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The Dark Sides and Hidden Perils of Soka Gakkai Cult
Is SGI a cult? Does it matter?
Posted on May 7, 2012
The word “cult” has an alarmist ring to it. Most people think that cults must be obviously dark and sinister. We don’t expect cults to be friendly and normal seeming. We think cult recruiters must use force or diabolical spells to win recruits. We don’t expect to be won over, little by little, through apparent care, concern and appeals to our idealism — appeals to “dream big dreams” rather than think critically about the group. Being open-minded people, we have no reason to doubt what the group says about itself, and we’re usually willing to suspend our skepticism out of politeness if for no other reason. What SGI members say about their group, however, is not always consistent with the functional reality of the group. SGI claims to be a peace organization that opposes authoritarianism, welcomes all people and teaches people how to practice Buddhism so they can become happy. They are unlikely to mention that SGI is a multi-billion-dollar religious corporation that refuses to disclose its financial dealings even to members and donors who ask for information. Members have no voting rights, no grievance procedure, and no say in the policies of their own organization.
SGI does teach a version of Nichiren Buddhism, but it is an interpretation that reinforces the belief that SGI members are somehow “chosen” to save the world, and that their belief system is the one, true, correct religion for all time. SGI promotes and perpetuate itself through recruitment, fund raising and public relations activities. Members call this “working for kosen-rufu” or “world peace.” The group’s agenda includes going into U.S. grade schools and universities to promote SGI President Daisaku Ikeda as a “peace activist” on par with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. — despite the fact that Ikeda lives a life of luxury (spending millions of dollars on classic art, for example) and has never once so much as engaged in a protest demonstration. Indeed, Ikeda is the de facto leader of a ruling-coalition Japanese political party called New Komeito. The New York Times and many others have reported that this is a militant political party that aims to establish theocratic rule in Japan. But many people in the U.S. who join SGI thinking that they are joining a friendly group of Buddhists have no idea that they are in fact supporting and legitimizing one of the most powerful and controversial political movements in Japan.
As for the SGI welcoming all people, new and potential recruits should know that SGI has publicly condemned and maligned SGI members who have voiced constructive criticism of SGI and sponsored public discussion of SGI’s policies and activities. In fact, the “Independent Reassessment Group” was threatened with legal action if they continued to identify themselves (correctly) as SGI members in good standing. SGI has proven itself capable of and willing to crush dissent and dissenters among its ranks. And non-members or former members who criticize SGI are branded as enemies.
Nichiren Buddhism is a religion, and there are dozens of different temples and organizations in which people learn, teach and practice this religion. Soka Gakkai, on the other hand, is a cult that uses this religion as a cover and a justification for accumulating wealth, political power and more members. Members receive nothing in return except a distorted view of Nichiren Buddhism, peer pressure, emotional manipulation, phobia indoctrination, a misguided belief that SGI membership gives them a special mission in life, and a knack for demonizing all perceived “enemies of Buddhism.”
Cult Warning Signs in SGI
1. Authority without accountability. Soka Gakkai claims to have absolute authority withregard to Nichiren Buddhism; Nichiren Buddhism can only be correctly practiced if one is a member of SGI. Daisaku Ikeda is promoted by SGI to be the foremost authority on Nichiren Buddhism for the modern age. But SGI provides no accountability — members have no control over their leaders and have no mechanism by which to affect the policies and procedures of their organization.
2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry. There are no opportunities to publicly question or critique the teachings of SGI in organizational publications. Critiquing SGI at small discussion meetings may be tolerated to a degree, but this behavior is called “negativity” and is discouraged.
3. No meaningful financial disclosure and no independently audited financial statement. Media reports and property tax records confirm that Soka Gakkai is a multi-billion dollar religious corporation. SGI refuses to disclose its finances even to members and donors who request this information. SGI has publicly maligned members who have pressed for financial disclosure.
