Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 51–60
In the summer of 1990, Soka Gakkai youth division members were working tirelessly at the head temple on preparations for a culture festival to be held on September 2 in celebration of the 700th anniversary of Taiseki-ji’s founding. It was to mark the start of a series of commemorative events, including grand ceremonies scheduled in October.
On the evening of September 2, the culture festival was held in the large open space in front of the Grand Reception Hall on the head temple grounds. Its theme was “May the Heavens Shine with the Light of Happiness.”
Attending from the priesthood were High Priest Nikken, the Nichiren Shoshu general administrator, high-ranking executives, and many other priests, and from the Soka Gakkai, Honorary President Shin’ichi Yamamoto, President Eisuke Akizuki, General Director Kazumasa Morikawa, vice presidents, and other representatives.
The festival featured enthusiastic performances by arts division and youth division members, including traditional Japanese music and dance, and ballet.
Members from 67 countries and territories paraded in traditional national costumes to warm, sustained applause from the audience.
Shin’ichi also applauded with all his might, wishing to respond to the members’ pure-hearted spirit as they smiled and waved, brimming with the vow for worldwide kosen-rufu.
Nikken sat next to him, smiling as he viewed the performances.
At that moment, no one could have imagined that in December that year the priesthood would carry out a plot to drive a wedge between Shin’ichi and the members and to destroy the Soka Gakkai.
After the culture festival celebrating Taiseki-ji’s 700th anniversary, Shin’ichi had a series of events and engagements awaiting him: a reception for members of a Chinese delegation that had traveled to Japan to attend a Japan-China nongovernmental conference; the 12th SGI General Meeting; and meetings with the director of the São Paulo Museum of Art, the United Nations under-secretary-general for public information, the founder of India’s International Cultural Development Organization (ICDO), and others.
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “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 [India]” (WND-2, 936), expressing his vision for the realization of worldwide kosen-rufu, which ensures world peace.
Shin’ichi continued to make earnest efforts to open the way for the achievement of that goal. For him, each day was an important step forward in building peace.
On September 21, Shin’ichi Yamamoto visited South Korea for the first time. The “Masterpieces of Western Oil Painting” exhibition, featuring works from the collection of the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, was to be shown at the Ho-Am Gallery in the JoongAng Ilbo Building in Seoul [the headquarters of the JoongAng Ilbo (The Central Times), one of the country’s leading daily newspapers]. He would be attending the opening of that event as the art museum’s founder.
Shin’ichi regarded Korea as Japan’s cultural benefactor, and felt that having Tokyo Fuji Art Museum’s collection of Western paintings shown outside of Japan for the first time in this Seoul exhibition was one small way of repaying that debt of gratitude.
Further, he believed that cultural exchange in the form of sharing great treasures of humanity would deepen mutual accord and understanding and serve to foster friendship between Japan and South Korea. He was also convinced that it would enhance the public’s understanding of the Soka Gakkai, as an organization promoting interaction and collaboration in the areas of peace, culture, and education based on the humanistic ideals of Nichiren Buddhism, and be a source of encouragement for members.
After departing from Seoul on September 22, Shin’ichi traveled to Fukuoka, Saga, Kumamoto, and Kagoshima prefectures in Kyushu [the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands]. He returned to Tokyo on October 2.
On October 6 and 7, he attended the opening sessions of the grand ceremony commemorating the 700th anniversary of Taiseki-ji’s founding. In the period leading up to this milestone, the Soka Gakkai had sponsored extensive renovations and repairs to the Grand Main Temple (Sho-Hondo) and had built and donated two new general lodging quarters on the temple grounds.
On October 7, the second day of the opening sessions, the lighting ceremony was held for the chandelier suspended from the ceiling in front of the altar in the Grand Reception Hall. The enormous chandelier, which the Soka Gakkai had donated to the head temple through Shin’ichi’s initiative, was in the shape of an eight-petaled lotus, and was 5.4 meters (approx. 18 feet) in diameter and 3.45 meters (approx. 11 feet) in length. When Shin’ichi pressed the button, the openwork ornamentation and cut glass sparkled with golden light.
Speaking in his capacity as the chairperson of the Anniversary Celebrations Committee, Shin’ichi voiced his firm resolve: “Nichiren Daishonin wrote to Nanjo Tokimitsu, the eminent lay disciple who donated the land for the head temple: ‘Only one who has met with great persecution can be said to have mastered the Lotus Sutra’ (WND-1, 799). As long as we live, we are determined to uphold the unshakable conviction expressed here by the Daishonin, never fearing any persecution in the course of propagating the correct teaching; or rather, regarding great persecution as our highest honor.”
