Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 61–70
Hidehiko Ushijima, Japanese author and professor of Tokai Women’s College (now Tokai Gakuin University), who was acquainted with a number of Soka Gakkai members in the United States, referred back to the essential nature of culture, saying: “Culture and religion have an inseparable yet distinct relationship. They are not synonymous. Culture and art are deeply rooted in society, transcending the confines of any one religion and, while absorbing, culling from, and merging with other cultures over the course of history, shape how people live. As such, to condemn the choral section of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (which I regard as a hymn to all humanity, transcending religions) as heretical, and thus reject it, is to reject world culture and people’s way of life.
“It is easy to close oneself off and be dogmatic. But Nichiren Shoshu needs to recognize that, by doing so, they will not only fail to fulfill Nichiren’s mandate to propagate his teachings around the world, but will themselves be impeding that effort.”1
A religion that lapses into dogmatism and sanctimoniously passes judgment on culture and art is self-serving—religion for religion’s sake. It is not a religion that can serve the people.
Soka Gakkai members felt the need for a renaissance—to bring about a new era in which the people would once again be the prime focus of religion.
The Soka Gakkai’s top leaders were also deeply troubled by the behavior of many Nichiren Shoshu priests. Members throughout the country had expressed dismay and unease over the priests’ insolent words and actions, licentious behavior, and extravagant lifestyles. The Soka Gakkai had reported such cases to Nichiren Shoshu out of concern that, if such behavior continued unchecked, the priesthood would degenerate to the point of no return.
Nichiren Daishonin declared that a priest who does not propagate the teachings but “simply spends his time in idleness and chatter” is “no better than an animal dressed in priestly robes” (WND-1, 760).
Since the Soka Gakkai’s earliest days, there were Nichiren Shoshu priests who had lost the spirit to work for kosen-rufu and arrogantly brandished their clerical authority. This is why second president Josei Toda, out of his sincere faith and concern, had sternly warned the priesthood on numerous occasions, declaring, for instance, that “priests obsessed with honor and status, who try to ingratiate themselves with the rich, have no place lording it over believers.”2
To continue advancing worldwide kosen-rufu, Nichiren Daishonin’s wish, the Soka Gakkai had to speak out forthrightly and correct the errors of Nichiren Shoshu, regardless of the backlash it might invite.
On January 3, 1991, a nationwide Soka Gakkai prefecture leaders conference was convened, and the problems with Nichiren Shoshu were reported.
President Eisuke Akizuki explained the requests that the Soka Gakkai had made to Nichiren Shoshu in order to secure a foundation for kosen-rufu that would enable Nichiren Buddhism to lead the way in the 21st century as a world religion, and to thereby realize the Daishonin’s mandate. There were three requests in all: (1) to adapt to the egalitarian and democratic values of the present age and be more open to the world; (2) to accord with the fundamental spirit of Nichiren Buddhism and discard its authoritarian tendencies and contempt for lay believers; and (3) to admonish corruption in the priesthood and establish a climate of integrity among priests marked by moderation and modesty.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto did gongyo with those attending the meeting and urged them to strive with profound commitment as people of mission and conviction, and make 1991 a year of wonderful success. For the sake of worldwide kosen-rufu, he was powerfully determined, no matter what happened, to protect the Soka Gakkai, which was carrying out the Buddha’s intent. He gave his all to encouraging members from the start of the year, which the Soka Gakkai had designated the Year of Peace and Development.
On January 26, he issued a peace proposal commemorating the 16th anniversary of SGI Day.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the previous year, had triggered the Gulf War. In January, a multinational force led by the United States engaged Iraqi troops in battle. In his peace proposal, Shin’ichi called for a speedy end to the Gulf War and for a Middle East peace conference to be held under the aegis of the United Nations.
On January 27, Shin’ichi left Japan to visit Hong Kong and Macau, and on January 31, he attended the SGI Asia Council General Meeting held at the Hong Kong Culture Centre, with some 1,500 representatives from 14 countries and territories in Asia and other parts of the world.
At the conference, an urgent appeal was adopted calling for a swift resolution to the Gulf War. The appeal, based on the strong wish that peace be realized as soon as possible through UN-led efforts, called for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, the implementation of measures to prevent a recurrence of hostilities, holding an international conference on Middle East peace, and convening an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.
The flame of faith gives rise to a passionate commitment to work for peace.
While visiting Hong Kong, Shin’ichi Yamamoto made his first trip to neighboring Macau. There, he attended a ceremony at the University of East Asia (now the University of Macau), at which he was presented with an honorary professorship. On that occasion, he also delivered a commemorative lecture titled “A New Global Awareness.”
On February 2, he flew directly to Okinawa where he offered guidance to the members, after which he visited Miyazaki Prefecture.
He continued his travels to encourage members throughout Japan, visiting the Kansai, Chugoku, and Chubu regions in March.
That same month, Nichiren Shoshu, which was still rejecting requests for dialogue with the Soka Gakkai, suddenly announced a change in its policy toward overseas lay organizations.
Up to this time, the SGI had been the only overseas lay organization it had officially recognized, but now Nichiren Shoshu sent a notice to the Soka Gakkai stating that it was ending this policy.
It also informed the organization that it was discontinuing the monthly pilgrimages to the head temple by Soka Gakkai members, stating that, from July, only those with a request for permission form issued by their local temple would be allowed to make pilgrimages. This was clearly an attempt to undermine the Soka Gakkai.
Soka Gakkai members were appalled by the arrogant and one-sided manner in which these changes were announced. They had, after all, made regular pilgrimages to the head temple as an expression of their sincere faith, as well as made countless offerings—donations involving considerable self-sacrifice—to improve and beautify the head temple.
In the postwar agricultural land reforms, Taiseki-ji was stripped of most of the farm land it had once possessed. This was a major financial blow, reducing the head temple to a state of poverty. To support themselves, the priesthood planned to turn Taiseki-ji into a tourist attraction. In November 1950, the local mayor, a village leader, tourism association members, and journalists gathered at the head temple to hold a Northern Fuji Tourism Promotion Meeting and begin making concrete plans to open the temple to tourists.
Hearing this news, Josei Toda was greatly shocked and saddened. He had deep concerns that turning the head temple into a sightseeing spot for tourists with no faith in Nichiren Buddhism, just for the sake of profit, would desecrate the Daishonin’s noble spirit. Thinking of a way to avoid that situation, he came up with the idea of holding regular pilgrimages to the head temple for Soka Gakkai members, a plan implemented two years later, in 1952. As a result, Nichiren Shoshu overcame its financial difficulties and achieved great development. In the four decades these pilgrimages were held, Soka Gakkai members made a total of 70 million visits to the head temple.
The faith of Soka Gakkai members dedicated to kosen-rufu had supported Nichiren Shoshu and made the head temple flourish.
The Soka Gakkai had also put great energy and resources into improving the facilities and grounds of the head temple. During President Toda’s day, the Soka Gakkai constructed and donated the Hoanden Hall and the Grand Lecture Hall. Further, after Shin’ichi Yamamoto became president, it donated numerous other buildings and facilities at the head temple, including the Grand Lodging (the complex housing the high priest’s quarters and the priests’ dormitories), the Grand Reception Hall, the Grand Main Temple (Sho-Hondo), the main gate, and lodging facilities for pilgrimage participants.
In Japan’s postwar agricultural land reforms, the head temple had been reduced to a mere 17 hectares (41 acres), but since then it had grown to roughly 387 hectares (956 acres)—about 23 times the original size. Most of this land had been donated by the Soka Gakkai. The lay organization had supported Nichiren Shoshu with utmost sincerity in this way for many years. Its members had made heartfelt donations. And many youth division volunteers had worked day and night, often forgoing sleep, to ensure that members’ visits to the head temple took place safely and without incident. Now, however, without any preamble or words of appreciation, the priesthood abruptly introduced a new pilgrimage system administered by the local temples.
