Soka Spirit
A Senior Priest Tells a Story

Volume 3, No. 1 –
January 25, 1993

The following is the first of a two-part article based on an interview that appeared in four installments in the Soka Gakkai youth division newspaper, the Soka Shimpo (Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, 1992, issues), with Mr. Jisai Watanabe, chief priest of Daikyo-ji temple in Kanagawa. Mr. Watanabe, a former high-ranking official of Nichiren Shoshu, seceded from the head temple last October to protest the injustices of High Priest Nikken. During his 44 years with Nichiren Shoshu, Mr. Watanabe witnessed the sect’s remarkable rise under the protection of the Soka Gakkai as well as the recent series of questionable actions the priesthood has taken against the Soka Gakkai.

As is well known, the person who urged President Makiguchi and President Toda to accept the Shinto talisman [during World War II] was my father, Nichiyo (Jikai) Watanabe, the head of General Affairs at that time. Because the priesthood was severely oppressed by the military, it felt the only choice was to go along with the priest Jimon Ogasawara’s plot to sell out to the Minobu sect. The result was that President Makiguchi died in prison. I’m deeply shamed by this.

I had decided to break away from the priesthood by Nov. 18 [of last year], the anniversary of President Makiguchi’s death. I deeply apologize from the bottom of my heart, and I wish to make a fresh start.

In November, I heard that some members of the Makiguchi family said, ‘We are deeply pleased to hear that he has seceded from the priesthood.’ It would be natural for them to feel indignant toward me as Nichiyo’s son. For the rest of my life I will remember their warm and encouraging words.

My father also repented his behavior later in life. He praised and wholeheartedly expressed his understanding of the Gakkai’s great goal of worldwide kosen-rufu. He told me, ‘You must be a priest who protects the Gakkai for the rest of your life, even if by yourself.’ I think he would be happy with my decision to break from the priesthood.

It is now clear that Nikken and others conspired in July of 1990 [to enact a plan to sever the SGI]. In fact, when I was at the head temple for a teachers guidance meeting last summer, Jitoku Kawabe asked me if I had my father’s diary. I assumed they were looking for information to counter the Soka Gakkai’s argument regarding the Shinto talisman issue, should a conflict arise. Mr. Kawabe must have been collecting information since that time.

However, if you were to ask me when it was that Nikken conceived Operation C, I would say that it was when he became high priest in July of 1979.

His jealousy of President Ikeda could be one reason for this problem. However, from the point of view of those inside the priesthood, Nikken has always had deep ambitions to become the greatest high priest, a brilliant ‘restorer’ of Nichiren Shoshu. I think this has been the motivation behind his actions.

During the ceremony to report to the Dai-Gohonzon of the transfer of high priests held in April 1980, Nikken said that the ‘restoration of the teachings’ means to return to the time of the founder of the teachings and the founder of the head temple (Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin). He stated, ‘I will accomplish the ‘restoration of the teachings.” He was implying that the previous high priests had acted incorrectly.

During the time of Nissho Shonin (the 64th high priest, who served from 1947 through 1956), the impoverished head temple was reconstructed through the devoted protection of Mr. Toda. Simultaneously a great shakubuku campaign began. In other words, the sun of kosen-rufu began to rise. Also, during the time of Nichijun Shonin (the 65th high priest: 1956-1959), the Grand Lecture Hall and the Hoanden were built. This was a time of absolutely pure harmony between priests and laity. Moreover, during Nittatsu Shonin’s time, the Grand Reception Hall was completed and the Sho-Hondo was erected through the efforts of President Ikeda. Hence, the foundation for kosen-rufu in the Latter Day of the Law was achieved.

The question then became: What did High Priest Nikken have to leave as his legacy? No matter how eager he may have been, there was nothing that would make his name famous throughout history.

Nikken, with his selfish and competitive nature, could not stand for this. That is why, on the pretext of ‘restoring the teachings,’ he tried to deny and destroy the achievements of the Soka Gakkai and the successive high priests by saying that they had nothing to do with kosen-rufu and that the true foundation of kosen-rufu would be established during his time.

You might say that his primary motivation has been the acquisition of wealth and fame. He is truly dreadful. Nikken’s nickname, ‘instant boiler’ [which refers to his hot temper], does not apply in the case of breaking with the Soka Gakkai. The jealousy and rage he felt toward President Ikeda manifested in the plot about which he thought long and hard.

He was always saying that ‘rationale’ and ‘opportunity’ were very important. He pondered carefully over the timing. Also, in order to cut off the Soka Gakkai, he asked himself, ‘What is the best ‘rationale’ to carry out my intent?’ The 700th anniversary of the founding of the head temple was the best opportunity for the point of demarcation.

Seven hundred years ago, Nikko Shonin left Mount Minobu and built Taiseki-ji because of the slander of Hakiri Sanenaga, the lord of the manor there. Nikken twisted historical facts to say that Hakiri Sanenaga and President Ikeda play similar roles in Nichiren Shoshu history. He proceeded to ‘cut’ [excommunicate] President Ikeda. In the same way that Nikko Shonin built the Mutsubo as the starting point of the head temple, Nikken began rebuilding the Mutsubo as his own starting point.

Nikken decided to do this suddenly. [The initial plans for refurbishing the head temple for the 700th anniversary did not include the Mutsubo.] Because the original structure had completely deteriorated since Nikko Shonin’s time, a new Mutsubo was donated by the Soka Gakkai during Nittatsu Shonin’s time.