Indeed, a great persecution was about to befall the Soka Gakkai.
In his sermon on the first day of the opening sessions of the grand ceremony commemorating the 700th anniversary of Taiseki-ji’s founding, and in his congratulatory speech on the second day, High Priest Nikken praised the achievements of the Soka Gakkai. In the former, he lavished praise, saying: “In particular, the rise of the lay organization the Soka Gakkai in recent years has led to the correct teaching spreading throughout Japan and the world.”
When the opening sessions ended, Shin’ichi Yamamoto headed immediately to Aichi Prefecture to offer guidance to the members there. Then, on October 12 and 13, he returned to the head temple to attend the culminating sessions of the anniversary grand ceremony.
On the second and final day of those sessions, Nikken presented Shin’ichi with a certificate of appreciation and a list of commemorative items to be bestowed in recognition of his dedication and outstanding contributions to Nichiren Shoshu as chairperson of the Anniversary Celebrations Committee.
It was only a short time later that Nikken and his supporters set into motion their plot to destroy the Soka Gakkai.
After participating in these anniversary celebrations, Shin’ichi was again busy engaging in dialogue with leaders around the world in various fields. He met with Ankara University Rector Necdet Serin and his wife, Semiramis; peace scholar Johan Galtung; Director Cornell Capa of the International Center of Photography in New York and his wife, Edie; and Rector Fabio Roversi-Monaco of the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university.
Now that the Cold War had come to an end, Shin’ichi earnestly devoted his days to building new bridges of peace toward the 21st century.
On December 13, he met with Director Sverre Lodgaard of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) at the Seikyo Shimbun building. One of the topics they focused on in their discussion was Director Lodgaard’s proposal for environmental security, a vision that regarded protecting the environment and disarmament as two components of the effort to guarantee peace and security.
Introducing the Buddhist teaching of the oneness of life and its environment, Shin’ichi pointed out that the fundamental cause of such socially disruptive problems as environmental destruction, famine, disease, and war is the pollution or impurity within people’s lives that poisons their innate goodness. He said: “Transforming and purifying our lives represent the sure path to peace. Practical efforts to achieve this kind of ‘human revolution’ based on the teachings and principles of Nichiren Buddhism are what form the core of the SGI’s movement for peace, education, and culture.”
On December 13, when Shin’ichi Yamamoto was meeting with Director Sverre Lodgaard of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), a liaison session between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood was taking place at a temple in Sumida Ward, Tokyo. President Eisuke Akizuki and other leaders were representing the Soka Gakkai, and General Administrator Nichijun Fujimoto and others represented the priesthood.
Just as the conference was ending, the general administrator handed an envelope to President Akizuki. He said that the priesthood had prepared a list of questions, based on a tape it had obtained, regarding the speech that Shin’ichi had given at the previous month’s Headquarters leaders meeting on November 16, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding, and would like the Soka Gakkai to respond in writing.
It was a sudden and unexpected demand. The Soka Gakkai leaders could not fathom the priesthood’s intentions.
Akizuki said that if the priesthood had any questions, it would be better to discuss them at a liaison session, rather than exchange written questions and answers. The general administrator promised to reconsider the matter, and took the envelope back.
However, the priesthood then mailed a letter dated December 16 to the Soka Gakkai. It said: “We request that a responsible written reply to these questions be sent to the Nichiren Shoshu Administration Office within seven days of receipt of this notice.”
In his speech, Shin’ichi had discussed how to spread the teachings and promote activities in order to develop into a world religious movement. The priesthood’s questions, however, completely ignored the primary intent of the speech and nitpicked about minor matters.
In the speech, Shin’ichi had also proposed holding large-scale choral performances of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” One of the priesthood’s questions was made on the assertion that “singing ‘Ode to Joy’ in German constitutes praise for the Christian God and violates the Daishonin’s sacred intent.”
On December 16, Shin’ichi attended that month’s Headquarters leaders meeting, held in conjunction with the 1st Men’s Division General Meeting. Because it took place on the 220th anniversary of Beethoven’s birthday, Shin’ichi referred to the German composer’s heroic way of life, which embodied his conviction that the kingdom of his spirit extended to the heavens.
Why was Beethoven able to continue composing in spite of all his personal suffering? Shin’ichi believed it was because he wished to share with the poor and the distressed, and with those of future generations, the joyous state of life he had attained. The spirit of this great composer, he felt, resonated closely with the Soka Gakkai spirit.
