About Buddhism


The origins of the SGI-USA worldview can be traced to the teachings of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who lived some 2,500 years ago in what is modern-day Nepal. Born Gautama Siddhartha, he abandoned his sheltered, princely life and sought instead to understand the inescapable sufferings of every human being—birth, aging, sickness and death—and the means by which these sufferings could be overcome.

Following his enlightenment at age 30, he traveled throughout India for some 50 years, sharing the wisdom he had discovered. The term Buddha, or “enlightened one,” is applied to any human being who realizes the eternity of life and the operation of cause and effect throughout the three existences of past, present and future.

Throughout Shakyamuni Buddha’s life, he expounded many sutras, or teachings, the highest and most comprehensive being the Lotus Sutra. Shakyamuni stated that all of his teachings prior to the Lotus Sutra should be regarded as provisional; these teachings strove to awaken people to the impermanence of all phenomena in order to free them from the sufferings that arise from egoistic attachment to things that the passage of time will destroy or render meaningless.

As his essential teaching, revealed in the last eight years of his life, the Lotus Sutra teaches the existence of an innate and universal truth known as the Buddha nature, the manifestation of which enables one to enjoy absolute happiness and to act with boundless compassion. Rather than stressing impermanence and the consequent need to eliminate earthly desires and attachments, the Lotus Sutra asserts the ultimate reality of the Buddha nature inherent in all life. It is therefore a teaching which profoundly affirms the realities of daily life, and which naturally encourages an active engagement with others and with the whole of human society.

The Lotus Sutra is also unique among the teachings of Shakyamuni in that it makes the attainment of enlightenment a possibility open to all people—without distinction based on gender, race, social standing or education.

Nichiren Daishonin

After Shakyamuni’s passing, his teachings became splintered and increasingly misunderstood as they spread throughout Asia and beyond. In the 13th century, a Japanese Buddhist reformer, Nichiren Daishonin, declared the Lotus Sutra, taught during the final eight years of Shakyamuni’s life, to be the highest and ultimate teaching of Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra most clearly shows Buddhism as a powerful, life-affirming, egalitarian and humanistic teaching.

Born the son of a fisherman in a time of social unrest and natural catastrophe, Nichiren became a religious acolyte and after a period of intensive study came to realize that the Lotus Sutra constitutes the heart of Buddhist teachings. His great gift to humanity was in giving concrete expression to this life-affirming philosophy by creating a simple yet profound daily practice accessible to all people. Nichiren first chanted the title of the Lotus Sutra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on April 28, 1253, and later inscribed the mandala of the Gohonzon (the physical object of devotion for all humanity). It is the philosophy taught by Nichiren that forms the foundation of the SGI.


Nichiren taught that all the benefits of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be realized by chanting its title [Nam] Myoho-renge-kyo. The universal law of life is expressed as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; reciting this allows each individual to tap into the wisdom of their life to reveal their Buddha nature. Chanting these words and excerpts from the Lotus Sutra is the core of this Buddhist practice, supported by study and helping others reveal their own Buddhahood. Faith, practice and study are the basics of Buddhist practice, pursuing activities for oneself and activities for the sake of others.

The Gohonzon

The Gohonzon, a scroll practitioners chant to, was inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin and is depicted in Chinese characters embodying the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the life of Nichiren, as well as protective functions of the universe. The fundamental object of respect, the Gohonzon represents the enlightened life of each individual. Down the center are the characters Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and Nichiren’s signature. This indicates the oneness of person and Mystic Law—that the condition of Buddhahood is a potential within and can be manifested by all people. SGI members enshrine a replica of the Gohonzon in their homes as a focal point for their daily practice. The Gohonzon’s strength comes from the practitioner’s faith—the Gohonzon functions as a spiritual mirror. Sitting in front of the Gohonzon and chanting enables a person to recognize and reveal his or her own Buddha nature, the unlimited potential and happiness of their life.


The Japanese word gongyo literally means “assiduous practice.” The practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and recite portions of both the second (Expedient Means) and the sixteenth (Life Span) chapters of the Lotus Sutra in front of the Gohonzon. This is the fundamental practice of Nichiren Buddhism, performed morning and evening.

Who is Nichiren Daishonin?

SGI members follow the teachings of Nichiren, a Buddhist monk who lived in thirteenth-century Japan. Nichiren’s teachings provide a way for anybody to readily draw out the enlightened wisdom and energy of Buddhahood from within their lives, regardless of their individual circumstances. Each person has the power to overcome all of life’s challenges, to live a life of value and become a positive influence in their community, society and the world.

In Search of the Solution to Human Suffering

Nichiren was born in 1222 in Japan, a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. The common people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the Buddhist teachings had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. While a young priest, he set out to find an answer to the suffering and chaos that surrounded him. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people’s suffering and enabling society to flourish.

The Essence of Buddhism

The Lotus Sutra affirms that all people, regardless of gender, capacity or social standing, inherently possess the qualities of a Buddha, and are therefore equally worthy of the utmost respect.