4. Unreasonable fear about evil conspiracies and persecutions. Ikeda and his followers have denounced as “evil” a rival group called Nichiren Shoshu, and urged SGI members to fight this so-called devilish influence. SGI has sponsored prayer vigils focused on the destruction of Nichiren Shoshu and the demise of its leader, Nikken. SGI has also assigned at least one paid staff member to follow and spy on Nichiren Shoshu priests. Why? SGI claims that Nichiren Shoshu is out to destroy SGI.
5. The belief that former members are always wrong in leaving SGI. Former members often relate similar stories of being pressured to embrace certain beliefs, to say only positive things about SGI and to participate in fund raising, recruitment and public relations campaigns. Former members have a similar grievances regarding SGI: too much emphasis on the “evil” of Nichiren Shoshu, too much adulation of Daisaku Ikeda and too little emphasis on the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism. SGI leaders tell members that former members are deluded, cannot be trusted and should be avoided.
6. Dependence upon SGI guidance and activities for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. When SGI members are confronted with a problem, they are urged to seek “guidance” from local SGI leaders or to read guidance from Ikeda. Members are urged
to recruit more members and participate in more SGI activities in order to have a “breakthrough” and solve their problems. If the problem is resolved, leaders are quick to claim that participation in SGI activities provides mystical benefits. If the problem is not resolved the member is often advised to make a greater commitment to SGI and “connect” with Ikeda’s heart.
7. Anything that SGI does can be justified, no matter how questionable or harmful. SGI members are good at making excuses for the shortcomings of their organization. “We’re still in our infancy — we’ve only been in America for a little over 30 years — mistakes are to be expected,” they say. “We are only human. Of course we make mistakes.” “We are fulfilling an important mission, so even if people are hurt by our activities, it will all work out for the best in the end.” “If people are hurt by our organization it is due to their karma, not ours.” “People are afraid of SGI not because we are deceptive and manipulative, but because we represent a real challenge to the status quo. People can’t handle the truth and justice we represent.” The list of excuses for bad behavior goes on and on.
8. SGI members are afraid. SGI members have been indoctrinated with a litany of fears: fear of visiting temples or investigating other forms of Buddhism, fear of not chanting enough or skipping gongyo, fear of contradicting the SGI, fear of listening to or entertaining criticism of the SGI, fear of chanting to the “wrong” Gohonzon, fear of leaving the SGI. SGI members fear that these things will invite severe “mystical” punishment such as financial hardship, illness, family strife, loss of a romantic relationship, getting fired from a job or a horrible, agonizing death.
So what if SGI is a cult?
In her book Seductive Poison, Deborah Layton shows how anyone can fall under the spell of a cult. Layton was a high-level member of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple. She tried to warn a skeptical public about impending disaster at Jonestown, Guyana. At Jonestown on November 18, 1978, hundreds of cult members perished in a mass murder/suicide. In the epilogue to her book, Layton writes: “Looking back, there are a few things I have come to learn. People do not knowingly join “cults” that will ultimately destroy and kill them. People join self-help groups, churches, political movements, college campus dinner socials, and the like, in an effort to be a part of something larger than themselves. It is mostly the innocent and naive who find themselves entrapped. In their open-hearted endeavor to find meaning in their lives, they walk blindly into the promise of ultimate answers and a higher purpose. It is usually only gradually that a group turns into or reveals itself as a cult, becomes malignant, but by then it is often too late. I hope my book will give my daughter some answers about how I got caught and how the Jonestown tragedy happened. I hope it will provide clues about the workings of a cult and shed light on the darkness of deceit. There are essential warning signs early on. Our alarm signals ought to go off as soon as someone tells us their way is the only right way.
When our own thoughts are forbidden, when our questions are not allowed and our doubts are punished, when contacts and friendships outside of the organization are censored, we are being abused for an end that never justifies its means. When our heart aches knowing we have made friendships and secret attachments that will be forever forbidden if we leave, we are in danger. When
we consider staying in a group because we cannot bear the loss, disappointment, and sorrow our leaving will cause for ourselves and those we have come to love, we are in a cult.
