Successors and Authority

Makiguchi and his disciple, Jose Toda (1900-1958), were imprisoned during the Second World War on charges of lèse-majesté for refusing to comply with the Religious Organisations Act (1940). The Act effectively established Shinto as the national religion of Japan, and was designed to promote patriotism and loyalty to the rapidly militarising regime (Hammond and Machacek 2002: 1190). However, it was replaced with a new constitution in 1946 which broke the relationship between religion and the State. The new constitution offered religious freedom for the first time in Japanese history and allowed religions to operate free from state interference, but also without state support (Reader 2002: 718).

Toda assumed the presidency of Soka Gakkai after Makiguchi’s death in prison in 1944 and, upon his release, revitalised Makiguchi’s fractured movement. He dropped the word ‘Kyoiku’ (‘Educational’) from the movement’s name and reorganised it as a lay movement affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu. The emphasis on health, wealth and happiness in Toda’s teachings resonated with significantly large audiences in post-War Tokyo, especially those who were displaced, and the movement grew rapidly (Montgomery 1991: 1190).

In 1947, Toda met Daisaku Ikeda, a 19-year-old who greatly impressed him. Toda soon employed Ikeda at one of his companies and became his mentor. In 1960, two years after Toda’s death, Ikeda succeeded him as the president of Soka Gakkai. During Ikeda’s presidency, Soka Gakkai launched its own political party, Komeito (‘Clean Government’), in 1961, which went on to perform well in elections. The political success of Komeito, along with the more assertive proselytising by Soka Gakkai, alarmed many members of the public and provoked a considerable backlash (Montgomery 1991: 196).

At the same time, Soka Gakkai innovated and expanded even further under Ikeda’s leadership. In 1975, he became the first president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) (SGI-UK 2017: 43). Since then, Ikeda has remained the president of SGI, whilst he has been succeeded by other leaders in the presidency of SG within Japan (although he remains the honorary president).

During these post-War decades, there were underlying tensions between Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu. Things came to a head in 1990, when the high priest of Nichiren Shoshu accused Ikeda of equating the priesthood with the laity (Hammond and Machacek 2002: 1190). Although the Soka Gakkai leadership issued a formal apology, these tensions continued to grow and in 1991, the Nichiren Shoshu high priest ordered Soka Gakkai to disband and excommunicated all members who remained affiliated to it.

The split with Nichiren Shoshu has appeared to benefit Soka Gakkai International, especially by enhancing the local autonomy of its international organisations which became more able to adapt to their immediate environments. To fill the clerical gap, Soka Gakkai developed roles for voluntary ‘ministers of ceremony’ who now preside over weddings, funerals, and other rituals (Hammond and Machacek 2002: 1191) (see Religious/Ritual Practice section below). Lay leaders outside of Japan had already been fulfilling this function prior to the formalisation of the role.

Download the entire essay here

Soka Gakkai


343.2 KB

Download resource