Based on his study of the sutra Nichiren established the invocation (chant) of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a universal practice to enable people to manifest the Buddhahood inherent in their lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances. Nichiren saw the Lotus Sutra as a vehicle for people’s empowerment—stressing that everyone can attain enlightenment and enjoy happiness while they are alive.


Nichiren was critical of the established schools of Buddhism that relied on state patronage and merely served the interests of the powerful while encouraging passivity in the suffering masses. He called the feudal authorities to task, insisting that the leaders bear responsibility for the suffering of the population and act to remedy it. His stance, that the state exists for the sake of the people, was revolutionary for its time.

Nichiren’s claims invited an onslaught of often-violent persecutions from the military government and the established Buddhist schools. Throughout, he refused to compromise his principles to appease those in authority.

Nichiren’s legacy lies in his unrelenting struggle for people’s happiness and the desire to transform society into one which respects the dignity and potential of each individual life.


The invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was established by Nichiren Daishonin on April 28, 1253. Having studied widely among all the Buddhist sutras, he had concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate truth of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. But to Nichiren, Myoho-renge-kyo was far more than the title of a Buddhist text, it was the expression, in words, of the Law of life which all Buddhist teachings in one way or another seek to clarify. What follows is a brief and unavoidably limited explanation of some of the key concepts expressed by this phrase.


The word nam derives from Sanskrit. A close translation of its meaning is “to devote oneself.” Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a means to enable all people to put their lives in harmony or rhythm with the law of life, or Dharma. In the original Sanskrit, nam indicates the elements of action and attitude, and refers therefore to the correct action one needs to take and the attitude one needs to develop in order to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime.


Myoho literally means the Mystic Law, and expresses the relationship between the life inherent in the universe and the many different ways this life expresses itself. Myo refers to the very essence of life, which is “invisible” and beyond intellectual understanding. This essence always expresses itself in a tangible form (ho) that can be apprehended by the senses. Phenomena (ho) are changeable, but pervading all such phenomena is a constant reality known as myo.


Renge means lotus flower. The lotus blooms and produces seeds at the same time, and thus represents the simultaneity of cause and effect. The circumstances and quality of our individual lives are determined by the causes and effects, both good and bad, that we accumulate (through our thoughts, words and actions) at each moment. This is called our “karma.” The law of cause and effect explains that we each have personal responsibility for our own destiny. We create our destiny and we can change it. The most powerful cause we can make is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; the effect of Buddhahood is simultaneously created in the depths of our life and will definitely manifest in time.

The lotus flower grows and blooms in a muddy pond, and yet remains pristine and free from any defilement, symbolizing the emergence of Buddhahood from within the life of an ordinary person.


Kyo literally means sutra, the voice or teaching of a Buddha. In this sense, it also means sound, rhythm or vibration. Also, the Chinese character for kyo originally meant the warp in a piece of woven cloth, symbolizing the continuity of life throughout past, present and future. In a broad sense, kyo conveys the concept that all things in the universe are a manifestation of the Mystic Law.

Primary Practice

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo–also known as “Daimoku”—is the primary practice of SGI members. Through this practice, one is able to reveal the state of Buddhahood in one’s life, experienced as the natural development of joy, increased vitality, courage, wisdom and compassion.

The Secret to Happiness

The secret is that there is no secret!

Buddhism teaches that a universal Law (dharma) underlies everything in the universe. This is the very essence of life. One could also think of it as the fundamental rhythm of life and the universe. Nichiren identified this Law or essence as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He taught that by correctly carrying out the practice of Buddhism everyone is able to bring their individual life into harmony with the greater life of the universe. The result of this is that one is able to experience greater wisdom, courage, life force and compassion (the qualities of this life-essence). This, practically, is what it means to manifest Buddhahood, or an enlightened life condition.

SGI members are encouraged to employ their Buddhist practice to squarely confront and overcome the specific challenges of their daily lives. Through this process, one is able to appreciate and manifest the profound potential of one’s life. Buddhist practice also means to realize and unfold one’s unique life purpose. SGI members believe that this process of inner spiritual transformation or “human revolution” not only leads to individual empowerment and constructive action but is the surest way to direct humankind’s energies toward creating a peaceful and prosperous world.

Based on the teachings and philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a lay Buddhist organization, seeks to promote the values of peace, culture and education. The practice of Buddhism exists for the happiness of each individual and the fostering of world peace. To learn more about the SGI or to attend a meeting, please contact the Community Center (Kaikan) near you.

What Is Our Buddhist Practice?

The workings of the universe are an expression of a single principle or Law, expressed as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables all people to perceive this Law in their own lives and to come into rhythm with it. By putting their lives in harmony with this Law, people can unlock their hidden potential and achieve harmony with the environment.

This is the ultimate expression of individual empowerment—that each person can transform the inevitable sufferings of life into sources of growth and fulfillment and become a positive influence in their family and community.

