The invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was established by Nichiren Daishonin on April 28, 1253. Having studied widely among all the Buddhist sutras, he had concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate truth of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. But to Nichiren, Myoho-renge-kyo was far more than the title of a Buddhist text, it was the expression, in words, of the Law of life which all Buddhist teachings in one way or another seek to clarify. What follows is a brief and unavoidably limited explanation of some of the key concepts expressed by this phrase.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo--also known as "Daimoku"—is the primary practice of SGI members. Through this practice, one is able to reveal the state of Buddhahood in one's life, experienced as the natural development of joy, increased vitality, courage, wisdom and compassion.
SGI members follow the teachings of Nichiren, a Buddhist monk who lived in thirteenth-century Japan. Nichiren's teachings provide a way for anybody to readily draw out the enlightened wisdom and energy of Buddhahood from within their lives, regardless of their individual circumstances. Each person has the power to overcome all of life's challenges, to live a life of value and become a positive influence in their community, society and the world.
In Search of the Solution to Human Suffering
Nichiren was born in 1222 in Japan, a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. The common people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the Buddhist teachings had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. While a young priest, he set out to find an answer to the suffering and chaos that surrounded him. 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 Essence of Buddhism
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 Buddhahood inherent in their 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 while they are alive.
Nichiren was critical of the established schools of Buddhism that relied on state patronage and merely served the interests of the powerful while encouraging passivity in the suffering masses. He called the feudal authorities to task, insisting that the leaders bear responsibility for the suffering of the population and act to remedy it. His stance, that the state exists for the sake of the people, was revolutionary for its time.
Nichiren's claims invited an onslaught of often-violent persecutions from the military government and the established Buddhist schools. Throughout, he refused to compromise his principles to appease those in authority.
Nichiren's legacy lies in his unrelenting struggle for people's happiness and the desire to transform society into one which respects the dignity and potential of each individual life.
Founding President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi first used the term Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value Creation Educational Society) in 1930 when he published his insightful book The Theory of Value-Creating Pedagogy. He asserted that the purpose of education should not be mere training for workers for Japan's growing industrial machine, but the development of the human ability to create "value" (i.e., gain, beauty and social good) in their daily lives. His humanistic, student-centered views and defense of religious freedom often brought him into conflict with authority. Arrested with other top Soka Gakkai leaders in 1943 as a "thought criminal" for his unyielding opposition to the militarist regime and its forced imposition of state-sponsored religion, Makiguchi died in prison at the age of 73 in November 1944.
Makiguchi's close disciple, Josei Toda, survived the ordeal and was released from a Tokyo prison just weeks before the world's first use of the atomic bomb in July 1945. Determined to rebuild the Soka Gakkai, Toda set about to develop its membership from less than 3,000 families when he assumed the presidency in 1951 to more than 750,000 before his death in 1958, thereby spreading the movement across Japan and throughout society. The Soka Gakkai's remarkable growth stemmed from its commitment to help people overcome their suffering in the postwar chaos.
On May 3, 1960, Daisaku Ikeda became the third president. Within six months, he established chapters in the United States and South American countries, followed a year later by organizations in nine European countries. He continues to provide leadership for the global SGI organization, which now includes members in more than 190 countries and territories. Ikeda has founded a number of educational and cultural institutions that seek to foster the values of peace, culture and education.