If there is any lesson to be learned it is that an ideal can never be brought about by fear, abuse, and the threat of retribution. When family and friends are used as weapons in order to force us to stay in an organization, something has gone terribly wrong. If I, as a young woman, had had someone explain to me what cults are and how indoctrination works, my story might not have been the same.
It’s never “harmless” when people are deceived or manipulated under the guise of religion.
1. A legitimate sangha or teacher will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
2. A legitimate sangha or teacher will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses.
3. A legitimate sangha or teacher shares decision-making and encourages accountability and oversight.
4. A legitimate sangha or teacher may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
5. A legitimate sangha or teacher will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative news reports, magazine articles and statements about them.
6. A legitimate sangha or teacher will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
7. A legitimate sangha or teacher will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
8. A legitimate sangha or teacher will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
9. A legitimate sangha or teacher will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but will foster real dialogue, debate and the free exchange of ideas.
Accept no substitutes.
Brief History of Nichiren Buddhism and SGI
Posted on May 6, 2012
Nichiren Daishonin, a Japanese Buddhist priest, founded Nichiren Shoshu, the school of Nichiren back in the 1200′s. Peaceful? Hardly. Nichiren was a firebrand, who felt that other Buddhist sects — Shingon, Zen, Pure Land — were responsible for the famines, plagues, and threats of Mongol invasions that Japan was experiencing. He felt that the whole country needed to practice his Buddhism to experience peace and security. To this end, he criticized and debated with government officials and the priests of other Buddhist sects. He was considered crazy and subversive. He was almost executed, and was exiled twice, and he would not stop. Some of his followers were beheaded. These early followers lived in danger, and often poverty, and survived by sharing what little they had. You wonder what these people would have thought about the luxury and reverence that Ikeda enjoys, or about modern members chanting for cars!
Nichiren’s disciple, Nikko, continued to lead the sect after Nichiren’s death. It was a small and relatively insignificant sect until after World War II. Other followers of Nichiren also branched off, and taught their own interpretation of Nichiren’s teachings. There could be many tiny, almost-unknown Nichiren sects out there who chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo too.
Nichiren Shoshu might also be some tiny, little-known sect today — if not for a principal named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. He converted to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism in 1930′s Japan. Then he began trying to infuse Buddhist ideals into the militaristic Japanese educational system. He established the Soka Gakkai for this reason. The Soka Gakkai was originally the lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu. Most of its early members were educators. Humane, Buddhist education? This was not Berkeley of the 1960′s; it was wartime Japan! Like Nichiren Daishonin, Makiguchi was swimming against the current. And like Nichiren, Makiguchi was punished for his nonconformity.
The Japanese military government wanted all the Japanese to practice Shinto, worship of the emperor and sun goddess. Shinto said that the Japanese people were descendants of the Goddess — and as such, had the right to run roughshod over everyone else and rule the world. Buddhism and Christianity taught the value and dignity of all human life — NOT a message that the military government approved of! They wanted their soldiers to KILL other Asians, not consider them brothers in Christ, or precious children of the Buddha. Japanese Buddhists and Christians suffered terrible persecution during World War II. Makiguchi and his friend, a teacher named Josei Toda, were sent to prison. Makiguchi died there; Toda survived and became the second Soka Gakkai president after the war.
President Toda greatly expanded the Soka Gakkai after the war — and trained a younger man named Daisaku Ikeda to be his successor. In the fifties and sixties, the Soka Gakkai began its expansion overseas — Japanese immigrants and war brides were instructed to begin Buddhist groups in their
new countries. The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and the Soka Gakkai leaders, who were laymen, were working together — but with increasing power struggles — until the split in 1991.
Essentially, the priesthood claims that members need the priests’ intercession to attain enlightenment. The Soka Gakkai says, rightly, that this is wrong, and not supported by the teachings of the Buddha, or the writings of Nichiren himself. And then they’ll turn around and tell you that you need to accept President Ikeda as your mentor to attain enlightenment! And they see no contradiction whatsoever in this! As a friend of mine says, it was a power struggle between men in suits and men in robes, pure and simple, and the suits won. Most of the Gakkai members chose Ikeda, rather than Nikken, the high priest in the nineties. They won, and yet, eighteen years later, they’re still whining on and on about how evil the priests are. SGI still cannot seem to move on — and shut up. By contrast, you go to Nichiren Shoshu websites, and there’s no mention of SGI at all.