There are three basics in applying Buddhism to our daily lives: faith, practice and study. They are the primary ingredients in the recipe for revealing our innate enlightened condition, or Buddhahood. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Buddhist philosophy and taking action daily for the well-being of others, we can establish a state of profound happiness and wisdom, as well as contribute to society.

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin are a compilation of letters and treatises written by Nichiren himself to his followers. He was persecuted throughout his life by the Japanese government and by religious leaders who considered his revolutionary teachings a threat to their continued authority. Nevertheless, the letters he wrote to his followers, often under the most dire conditions, illustrate that even in the midst of the greatest challenge, he was able to realize the great beauty of life and feel joy and compassion for others. These letters and treatises, more than 400 of which remain today, are collected in English as The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vols. I and II, and are the primary study material for SGI members. Search The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin online: http://www.sgilibrary.org

Timeline of Nichiren Buddhism

1222: February 16 Nichiren Daishonin is born in Kominato, Japan.

1253: April 28 Nichiren first chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

1260: July 16 Nichiren submits his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

1260: August 27 Matsubagayatsu Persecution. Incited by priests, Pure Land believers descend on the Daishonin’s hermitage at Matsubagayatsu, to kill him. He is forced to flee for his life.

1261: May 12 Izu Exile. Nichiren is banished by the Kamakura shogunate to Ito in Izu Province, Japan.

1264: November 11 Komatsubara Persecution. Nichiren is attacked by swordsmen led by the lord of the region. He receives a slash on his forehead and has his left hand broken, but his followers help him escape.

1271: September 12 Tatsunokuchi Persecution. Nichiren, who is about to be beheaded by government troops, is saved when a flash of light in the night sky frightens the executioners away. The government later decides to exile him to Sado Island.

1279: October 12 Nichiren inscribes the Dai-Gohonzon for all humanity.

1282: October 13 Writes a transfer document at Ikegami, designating Nikko as chief priest of Kuon-ji temple at Minobu, and shortly afterward passes away.

1282: October 13 Nichiren dies.

1871: June 6 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the Soka Gakkai’s first president, is born.

1900: February 11 Josei Toda, the Soka Gakkai’s second president, is born.

1928: January 2 Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Soka Gakkai International, is born.

1930: November 18 Soka Gakkai Founding Day. Soka Gakkai is established.

1944: November 18 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the Soka Gakkai’s first president, dies in prison. 1945: July 3 Day of Mentor and Disciple President Josei Toda is released from Toyotama Prison. (1957: Daisaku Ikeda is arrested in 1957 in Osaka on false charges.)

1947: August 24 Daisaku Ikeda joins the Soka Gakkai at age 19. SGI-USA Men’s Division Day

1951: May 3 Soka Gakkai Day Josei Toda inaugurated as the second Soka Gakkai president. (1960: Daisaku Ikeda inaugurated as third Soka Gakkai president.)

1951: July 11 Young men’s division established.

1951: July 19 Young women’s division established.

1957: September 8 President Josei Toda makes a declaration against the use of nuclear weapons.

1958: March 16 Kosen-rufu Day More than 6,000 youth attend a ceremony at the head temple where President Josei Toda passes responsibility for the spread of the Nichiren’s Buddhism to all youth division members.

1958: April 2 Josei Toda, the Soka Gakkai’s second president dies.

1960: May 3 Soka Gakkai Day Daisaku Ikeda inaugurated as the third Soka Gakkai president.

1960: October 2 World Peace Day President Ikeda lands in Hawaii on his first trip outside Japan, beginning his worldwide efforts for peace, culture and education based on Nichiren’s Buddhism.

1960: October 5 SGI-USA Day President Ikeda arrives in San Francisco on his first trip to the continental United States, setting in motion the American movement to spread the Nichiren’s Buddhism. At Coit Tower, President Ikeda declares that this day will one day be looked upon as a significant step forward for the Nichiren’s Buddhism and the world itself.

1964: August 15 World Tribune publishes its first issue.

1974: April 1 SGI President Ikeda gives his first university lecture, at UCLA.

1975: January 26 Soka Gakkai International established; Daisaku Ikeda inaugurated as SGI president.

1979: April 24 Daisaku Ikeda forced to resign as Soka Gakkai President because of malicious, false charges created by the Nichiren Shoshu temple.

1987: February 2 SGI President Ikeda formally opens the World Peace Ikeda Auditorium, the first building designed and built specifically for SGI-USA activities.

1987: February 3 Calabasas, California, campus of Soka University of America, founded by SGI President Ikeda, opens.

1990: February 27: SGI-USA Women’s Day Mrs. Kaneko Ikeda’s Birthday

1991: November 28 Day of Spiritual Independence. Nichiren Shoshu excommunicates twelve million SGI members worldwide.

1993: September 24 The Boston Research Center for the Twenty-first Century is founded by SGI President Ikeda.

1996: February 11 Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research founded by SGI President Ikeda in Tokyo; offices open in Hawaii in 1997.

1996: June 19 The Florida Nature and Culture Center opens.

Frequently Asked Questions

Additional Links to Learn more about this practice and philosophy


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