"I was a general member of Soka Gakkai for 30 years; and have been pretty much independent for 8 years. I see the Gakkai as a business, a sales & marketing organization that sells religion. I think the closest thing in the United States would be the large mass marketed evangelical Christian groups; the so called ‘Televangelists.’ Of course, in the US, the Gakkai does not use television; they use ‘on the ground’ network marketing.
I used to suspect that Soka Gakkai was sort of the PTL Club of Japan; with Ikeda in the role of Baker. Or maybe the PTL Club was a wannabe Soka Gakkai of the USA? I do not necessarily mean that in a bad way. Had Bakker not been so greedy and hedonistic; less of an Elmer Gantry, he might have done some good. Maybe a closer parallel would be Pat Robertson’s 700 Club / CBN, the late Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and Ralph Reed’s Christian coalition, all rolled into one? The late Oral Roberts was an earlier Ikeda like figure in the USA. I think the SGI is far more successful. Ikeda probably has more influence in Japan, than all the televangelists combined have in the USA.
The Gakkai also goes a little further with the veneration of Ikeda, maybe a lot further. In western culture, it seems over the top, odd, or even creepy, to name a lot of things after a leader while he is still active and/or alive. If it were the Nichiren Center, the Makiguchi Hall, or the Toda Gate; or if Ikeda were retired, I doubt so many eyebrows would be raised. Maybe the difference is East Asian / Japanese culture? Perhaps it seems odd to others that Americans tend to wait to honor someone, by naming things after them, until they are retired or deceased? I really do not know. It seems like the way they plaster Ikeda’s face everywhere; shades of Mao, Saddam Hussein, or Kim Jong Il, would be creepy in any culture.
At any rate, at the present time, it appears that the Soka Gakkai exists to market Daisaku Ikeda as sort of the Mahavira — the Hero of the world; or the Lokanatha — the World Honored One, of the new global age. Their aim always was and still is to establish “The Third Civilization.” This was actually supposed to be achieved by now; I think the target date, prior to the split with Nichiren Shoshu, was May 3 2001.
Finally, Barbara makes some good points about applying the ‘cult’ word here. IMO, Soka Gakkai International is more like a wealthy, powerful multinational corporation, whose primary business is religion. They also have their hands in media, publishing, education, and politics. Again, that sounds a lot like Robertson and the 700 Club. One difference is SGI seems to put more emphasis on Ikeda than the Buddha or Nichiren. The 700 Club still puts Jesus in the center. Ikeda is not only the messenger, to a large extent, he is the message. I think the veneration of Ikeda is not only excessive; but also hurts them. It is embarrassing enough that I can't be part of it. Of course, they did not ask me." -- Robin Beck