In some other Japan related news . . .
There’s an interesting article at the OC Weekly, a sort of expose dealing with some controversies at Soka University, the liberal arts college in Orange Country California run by the Soka Gakkai International, a lay Buddhist organization centered in Japan. I’ll post the link at the end.
The SGI is a very complicated subject, one that really calls for book-length treatment. I was involved with the SGI for many years, so I know that it is difficult to take a single aspect, in this case Soka University of America, and paint an accurate picture in an article of four or five thousand words.
This is the largest, most well organized, wealthiest Buddhist organization in the world, with branches in over 192 countries and 12 million members, numerous associative and sub organizations, an education system, which according to one SGI website (ikedabooks.com) “includes kindergartens in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Brazil, a complete school system in Japan as well as Soka University in Japan and the United States,” a concert association, an art museum, an institute of “Oriental Science”, a couple of institutes for “Global Peace and Policy Research,” and a political party
More than anything else, Soka Gakkai is Daisaku Ikeda. He built the modern day organization and it is his words, his spirit, his ideas, and his agenda that permeates every aspect of it. Fanatical is not too strong a word to use to describe the respect, love and devotion his followers feel for him. In recent years, the concept of the “oneness of master and disciple” (I forget the Japanese term) has become a central part of the faith, the doctrine.
I think Ikeda holds the world record for most academic honorary degrees. At last count, he has racked up a whopping 300. He gets a lot of prizes and awards, too. Some of these are the result of intensive lobbying efforts on the part of the SGI, and in a few cases, allegedly, extensive gift giving.
I haven’t mentioned the relentless recruitment efforts – or the money. Tons of it. One time the SGI “lost” a million dollars. It was found at a dumpsite in Yokohama.
So, it’s a complex story to tell. To try to capsulate even the Soka University part of it in a single article is a daunting task, if you want to do it with accuracy and balance. So, I have some mixed feeling about the article. For me there seems to be some pieces missing, some parts that are rather hazy, and some of it doesn’t ring true, based on my experience. I don’t doubt that there is something to the allegations, it’s just that I have questions about the way they are said to have been played out.
The SGI is a multi-tiered organization. At the level of Soka U, which is extremely important to the SGI, things are done with finesse. Frankly, when I hear allegations about threats and intimidation, I wonder. The typical SGI strategy is to marginalize people. They are highly skilled at subtle manipulation and manufacturing consent. Masters of public relations: scour the net and you will find very little negative material. How they do that, I don’t know. It’s a bit different in Japan, where a lot of the skeletons are already out of the closet. And they are sitting on top of a Mt. Fuji of controversy. One of these days, someone is going to put all the pieces together and present it the world. It’s inevitable the way things are today.
In reading the article it is important to keep in mind that Soka University of America is just one spoke in a very large wheel, and as such, and with all things Gakkai at that level, no decision is ever made or action taken without the knowledge and approval of higher ups in Japan. Often, the leaders in Japan give the direction, and they are not always sensitive to the cultures of other countries, and in the case of the U.S., political correctness, especially in regards to administrative, legal and financial matters.
I won’t go into all the other fine points that the article does not make, and I am not really judging the author, for as I said, it is a complex subject, and too, I have no idea what editorial judgments were made. One glaring error is that the Hare Krishna is not “an alternative Buddhist sect.” Those are not the author’s words, yet I would think that including a clarification would have been the more professional thing to do – maybe that’s just nit-picking, I don’t know.
Soka Gakkai has many positive aspects, but some disturbing ones. The question is whether the bad outweighs the good, and that is why it deserves scrutiny. Make no mistake about it, no matter how positive the SGI’s image is publicly, there is a dark side.
Ikeda is quoted in the article saying “I am the King of Japan.” Sounds pretty grandiose, but there is a grain of truth in that. His influence on his society is underrated outside of Japan, and perhaps within, as well. This is why, when someone does publish a well-researched, thorough “expose”, no matter how well balanced, it’ll be like a tsunami hitting the world of the Soka Gakkai, and I think, Japan itself.
Here’s the article.
By the way, a satellite designed by Soku U students in Japan, called Negai (“wish”), was launched on May 10, 2010 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The satellite is operated by Soka U and now orbits the earth, supposedly as a technological demonstration transmitting pictures to children participating in an outreach program. I don’t think this is part of any plot by the SGI to take over the world, but I’m not sure that I would rule it out.
Author of Ikeda portrait photo: SGI