In response to the document from the priesthood titled “Inquiry,” the Soka Gakkai sent a letter on December 23, stating their wish to “deepen mutual understanding through discussion.” In addition, the organization frankly sought clarification about matters and problems relating to the priesthood that had long troubled the Soka Gakkai as it strove to maintain harmonious relations between priesthood and laity. These amounted to nine points, including statements made by the high priest when Eisuke Akizuki met with him together with Shin’ichi Yamamoto, as well as the indiscretions of many of its priests.
The priesthood then sent a letter dated December 26, stating: “Your action in sending a nine-point written interrogation, containing baseless accusations, in the form of a letter of inquiry, is absolutely shameless. . . . We regard this as indicating that you have no intention of presenting sincere answers in writing concerning the speech of November 16.”
On December 27, the priesthood convened a special meeting of the Nichiren Shoshu Council and revised its rules. One of the revisions was to set the term of the chief representative of all Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations, which until then had no term limit, to five years, and the term of the other lay officers (including senior lay representatives and others), to three years. They also added a regulation to allow disciplinary action against lay believers “who criticize, defame, or slander the chief administrator [namely, the high priest] in speech, writing, or by other means.”
These revised rules went into effect immediately, stipulating that “the status of all those heretofore holding leadership positions in the association of Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations is revoked.” In other words, Shin’ichi, the chief lay representative, and Akizuki, Morikawa, and several other Soka Gakkai leaders, who were senior lay representatives, were dismissed from their posts.
The aim of Nichiren Shoshu was clear. Using the revisions to its rules as a pretext, it was intent on eliminating Shin’ichi’s role within the school and eventually destroying the Soka Gakkai, subordinating all its members to the authority of Nichiren Shoshu.
Nichiren Shoshu announced the change in status of the chief and senior lay representatives to the media on December 28. This was before the official notification had reached those involved.
On this day just before the year’s end, Shin’ichi was meeting with Director Duan Wenjie of China’s Dunhuang Research Academy at the Seikyo Shimbun building in Tokyo, discussing the Buddhist spirit of putting the happiness of the people first.
While those around him were upset and incensed by the priesthood’s actions, Shin’ichi steadily continued his efforts to engage in dialogue with leading world thinkers toward fostering peace and culture. With the future of humanity in mind, he proceeded straight ahead on the path of his convictions.
Soka Gakkai members learned from the newspapers and other media that Shin’ichi Yamamoto and senior Soka Gakkai leaders had been removed from their positions as chief representative and senior representatives of all Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations through a revision of the Nichiren Shoshu rules.
They reacted with surprise to this completely unexpected turn of events, and with anger toward the priesthood.
“Why have the priests done something so unreasonable?” “Wasn’t it President Yamamoto who enabled Nichiren Shoshu to achieve such great development? How can they just revoke his position as chief lay representative without even discussing the matter?!”
The official notice removing Shin’ichi and the other leaders from their positions representing the Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations arrived on December 29. Though it was the busy year-end, the Soka Gakkai took swift action, holding emergency leaders meetings at ward and prefecture levels throughout Japan to explain the situation with the priesthood.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–68), the leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, declared: “We must act now, before it is too late.”1
The new year began—1991, designated the Year of Peace and Development by the Soka Gakkai.
Shin’ichi composed New Year’s poems, which were published in the Seikyo Shimbun and other Soka Gakkai publications. One that appeared in the Seikyo Shimbun read:
Let us rejoice
the New Year together,
our hearts shining
with dauntless courage.
One of three poems published in the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal, read:
Free and unconstrained,
and joyfully overcome
the tempests and harsh winds
Soka Gakkai members held spirited New Year’s gongyo meetings in centers throughout Japan, and also in 75 countries and territories around the world, making a hope-filled start to the new year.
At the Soka Gakkai Headquarters Annex, Shin’ichi exchanged New Year’s greetings with and offered encouragement to representatives of various divisions who had participated in the gongyo sessions held at the Headquarters.
“Let’s open the door to a new age of worldwide kosen-rufu! Let’s face and launch ourselves bravely into the storm!” he said.
On January 2, 1991, Soka Gakkai President Eisuke Akizuki and General Director Kazumasa Morikawa went to the head temple and requested an opportunity to talk with Nikken, but they were refused. Nichiren Shoshu continued thereafter to reject the lay organization’s overtures for dialogue, declaring, for instance, that the Soka Gakkai leaders were “unworthy of an audience” with the high priest.
Another letter, dated January 12, arrived from the priesthood.
Several of the quotes attributed to Shin’ichi Yamamoto in the original letter of inquiry that the priesthood cited in its criticisms actually contained serious inaccuracies. Other questions showed that the priesthood had clearly misunderstood the meaning of the statement, and still others were based on completely unsupported hearsay.
