On September 6th, Forbes.com will publish a scathing article on the SGI. Its title is Sensei’s World and explores SGI finances and president Ikeda with all the tact of a drunken soccer fan. Perhaps a better title would have been “Capitalist Devils vs. Corporate Buddhism.” Daimoku works in mysterious ways. I became privy to Forbes advanced copy because I was still on an email list of SGI leaders, even though I left (ran from) the SGI a year ago. The sender wrote, “Thought some other folks should be aware of it before their members read it and go into a panic.” What that really means in SGI speak is “get ready to spin this.”
I doubt that there will be wide spread panic in the ranks of the SGI over more bad press. How many SGI-USA members are actually reading Forbes.com? Don’t they have a backlog of several thousand PI speeches to catch up on? SGI members have always been conditioned to regard any criticism of their leader or the organization as an assault of tenji-ma, the most powerful sansho-shima in Buddhism. All negative accusations are regarded as slander, falsehoods, and inevitable persecution from spreading the correct Law. To weather such assaults is considered the mark of a wise person with strong and correct faith. After all, didn’t Nichiren endure and overcome countless persecutions in the name of the Lotus Sutra?
“This obstruction (tenji-ma) is usually said to take the form of oppression by men of power.” (A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, pg. 461-462, NSIC, 1983). SGI logic is to take the position that because president Ikeda is the master, his actions and direction are at one with the will of Nichiren and the earliest realization of kosen-rufu. Questioning the motives, core doctrines, or finances of the SGI is viewed as breaking the harmonious unity of the believers according to SGI interpretation of Nichiren Buddhism. Persist in your query and you will be isolated from the group.

It’s important that people read this article. It exposes the contradictions projected by the SGI and it demonstrates the journalistic ineptitude of Forbes. The article makes numerous allegations without much proof. The members have heard all these allegations before. What bothers me is that the members aren’t demanding honest answers to some very serious issues. If the SGI doesn’t come clean on everything associated with their finances and behavior, hardboiled journalists will systematically expose every aspect of the SGI in a light that will make it difficult to spin.
The following are some of the issues discussed in the article. I’ll keep my comments brief.
Point One: “…the sometimes messianic and perpetually self-aggrandizing Daisaku Ikeda.”
Here’s a valid point. I have personally wrestled with the mentor-disciple relationship when it’s apparent that the members don’t really know what PI has actually written or said. How many of his books and speeches have been ghostwritten? How much adulation does one person need? PI and his supporters must put a stop to creating a personality cult that is painfully obvious to everyone outside the organization. I suspect that even the Buddha would reject such transparent hero worship. Enough! There is even surly mention about the Gandhi, King, Ikeda traveling exhibit. Although I believe that PI is a great man, I think it should have been the Gandhi, King, Nelson Mandela exhibit. Now there’s someone who exemplifies the spirit of peace, pacifism, and moral victory.
Point Two: The SGI is estimated to be worth $100 Billion ten years ago because of its tax exempt status in Japan, the US and elsewhere – with no accountability to how its money is raised or spent. SGI brings in conservatively $1.5 billion a year from sales of funeral plots, assorted religious paraphernalia, books, and 5.5 million newspapers daily (distributed by volunteers).
Here’s a problem. Forbes didn’t name their source except to say this estimate of $100 Billion was from a parliamentarian ten years ago and the SGI disputed this amount but did not offer any more information. Where are the facts and the identification of sources? I’ve seen better journalism in the National Enquirer.
I, too, have some questions based on the SGI wealth, whether its $10-50-100 or $200 billion. 1. What are the salaries and benefits of all SGI professionals? 2. How much wealth does the SGI really have? 3. How much does the SGI bring in yearly and where does that money go? 4. What is PI’s salary? What is his net worth? It is alleged that PI is one of the wealthiest men in all of Asia. If he is truly wealthy, how did he get that way considering that he supposed to be a salaried religious executive? Are his book revenues (ghostwritten or not) returned to the SGI coffers or is there a split in royalties? This issue is important because PI’s books are extensively promoted in our publications, promoted by the leaders and members by word of mouth, and many of his writings are study texts required for tests and lectures. Many of these books are printed, distributed, and sold in SGI tax-free bookstores, staffed by volunteers. It’s forbidden to use the organization to sell products or services, except if it’s SGI sanctioned and related. Why then, should one man profit from sales to a captive audience of 12 million? Is it ethical for PI or anyone to become wealthy on the backs of the members, even if they willingly give of themselves?