In July 1991, the priesthood announced, as a new official policy, that it would require lay believers to be registered as parishioners of their local Nichiren Shoshu temples. The aim was to force members to quit the Soka Gakkai and become temple members.
One of the most serious of the five cardinal sins3 in Buddhism is causing disunity and disorder in the community of believers. The priesthood had committed this grave offense in launching into a full-fledged effort to undermine the unity of the Soka Gakkai, the organization that was carrying out the Buddha’s intent and making kosen-rufu a reality. Its actions were cold and unscrupulous. After eagerly taking all of the Soka Gakkai’s offerings, they were callously tossing the lay organization and its members aside.
Nichiren Shoshu also began to insist on the importance of venerating the high priest, a direct transgression of the Daishonin’s teachings, and plotted to bring lay believers under the control of clerical authority with the high priest in the supreme position of power.
But Soka Gakkai members had already seen through the unscrupulousness and the backward nature of the priesthood.
In September 1991, it was revealed that two years earlier, in July 1989, Nikken had erected a tombstone for his ancestors at a cemetery on the grounds of a Zen temple in Fukushima City (in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region) and conducted a Buddhist ceremony there. While stridently accusing the Soka Gakkai of slandering the Law, he had no qualms in committing an act that could easily be described as such from the standpoint of the Daishonin’s writings. Soka Gakkai members were disgusted by his hypocrisy.
Many examples of corruption and degeneration among the priests kept coming to light, one after another.
Nichiren Shoshu was no longer teaching or practicing Nichiren Buddhism. The spirit of Nikko Shonin [who had founded Taiseki-ji] had been lost and the pure stream of the Fuji school, sadly muddied beyond recognition.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto went into action with a vision for a new era of peace following the end of the Cold War.
In April 1991, he visited the University of the Philippines to promote educational and cultural exchange. There, he delivered a lecture titled “Beyond the Profit Motive” at the College of Business Administration graduation ceremony. He also received an honorary doctorate of laws from the university that day.
In early June, he traveled to Europe, visiting Germany and making his first trip to Luxembourg, before going on to France and the U.K. In each country, he continued his efforts for cultural exchange, and also met with national leaders as well as noted scholars and thinkers. From late September into early October, he traveled to the United States, and on September 26, he gave a lecture at Harvard University titled “The Age of Soft Power.”
When not overseas, he was busy traveling around Japan, devoting all of his energies to encouraging members.
Through the unfolding second priesthood issue, as it came to be known, Soka Gakkai members gained clear and objective insights into the treachery and scheming of the priests. They took a resolute stand, brimming with passionate determination to refute the erroneous and reveal the true.
From the time of the first priesthood issue, when Shin’ichi stepped down as Soka Gakkai president, he focused his attention on meeting with and encouraging individual members, seeking to build, once again, a rock-solid Soka Gakkai united by the bonds of mentor and disciples dedicated to the mission of kosen-rufu. He gave personal guidance, visited members at their homes, had small-group dialogues and informal discussions, and attended all sorts of meetings, making tireless efforts to encourage his fellow members.
Whenever possible, he dined with members, turning mealtimes into an opportunity to talk with them. He also used every spare moment he could to compose poems and inscribe calligraphy or inspirational messages on cards and inside books to present to members as encouragement.
He exerted himself unstintingly, ready to give his all for the members’ happiness and growth. He sought to do everything he could to infuse them with the spirit of kosen-rufu, wishing that each one would stand up as a courageous, self-reliant champion.
As a result of these efforts, young successors were showing splendid development, and a great bastion of Soka was being built—united by indestructible ties of mentor and disciple that would remain fast and strong, even amid the harshest adversity. That mentor-disciple spirit also created close bonds among members throughout the world.
Dedicated actions move people’s hearts.
Each time Shin’ichi attended a monthly Headquarters leaders meeting or other Gakkai gathering, he spoke of the spirit of Nichiren Daishonin, who wished for the happiness of all people, and the way genuine practitioners of his teachings should live.
