A Brief History
Buddhism, a philosophy that focuses on inner transformation, originates from the teachings of Shakyamuni, also known as Gautama or Siddhartha, who lived in the Indian subcontinent around 2,500 years ago. Born as a prince, Shakyamuni left his life of luxury on a spiritual quest to understand the four sufferings of life: birth, sickness, aging and death, and how could one find ‘absolute happiness’ when these sufferings appear in one’s life. Eventually he awoke to the true nature of life and became known as the Buddha or “awakened one.”
His teachings were later compiled into scriptures or ‘sutras’, and numerous schools of Buddhism sprang up as the teachings spread from India after his death.
Nichiren Daishonin, a 13th-century Japanese priest, researched all available Buddhist texts and asserted that the Lotus Sutra, the penultimate sutra expounded by Shakyamuni, encapsulates the heart of Buddhist teachings. This sutra reveals that a universal principle known as the ‘Buddha Nature’ is inherent in the lives of all human beings and the Buddha Nature can be manifested in daily life by following the teachings of the Lotus Sutra
Nichiren established the practice of chanting of a phrase, ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’ to bring forth this potential, which enables each individual to overcome life’s inevitable challenges and develop a life filled with wisdom, courage and compassion.
About Nichiren Daishonin
SGI members follow the teachings of Nichiren. He was the son of a fisherman, born in 1222, a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. The ordinary people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the teachings of Buddhism had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people’s suffering and enabling society to flourish.
The Lotus Sutra affirms that all people, regardless of gender, capacity or social standing, inherently possess the qualities of a Buddha, and are therefore equally worthy of the utmost respect.
Based on his study of the sutra, Nichiren established the invocation (chant) of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a universal practice to enable people to manifest the Buddha nature inherent in their own lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances. Nichiren saw the Lotus Sutra as a vehicle for people’s empowerment—stressing that everyone can attain enlightenment and enjoy happiness in this world. He first chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on April 28, 1253, and later inscribed the mandala of the Gohonzon (the object of devotion to enable people to perceive the enlightened life state of the Buddha in graphic form).
Soka Gakkai International
The Soka Gakkai (literally, “Society for the Creation of Value”) was founded in 1930 by educator and author Tsunesaburo Makiguchi as a group of reformist educators. Makiguchi drew inspiration from Nichiren Buddhism to develop the organization into a broader-based movement focused on the propagation of Buddhism as a means to enable people to tap their inner potential and ultimately reform Japanese society. Facing oppression from the Japanese militarist government, Makiguchi and his closest follower Josei Toda were arrested and imprisoned in 1943 as “thought criminals”; Makiguchi died in prison in 1944.
After his release, Mr. Toda promoted an active, socially engaged form of Buddhism as a means of self-empowerment–a way to overcome obstacles in life and tap inner hope, confidence, courage and wisdom. He used the term “Human Revolution” to express the central idea of Nichiren Buddhism, that all people are capable of attaining enlightenment in this lifetime.
Mr. Toda was succeeded as president in 1960 by Daisaku Ikeda, who further developed the Soka Gakkai as a movement of empowered, socially engaged Buddhists. Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was founded on January 26, 1975, as a worldwide network of Buddhists dedicated to a common vision of a better world through the empowerment of the individual and the promotion of peace, culture and education. Under Ikeda’s leadership, the SGI has developed into one of the largest Buddhist movements in the world, fostering and promoting grassroots activities in areas such as nuclear abolition, human rights and education for sustainable living. It currently consists of 90 independent affiliated SGI organizations and has 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide.