What in the world is this sako gakkai?

Forgive me if I start ranting but I’m getting really frustrated as of late. The more I pray for the conversion of my family the more something else keeps coming up.

So like my moms cousin went into depression a couple of months ago for some reason I don’t understand (everything’s perfect in her life) and sometimes used to cry on the phone while talking with my mom saying she’s just a housewife and should be doing something better with her life.
Eventually she became very spiritual and stuff and after a long time she finally came back to normal. She said she met the head of this organisation called sako gakkai and she got everything she wanted after chanting. I’m cool with that.

But hearing about that, my moms become curious too. In fact the both of them are meeting with the woman right now. I don’t understand how saying something in a language you don’t understand can make you feel better but I guess it worked for some.

My aunt suggested we chant at our house every night some ‘namya ho rege’ whatever that means and my mom agreed, but we haven’t yet.

Should I be worried if my mom joins this thing? I know I shouldn’t really meddle in other peoples affairs but I’m concerned. It gets even more weird when western people start following these Japanese things.

It’s Soka Gakkai, a part of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. They will chant “Nam miyo renge kyo, etc.”, but only after they set up a little shrine. The little shrine will have some flowers and fruit or something I think, and it will have a little scroll of paper called a gohonzon. People will say, “Oh how fortunate you are! You have gohonzon!” I joined it for a few weeks in college because I was taking Japanese and wanted to meet some Japanese people to try my Japanese out on. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) the only people I met were down and out Americans and the chanting was all in something which I think was more like Sanskrit than Japanese.

Basically, you chant for things you want. If you want a bicycle, chant for a bicycle. If you want superpowers, chant for superpowers. I never took it seriously, although I have to say that even if all you have are a bunch of Americans chanting the Sanskrit or whatever it is, once they start chanting in their deepest most sonorous voices, they sound like a whole lot of male Buddhist monks, even if half of them are women. That kind of chanting though, with fifty or a hundred people, takes place in a hall with mats or whatever, so people can (I think) sit on their heels while they chant. Now I realize that I can’t remember the position we were using. We didn’t kneel, and we didn’t stand, and we didn’t sit, and we didn’t assume the position that Muslims do, so I’m thinking we sat on our heels, but we could have been cross-legged or we could have assumed a yoga position - I just can’t remember.

You’re right, almost nobody understands what they are chanting.

I never saw any great evidence that it did anything, but people ascribed various rewards in their lives to it.

It was in vogue in Hollywood for a while, with a few celebrities (I forget who) who were into it. Maybe it’s still in vogue. This is the first time I’ve thought of it in probably forty years.

I did get one thing I wasn’t expecting which I have fond memories of (which I always forget to associate with the religion), and that is a hike up a mountain. I had never done that before (or since) and the summertime hike was incredibly scenic. The guy who had talked me into joining (he was the group leader and he was looking for converts) wanted to go on a hike up a nearby mountain. I agreed to this and was rewarded with some scenery that was absolutely breathtaking, like a real-life journey up to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. I don’t think I will ever forget that.

Once the people who gave it to me figured out that I wasn’t really interested, they wanted the scroll back in the worst way and they wouldn’t stop bugging me about it until they got it back from me.

Me, I didn’t care about the scroll. I didn’t want to do anything bad to it nor did I want to keep it. I parted with it readily enough, I just didn’t want to meet with them again, and I didn’t want them in the house. Once I gave them back the gohonzon, they lost all interest in me.

If your mom gets a gohonzon, don’t let her throw it away because when she loses interest in it, people won’t leave her alone until she gives it back. If my experience is anything to go by, if she throws it away she’s going to be in a big mess.

When my mom saw the little shrine (this was before I had figured out that I wouldn’t get to talk to any Japanese people), she instinctively exclaimed, “That thing is EVIL!!!” Personally, I just thought it was a little bit embarrassing, but I figured if I could find someone to practice my Japanese on it would be worth it. Ultimately though, it was just a big waste of time.

Sorry if this is kind of rambling account, but I was filling in random memories as they came back to me and I had to jump back and forth.

That’s about all I’ve got.

Your mother’s discernment of spirits is impressive, but she best control her emotions, otherwise she will attract unwanted attention.

Hello Renarax.

I think you may mean this: "Soka Gakkai (Japanese: 創価学会?) is a Japanese new religious movement based on the writings of Nichiren and the teachings of the organization’s presidents Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, Jōsei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. It is one of the larger Japanese new religions. Originally a lay group within the Nichiren Shōshū Buddhist sect, the Gakkai reveres the Lotus Sutra and places the chanting of the name of the Sutra at the center of devotional practice. The movement is publicly involved in peace activism, education and politics. It has also been at the center of controversies.

The movement was founded by educators Makiguchi and Toda in 1930. After a temporary disbandment during World War II when much of the leadership was imprisoned on charges of lèse-majesté, the membership base was expanded through controversial and aggressive recruitment methods to a claimed figure of 750,000 households by 1958, compared to 3,000 before the end of the war."

As for your concerns regarding your mom, it is an alternative religion and is new. You cannot encourage her is this direction even if it seems to give her relief from her depression. We don’t change our religion to find a cure for mental illness. Her temporary remission may simply be a natural part of her depressive cycles and it shouldn’t be attributed to any “powers” these persons in new Japanese religious sect have or can give. You should caution her and buy her a new rosary and have blessed before you give it to her. There are a tons of good solid Catholic resources for dealing with depression and utilizing ones’ choices as a Catholic to heal the troubles of one’s soul.

I’ll look some up for you later. I gotta get to Church!


Granted, my understanding of Buddhism is quite superficial, but this just seems so at odds with some of the core doctrines of Buddhism. This attachment to material things seems like the quickest way to never reach Nirvana. Would you say it’s fair to characterize the SGI as the Buddhist version of the “Prosperity Gospel” (or “Health & Wealth Gospel” if you prefer) that we have in Christianity? What do “mainstream” Buddhists think about the SGI?

Perhaps, but I think what happened is that (remember, this was in the '70s) the ‘religion’ arrived here shorn of deeper meaning by the width of the Pacific Ocean, the poverty of the American recipients (they were very poor) and the Japanese/English language barrier.

At that time, although Japanese were very interested in learning English, there were no good Japanese to English dictionaries, no simple Hiragana/Katakana reading material (you were either reading Japanese words written in English, or you had to make the jump all the way to scarce Japanese newspapers - practically impossible for a novice. I found a very rare Japanese children’s book with Japanese characters, but it was at the “See Spot! See Spot run! Spot can run fast!” level.) and almost no Americans interested in learning Japanese. I had seen that Japan was coming on strong but nobody else was interested. People were more impressed that I was attempting to learn Russian than that I was attempting to learn Japanese. They thought of Japan as a little nothing country and the Soviet Union as the coming thing. I thought that was utterly ridiculous, and time has long since proven me right.

Thus, although the American practitioners had the form of the religion, they had almost no meaning except the idea that chanting the (probably Sanskrit) words on the gohonzon (the characters of which meant something to the Japanese, but which they couldn’t understand when they heard it either) would result in the fulfillment of wealth, wishes, and dreams.

I think you’re right about Buddhism in general. There must be some higher thought there than just trying to rub a magic lantern (or chant before a gohonzon) and make genii come out. But what that was, I have no idea.

What do “mainstream” Buddhists think about the SGI?

I don’t know what mainstream Buddhists think of it, but a Japanese guy I found to chat with (he wanted my help with his English, and I wanted his help with Japanese) was of the impression that Soka Gakkai (we didn’t call it that; everybody called it Namyo Renge Kyo - that was how the chant started) was often connected with backroom deals between high ranking politicians and ultra wealthy business men. I know that some of the people involved in that group eventually went to Japan, and back then I wondered what the high-powered Japanese members thought of them. Perhaps they decided to mold the Americans into something that would be useful to them on this side of the Pacific. I really don’t know though.