The January 12 letter was a response to the Gakkai’s written inquiry pointing out these specific errors. The priesthood acknowledged a number of errors and retracted some of their questions. As a result, the very basis of their arguments collapsed.
Yet they refused to amend the unreasonable measures they had taken against the Soka Gakkai, and went so far as to say that with regard to the relationship between the priesthood and the laity “to assert that everyone is essentially equal and promote harmonious unity between priests and laity assuming their equality is a sign of gross arrogance and one of the five cardinal sins2—namely, that of causing disunity in the Buddhist Order.”
This contention on the part of the priesthood could not be ignored, since it could only result in a distortion of the core principles of Nichiren Buddhism and fundamentally obstruct the movement for worldwide kosen-rufu.
The Soka Gakkai demanded a public apology. It also pointed out that there were several more serious errors in the priesthood’s original letter of inquiry, and requested a response from the priesthood concerning them.
Nichiren Shoshu refused all of the Soka Gakkai’s repeated requests for discussion, in spite of the fact that Nichiren Daishonin was a staunch advocate of dialogue, writing in his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land”: “Let us discuss the question at length” (WND-1, 7). He taught the importance of being open to dialogue with anyone and promoting understanding, sympathy, and agreement through reason and logic. His stance was the exact opposite of imposing one’s will on others through external pressure, such as force of arms or power and authority.
Dialogue is the mark of Buddhist humanism, and rejecting it is a rejection of the very spirit of the Daishonin. The Soka Gakkai has succeeded in broadly expanding the realm of kosen-rufu through its continuous grassroots efforts centered on dialogue, in such forms as home visits, small group gatherings, and discussion meetings.
The Soka Gakkai’s commitment to dialogue is based on a philosophy of respect for all people and on its faith in humanity. It is supported by the egalitarian principles of Nichiren Buddhism, which teach that all people equally possess the Buddha nature and have a noble mission to fulfill.
But Nikken and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood went against those teachings, subscribing instead to the attitude inherent in Japan’s traditional parish system, which regarded priests as superior to lay followers. They sought to impose this view on the Soka Gakkai and subjugate its members.
The Lotus Sutra, on which the Daishonin placed key importance, is a teaching of equality, resisting and overturning discrimination on the grounds of social status or any other basis, as is evident in its revelation that persons of the two vehicles—the voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones—and women can attain enlightenment.3 That is the reason that thinking people around the world have high regard for Buddhism, which teaches respect for the dignity of life and promotes harmony and peace for all humankind.
The Daishonin also clearly affirmed the equality of all, transcending distinctions of clergy and laity or of gender, stating: “Anyone who teaches others even a single phrase of the Lotus Sutra is the envoy of the Thus Come One [Shakyamuni Buddha], whether that person be priest or layman, nun or laywoman” (WND-1, 33).
The purpose of Nichiren Buddhism is to enable people to become happy. Overlooking the priesthood’s attempt to distort Buddhism’s essential character would allow their outdated authoritarianism to run rampant, bring about unjust discrimination, and create turmoil and misery.
It could also ultimately lead to the correct teachings being destroyed. Citing Buddhist scriptures, Nichiren Daishonin states: “The Buddha says in a prediction that the enemies of his teachings will not be evil men. . . . He states that it will be monks who resemble arhats with the three insights and six transcendental powers4 who will destroy his correct teachings” (WND-2, 388).
The Soka Gakkai was also deeply concerned about the priesthood’s lack of cultural awareness. The dogmatic, parochial attitude of the priesthood toward culture was not limited to rejecting Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
The Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal, had previously carried a photo of one of the items in “The Prince’s Trust: Robes of the Realm—An Exhibition of 300 Years of British Ceremonial Dress,” to be displayed at the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum. It was a photo of the mantle and insignia of the Order of the Garter [the highest honor the British sovereign can bestow]. When a senior Nichiren Shoshu priest saw it, he complained that it contained an image of a Christian cross—referring to the symbol embroidered on the mantle.
Without an appreciation of the unique traditions and culture of other nations, regions, and peoples, mutual understanding is impossible. Respect for culture is respect for human beings.
All spheres of human endeavor, including culture and the arts, customs and traditions, have been influenced to a greater or lesser degree by religion.
The Western calendar designates the year of the birth of Jesus Christ as Year 1, and the convention of regarding Sunday as a holiday derives from the Christian designation of that day as a day of rest. The use of stained glass developed to enhance the magnificence of Christian churches, and as such is also a product of Christian culture. Many Western buildings and architectural styles also have deep connections to Christianity. Anyone who rejects all such things because of their associations with Christianity would find it next to impossible to live within society.
