Not long after (a month or so), I began to notice that the members in my district knew absolutely NOTHING about the actual Buddha or core Buddhists teachings. I can recall one incident when our group was discussing a conversation that a member had recently had with one of his co-workers in which the co-worker mentioned his familiarity with one of the Buddha’s teachings called the “Four Noble Truths.” The SGI members were actually laughing out loud at the very idea that Four Noble Truths were Buddhist. One of them actually said, “What are the Four Nobel Truths? That’s not Buddhist. I should know. I’m Buddhist.” I had to step in and inform them all that, yes indeed, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is one of the oldest and most revered teachings of the Buddha. THEY HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA (and probably still don’t).
Then I began to read the SGI Publications that began to arrive soon after I got my Gohonzon (The World Tribune and Living Buddhism). I quickly realized that they are vacuous garbage. There is literally nothing in them of any meaningful content.
I don’t necessarily think that SGI is a cult, but I do think it is a group just loaded with people who are intrigued by the idea of calling themselves Buddhists, but who don’t have any real interest in the hard work and study that would be required to actually embrace a Buddhist practice. Anyone can chant to a scroll for material gain. It is far harder to practice letting go of the illusions that color our perceptions of reality.
I intend to continue to chant and practice more in the vein of the Nichiren Shu (who by all accounts actually have their act together). .
Hravenkel, you've made good points. I had heard a bit about Shakyamuni Buddha when I was in college -- the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path. So when I began going to SGI meetings, I mentioned them -- and was told "Nah, we don't follow that."
That surprised me, but my first leader was a college professor who loved study -- and our study sessions were amazing. We were really taught the philosophical background of Nichiren Buddhism. These days, it sounds like the members are just being fed steady diet of Ikeda worship and "Chant for whatever you want," with no real study at all.
This leader began by comparing the original Buddha to Jesus Christ. Both lived in a period where much of the population was illiterate. They travelled about, speaking to anyone who would listen, but neither man ever wrote down his own teachings. That was done much later by their disciples. Then considerably later, these writings by the followers were assembled into more organized form: the New Testament for the Christians, the Sutras for the Buddhists.
Christ's ministry was three years, Buddha's was thirty -- consequently, there are many, many Buddhist sutras floating about, some very different from others. So how do you decide which to follow, which is most important?
The monk Nichiren, in 1200's Japan, studied this matter, and many sutras for years. Nichiren eventually concluded that the Lotus Sutra was the highest and most important of the Buddha's teachings -- and that all other teachings like the Four Noble Truths were really just early teachings that the Buddha was presenting to his early followers who knew nothing of Buddhism. Teachings like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, Nichiren thought, were just preparatory teachings, designed to get people ready to hear the ultimate truth -- the Lotus Sutra. Once you could grasp the Lotus Sutra, you could discard things like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, Nichiren said. He began chanting parts of the Lotus Sutra daily. This became gongyo, the chanting that we Nichiren Shoshu/SGI members were taught to do twice a day. He also taught that the way to enlightenment was chanting Nam -myoho renge kyo. This can be translated various ways, including, "Devotion to the Lotus Sutra," and "Devotion to the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect."
Where did Nichiren get his ideas? Well, he was influenced by a Buddhist philosopher named "T'ien T'ai," and the Tendai school of Buddhism. Tendai was more theoretical; Nichiren was looking for something that the average farmer or samurai or housewife actually practice. He thought that Nam Myoho Renge Kyo was that practice that anyone could do, whether you could devote your life to meditation and study or not. So perhaps a certain amount of anti-intellectual bias was built into Nichiren Buddhism.
Nichiren himself fought with the military government of Japan and other schools of Buddhism. He felt that he was the Buddha of the "Latter Day of the Law," the modern era. He was anything but a peaceful Buddha; Nichiren Buddhists do have the reputation in the Buddhist world of being rather militant in their beliefs.
Has SGI decided that members don't need to know all this background anymore? Sounds like it and that's unfortunate. Soka Gakkai members shouldn't just say that the Four Noble Truths are not Buddhist. They should be able to explain that this teaching is part of Shakyamuni Buddha's preparatory teaching -- an early teaching that the Lotus Sutra later replaced. I think that people need to know WHERE their philosophies come from -- as well as WHAT the philosophies say. I guess there's no more time for this kind of study. It would cut into the Ikeda commercials...um, videos.
"Vacuous garbage" about sums up the value you can find in publications like "Living Buddhism" and "The World Tribune." Though if you have a pet who needs to be cleaned up after, you can certainly put your old copies to good use.
I have heard good things about Nichiren Shu, though I have no personal experience with them. There are no Nichiren Shu groups in my area. I would advise anyone to be careful with Nichiren Shoshu. The two names sound very similar, but they are two different groups. In the past, the Nichiren Shoshu priests insisted that you enlightenment came through your connection to the high priest. Neither the Lotus Sutra nor Nichiren's writings support any notion like that.
And yes, I would go so far as to say that SGI is a cult. Members are not willing to make the effort to do serious meditation and study? Maybe, maybe not. Do they even realize that they have a choice? It sounds like the leaders now are just saying "Rah rah rah sensei," and "You can chant and get anything you want." Where are the study sessions? Where are the materials that go deeply into the history, philosophy and practice of various schools of Buddhism? Toward the end of my time with SGI, I signed up for a women's study group -- and what a disappointment! I was used to the serious, deep, and intelligent study that my former leader/professor had led. What did the women's group study? "The Human Revolution." Ikeda wrote that -- his fictional, but basically autobiographical history of the SGI. What a bunch of self-glorifying garbage! A few of us asked if we could study something else, and we were told no.
Cults lie to their members. Cults try to keep members powerless and ignorant. Cults glorify a fallible human being, treating him or her like God. Cults allow leaders to accumulate far too much money, power and honor. Cults deny their members the right to help make decisions that affect the members. SGI does all of these things. How is it not a cult?
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/27/2009 10:17AM by tsukimoto.