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Buddhist Study

Reaching the ‘Critical Threshold’ for Momentous Change

Photo by ivetavaicule / Getty images.

This series highlights how Buddhism can enhance daily living. As Nichiren Daishonin says: “When the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated. Similarly, when one knows the Lotus Sutra, one understands the meaning of all worldly affairs.” [1]

Monkey see, monkey do.” 

In the 1950s, researchers in Japan made an intriguing observation while studying macaque monkeys on Miyazaki Prefecture’s Koshima Island. 

To continue observing the monkeys, the scientists enticed them with food, including sweet potatoes. Most monkeys ate the potatoes covered with sand and grit. But a young female monkey called Imo (Potato) began washing her potatoes in nearby water. First, her mother, then her playmates followed suit. Within a few years, all the young monkeys in Imo’s group washed potatoes before eating them. 

This finding led to a hypothesis known as the “100th monkey effect,” which suggested that when enough monkeys started washing potatoes, it would spread throughout the island and even to other monkey groups on other islands. 

Despite scientific skepticism of this hypothesis, there could be some truth to the idea that enough momentum toward a particular action or way of thinking can cause a collective shift in that direction. 

Ikeda Sensei says: “When a certain critical threshold is reached, everything can change in one stroke. It may be that this principle is inherent in all life.”[2]

A Small 3.5% Minority Can Transform Society

Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University who investigates the success of social movements, discovered another threshold—what she calls the “3.5% rule.” She found that a small minority of people committed to nonviolence can effect change. 

She and her research partner, Maria J. Stephan, compared 323 violent and nonviolent protest campaigns and found that nonviolent campaigns were successful 53% of the time compared to 26% for violent protests.[3]

The nonviolent campaigns she examined succeeded without exception when 3.5% of the population actively took part. “There weren’t any campaigns that had failed after they had achieved 3.5% participation during a peak event,” she said. While we tend to focus on violent events, she hopes that history will focus more on the successes of nonviolent campaigns. 

“Ordinary people, all the time,” Professor Chenoweth said, “are engaging in pretty heroic activities that are actually changing the way [of] the world—and those deserve some notice and celebration as well.”[4]

‘Two, Three, and a Hundred Will Follow’

Whether celebrated or not, for more than 90 years, dedicated members of the Soka Gakkai have spread the Buddhist ideals of peace, equality and respect, rooted in Nichiren Daishonin’s axiom:

At first only Nichiren chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but then two, three, and a hundred followed, chanting and teaching others. Propagation will unfold this way in the future as well.[5]

Our Soka movement has begun in various places with a few ordinary people chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to wash away the figurative grit from their lives. Often, these pioneering members faced opposition while sharing with others how Buddhist practice can transform their lives. 

For instance, in Okinawa, the provincial culture of the island communities became a significant hurdle to propagating Nichiren Buddhism in the early days of the Soka Gakkai’s emergence there. Sensei describes how things progressed: 

It was difficult for an individual to be the first in their family to join the Soka Gakkai. But as we continued to emphasize the organization’s goals and to demonstrate solid actual proof of faith in everyday life, the circle of understanding steadily expanded throughout Okinawan society. 

I think you could call it a case of reaching a tipping point. Once we had reached that point, understanding toward Nichiren Buddhism rapidly spread and deepened.[6]

The world over, pioneering members have repeatedly spread Nichiren Buddhism by helping people alleviate hardships and suffering, gaining trust and revitalizing their families and communities. 

Through such dedicated efforts, we will definitely reach the critical threshold for change, sparking a collective shift toward building a society grounded in respect, harmony and peace. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

November 10, 2023, World Tribune, p. 10


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376. ↩︎
  2. June 9, 1995, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  3. “Success” in the research was designated when a campaign met two criteria: 1) its stated objective occurred within a reasonable period (two years) from the end of the campaign, and 2) the campaign had to have a discernible effect on the outcome. See Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” International Security, vol. 33, No. 1 (Summer 2008), pp. 7–44. ↩︎
  4. <accessed Oct. 25, 2023>. ↩︎
  5. “The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 385. ↩︎
  6. The Third Stage of Life: Aging in Contemporary Society, p. 111. ↩︎

Start Anew With Fresh Determinations!

This Month in Soka Gakkai History (November)