In one speech, for instance, he might share the words of the great comic actor Charlie Chaplin and talk about the importance of having the courage to fight for freedom. In another, he might cite Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Misérables to deliver the message that the people must become strong and wise, and stand up for truth and justice.
Shin’ichi also pointed out that the attacks and obstacles encountered by the Soka Gakkai exactly match those described in the Daishonin’s writings, and therefore show that its efforts for kosen-rufu are correct. He stressed that, in light of the fundamental principles of Buddhism, all who devote themselves to kosen-rufu, have faith in the Gohonzon, and persevere in their Buddhist practice are Buddhas, and that pursuing people-oriented religious reform is the right course of action. He also confirmed basic truths about the Daishonin’s Buddhism of the sun—that it is dedicated to the happiness of the individual, that it is a universal and egalitarian teaching, and that the great path of worldwide kosen-rufu must always be centered on the Gohonzon and the Daishonin’s writings.
The 1st Tokyo General Meeting on August 24, 1989, was the first meeting to be video broadcast nationwide by satellite. From that time on, these broadcasts played an important role in the members uniting together as one and overcoming the oppression of Nikken and Nichiren Shoshu. Prior to that, members around Japan had listened to audio broadcasts of such meetings, but now, they were able to watch satellite video broadcasts on large screens at major Soka Gakkai centers throughout Japan.
At these meetings, Shin’ichi spoke with the spirit of engaging the entire membership in dialogue. Returning to the principles of Buddhism and the guidance of Nichiren Daishonin, he clarified from various perspectives what is right and what is wrong; the essential nature of the current problems with the priesthood; and the correct way to live as human beings.
Shared understanding gives rise to solid unity.
Through these satellite broadcasts, the members came to gain a deep and accurate appreciation of the truth and essence of the priesthood issue. They keenly felt Shin’ichi’s intense commitment to kosen-rufu and determination to dedicate his life to his mission. The members’ hearts were firmly and powerfully united in their resolve not to be defeated by the schemes of corrupt priests or any other obstacle, and to continue to strive together for kosen-rufu.
On November 8, 1991, a document from Nichiren Shoshu titled “Remonstrance to the Soka Gakkai to Disband” arrived at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. Dated November 7, it was sent in the names of Chief Administrator and High Priest Nikken Abe and General Administrator Nichijun Fujimoto, and was addressed to Honorary Soka Gakkai President and SGI President Shin’ichi Yamamoto, Soka Gakkai President and SGI General Director Eisuke Akizuki, and Soka Gakkai General Director Kazumasa Morikawa.
The document stated that there was a clear distinction between the priests and lay followers of Nichiren Shoshu in terms of their respective roles as teachers and disciples. The Soka Gakkai, however, it noted, did not revere the high priest or other members of the priesthood as their teachers, but claimed instead that priests and lay believers were equals. It described the organization’s assertion of equality as “an erroneous view that destroys the relationship of teacher and disciple that should rightfully exist between the priesthood and the laity,” and cited this as one of its reasons for calling on the Soka Gakkai and all SGI organizations to disband.
The Soka Gakkai, however, had already become an independent religious corporation, separate from Nichiren Shoshu, in 1952. This step had been taken based on the keen foresight of second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, who was determined to fulfill the mission of kosen-rufu. Consequently, Nichiren Shoshu was in no position legally to compel the Soka Gakkai to disband. In fact, it had no authority over the organization at all.
Toda had anticipated the future clearly, warning that once Nichiren Shoshu acquired wealth, it would discard the Soka Gakkai, and declaring that he would take appropriate steps to deal with that eventuality. His wise judgment and actions served to protect the Soka Gakkai, the organization upholding the correct teaching and practice of Nichiren Buddhism.
Soka Gakkai members scoffed at the absurdity of the arguments contained in the priesthood’s notice.
