No, Certainly Not a Cult!
A cult is a group of people who...
• Give total and unquestioning loyalty to a leader as a living deity or prophet, and use deception and manipulation to recruit and keep members.
Just based on this point alone, Soka is not a cult. Soka members are free to ask questions, but they have no need to, since all answers can be found in Sensei’s guidances and in the Gosho. We encourage free, open dialogue on pertinent, approved topics. Soka does not lie except as an “expedient means,” but this is a manifestation of practical wisdom, not lying. We would never dream of going against Soka, because to do so would destroy our good fortune. People join our movement because they want world peace and nonviolence based on the true Buddhism of Soka, not to give legitimacy to a cult. Recruitment, or shakubuku, is the only way to change your karma and create a happy world. People who don't support Soka don't support real peace.
• Has a leader who is charismatic, holds a uniquely exalted position, and claims an exclusive relationship with God, truth, happiness, etc.
Again, Soka is clearly not a cult. Daisaku Ikeda is a world-respected scholar, poet, art collector, diplomat and newspaper publisher. His accomplishments are celebrated around the world, which accounts for his benevolent influence over other world leaders. This is enlightenment, not charisma. Ikeda Sensei is an ordinary person who is humble and lives simply when he is not staying in one of his multimillion-dollar mansions, riding in chauffeured limousines and wearing expensive suits. These luxuries are necessary because he is an important figure on the world stage and is one of the top-twenty richest people in Asia. His status is proof that Soka is the correct way to practice Buddhism and that he is a Buddha. Only Ikeda Sensei can lead the world toward happiness based on his example. It is hard work, not an exalted position.
A cult expects...
• Complete and total loyalty and obedience to the leader.
This is ridiculous! We do not "obey" Sensei. We recognize his superior wisdom as a teacher. He is like a strict father who loves us. We can criticize Sensei and disagree with him freely, but we soon see that we are incorrect. What we see in Ikeda Sensei is really just a mirror of our own mind, so if we are critical of Sensei, it is not because of him but because of our own arrogance.
• Complete and literal acceptance of the leader’s teachings.
Again, Sensei points out the true path of how to live a humane life. It is our free choice whether we will follow it or else fall into hellish suffering. Sensei's teachings are profound and people of shallow faith cannot accept them. If you are foolish and cannot accept the teachings of Soka, it is your loss, not Sensei's. Eventually you will become a Buddha, so we don't hate you. But wouldn't it be better to follow Sensei, who can lead you to enlightenment in this lifetime?
• Unquestioning devotion to the group and its leader.
Sensei always says that you must question and find out for yourself. You should follow his guidance and ask questions. Then you will see that he is right. He has more experience and understanding than we do, so it is only natural. Devotion to Sensei develops over time, gradually. It does not happen instantly as in cults. Sensei can see into your heart and is compassionate even if you cannot accept him.
• Unethical in their practices.
Soka must always be held to a higher standard of ethics than other groups because we represent the will of the people. Naturally, the people are not allowed to vote or voice their opinion within the official channels of Soka, but we understand the heart of the people, and that is what we represent. Voting and democracy are mere popularity contests. We are creating Buddhist Democracy. That is why we must challenge ourselves to make greater financial contributions to Soka, thus accumulating more fortune in our lives. It is rude to ask the Soka leaders how much money our organization has and where it goes. We must give our gifts freely and expect nothing in return. Sincere contributions are based on trust.
• Designed to advance the goal of the group’s leader, often to the detriment of its members.
Sensei's dream is our dream. What's good for Soka is good for us. Slanderers are threatened by this profound, harmonious bond known as the oneness of mentor and disciple.
• Dangerous because they separate people from their families, friends and other support networks. In this way, cults foster in their members feelings of complete dependency and sometimes isolation from outside influences.
Soka is a family that welcomes families. Some Soka members chant for decades to convince their spouses and children to join the family of Soka. We must not give up. We must continue to shakubuku our friends, co-workers and families. This is the way to happiness. Do not put too much pressure on others to join. Just keep chanting and they will come to see the true nobility of Soka and will join. In any event, our fellow comrades of Soka are our true friends and family. They will stick with us even when our other friends and family members abandon us. We depend on our faith, not on other people. We will throw slanderers out of our homes, and never betray Soka even if it means disobeying our own parents. This is the true meaning of filial piety.
Some groups accept who you are now and help you attain your goals in life.
Soka accepts who you can be if you dedicate yourself to practicing Buddhism as Soka teaches. You cannot attain your goals in life unless you fight selflessly for the glorious cause of Soka.
Some groups are run by an ever-changing council of people who are accountable to the members of the group. These so-called leaders respond to members’ wishes and concerns. Usually, there are checks and balances on leaders’ power, and there is a grievance procedure in place to handle disputes within the group.
Soka is founded on the philosophy of the Three Eternal Presidents who each, in turn, inherited the True Law directly from Nichiren Daishonin. Leaders must serve the members humbly, but they are not elected by the membership, nor does the membership have any power to remove people from leadership positions. This is because we are all human beings who are doing our best. There are no checks and balances in the realm of Soka because our organization is based on faith. President Ikeda has been the leader of SGI for more than 40 years and we are grateful that he has given so selflessly to our movement.
Some groups let you determine your amount of participation. They encourage you to make your own life decisions and expect nothing in return.
Soka guides you in all aspects of your life, and it is only natural that, out of sincere appreciation, your commitment to the organization escalates over time. Out of gratitude for all that Soka has done for you, you will want to give more time, effort and financial contributions to Soka. This is the meaning of the phrase “from the indigo plant, an even deeper blue.” If you do not feel increasing commitment to Soka, there is probably something wrong with your faith.
