophecy,’ President Ikeda introduced the term Soka Gakkai Buddha. Under the lecture series of ‘The writings of Nichiren Daishonin and the mentor and disciple relationship.’ (Flow published the full lecture.)

The Soka Spirit Newsletter #3 – 18/11/16 used it to deduced that those who leave the Gakkai will never find happiness and not attain Buddhahood. No longer Gakkai. That’s their solemn conclusion. Some were of the opinion that the term is being abused and used to create fear for those who are practising the Daishonin Buddhism outside the Soka Gakkai.

Is there good basis for such assertion? To better understand the phrase, perhaps it will be a good idea to read the original source.

Here is the original text of President Ikeda’s lecture on this term. There may be other sources where this term was mentioned that we are unaware of.

Here goes…

Today, many leading thinkers round the world are taking note of the SGI’s development. Clark Strand, an American journalist and writer specialising in religious topics, has noted that new religious paradigms don’t arise very often, perhaps only once every 500 to 1000 year, and when they do, they tend to spread very quickly through personal encounters. He described the SGI as embodying such a new paradigm. Mr Strand has a deep and perceptive grasp of the significance of our movement.

On one occasion, in a discussion about the profound mission of the Soka Gakkai, Mr Toda referred to the ‘Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’ (20th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In the sutra, he noted, 20,000 million Buddhas bearing the name Buddha Awesome Sound King taught and saved sentient beings for many long aeons (LSOC20, 308). This Buddha Awesome Sound King could be the name of a great Buddha, or it could be see as the name of a group or a body of Buddhas. In the same way, in the sutras of the future, Mr Toda said, the Soka Gakkai’s name will be recorded with honour as ‘Soka Gakkai Buddha’ and everyone will forever venerate this Buddha as having realised the Daishonin’s prediction of the propagation of his teaching throughout the entire world.

What we think we can get from these two paragraphs.

  1. It is an undeniable fact that it is through the effort of the three presidents and the SGI that propagated the Daishonin’s Buddhism to 196 countries and territories. Thus, drawing a parallel between Soka Gakkai and the Buddha Awesoome Sound King is appropriate.
  2. In the future, more and more thinking people will come to recognise the greatness of the SGI, and then, they will honour all SGI members by referring to them as Soka Gakkai Buddha. The SGI, according to Clark Strand, broke new grounds and started an entirely new paradigm in Buddhism which effected millions of members worldwide.
  3. This form of recognition comes from outside, and not something we claim for ourselves. Otherwise, we are no better than jaguh kampung (hero only on home soil).

Mr Toda stressed that the name ‘Soka Gakkai Buddha’ will be recorded as those who have realised the Daishonin’s prediction of kosen-rufu.

Let’s take a step back and ask this question: Is it wrong to use Soka Gakkai Buddha?

It is, in our opinion, not wrong to use this term when we are speaking to our members. Mr Ikeda shared this guidance of his mentor, Mr Toda, to give hope and joy to our members, telling us that we are the protagonists of this crucial history making and world-changing movement. We should all feel proud. Some Gakkai members may have felt tired or weary, but the term inject fresh hope and vigour into our spirits. Nothing wrong. Even if some parties or individuals who don’t understand us or look down on us, it is all right. We don’t expect everyone to recognise the greatness of the Soka Gakkai immediately.

But then, we should never share this with an arrogant tone, or consdescendingly. We should not stretch the term to say that at this present moment, ONLY the Soka Gakkai can bring salvation and world peace. There is a fine line between pride and arrogance. We need to be careful. This can upset the various faiths and organisations that we want to work together with.

And it is certainly wrong when we use this term to exclude others, saying what the Soka Spirit Newsletter is saying. This deviates from the original intention of this guidance. Fresh from the crisis in the south, and with feelings still raw, it is foolhardy to claim superiority and indulge in self-praise, insisting that those who leave the Gakkai will not attain happiness. This only work to drive more and more thinking people away from Gakkai. Perhaps, this Soka Spirit Newsletter was hoping to create fear and insinuate that all our good fortune that we have worked for will be vanished if we do not follow SGM.

We should, perhaps, keep in mind the simple wisdom that our parents taught us when we were kids – Self-praise is no praise. Only fools blow their own trumpets.

If we measure the impact and recognition of SGM in Malaysia, we are miles behind other organisation, for example Tzu Chi. Ask any ordinary person on the street, any race in fact, and chances are that they have heard of Tzu Chi and they can tell you they are Buddhist. Good people. Do lots of charity and admirable work. This is how deep they have penetrated or embedded their reputation and spread the understanding of Buddhism in our multicultural society. SGM? Most would shake their heads. It would be most embarrassing if we were to go into details of what Tzu Chi has achieved so far as a Buddhist organisation. Perhaps another article on this. Good for comparison, not undermining or shaming SGM.

At this point in time, Malaysian society in general is not even aware of the existence of SGM, our membership growth had stagnate for two decades, it is difficult to imagine anyone would praise us as Soka Gakkai Buddha now. Let us, we suggest to SGM top leaders, that we practice the guidance of Mr Ikeda given to Malaysia during his first visit in 1988 – be like the water flowing in the river, quietly and never ceasing.


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