“They go around saying that lay believers must obediently follow the high priest, that priests are the teachers of lay believers, and anything else that suits them, but what really counts are actions!” “Hardly any of the priests have introduced others to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism or patiently gone to visit lay believers to offer personal guidance and inspire them in their faith. They’re only interested in pursuing idle pleasures. Do they really think they could lead Soka Gakkai members, who have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to kosen-rufu?” These were some of the opinions members voiced.
On November 8, the Tokyo women’s division held a Renaissance Meeting, during which some members who formerly worked at Nichiren Shoshu temples shared firsthand accounts of the corrupt lifestyles and arrogant behavior of the priests and their families, which showed not a hint of faith. Everyone at the meeting strengthened their conviction that an age of a renaissance of humanity was dawning and the time had come to break the spell of priestly authority.
The moment was ripe for returning to Buddhism’s starting point as a humanistic religion.
On November 8, 1991, after receiving Nichiren Shoshu’s “Remonstrance to the Soka Gakkai to Disband,” President Eisuke Akizuki and other top leaders of the Soka Gakkai held a press conference.
Stating that the document’s demands were completely meaningless, the leaders spoke of how Nichiren Shoshu had seriously strayed from the teachings and spirit of Nichiren Buddhism.
They also detailed the priesthood’s deep-rooted contempt for lay believers, their refusal to engage in dialogue, and their intolerant views, including criticizing the Soka Gakkai for holding choral performances of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in German. They explained that the Soka Gakkai was presently engaged in an effort to try to awaken Nichiren Shoshu from its narrow authoritarianism and carry out a religious reformation as Nichiren Buddhism continued to spread as a universal religion.
The Soka Gakkai leaders informed the reporters present that members were outraged by Nichiren Shoshu’s actions and had begun collecting signatures for a petition calling for the high priest’s resignation.
Corrupt and dissolute behavior was rampant among the priesthood. Funeral services and memorial tablets for the deceased were exploited by priests as money-making devices to fill their own pockets. Priests repeatedly threatened sincere Soka Gakkai members—brandishing their authority with the aim of controlling and dominating them, priests told members that they were slandering the Law and ran the risk of falling into hell.
Soka Gakkai members had become deeply convinced that such behavior was unacceptable, that it demeaned the correct teaching and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. It was a deplorable state of affairs resembling that created by corrupt priests in medieval Europe.
Members began to ask for what purpose and for whom Buddhism and its teachings were really intended.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto consistently spoke to members about the correct path of faith, stressing the importance of always returning to the Gohonzon, the spirit of the Daishonin, and the original teachings of the Daishonin contained in the Gosho.
As the coercive authoritarianism of Nichiren Shoshu became increasingly apparent, members came to recognize more deeply the need to revive the original spirit of Nichiren Daishonin, carry out a religious revolution for people’s happiness, and continue advancing worldwide kosen-rufu.
The power of awakened members became a new impetus for reform, which, by returning to the Daishonin’s spirit, led to a reexamination of such traditional rites and practices as funerals and the assignment of posthumous names.
When it came to the matter of funerals, the Soka Gakkai again returned to the original teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, and, after researching Buddhist funeral rites and observances and how they evolved, began to conduct lay funerals—funerals among and facilitated by family and fellow Soka Gakkai members, without priests.
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Because your beloved departed father chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo while he was alive, he was a person who attained Buddhahood in his present form” (WND-1, 1064); and “Since your deceased husband was a votary of [the Lotus Sutra], he doubtless attained Buddhahood just as he was” (WND-1, 458).
According to these writings, attaining Buddhahood is based on one’s faith and the daimoku one has chanted during one’s life. The suggestion that we cannot attain Buddhahood if our funeral services are not officiated by priests is nowhere to be found in the Daishonin’s teachings.
In Buddhism in Japan, the custom of bestowing special posthumous Buddhist names on the deceased actually originated from the tradition of conferring names on individuals when they entered the priesthood and accepted the precepts—while they were still alive, naturally. Posthumous Buddhist names were not in use during the Daishonin’s lifetime; the practice only evolved in later years, and was simply adopted by Nichiren Shoshu. Receiving a posthumous Buddhist name has absolutely no connection to whether or not one attains Buddhahood.