Buddhism teaches the principle of adapting to the local customs and the manners of the times, calling on practitioners to respect the present customs, traditions, and norms in each country and region, as long as they do not go against the core principles of Buddhism.
In other words, as long as we do not violate the fundamental teachings of Nichiren Buddhism—upholding the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the Lotus Sutra; exerting ourselves in faith, practice, and study; and dedicating ourselves to realizing the mission of kosen-rufu—we should maintain a flexible attitude toward local customs and culture.
Our faith is expressed in society. Worldwide kosen-rufu is possible only when each person who practices the Mystic Law respects culture as a product of human wisdom and wins the trust of others through active participation in every aspect of society.
Schiller’s poem that Beethoven set to music in his “Ode to Joy” contains the phrase “the gods” (Götter), which is clearly not praise for a particular god or religion.
In December 1987, Shin’ichi listened as 500 student division members presented a special orchestral and choral performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, including “Ode to Joy,” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the student division’s establishment. He never forgot how deeply that performance moved him.
At the Headquarters leaders meeting commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding (held in November 1990), he proposed that “Ode to Joy” be performed by 50,000 members on the 65th anniversary, and by 100,000 members on the 70th anniversary. He also suggested that they sing it not only in Japanese, but eventually also in German.
Great music and art transcend national and ethnic barriers, resonating in people’s hearts and bringing them together.
“Ode to Joy” is sung around the world as an anthem of humanity and freedom.
In 1989, the so-called Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia brought an end to communist rule without the tragedy of bloodshed, and on December 14, a concert was held in the Czech capital, Prague, to celebrate. In that concert, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed with a chorus singing “Ode to Joy.”
When the performance ended, the auditorium exploded with applause, which continued unabated as Václav Havel, the new president of Czechoslovakia, walked onto the stage, the audience chanting: “Havel! Havel!” The Ninth Symphony expressed the joy in the hearts of the people.
On December 23 and 25, after the wall had fallen, two concerts were held in Berlin to celebrate the end of the division between East and West Germany. Once again, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed.
The orchestra was a composite of several ensembles. Centering on the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, it included musicians from East and West Germany, and from the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union—the four nations that had administered Berlin after World War II, before the wall was built.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and its “Ode to Joy” are true symbols of the triumph of freedom and unity.
Many scholars and thinkers spoke out against Nichiren Shoshu’s objection that singing “Ode to Joy” in German constituted “praise for non-Buddhist teachings,” pointing out that this completely ignored the universality and cultural value of that great work.
Prof. Haruo Kawabata of the Shibaura Institute of Technology, a well-known Japanese philosopher and scholar of Nietzsche, observed: “Art is a sublimation of the universal human spirit. To subject it to the categories of petty religious dogmatism and condemn its appreciators as heretics is an example of the narrow-minded self-righteousness that produced the witch-hunts of former eras.”5
Schiller’s use of the plural “gods,” he said, indicates that he was not praising the monotheistic Christian God but referring back to the gods of ancient Greece, symbolizing the ideals and highest qualities of the human spirit. He did this because the only way to articulate new ideas, Kawabata said, was to use existing modes of expression.6
- *1Martin Luther King, Jr., A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard (New York: Warner Books, 2001), p. 50.
- *2Five cardinal sins: The five most serious offenses in Buddhism. Explanations vary according to the sutras and treatises. The most common is (1) killing one’s father, (2) killing one’s mother, (3) killing an arhat, (4) injuring a Buddha, and (5) causing disunity in the Buddhist Order. It is said that those who commit any of the five cardinal sins invariably fall into the hell of incessant suffering.
- *3In the pre–Lotus Sutra, provisional Mahayana teachings, persons of the two vehicles, women, and evil people were deemed unable to attain enlightenment. The Lotus Sutra overturns that idea and specifically teaches that all three groups, and all people, can readily become Buddhas.
*4Arhats are those who have attained the highest stage of awakening in the Hinayana teachings. The Sanskrit term arhat means “one who is worthy of respect.”
The three insights are the ability to know the past, to foresee the future, and to eradicate illusions, which Buddhas and arhats are said to possess.
The six transcendental powers, or six supernatural powers, are powers that Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats are said to possess. They are (1) the power of being anywhere at will, (2) the power of seeing anything anywhere, (3) the power of hearing any sound anywhere, (4) the power of knowing the thoughts of all other minds, (5) the power of knowing past lives, and (6) the power of eradicating illusions.
- *5From an article in the Seikyo Shimbun, January 24, 1991.