The Komeito Challenge

Does Buddhism encourage engagement in society’s affairs?

Nichiren was a strong social activist, who challenged various sides of authorities and demanded open debates about the situation in the country.  Nichiren Buddhism is about how to be a better citizen in society - and how to help in making positive effects.

Defeat of the Shinto nationalist forces was a victory for ordinary people’s freedom of belief, and their freedom to participate in social and political activities.

To enable ordinary people participation in their right for political freedom, P. Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai encouraged members to fearlessly voice their views in society about matters concerning their community, education, work environment, housing, transportation, health issues and citizen’s rights.

Buddhism before the Soka Gakkai

Before the Soka Gakkai had any significant presence, Buddhism was a tradition of self-centred meditation and ritualistic practice in temples, in which priests bowed to the demands of political authorities. 

The Soka Gakkai challenged this image of “Buddhism” - and revived the spirit of Nichiren, who directly challenged the oppressive authorities and invited for debates – an approach which counts for today’s dialogue and exchange of opinions in a democratic environment.

The third president of the Soka Gakkai, D. Ikeda, encouraged members who were willing to participate in social reforms to address the needs of their local community to the government through a coherent line of political engagement.

The Komeito party was initially established in 1964 with a mission to inspire

        “a politics based on a humanitarianism that treats human life

        with utmost respect and care”.

The party went through various stages of development including complete disassociation from the Soka Gakkai, standing as an independent progressive current of social reforms. 

Ikeda made it clear that politics is not the domain of the Soka Gakkai, and that involvement in political competition must never be the aim of the organisation:

        The Soka Gakkai is a religious organisation that acts on the Buddha’s command.

        We must not let it become involved in political strife under any circumstances”.

The Human Revolution, p. 1481

As in any democratic country, citizens are entitled to vote. Critics of the Soka Gakkai, however, display their conflict with the working of democratic systems, and their dismay for the constitutional rights of ordinary people to vote to a legally registered party.

Engagement in socio-political activities

as a principle of Nichiren Buddhism

In the view of independent academics:

                                                               “The Soka Gakkai, however, does employ direct action to promote its social agenda through its closely affiliated political party, the Komeito.

The Soka Gakkai is thus following Nichiren tradition of direct political involvement”.

Source: The Soka Gakkai and Human Security, p. 55 D. Metraux, Mary Baldwin College, Virginia Review of Asian Studies

Buddhism: from isolation in retreats to encouraging political voting

Criticism of the right of Soka Gakkai members to democratically vote - is contrasted by encouragement of Theravada and Mahayana scholars for political voting during the 2012 American Elections in which President Obama won the office:

        “Voting is a manifestation of the law of interdependence:

        each of our actions, no matter how small, affects the whole cosmos.

        Our votes count”.

Susan Moon, Tricycle magazine, 6 November 2012

        “One way to read the injunction for Right Conduct, an essential part of the Eightfold Path,

        is to see it as calling us—as citizens—to translate the dharma into specific acts

        of social responsibility.

        In a democratic republic, that surely means voting for those initiatives that we believe

        will reduce suffering and violence, ignorance and hatred -

        and the very divisions fuelled by politics itself”. Charles Johnson, Tricycle, 5 November 2012


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