Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 29: A Religion That Exists for People’s Happiness [29.5]

29.5 At the Forefront of Religious Reform

Referring to ideas expressed by the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, President Ikeda discusses the key to much-needed reform on the part of today’s higher religions, as defined by Toynbee,1 and asserts that the Soka Gakkai is at the forefront of such reform.

What is the biggest issue facing the higher religions today? The eminent historian Arnold J. Toynbee has said that they are in need of a major reform.

Professor Toynbee’s attention was drawn to the Soka Gakkai because he regarded it as a vibrant higher religion for the present and future. At his invitation, I went to London in May 1972, and again in May 1973, to engage in an extended dialogue with him.

What is needed to make the higher religions shine in the 21st century?

In his work An Historian’s Approach to Religion, Professor Toynbee stressed the need to distinguish the “essence” of religions from the “non-essential accretions,” the extraneous trappings that have accrued over time.2

We need to focus on the essence of a religion, the unchanging qualities that transcend the limitations of certain times and social settings, and discard the rest. Should we fail in that endeavor, religion has no future, and humankind will not be able to elevate itself spiritually.

For us in the Soka Gakkai, what is “essential” in terms of our religious practice and belief? It is to believe in Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, and uphold faith in the Three Great Secret Laws.3 In other words, it is the fundamental teaching that the Buddha expounded to lead all people to enlightenment.

The “non-essential accretions” are the elements that change with time and place—in particular, ceremonies and methodologies that took shape in the centuries after the Daishonin’s death.

Professor Toynbee likened such accretions to the chaff, and the true essence of a religion to the grain. Separating the chaff from the grain is the natural thing to do. He argued that the chaff should be discarded, and the grain extracted and prized.4 In other words, the key is sloughing off added layers to get at the essence of religion.

Slough off the temporary elements and the extraneous trappings that have accumulated over the centuries. Discard features that have meaning only in a specific, restricted cultural context. Save the true spirit or heart of the religion. That is the only way to ensure the flourishing of humanity in the 21st century. This is what Professor Toynbee meant by religious reform.

In his work, he said of the 16th-century Christian Reformation: “‘The Reformation’ is not just a particular past event in the Early Modern chapter of the history of the Western branch of Christianity. It is a perpetual challenge which is being presented at every moment to all higher religions alike, and which none of them can ignore for one moment without betraying its trust.”5

The Soka Gakkai is at the forefront of just the sort of religious reform that Professor Toynbee called for—which no doubt would delight both the Daishonin and his successor, Nikko Shonin. Our development offers a bright source of hope for humanity in the 21st century.

From a speech at a May 3 commemorative gathering, Tokyo, May 3, 1994.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.

  • *1In A Study of History, Toynbee wrote: “By higher religions I mean religions designed to bring human beings into direct communion with absolute spiritual Reality as individuals, in contrast to earlier forms of religion that have brought them only into indirect communion with It through the medium of the particular society in which they have happened to be participants. Religion, in these earlier forms, is an integral part of the culture of some particular society. On the other hand the higher religions have broken—some partially, some completely—out of the configuration of the particular cultures in which they originated. They have become separate systems of specifically religious culture, in a state of tension with the systems of secular culture with which they have parted company. The advent of a higher religion thus brings with it the distinction—previously unknown—between ‘religious’ and ‘secular,’ ‘spiritual’ and ‘temporal,’ ‘sacred’ and ‘profane.’” Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, vol. 12 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 307.
  • *2Arnold Toynbee, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), pp. 277–78.
  • *3The Three Great Secret Laws are core principles of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. They are the object of devotion of the essential teaching (the Gohonzon), the daimoku of the essential teaching (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), and the sanctuary of the essential teaching (where the Gohonzon is enshrined). They are called secret because they are implicit in the text of the “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
  • *4Toynbee, An Historian’s Approach to Religion, p. 262.
  • *5Ibid.