The vast wealth and power of PI and the SGI brings to mind a very important issue of succession. Will this wealth and power eventually be transferred to his son, some time after his death? The legitimacy of PI’s tenure and motives will be revealed by who succeeds him, since he is on record denying hereditary rule. We shall see. It would be a shame to pass on the kosen-rufu baton to a family member instead of the most qualified person, be they man or woman.
Point Three: In 1965 PI was quoted by a writer: “I am the king of Japan; I am its president; I am the master of its spiritual life; I am the supreme power who entirely directs its intellectual culture.” Again, there was no source given. Having read most everything translated into English by PI for 31 years, I doubt that this statement is true. It sounds to me like mistaking and a mistranslation of Nichiren’s famous comments of being the sovereign, teacher and parent of Japan. In my opinion, this quote by an unnamed source is probably bogus.
Point Four: The article asserts that there is disharmony discrimination, and religious-based pressure at Soka University. The Southwell case that was settled out of court is used as an example of how the long, strong hand of the SGI was influencing the faculty. The article suggests that most if not all the non-SGI faculty wanted to leave.
Anyone who has had any substantive experience with the professional leadership of the SGI shouldn’t be surprised by these allegations. Micro-management is the SGI way. However, I’m certain that the SGI will do a good job in educating its students. Some of the most polished and brilliant people I’ve have ever known graduated from Soka University in Japan. The school is well funded and the students are all business.
Point Five: Lisa Jones is used as an inside source on SGI philosophy, something I feel she is well qualified and within her rights to do. “In the sect’s meeting halls Soka members exercise the “life-enhancing” power of chanting. Believers are encouraged to be “many in body, one in mind.” This means, “You have to fulfill sensei’s [Ikeda’s] dreams instead of your own,” maintains Lisa Jones, a former aide and follower who ghostwrote an Ikeda book and now maintains a Soka-doubter Web site. “His dream of kosen-rufu, or what Soka members call ‘world peace,’ which will be achieved when one third of the world chants, one third merely celebrates Ikeda, and the other third doesn’t care,” she says.
“It’s not nice to fool mother-nature,” and apparently it’s not a good idea to play hardball with Lisa Jones. I’m not sure what transpired between her and the SGI, but whatever it was caused her to take on the giant like an inspired David. From her writings it’s clear to me that she loves Nichiren Buddhism. She’s smart, articulate, and tough. If she was qualified to ghostwrite a book for PI, then she’s qualified to translate the philosophical bottom line. I’ve never heard her explanation of the three conditions for kosen-rufu or itai-doshin explained exactly as she was quoted, but they capture the gist of the current SGI philosophy.
In conclusion, this article will do no more than create an illusion in the minds of the members that the press is falsely accusing the SGI again, exactly as the Lotus Sutra and Gosho warn. Mythology will be used internally to quash serious investigation. As a member, to question the ethics, doctrine, and motives of SGI is tantamount to disrupting the harmonious unity, an offense that will incur the most serious kind of karmic punishment. This wrathful deity with clenched fist is enough to make the most senior leader quiver and quake like a mouse cornered by a cat. What will it take for the members to demand and get answers? If the allegations were just a few minor things, it’s understandable that the members and public might refute the charges out of hand as sensationalism or jealousy. But the allegations keep coming from all over the world – serious allegations. It’s hard to believe that every allegation is baseless persecution and slander. How wonderful it would be if there were one religion that could lead you to enlightenment, make you perfectly happy, and create world peace. As much as SGI members need to believe in the greatness of the SGI, something is not right and it must be fixed. Maybe Forbes is a zenchisiki.