Founded in the late 1930s, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a neo-Japanese religious organisation and is the largest of the ‘Japanese new religions’. Disbanded during the war and from a pre-war estimate of 3,000 members, the organisation now claims to have over 12 million followers across 192 countries worldwide.
The organisation bases its teachings around the words of a 13th century Buddhist monk Nichiren Dioshonin. His propagation of the ‘Lotus Sutra’ as the ultimate method of enlightenment, along with the chant ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’, forms the core of the Soka Gakkai’s teaching and practices. Its third president — Daisaku Ikeda — is attributed with the explosive spread of the SGI.
The Indian chapter of the SGI, called the Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG), began in 1986, with its headquarters in New Delhi. It now has over 150,000 members spread across 300 towns and cities around India.
Its Mumbai chapter was formed in 2014, and currently has over 30,000 members.
The Soka Gakkai belief, according to Nandan Maluste, who has been a member for ten years, is the “inherent dignity of every individual” and the “right of every individual to be happy”.
The members of the BSG propagate the idea of a “human revolution”, drawn from the humanist basis of Lotus Sutra. This revolves around the belief that “a change in every individual can bring about a change in society”.
Sara, a member of the BSG for six years now, who was introduced to the organisation by a councellor, says: “The Soka Gakkai enables us to be happy. Reading the texts provide hope that we can change the things that happen to us. It has benefited me in all my relationships, and has helped me grow as an individual.”
Vishesh Gupta, a member for 26 years, and the current chairperson of the BSG, says, “There is a focus on the individual, to cherish and treasure each person.” “The youth have taken the front line in expanding and spreading the teaching of the Soka Gakkai. The power of changing one individual can change the world,” he adds.
On August 27, the Mumbai chapter held a peace symposium titled “Universal Respect for Human Dignity: The Great Path to Peace”, the focus of which was on the “proposal for peace” that is sent every year by Daisaku Ikeda, the president of the SGI.
The symposium aimed to provide insight on Dr Ikeda’s peace proposal that “offers a practical framework for creating peace in a world marred by violence”. It featured eminent speakers such as Prakash Shah, the former ambassador to Japan and representative of India to the UN, Shaheen Mistry, founder and CEO of Teach For India, and Dr Ajit Ranade, chief Economist to the Aditya Birla Group.
The proposal encapsulated specific ideas, which called on every individual to initiate one-on-one dialogue, look at the world from different perspectives, to touch the life of every individual, and to believe in the power of youth.
It also called for complete nuclear disarmament and included ideas for disaster management and disaster risk reduction.