Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Cult vs SGI: Part 3

Mark from Kempon Hokke responded to my Cult vs SGI post from April in the comments section of that blog and I re-posted his comments as a blog yesterday.  This was the reply I sent to him in response:

Many thanks for responding to my post. I’ll try and respond to your points as best I can. I’ve had a quick look at your blog to try and familiarize myself with your beliefs.

I found it a little difficult to search around your site though and while some people may look forward to all the SGI / IKEDA posts, I have enjoyed reading the articles I’ve come across that focus specifically on the LOTUS SUTRA and would genuinely like to know more about the BASICS of Kempon Hokke, but as the blog seems predominantly anti-SGI, it’s hard to find the basics of your faith and practice. As a gentle suggestion, it might be an idea to add labels to your posts, so that people can find SGI, LOTUS or KEMPON posts more easily.

Personally, as an enquiring mind, I would much rather have the facts of your religion and then decide for myself what to believe in rather than just be continually told why I shouldn’t believe in something else. While the anti-SGI stuff may attract a lot of support from like-minded people, it may turn off some people that are actually interested in learning the differences between the Nichiren Sects and deciding for themselves which one is teaching the true Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra. Countless examples of why the SGI is wrong, is not proof that Kempon Hokke is right and may turn away the very audience you are hoping to reach.

Anyway, here is my response to the points you raise.

1). The SGI has the Boston Research Center, the Institute for Oriental Philosophy, and others where their affiliation to SGI is rarely if ever mentioned.

The Boston Research Center is now called the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue and the Institute for Oriental Philosophy mentions its association with the SGI on its UK homepage and the history page of the IOP Japan page. Maybe these have just been updated since your post on May 12.

2). The SGI claims that their believers are the only Nichiren Lotus Sutra believers capable of obtaining Buddhahood, going so far to claim that all SGI members are Buddhas while those of the Nichiren Shu and Kempon Hokke are “deluded Shakyamuni worshippers”.

First, all religions (Christian, Islam, Judaism and even their subdivisions Catholic vs Protestant, Orthodox vs unorthodox, etc) claim that they are the one true path to heaven, the promised land, etc and the others are deluded, so this doesn’t automatically indicate a cult.

Second, from a brief look at most Nichiren sects (including your blog) there seems to be the same view that people should quit the SGI as they won’t find enlightenment under these false teachings and instead follow the correct Buddhism of our sect.

Finally, you have a new post on May 12 that says SGI teachings are dangerous to kids because an online SGI quiz asks “Who is a Buddha?” with the answer “Everyone”. Surely to support this 2nd cult point, the answer should be “Only SGI members”.

3).Destructive cults reduce everything to a bi-polar attitude: “for us, or against us.”

Within the UK, I’ve never come across this “for us or against us” attitude, but I’ve certainly met wise people that criticise the SGI and the Lotus Sutra as well as foolish people that praise the SGI.

Daisaku Ikeda’s words show his compassion for people being deceived by priests, which is again common among all religions. Going back to your website, you have the same view that SGI members are being deceived by Daisaku Ikeda as well as criticising Rissho Kosei-Kai and Gene Reeves.
On March 25 you say “If one accepts the transgressions of the Soka Gakkai, Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren Shu and Shingon without discriminating between the correct and incorrect, can they really be considered disciples of Nichiren Daishonin?”. Surely this is a “for us or against us” statement in which you either are or aren’t a disciple of Nichiren? Also, is this your quote? Most of the Kempon webpage refers to Nichiren as Shonin not Daishonin or are the two interchangeable in Kempon Hokke?

4).Destructive cults generate some kind of external “pet devil” with which to threaten their members if they should doubt, or fail, or ever leave the group.

Again, as far as I can tell this is the same with all Nichiren sects with “Ikeda” being the “pet devil”. I used to hate all the demonizing of Nikken and felt the SGI should move on and focus on the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and the Gosho (which they now seem to do in the UK), but most Nichiren sects seem more obsessed with President Ikeda than you say SGI members are.

5).Destructive cults lead their members to believe they are somehow superior to all other humans on the earth.

Here are two comments from your blog:

Alan: April 1, 2012 6:44 PM
The Kempon Hokke has to continue to help, guide and correct the SGI, the NST and all other sects that divert themselves and their followers away from the Eternal Buddha

Buku: April 2, 2012 5:55 AM
yes Alan, for the sake of the teachings, our sake, and for the sake of their members

If Kempon Hokke is not superior why do you feel the need “to continue to help, guide and correct the SGI, NST and all other sects” “for the sake of the teachings, our sake, and for the sake of their members”?

6).Destructive cults put the will of the group above the will of the individual. This is often reinforced with simplistic games or rituals of some type designed to make the individual subservient to the group.

