Adam over at Home Brew Dharma has a heartfelt, in depth post on his experiences with a Soka Gakkai Buddhist community. He brings up a lot of troubling issues, which Soka Gakkai in general has been accused of by many others. The first point Adam makes seems to be the lynch pin for the rest of what follows:
1) Nichiren Buddhists claim that Nichiren Buddhism is the only “true Buddhism™” and all other teachings (and schools of Buddhism) are “lesser” teachings. Even the different schools of Nicherin continually attempt to refute eachother and claim ownership over true Buddhism. It’s all over SGI publications and I’ve heard it at several meetings as well. They characterize “old Buddhism” as being fatalistic, not open to the masses, rudimentary, and not generally valid. In the SGI, they talk about priests and monks as if they were just money-hungry hucksters trying to trick people into worshiping them.
Whenever groups start getting into the "we're the best and only" kind of messaging, it's trouble. I've seen and heard comments in Zen texts and from Zen teachers that are the same thing disguised as something the Buddha supposedly said. Mahayana groups have a long history of denigrating Theravada Buddhists, and it's also true that some Theravadas dismiss everything beyond the Pali Canon as fictional rubbish. So, any claims being made by SGI of superiority are certainly troubling, but aren't really unique in the Buddhist world. The fact is every school has had, and continues to have powerful individuals and groups who claim they are the best, and that everything else is lesser. It's sad, but true.
For some reason, I have felt compelled to offer SGI and Nichiren communities in general the benefit of the doubt. Partly, because they have routinely been the most diverse Buddhist communities out there - attracting people of wide ranging racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. And knowing this, I'm also well aware of how often groups that support poor people and people of color regardless of economic background are easy targets of hate campaigns. The whole ACORN scandal comes immediately to mind because it was so obvious that the flaws of the organization were blown completely out of proportion by the mainstream media, conservative politicians, and corporate leaders who wished to see it disappear.
Adam's commentary doesn't appear to be coming from this kind of place at all. It's really trying to make sense of what sounds like a difficult experience with a spiritual community. It makes me wonder if it's something about that community that is happening. Or if there are certain teachings within SGI that can lead to extremism if any individual group isn't well led or grounded. I don't feel I know enough to really say one way or another.
It does offer us a reminder, though, of the challenges that can come in communities. People want to be united, on the same page. And sometimes, things get terribly twisted in order to get people to think alike and behave alike. And "being the best and only" is a particularly easy way to hook people because all of us have some of that desire within us, so if you are able to be part of a group that claims it is top dog, even if you're life is a mess, you can say "I'm still part of this wonderful group."
So, maybe SGI communities have more problems with this, but it's an issue facing each of us, everyday, in all our interactions.
*photo of members of the Bharat Soka Gakkai group in India.