The Development of Soka Gakkai in India

Ikeda (second left) with schoolchildren in Kolkata in 1979 [© Seikyo Shimbun]

The ancient land of India is the birthplace of Buddhism with its philosophy of humanism, peace and compassion. The teachings of the Buddha gradually spread to illuminate all of Asia, including Japan, but over the centuries the practice of Buddhism all but died out in India.

In the meantime, Buddhism came to flourish in Japan, giving rise to various schools of thought, including that of the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren.

Nichiren’s philosophy of individual empowerment and social transformation found fertile ground in post-World War II Japan, thanks to the efforts of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and his protégé Josei Toda, the founders of the Soka Gakkai.

In February 1961, Daisaku Ikeda, the young and newly inaugurated third president of the organization, visited Bodh Gaya, the place where Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, is said to have attained enlightenment some 2,500 years ago. During the visit, Ikeda and his party buried a plaque there on which he had inscribed a vow to help actualize the peace and prosperity of Asia.

Among Nichiren’s writings is a passage that reads:

“The Land of the Moon is another name for India, the place where the Buddha made his appearance in the world. The Land of the Sun is another name for Japan. Is there any reason why a sage should not appear here?

“The moon moves from the west eastward, a sign of how the Buddhism of India spread in an easterly direction. The sun rises in the east, an auspicious sign of how the Buddhism of Japan is destined to return to the Land of the Moon.”

In the 1950s, Ikeda’s mentor Josei Toda, the second Soka Gakkai president, in turn wrote in a poem:

To the people of Asia
who pray for a glimpse of the moon
through the parting clouds,
let us send them,
the light of the sun.

For Ikeda, the visit marked the historic beginning of this process. At the time, there were no members of the organization in India and very few in other parts of the world.

Ikeda with B. N. Pande, vice chairman of Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti in 1992 [© Seikyo Shimbun]

Ikeda was deeply determined that he would fulfill the vision of his mentor, and gradually a handful of practitioners began to appear in different parts of the country. On October 12, 1975, the first general meeting of these members was held in Kolkata. Twelve of them attended, together with five guests.

When Ikeda next visited India in February 1979, a total of 40 members from throughout the country gathered in New Delhi to meet him. The encounter was a pivotal moment that inspired the participants to strengthen their commitment to actualize Nichiren’s vision of kosen-rufu—the positive transformation of society through the spread of Buddhism.

The organization gradually began to take shape, with regular meetings for Buddhist practice and study and more effort going into supporting and encouraging individual members in their practice. On January 3, 1986, Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG) was officially registered with the Indian government, planting its roots firmly in Indian soil.

From that point on, BSG began to more vigorously undertake activities for the promotion of peace, culture and education in cooperation with like-minded organizations. As a result, BSG and Ikeda’s writings and efforts for peace have become increasingly recognized and appreciated in Indian society. An indication of this is that Ikeda has to date received 15 honorary doctorates and professorships and more than 40 awards in India.

When Ikeda next visited India in February 1992, more than 3,000 people attended a cultural festival held to celebrate the occasion. It was at that time that Ikeda composed and presented the BSG members with a poem entitled “Dawn of India,” which came to be regarded as a guideline for the organization. The poem encourages Indian members to build an ideal land that fuses modernism and spirituality and is underlined by a profound humanity.

BSG’s footprint in Indian society continued to grow through its relief efforts during several natural disasters—including the Orissa cyclone in October 1999, the tsunami of December 2004 and the Chennai floods in 2015—as well as through exhibitions created to raise awareness around issues such as sustainable development and building a culture of peace. BSG also engaged in social upliftment activities such as the establishment of 190 classroom libraries in Delhi schools.

In 1993, BSG established the Soka Bodhi Tree Garden, a hub for cultural exchange and the study of Buddhism on the outskirts of Delhi.

Members of Bharat Soka Gakkai in India

In October 1997, Ikeda visited India again, meeting for dialogue with several dignitaries including then Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. At that time, he predicted that together with the United States and China, India would be one of the “three pivots” of the 21st century.

At the time of Ikeda’s 1997 visit, membership of BSG was around 4,000. Five years later it had grown to 10,000. By 2014, it had increased to 70,000, then 100,000 by 2015 and by 2016 to 150,000.

On November 29, 2015, at Ikeda’s suggestion, the plaque that had been buried at Bodh Gaya in 1961 was reburied at the Soka Bodhi Tree Garden during an exchange visit by Soka Gakkai leaders and youth representatives from Japan. Fifty-five years after Ikeda buried the plaque in Bodh Gaya, the original spirit of Buddhism—a spirit that seeks the happiness and empowerment of each person and the peace and flourishing of society—is beginning to sprout and flourish again in the land of its origin.

[September 2016]