I don’t have a problem with dates that celebrate key events from Soka Gakkai history and the mentor-disciple relationship in which we are encouraged by our mentor to develop our faith is no different to other faiths that have a spiritual leader. Personally, I have several mentors and while I respect President Ikeda as the SGI’s spiritual leader, I am primarily inspired in faith by Shakyamuni and his orally transmitted teaching of the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Daishonin. If I was asked directly though, who is your mentor, I would probably give the name of an SGI member that has supported me with sensible guidance and encouragement especially during my early years of practice.

Does Kempon have no special dates connected to Nichiju? Does Kempon Hokke not show respect to the efforts of Nichiju for carrying the torch of true Buddhism or respect for the wisdom or guidance of Reverend Tsuchiya for continuing the strict tradition?

Also, I don’t know the context in which it was said, but “the Soka Gakkai is more important than my life.” implies to me that President Ikeda sees the continuation of Nichiren’s Buddhism through the SGI as being more important than members simply becoming followers of President Ikeda. Maybe things are different in the SGI-USA but in the UK, Canada and Japan I never felt this strong Ikeda worship. This sinister aspect of the mentor-disciple relationship only exists if individual members want it to. If members are praising President Ikeda and his writings more than Shakyamuni or Nichiren, to me that’s a problem that I would speak out about, but it’s not one I’ve come across in the UK even though I’ve read about it online.

Most of the experiences given by members that I have heard seem to focus on them developing the wisdom and strength to overcome their obstacles based on the practice of chanting. They will usually give thanks to other specific members that have supported them through their struggles.

Finally with reference to clothes and beards that’s another thing I haven’t come across in the UK. People wear what they want to meetings and even during Gohonzon receiving ceremonies people dress as casually or formally as they want.

7).Destructive cults teach that the end justifies the means.

From the shakubuku taught in the UK and by President Ikeda, you should just talk to people as you see fit. Bring it up in conversation naturally rather than forcing your Buddhism on everyone. The expedient means isn’t a “do anything and everything possible to reel them in” strategy, but an appreciation that people may talk to others or introduce them to Buddhism in different ways. i.e. mentioning Buddhism in daily conversation (what did you do last night? I went to a Buddhist meeting.), introducing it to a friend or colleague who is suffering (when I’m suffering, I find that chanting helps) or by living a good life and being a role model within your community. I usually introduce the topic of Buddhism when co-workers ask me why I don’t stress out at work when angry customers shout at me. If flirtatious shakubuku existed and was effective there would be many more male members in the district. Also, does this really work, surely you might be tempted to attend a meeting, but converting to another fate based on a bit of flattery from a pretty girl is ridiculous. Also, if you didn’t like the religion you wouldn’t stick around.

8).Destructive cults teach strict obedience to superiors and encourage the development of behavior patterns that are similar to those of the leader.

Your examples again refer to a practise that I’ve never come across. If I do have a problem with a leader’s attitude, behaviour or advice, I’ll talk to them about it, and when I became a leader I told the members in my district to let me know if I became too self-righteous or preachy.

Leaders are no better or worse than the other members (including President Ikeda). They will try to support members spiritually or through study lectures, etc. but they shouldn’t expect special treatment or praise for this extra responsibility. I guess the problem comes from leaders with small personalities that feel they should be treated with reverence by their members. If you have a problem with a leader, talk to them and let them know they’re getting above themselves.

9).Destructive cults offer acceptance by the group for good performance, and conversely, withhold it for poor performance.

Promotion or demotion within any organisation can be a sore subject, especially when you think people don’t deserve the recognition. How should you decide who is the next district leader, HQ leader, etc. Typically, people with the longest practice and strongest faith will advance and those with shortest practice and the weakest faith will remain as members. Is that a cult? I don’t think so. How does your sect decide who will replace your leader(s)?

It only becomes a cult if leaders with God-like status only advance those that worship and revere their status. I guess the problem is that sometimes, the pool of potential leaders is small and there is really no one suitable for the position. In such a case a leader may develop their own sense of self importance, especially if they are not respected within their working community or neighbourhood. I think the only reason to demote or “fire” a leader should be if they bring disrepute to the organisation or lord it over the members. There have been leaders I have respected and leaders I haven’t.

To me leaders should be living the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin and the Lotus Sutra. We should be working to improve ourselves and society not sitting back and letting the members get on with the work. We are all prone to all ten of the Ten Worlds and there will be times when leaders suffer or slip in their judgement, but they should prove the validity of the teachings by overcoming their suffering through their faith, practise and study, and the support of other members.

10).In destructive cults, fear is a major motivator. Guilt is a close second, and shame is third. Only the cult leader is perfect, so everyone below is fearful that those above will find out their shortcomings. Cult members feel constantly guilty for having those real or imagined shortcomings, and are ashamed that they haven’t worked harder to get rid of them.