Some random thoughts about SGI
Posted on May 5, 2012
Some random thoughts about SGI:
1. I think that chanting itself affects the brain and nervous system. Meetings generally open with a period of chanting, so perhaps that makes members somewhat more receptive to what the leaders say after that.
2. There’s definitely love-bombing for both new people who come to meetings, and members who give an “experience” about how they chanted a lot, contributed to SGI, and were able to overcome a problem and gain something that they wanted.
3. Keeping members busy with SGI activities. It keeps you away from friends who are not into SGI…. after awhile, most of the people you know will be SGI members. Leaving SGI then means losing a lot of your social circle. You think that you can stay friends with the members after you leave, but often that doesn’t happen.
4. Peer pressure; adults are not immune to this. If you’re in a room, and everyone else is watching the President Ikeda video and cheering, you feel like you’re strange, thinking, “What’s so great about this guy?”
5. Chanting to get something makes you think about it a lot — which will make your mind come up with some ways to get it.
6. There’s a “confirmation bias.” You’ll remember if you chanted a lot for something and then got it. If you’re an SGI member, you’ll also have given an experience — given a speech at a meeting about how you chanted and achieved your desire. So your SGI friends will also remember that you chanted for something and got it — and they’ll likely have love-bombed you if you gave a great speech about it.
If you chanted and didn’t get what you wanted — you’re not going to be up there in front of everyone, saying that. And if you do complain, you’ll just be told that you didn’t chant hard enough, or with the right attitude, you didn’t work hard enough for SGI — basically, it’s your fault! SGI members who have problems that they can’t resolve…tend to just stop coming around.
Then of course, the leaders say, “Well, of course, so and so’s life’s a mess, he never comes to meetings, what do you expect?”
7. The whole notion of “We are SGI, we are going to save the world and bring about world peace,” may make certain members feel more entitled to go for, and get what they desire. Especially if, say, you are looking hard for a job — AND, on top of that, chanting a lot, and doing extra work for SGI. You start to feel, “Damn, I really DO deserve that job, what with everything I’m doing.
8. You can unite people if they all dislike the same person or group. I think that this was a huge part of the SGI/Nichiren Shoshu split. The SGI leaders felt that they could unite the members by making us all hate the high priest Nikken and his cronies. I think that a lot of the drama around this distracted members from asking about what was going on in the higher ranks of SGI.
This is all very manipulative — but we live in a very manipulative world. All of us, every day, have people who want to manipulate us to get what they want — friends, family, coworkers, spouses, salespeople, advertisers. And if you’ve got kids…they can be the most manipulative of all. My former fiance was a rather manipulative sort. When I accused him of this, he said, “No, I don’t use manipulation…it’s just ‘skillful use of influence.’”
My question is, what exactly is the difference between persuasion, manipulation, ‘skillful use of influence,’ and brainwashing? Is it just a matter of degree — persuasion is mild, manipulation is a bit more intense, brainwashing is the most intense? Or are there other differences?
In the beginning, I DID like SGI, and I enjoyed some of the experiences that I had with my groups. As time went by, SGI changed, and I changed. The things I didn’t like outweighed what I did like, and I left. Was I manipulated? Yes, I did some things for the organization, like become a group leader, that I really didn’t want to do. I stayed a few years too long, in the hope that the organization would change. But I also had some choices. I can agree that I was manipulated, and that information was withheld from me, and other members. Brainwashed, though? That’s too strong a word.
The SGI is a Destructive Cult
Posted on May 4, 2012
The SGI is a Destructive Cult by Definition:
1). Destructive cults actively recruit new members, often through deceptive “front” organizations. The SGI has the Boston Research Center, the Institute for Oriental Philosophy, and others where their affiliation to SGI is rarely if ever mentioned.