Some groups have people coming and going without judging their motives or relationship to the Gohonzon, Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, or enlightenment based on their proximity to the group.
Soka recognizes that life is much more profound and takes great pains to clarify good and evil. True Soka comrades are friends for life; those who desert Soka are like deluded children. How pitiful!
Some groups strive to liberate others from their suffering and dependence and help them stand on their own with confidence.
Soka strives to liberate members from their own arrogance by embracing Nichiren Buddhism as Soka teaches. There is no such thing as independence since we are all interdependent beings. This is why we need the organization and must protect it with our lives.
Some groups seek to get to the truth of any criticism or grievance by listening to many people who are equal in credibility and making a record of their views.
Soka understands that one's life-condition dictates how one will see certain situations, so we must rely on Buddha wisdom if we are to understand truth. Therefore, leaders' explanations are presented -- this is only natural, since they have more responsibility for the organization than the general members have. Only leaders and approved individuals can share their insights and wisdom through official Soka channels such as the World Tribune. This protects precious Soka members from confusion. Of course, members are free to openly share their concerns to their hearts’ content in face-to-face dialogue. Publicly stating one’s concerns and grievances is not in the true spirit of dialogue, and is mere complaint.
Some groups have rules and expectations of behavior that apply to everyone, including the top leaders.
Soka is a free and open gathering of disciples, so there are no rules. Leaders must often use "expedient means" to advance our noble cause. Sometimes expedient means are misunderstood and seem to be nothing more than fibbing, spreading destructive rumors, and withholding information from members. Even the Buddha had to lie to save his children. The comrades of Soka understand this. Soka leaders are not required to answer questions; you have all the answers you need within your life. To encourage people to find their own answers, questioners may be personally attacked, often publicly. This strict training is for their own benefit.
Some groups are proud of their work for others. They provide quantifiable services and aid, and want nothing in return. They run soup kitchens, clinics, counseling centers and the like. They are trusted members of a local community, actively seeking community engagement and responding to feedback from the people in their environment.
Soka understands that the only way to truly help people is to help them become comrades of Soka. Only by embracing our ideals can humankind truly move from a society of war and strife to a society of peace and justice. Soup kitchens and clinics are just band-aids; Soka possesses the true path to human happiness. Soka reaches out to other groups and community organizations to help them see the value of the Soka philosophy.
Some groups do not exaggerate the “terrible fate” of those who have left or aren't members.
Soka comrades understand that a true friend is one who has the mercy to correct the errors of others. People who oppose Soka are opposing the Buddha’s will and decree, and therefore invite horrible punishments on themselves. People who leave the palace of Soka cannot be trusted. They are betrayers who have committed evil acts and spit in the Buddha's face. They will die horrible deaths. Soka clarifies this to show the noble way of life for all human beings.
Some groups help their members and their community to solve problems and seek answers together. These groups provide ministers and counselors who know what resources are available within the group and the community. These groups provide a system of mutual support for members who are having difficulties.
Soka can help you identify the true, root cause of your problems: your fundamental darkness. Soka comrades will chant with you, but you need to challenge yourself to do more shakubuku, bring in new members of Soka, read the Soka publications, praise Soka more sincerely, make greater contributions to Soka and commit yourself to the happiness of others. Only then can you resolve your problems. Those who serve as devilish functions, however, will not be able to tolerate the pure realm of Soka for long. Such people will be filled with complaint and will abandon their practice. The fault is solely their own.
Some groups allow for differing ideas, views, talents, interests and personality traits.
Soka members are true lions and emulate SGI President Ikeda. Since we are lion cubs, we will no doubt grow into great Soka lions like Ikeda Sensei!
Some groups are not threatened by scrutiny and criticism from non-members or those who have left the group.
Soka is profound. Therefore, those who have left or have never joined are not qualified to judge our precious movement. They are misguided, misinformed and do not understand Sensei’s heart. These jackals are jealous of Soka and slander us at every turn.
Some groups do not ask members to do illegal, unethical or questionable things such as proselytize at schools, fib about the group’s wealth and activities, or harass members of different groups that are perceived to be “rival” groups.
Soka comrades understand that they must do what must be done, acting fearlessly on behalf of Buddhism. Fighting for Soka justice is the only way to attain Buddhahood.
Some groups recommend books and resources regarding other areas of interest or religious studies other than theirs.
Soka protects the purity of the Buddha’s teachings and stewards information to prevent incorrect views from infecting the members with slander.
Some groups have an agenda that is obvious, easy to understand, reasonable and set by consensus and compromise.
Soka’s mission was set by the Buddha and entrusted to SGI President Ikeda and all true members of Soka, Bodhisattvas of the Earth, as foretold in the Lotus Sutra. Soka is based on faith and beautiful bonds of trust between mentor and disciple. Rank-and-file members do not want access to accurate and complete information regarding progress toward our stated goals, financial matters or third-party, objective accounts of Sensei’s personal activities. Members need only understand Sensei’s heart and make it their own. Our goal is kosen-rufu, which can be defined in many different ways, and ultimately means world peace. No other information is purposeful.
Some groups have top leaders who are reasonably accessible to ordinary members.
Soka has a great Sensei who fights valiantly and tirelessly on behalf of all humanity, and therefore has many enemies. Because of his profound mission, Sensei is not free to live like ordinary people. He must ride in limousines and live in mansions, surrounded by staff for his protection and the protection of our movement. He purchases millions of dollars worth of art and other luxuries on behalf of our movement and to impress influential world leaders for the sake of peace. Sensei’s vast wealth is proof of the power of Buddhist practice. An elite group of leaders travels to Japan each year to be trained by Sensei, but our faith has not been strong enough lately in America to bring Sensei here for a visit.
Some groups are rather cult-like and should be avoided.
Soka alone can save all humanity.