Unlike many Buddhist denominations in Japan, Nichiren Buddhism is not preoccupied with funeral rites; rather, it is a teaching that exists to enable all people to lead happy lives throughout the past, present, and future.
The Soka Gakkai memorial parks in locations around Japan are bright, uplifting, and egalitarian in their design, based on this Buddhist view of life and death.
When the Soka Gakkai began holding lay funeral services, they were received very favorably—earning high praise not only from members but also friends who were not practicing Nichiren Buddhism.
Among the comments received were: “Funerals often tend to be dark, sad, mournful affairs, but the funerals held by the Soka Gakkai are inspiring and buoyant, and convey a feeling of hope toward the deceased’s departure from this world. They are an expression of the Soka Gakkai’s positive attitude toward life and death.”
“Today, people tend to rely on proxies for almost everything. Asking priests to recite sutra passages at a funeral could be called one of the earliest examples of this. But in Soka Gakkai funerals, family and friends recite sutra passages and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the eternal happiness of the deceased. I was struck by their profound sincerity. This is the way, I feel, we should send off all those who have passed away.”
One scholar described the lay funerals being conducted by the Soka Gakkai as “a revolutionary change in Japanese funeral practices,” adding that “because of their progressive nature, they might face resistance from the more conservative minded. But, ultimately, they are the funerals of the future, and are certain to become widely accepted.” He also said: “The development of the Soka Gakkai, and the speed at which it has moved forward, can only be called astonishing. In just three decades, it has overturned the Buddhist parishioner system in Japan that was established over three centuries.”
In the years following the first priesthood issue, the true authoritarian nature of Nichiren Shoshu had resurfaced in full force. In response, Soka Gakkai members throughout Japan stood up to embark on what has come to be known as the Heisei4 Reformation [starting from the end of 1990 and continuing to the present], based on the original principles and intent of Nichiren Buddhism.
The arrival of Nichiren Shoshu’s “Remonstrance to the Soka Gakkai to Disband” [on November 8, 1991] galvanized members’ resolve to fight for reform. They launched a petition campaign calling for Nikken Abe to step down from the position of high priest for violating the correct teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and attempting to destroy the harmonious community of believers striving together for kosen-rufu.
Even before November 18, the anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding—in less than 10 days since the petition drive began, close to 5 million signatures had been collected. The scale of response in such a short time testified eloquently to the outrage members felt at the unreasonable and unacceptable actions Nichiren Shoshu had taken against the Soka Gakkai.
Members also strongly felt that the time had arrived for the humanistic teachings of Nichiren Buddhism to flourish around the world. The Daishonin had predicted that “the three powerful enemies will arise without fail” (WND-1, 394), and now his words had become a reality.
Leading up to 1991, the Soka Gakkai had endured numerous attacks of slander and abuse by the first of the three powerful enemies—arrogant lay people who were ignorant of Buddhism. It had also suffered harassment and attack at the hands of the second of the three powerful enemies—arrogant priests who did not seek the true teachings of Buddhism but remained attached to their own arbitrary views.
Yet, until this point, it had not experienced the third of the three powerful enemies—arrogant false sages, namely, high-ranking priests who harbor malice in their hearts and persecute the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra. Now, however, this third powerful enemy had appeared in the form of the high priest, Nikken, who was persecuting the Soka Gakkai, the organization striving for kosen-rufu in accord with the Buddha’s intent. This was clear proof that the Soka Gakkai was practicing the Lotus Sutra in the present age, and doing so just as the Daishonin taught.
- *1From an article in the Seikyo Shimbun, February 10, 1991.
- *2Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei Zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), vol. 1, p. 52.
- *3Five 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.
- *4This refers to the Heisei period, a Japanese imperial reign period, which officially began on January 8, 1989, and is scheduled to continue until April 30, 2019, when the current emperor is set to abdicate.