2). Destructive cults claim to offer absolute Truth. Their teachings are not (to them) mere theory or speculation. The most effective cult doctrines are those which are unverifiable and unevaluable. 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”.
3). Destructive cults reduce everything to a bi-polar attitude: “for us, or against us.” Anyone who criticizes the SGI, no matter how wise, is a fool and anyone who praises the SGI, no matter how foolish, is wise. Daisaku Ikeda writes, for example: “Seven years have passed since then. The outcome of the struggle of good and evil and the workings of the law of cause and effect have been strict and uncompromising. The decline of the crazed and destructive Nichiren Shoshu is clearly apparent. The victims, unfortunately, are the lay believers who practice with the temple, who are not aware of Nichiren Shoshu’s evil and have been deceived by the priests.”
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. The SGI has dozens of “pet devils”. Those who leave will have misfortune on their jobs, in their families, in the social lives, have accidents, fall into hell, etc. President Toda stated: “If you keep this up, you’re going to come to a pitiful end in life.” and “Betraying the Soka Gakkai is betraying the Daishonin. In the end, they’ll receive the punishment of the Buddha, you’ll see.” Ikeda says, “To take action to fight against whatever forces appear as the enemies of the Soka Gakkai is our most noble mission.” Matilda Buck says, “How tragic it would be for even one person to have found the great means of bringing forth Buddhahood only to be diverted to another, seemingly similar, path that is incapable of leading that individual to his or her deepest happiness.” This is the gist of the Gakkai’s attempt to chain the members to the Gakkai way of life. The Biggest ”pet devil” is Nikken of the Nichiren Shoshu: “When Buddhism speaks of “devilish functions,” what does that really mean? These represent whatever tries to prevent us from advancing in our Buddhist practice. In a sense, they are frightened when we expand the Buddha?s forces, because the realm they want to control will then be changed into a pure land. In our case right now, this function is being manifested in the current high priest of Nichiren Shoshu.”
5). Destructive cults lead their members to believe they are somehow superior to all other humans on the earth. In many of Ikeda’s speeches we see how the SGI members are to view themselves: “Sons of the Gakkai”, “inheritors of Myoho”, “Lions of the Mystic Law”, “the sole group of true believers”, “Truly praiseworthy are you who resolve to work hard for kosen-rufu and the SGI. You are the most noble of all people.”
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. If you search, you will find such quotes from the eternal Soka Gakkai mentor, “the Soka Gakkai is more important than my life.” We also see the special Soka Gakkai holidays like May 3rd, day of mentor and disciple, and such slogans as, “reaffirming the prime point of the Soka Gakkai” We can see inordinate references to Soka Gakkai, SGI, and Ikeda in nearly every experience given by an SGI member. There used to be dress and hair (short) and beard (none) codes for the SGI Young Men’s Division and on Saturdays everyone had to dress in white pants and white tee-shirts.
7). Destructive cults teach that the end justifies the means. How they misuse upaya (expedient means) is a travesty. Flirtatious shakabuku by young women’s division, telling people they can get new cars and even drugs if the chant, teaching people that they will immediately become Buddhas if they join the SGI, and the list goes on and on how they utilize the ends justify the means philosophy of Machiavelli, the antithesis of the Buddha’s teachings.
8). Destructive cults teach strict obedience to superiors and encourage the development of behavior patterns that are similar to those of the leader. Is there any doubt why the Soka Gakkai is known throughout the ten directions as the Ikeda cult? Guidance division, never criticizing leaders, “follow no matter what”, this is so apparent to everyone but the brainwashed SGI member himself. Lately, the SGI has abandoned any subtle pretense with such overt youth division guidelines as, “Reveal your true identity as Shinichi Yamamoto” and “I want to be Shinichi Yamamoto”.
9). Destructive cults offer acceptance by the group for good performance, and conversely, withhold it for poor performance. Moving up the ladder from Jr Group Chief, to Group Chief, to District Chief, to Chapter Chief, to Area Chief, to Territory Chief, to Joint Territory Chief and so on. Busting people from their position or moving them at the leaders will.
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.