Maybe I’m in the minority but I’ve never experienced (or been made to feel) fear, guilt or shame.

“Never talk about your problems to the members until they are resolved.”

Most of our discussion meetings usually have an element where someone talks impromptu about a problem or challenge in their lives and updates on how they are progressing.

When I’ve attended summer courses or other big events there are usually 2 or 3 outstanding experiences. They are motivational, but nothing compares to the progress I see in members in my district. When I’ve seen them in meetings in floods of tears talking about an insurmountable problem and watch the progress they make over the weeks and months ahead, you can see the transformation taking place. You then see a new more confident, happier person. This is the proof of this Buddhism, not hiding your problems and then talking about it afterwards. If members want to hide their problems, that’s up to them and I certainly wouldn’t force people to “confess all in front of the group”.

Similarly, when members have left the Soka Gakkai, we have tried to encourage them to continue with their faith, but have never wished any of them ill will or gloated if they subsequently experienced suffering in their lives.

11).Destructive cult members swing from emotional highs, to emotional lows regularly. Lows are not long tolerated, and result in more indoctrination, or even ejection from the group if they last too long.

Here are some examples of SGI speech used to control their members: “You have weak faith.”. ‘You had better go for guidance if you want to resolve that problem”. Rumors to stay away from depressed individuals. Not inviting less than enthusiastic members to certain meetings or not telling them about “important” meetings. Lectures about “emotionalism”, [unless the emotion is rapture about the SGI and the mentor]. Every last former SGI cult member will attest to this.

From my experience of the SGI, lows provide you with an opportunity to grow and advance in faith, which ultimately proves the effectiveness of the practice, so I don’t know why you would be encouraged to stay home or avoid such people. I’m always inspired by the depth of faith of members that can come to a meeting while in the depths of their suffering. It shows that they feel safe within the district and acknowledges the non-judgemental compassionate attitude that we as members share.

I often find people that are less than enthusiastic about Buddhism ask the best questions at meetings. This could be a guest at a meeting, someone at the start of their faith that wants clarification or even a member of 10+ years that is having a crisis of faith. These questions can reveal the limitations in their understanding which we can try to explain to them. This can also highlight the limitations of other members within the district that chant sincerely and seem to know what they are talking about, but whose explanations are not in accord with Nichiren Buddhism.

Discussion meetings are a place to discuss, not just to sit and listen to indoctrination and I’ve never heard of anyone in the UK being turned away from a meeting. Although, another Buddhist sect I used to attend (can’t remember the sect but it involved silent meditation – discussion group – silent meditation) asked me not to attend because my questions were confusing the other members!!

12).Destructive cults tend to re-write their members’ past, manipulate their present, and distort their future. Disrupting time orientation is an honored technique of all such cults.

The Human Revolution is an account of the growth of the Soka Gakkai from the end of World War 2 to Daisaku Ikeda becoming president and the New Human Revolution continues from this point onwards. While it may take some licence with changing people’s names, some events occur out of sequence (flashbacks?) and some periods are skipped (it's not a daily diary), I don’t think it’s a deliberate manipulation to distort the truth, but rather a narrative structure decision.

What things are omitted? Usually cult leaders will try to rewrite their history by hiding criminal backgrounds, or any negative information they don’t want to come out. The Human Revolution and New Human Revolution don’t always paint the presidents as perfect and mention most of the controversies, such as vote tampering, confronting priests at the head temple on the 700th anniversary, etc. It’s not exactly a whitewash of a history of abuses. Obviously the best incidents will be highlighted and the lowlights played down as often happens when any historical period is covered by an organisation.

Basically the Human Revolution series includes guidance from meetings, advice on how to be a good leader and much more. The purpose of the Human Revolution is to at least get an understanding of those early days and the growth of the organisation and one of the key elements of the series is the advice about how to be a good leader based on Nichiren Buddhism. Leaders that are weak in faith or take advantage of others are rebuked. Leaders with airs of supremacy or pride are rebuked. The overall theme of the series is on becoming an outstanding person within the workplace, within your community and within your family.

13).And, finally, there is never a legitimate reason for leaving a destructive cult. The only reason members leave a perfect system, is because they are imperfect in some respect and will be punished for it.  “He was angry.” “He was jealous.” "He couldn’t get along with his leader.”
“He had weak faith.”

Within the UK, the reason people leave is not described in any of the above terms. Leaving the Soka Gakkai as seen as a decision someone has made because they didn’t feel Buddhism was right for them at this moment. Some members may be disappointed that a friend no longer wants to practice but ultimately everyone has the choice whether to follow Nichiren Buddhism or not for whatever reason they may have.