All in all, it was a very strange Japanese-to-American missionary effort in a peculiar time seemingly devoid of the historical currents that seem so strong now. I’m pretty sure my fellow Soka Gakkai Americans were completely off the radar of all but the most West Coast - Left Coast Portland or Seattle-type American politicians.

Maybe a few Californians knew about it too, but only the most New-Agey types would have cared, and then even they wouldn’t have been into chanting for a new set of snow tires (actually, that one worked, but only because the guy who was chanting for new snow tires was given them by somebody else in the group). :rolleyes:

It was all just sort of strange. :rolleyes:

Here is a beginner’s guide to chanting: youtube.com/watch?v=EL3fRLx4pHw

When a lot of well-practiced people are doing it at the same time, the air seems to buzz as if it was filled with giant bumble bees.

I’ll see if I can find a “buzz”-type video so you can hear what I mean.

I looked around a bit and found this: youtube.com/watch?v=EL3fRLx4pHw

It runs for about 24 minutes but not enough people are doing it for you to get the full “bumble bee” effect. If you listen for a kind of “zzzzz”, that’s what comes through in spades when you get about a hundred people doing it.

SGI is an extremely polarizing tradition, and it’s hard to get a sober netural look at it since so many people are drinking the kool-aid or drinking their own venom in how vicious they are against the SGI. The community/leadership were excommunicated from the Nichiren lineage, and have a fairly shady history of political and financial corruption so that just adds fuel to the belief that they are cultish. The veneration of Ikeda as if he were a bodhisattva sure as heck doesn’t help either.

I do agree with you on how their practice seems counter intuitive to typical Buddhist practice since the fixation on materialism only deepens the suffering outlined in the second of the four noble truths: “Suffering exists because of attachment (i.e, craving, dissatisfaction, expectations)”. The analaogy to comparing SGI to the prosperity gospel seems to be spot on. Both Buddhist and Catholic beliefs acknowledge that suffering is an inherent part of life due to our own karma (actions) and thoughts, and to tell someone that all their dreams will come true and pain will go away if they do X thing is a corruption of the spirit of the teachings of either faith since suffering reminds us to be mindful and compassionate to everyone including ourselves.

I have several friends who are part of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), and I have been to a few of their meetings.

I don’t really agree with the motivation for their practice. From what I’ve seen, too many of them pour too much of the energy and attention of their practice into the physical world. (I’m also not a fan of praying to God for material things). The group that I attended also seemed to have a “cult-like” atmosphere to it.

That being said, they’re not a cult as far as I can tell, and even though I don’t like their particular approach to Buddhism (I hesitate to even call it Buddhism…), my impression is that they’re largely harmless.

Their practice has power to it. Any practice of that nature that directs energy and attention for extended periods of time like they do is going to produce tangible results. And many of the members I spoke to had some rather impressive stories about miraculous things happening as a result of their practice. But they seemed to be using the power of their practice to acquire rather harmless things (even if they’re too materialistic for my tastes). So I feel like they’re misguided, but not sinister.

Seems your aunt was going through some physical issues. Did she ever go to a doctor to be checked out. For hormones, etc?

I think praying the rosary would be much better than chanting something they don’t even know what it is. Your aunt may get some relief doing it if she is an anxious person and it calms her down but just deep breathing and doing relaxation exercises would do the same thing. Plus you won’t get into some other religion that doesn’t pray to God but an idol. That would be bad and sinful.

So many cults and New Age things prey on people who are going through hard times promising them more than they can deliver. I hope you encourage your aunt and mother to stay close to God and not to stray away from their religion.

Do a search on New Age on here. I heard a woman on the Catholic Answers radio talking about that and she has a book about it.

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