“Never talk about your problems to the members until they are resolved.” “Did you know that so and so got hit by a car and is paralyzed. He should have stayed with the Soka Gakkai.” “She turned in her
SGI Gohonzon and lost her job and her house.” “He committed suicide not soon after joining the Nikken sect.”
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.
“You have weak faith.” ‘You had better go for guidance if you want to quickly 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. Every last former SGI cult member will attest to this.
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. Human Revolution, New Human Revolution, New New Human Revolution. Need I say more?
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.” (even if he continues to chant three hours a day and does shakabuku with the Nichiren Shu or the Kempon Hokke). No matter which destructive cult you choose, the above 13 items will almost universally apply.
Nichiren says follow the Law, SGI follows the person!
Posted on May 3, 2012
Nichiren says follow the Law, SGI follows the person.
Nichiren teaches the Treasure of the Buddha and the person [subject] of the Secret Law of the Object of Worship is Shakyamuni Buddha and SGI states, it is Nichiren.
Nichiren teaches that the Transmission of the Law is through faith in the scrolls of the Lotus Sutra [the Gohonzon and the Lotus Sutra itself] and SGI teaches that it is through the Three Presidents and the SGI itself.
The prime point of the Lotus Sutra, according to Nichiren Daishonin, are the Three Treasures and Three Great Secret Laws. According to the SGI it is the Mentor-Disciple relationship.
The Buddha and Nichiren teach that there are no distinctions among the disciples and believers of the Lotus Sutra but SGI is an authoritarian pyramidal structured hierarchy.
The SGI teaches Interfaith. Nichiren teaches the exclusive faith and practice of the Lotus Sutra and the inferiority of both provisional Buddhist teachings and non-Buddhist teachings.
Nichiren teaches that faith is first and foremost. The SGI teaches that practice is first and foremost.
The SGI teaches that one can believe in just about anything as long as one chants the Daimoku. Nichiren teaches to only believe in the Lotus Sutra.
Nichiren revered and praised Shakyamuni Buddha. SGI reveres and praises Ikeda and themselves.
Is Soka Gakkai International a cult?
Posted on May 2, 2012
Is Soka Gakkai International a cult? Lets see…from Characteristics Associated with Cult Groups:
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
I recall some experiences I have had with ex-members of SGI and while the stories I heard did not identify SGI as insidious as implied by some (crazy comments about world domination and such), I do think that the organization itself (not necessarily people that are involved with SGI) does raise some red flags…
A “Political Wing”. SGI’s political wing in Japanese politics is the New Komeito Party. While I don’t know anything about Japanese politics, I do believe that any religious organization that takes a heavy
hand in politics is dangerous. Just look at what the Evangelical Christians have succeeded in American education.
Proselytizing – SGI makes a push towards converting others to their viewpoint. I have little respect for doorknockers or those that insist that their version is the right version
Cult of Personality – It seems that Ikeda comes first and the BuddhaDharma comes second.
Lay Organized – I love grass-roots Buddhism but SGI is in no way grass-roots. It is a mega-church of Buddhism.
Us vs. Them – SGI is a splinter group of Nichiren Shu and defines themselves as the “true” way versus all other practicing Buddhists.
So, to keep it short, I think SGI falls into some points of the cult checklist above but, at the same time, so do many organizations that are harmless in nature. From conversations w/former members, SGI was not violent in any way but the group members were rather heavy-handed w/members that questioned the group and organization (ie. inviting themselves over to a former member’s house for something that resembled an “intervention”).
[Just as an aside- I have no issue with Nichiren Shu as a Buddhist practice, nor centering one's practice around the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren's writings or the chanting of "Myo ho renge kyo". What I do have issue with is Buddhism as big business, cults of personality and proselytizing. As such, SGI is not a cult in my book or by my definition but placed into the lofty rack of "annoying religious sect" alongside the Mormons, Evangelical Christians, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the New Kampada Tradition. That coupled with a hand in politics makes me uneasy. I suppose that my take home message is "Do you really want to be affiliated with a group like this when you could simply practice on your own?" Thanks for the comments!]