You can still be friends with ex-members, there’s no excommunication or forbidding us to mix with such a person. They are not dead to us. I’ve only know two people leave in my time in the UK in the three districts I’ve practised in, and in both cases it was seen as a decision that was made because now wasn’t the right time for them to continue their faith. They may have felt they didn’t see proof in their lives, which is fair enough. They have been introduced to Buddhism though and are welcome to return at any time (either in this life or the next).


“No matter which destructive cult you choose, the above 13 items will almost universally apply". The author of these 13 points [whose name escapes me] then goes on to conclude: Study the methods of … …. they use the same techniques, even though each of them claims unique and absolute ownership of the “truth

It really feels like we are talking about two different versions of the Soka Gakkai and I can assure you within the UK, Canada and Japan I have never witnessed any of this behaviour. If I did, I would speak up about it or leave the organisation. I certainly wouldn’t be able to have a blog recommending it to others.

If the SGI-USA is practising in such a way, then the members really need to take their leaders to task and teach them the real spirit and intention of Nichiren Buddhism. I guess some of these people just give up and leave the organisation, becoming a source of online negativity, but they should really chant for the courage to confront the leaders and clarify the SGI’s position in accordance with the teachings in the Lotus Sutra and the Gosho.

If I did my best to bring the SGI into line with its original intention to propagate the true Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin and failed, ultimately, I would either become an independent Nichiren Buddhist or look for another sect that seemed to be more in touch with the true spirit of Buddhism.

As I mentioned earlier, the only negativity I have come across was the obsession with continually criticising Nikken about 7 years ago rather than moving forward, and this is the same thing that annoys me about a lot of the anti-SGI sites.

If others are happy to follow the alleged non Nichiren teachings of the SGI-USA that you mention, then that is for them to deal with. If I left the SGI, I wouldn’t feel a need to criticise the SGI as this only provides fuel to the “if you are following the true teaching, enemies will emerge” fire. It’s much better to put your point across by focussing on the correctness of your faith rather than continually criticising a group (and feeling sorry for their deluded members) that doesn’t seem to care what you say or will spin it into a positive for them.


  1. Kempon Hokke is certainly superior, Alan. You sound just like the unenlightened man in Conversations Between a Sage and An Unenlightened Man:

    "The unenlightened man said: “Throughout the more than sixty provinces of Japan, there are many kinds of people and a variety of Buddhist doctrines. What with the Nembutsu priests, the True Word teachers, and the followers of Zen or the Precepts teachings, there is truly hardly a single person who does not slander the correct teaching. But then, why should I criticize other people? My task, it seems to me, is simply to cherish deep faith within my own heart and to look on other people’s errors as no concern of mine.”

    Nichiren the Sage responds:

    "The sage replied: “What you say is quite true, and I would be inclined to hold the same opinion. But when we examine the sutras, we find that they tell us not to begrudge our lives [for the sake of the Law], and also say that [one should spread the Buddha’s teachings] even at the cost of one’s life.90 The reason they speak in this way is because if one does not hesitate on account of others but propagates the principles of Buddhism just as they are set forth in the sutras, then in an age when there are many people who slander the correct teaching, three types of enemies will invariably appear and in many cases deprive one of life. But if, as the sutras tell us, one observes deviations from the Buddha’s teachings and yet fails to censure them or to appeal to the ruler to take measures against them, then one is being untrue to the teachings and is not worthy to be looked on as a disciple of the Buddha.

    “The third volume of the Nirvana Sutra says: ‘If even a good monk sees someone destroying the teaching and disregards him, failing to reproach him, to oust him, or to punish him for his offense, then you should realize that that monk is betraying the Buddha’s teaching. But if he ousts the destroyer of the Law, reproaches him, or punishes him, then he is my disciple and a true voice-hearer.’

    “The meaning of this passage is that, if a person striving to propagate the correct teaching of the Buddha should hear and see others propounding the teachings of the sutras in a mistaken manner and fail to reproach them himself or, lacking the power to do that, fail to appeal to the sovereign and in this way take measures to correct them, then he is betraying the Buddha’s teaching. But if, as the sutras direct, he is not afraid of others but censures these slanderers himself and appeals to the sovereign to take measures against them, then he may be called a disciple of the Buddha and a true priest."

  2. Whoo boy Buko...tsk, tsk, so much vile and hate spewing on your way towards that what they teach at Kamp Hoke?

  3. Buku is no longer in the kempon hokke. Check out their main website and Facebook page for more details.

  4. The interworkings of the SGI is so complex that it has to be explained in 3 parts.

    But rest assure, SGI IS NOT A CULT!

  5. Who do you believe? Do you believe in me or someone who post anonymously?

  6. I quote Nichiren Daishonin to make my points and that is spewing vile and hate. It is SGI that has vile and hate for the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha, and Nichiren Daishonin.