The name Soka Spirit derives from the “Soka Gakkai spirit” that SGI President Ikeda often cites. To protect the Law for the people, for all of us and the future generations, based on the example set for us by the Daishonin. This has been the spirit of the successive Soka Gakkai presidents: Toda and Makiguchi.
As Japan’s militarist authorities tightened control over society and suppressed dissent, Toda and Makiguchi were arrested and imprisoned in 1943 for opposing the government’s policies. In prison, Toda devoted himself to the practice and study of Nichiren Buddhism, gaining a profound grasp of its principles. His efforts brought him to a clear realization that Buddhahood is a potential inherent in all life, and deepened his confidence that all people could manifest this enlightened life condition through practicing Nichiren’s teachings.
Toda is also remembered for his uncompromising stance against nuclear weapons, which he termed an absolute evil that threatens people’s inalienable right to life. He urged the youth members of the Soka Gakkai to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons. This stance, which he declared in 1957, is considered the inspiration for the SGI’s peace activities. In honor of Toda’s ideals, his successor, SGI President Ikeda, founded the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research. The institute brings peace researchers, policy-makers and community activists together on projects related to peace-building and dialogue among civilizations.
It is to continue, to the best of our ability with our words, with our hearts, with our actions the struggle for the SGI’s peace activities.
The Soka Spirit is for Everyone
SGI-USA Vice Study Department Leader
The Soka Spirit informs the three basics aspects of Nichiren Buddhism—faith, practice and study—with the humanistic essence of Buddhism. The same religious teaching eventually may be interpreted and practiced differently by different people or groups. In this regard, the perspective from which we view religion and the approach with which to practice it are as important as the teaching itself.
For instance, whether one believes that a religion exists to serve people, or that people exist to serve religion, will make a great difference in how one views that religion’s doctrines or scriptures. The question of whether the ultimate truth or reality is intrinsic to human life or something external to and above human life is also a key. The importance of our perspective on and approach to religion becomes most evident when we see in today’s world the same religions being practiced by both violent fundamentalists and peace-loving ordinary citizens.
The Soka Spirit may be described as the authentically Buddhist perspective on belief, practice and learning. It reflects the conviction that all living beings, all people, equally share the potential for supreme enlightenment. It views Buddhism as existing to empower all people equally, regardless of race, nationality, sex, social class, or position, to develop the highest form of wisdom and genuine happiness in their lives. The following are four ways in which the Soka Spirit informs how we believe, practice and learn about Nichiren Buddhism.
1) Prayer: “Praising and Reflecting Upon Our True Self”
Prayer is an expression of faith. The content of prayer, therefore, is the substance of faith. The prayer of authoritarian faith is the prayer of self-disparagement whereas the prayer of humanistic faith is the prayer of self-affirmation. Prayer based on the Soka Spirit is the total affirmation of our true self that is originally endowed with fundamental enlightenment and delusion; it is the expression of our resolve to nurture our enlightenment and challenge our delusion. In this regard, we may say that through prayer, we praise our lives for our innate Buddhahood and self-reflect upon our delusive tendency to disrespect life.
Our acknowledgement of both our innate enlightenment and innate delusion is a cause for great joy. From steadfast faith in our innate Buddhahood, we can create hope in any circumstance; we can tap the life force and wisdom that can contribute to the improvement of ourselves and our circumstances. A courageous and honest recognition of our innate potential for delusion can inspire us to continually improve our lives. Through praising our innate enlightenment and reflecting upon our innate delusion, we can live today with confidence and appreciation and look with hope toward tomorrow. Practicing Buddhism with this spirit, we can really come to know our true selves.
2) Learning: “Knowing Good and Evil Within”
The Soka Spirit means learning the Buddhist view of human life—of both its good and evil sides. From the viewpoint of Buddhism, good is the affirmation of life, particularly its supreme potential of Buddhahood, and evil is its negation. The innate good of life expresses itself as humanism, that is, a respectful orientation toward life that regards fulfilling life’s highest potential as most important. Life’s innate evil, however, manifests itself as a disrespectful outlook that views life as a means to an end.
The vast literature of Buddhism, particularly the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren’s writings, sheds light on the workings of life and explains how to nurture our innate good while challenging our innate evil. Reading about and discussing the priesthood issue, as a concrete example of these workings of life, will give us important insight into the causes of authoritarianism and the importance of the Soka Spirit. Learning about the humanistic essence of Buddhism is to have intimate knowledge of our true self. Please check out our reading materials on this Website and start learning about the Soka Spirit today!
3) Dialogue: “Talking the Soka Spirit”
The Soka Spirit deepens and spreads through dialogue. When we share our thoughts and feelings about it with others, we not only help them expand their perspective on life but also deepen our own understanding. When imbued with the compassion to care for others and the courage to challenge disrespect toward life, dialogue is a concrete and powerful expression of the Soka Spirit, whether or not we specifically mention the SGI or Buddhism.
The possibilities of the practical application of the Soka Spirit are limitless and as diverse as our human activities. The Soka Spirit could permeate every dialogue—from peace talks among world leaders to dinner table conversations. We can make the Soka Spirit the foundation of our everyday communication and share the message of compassion and courage with our families and friends.
4) Action: “Walking the Soka Spirit”
An idea becomes reality when put into action. If we wish to appreciate the meaning and value of the Soka Spirit, we need to practice it every day as in the form of respectful actions toward others and ourselves. When we praise our lives through strong Buddhist prayer and treat others with respect, when we reflect upon our disrespect of others and ourselves, and when we encourage others to challenge their delusion, we are on the path of the Soka Spirit. It is a path that becomes more distinct as we keep walking.
Respect for life is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism, and the Lotus Sutra explains its importance through example of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. If we take an honest look at how we treat ourselves and others, and if we try to be a little more respectful and a little less disrespectful, we become practitioners of the Soka Spirit.
It takes mindfulness and perseverance to practice the Soka Spirit, since all people may not reciprocate our respect. As an example of this attitude in the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, though reviled and disparaged, continued to show respect for all people while praising their potential for Buddhahood. As the Lotus Sutra teaches, each step we take along the path of the Soka Spirit will be richly rewarding, enabling us to deepen our character and sense of fulfillment. The Lotus Sutra explains that Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, as a result of his respect for others, purified his mind and senses, that is, his thoughts and feelings. When we start embracing those around us with the Soka Spirit, we will purify our mind and senses, just as Bodhisattva Never Disparaging did, experiencing our lives anew each day.