One by one, Nikken began to destroy the buildings related to President Ikeda. This means that he has also been destroying the achievements of earlier high priests. The new Mutsubo is very luxurious; for example, the cost of a single pillar was more than Š100 million (about $800,000). In addition, Nikken destroyed the Daikejo and the ‘Nagare no Niwa’ (flowing garden) located in the Daibo, both of which Nittatsu Shonin had constructed with great care. He also changed the Fuji Seminary into a Kyoto-style garden. He has thus been trying to completely transform the head temple over the last 10 years.

But because he could never surpass Nittatsu Shonin, who constructed the Sho-Hondo, the true high sanctuary, Nikken employed makeshift methods to try to discredit him. After the current dispute began, he gathered all of the certified priests at the head temple on January 6 of last year [1991] and made a crucial statement: ‘What is the source of President Ikeda’s arrogance? The answer is that he himself decided upon the significance of the Sho-Hondo when no one in the priesthood spoke of it. That was the major source of his arrogance.’

Nikken later admitted that his statement was a result of his own misunderstanding.

But his statement reflects more than a simple misunderstanding. In my opinion, Nikken’s real intention was not only to accuse President Ikeda of arrogance, but to distort the fact that Nittatsu Shonin had defined the Sho-Hondo as ‘a supreme edifice that is the High Sanctuary of Honmon-ji (the Temple of True Buddhism).’ Nikken has insisted that Nittatsu Shonin’s definition of the Sho-Hondo was forced upon him by President Ikeda.

Supposing this were true, the Sho-Hondo, which was established during Nittatsu Shonin’s time, would not be the true high sanctuary that accords with the will of Nichiren Daishonin. After negating the validity of the Sho-Hondo, Nikken would then establish the ‘true’ high sanctuaryÊthis would have been his scenario.

It is believed among the priests that Nikken would have designed his high sanctuary in the traditional Japanese fashion, just like the Mutsubo.

Last June he was troubled by the Soka Gakkai’s letter of inquiry concerning the correction of his statements about the Sho-Hondo. After a meeting with other priests in the Grand Lecture Hall, he whispered to me that we should not keep his thesis titled ‘Regarding the Error of the Theory of the National High Sanctuary’ in the records. He said it would make him look bad.

This thesis refutes the Myoshinko group’s statement that the Sho-Hondo should be the ‘national high sanctuary.’ Of course, the tone of the thesis supports the Soka Gakkai’s view of the significance of the Sho-Hondo. Knowing it could be fatal if this document remained in the records, he requested its recall.

He began to tell people that writing this document had been a mistake. He has been collecting money during the last ten years or so to construct a building that would replace the Sho-Hondo. In other words, accumulating as much money as possible and then cutting off the Soka Gakkai were premeditated acts.

The amount of the donation required for priests to bestow memorial tablets (toba) was raised in April 1990. At that time, thousands of toba were being manufactured at the head temple every day. Nikken saw this and, in one stroke, doubled the price under the pretext that ‘The local temples strongly requested this.’ However, the local temples had heard nothing about it, and no one had asked for such a thing. We priests were surprised ourselves to hear about the sudden doubling of the price. Now people are saying that Nikken has amassed an enormous amount of money.

In January 1991, when the conflict came to the forefront, there was a funeral for the chief priest of Minaminobo temple (on the head temple grounds). Mrs. Hayase (wife of Gikan Hayase, chief of General Affairs of Nichiren Shoshu) told my wife: ‘This time we have power that we did not have in 1977. We have built enough financial strength to fight the Soka Gakkai.’

It is tragic that the priesthood is fulfilling its wicked ambitions using the members’ sincere contributions.

There is still more evidence of Nikken’s ambition. He is now planning to publish a new compilation of the Gosho as a way of leaving his name in the annals of Nichiren Shoshu forever. Because he resents the fact that the Soka Gakkai provided the fundamental support for the Gosho’s publication, he is having the study department of the priesthood begin the publication of a new Gosho.

The current Gosho Zenshu (the complete collection of the Daishonin’s Writings) was published at the request of Mr. Toda and through the efforts of Nichiko Shonin, who was then 86 years old. How much painstaking effort he must have made. He said that he cried with joy when the transcript was completed.

While it would be natural to make corrections if there were any typographical errors in this great high priest’s achievement, as one of Nichiko Shonin’s disciples, I can never forgive these recent actions, which show a total disregard for his accomplishments.

Furthermore, in local temples, under the pretext of both the 700th anniversary of Nichiren Daishonin’s passing (1981) and the 700th anniversary of the founding of the head temple (1990), many temples were newly built or remodeled. In each new Gohonzon room, Nikken replaced those Gohonzon that had been petitioned by President Ikeda [which bear Mr. Ikeda’s name as the petitioner] with a Gohonzon that was made by Nikken himself. This was another attempt to erase evidence of the SGI President’s achievements.

The number of temples in which the Gohonzon was replaced reached several dozen. At my temple, Daikyo-ji, I felt it natural and ideal to protect the Gohonzon petitioned by President Ikeda to whom we owe a deep debt of gratitude. In the end, I was able to protect that Gohonzon.

I believe the cause of Nikken’s attitude is the fact that he grew up as an overprotected, only child who never experienced hardship. Nikken’s mother, Myoshu Ama (nun), did not treat Nikken as a child but spoiled him and treated him as though he was already a senior priest. He did not experience hardship when he joined the Navy, either. After World War II, he rebuilt Hongyo-ji as its chief priest by using lumber from the head temple. Another important point is that his wife, Masako, was also trained by Myoshu Ama. She was brought up under the same framework of values as was Nikken and increasingly contributed to Nikken’s arrogance.

One priest mentioned an interesting point: ‘Nikken was born in 1922, exactly 700 years after the Daishonin’s birth. That is why he is convinced that he is a ‘child of mission’ or a ‘special child.”

He doesn’t listen to what others say. He is always saying ‘I, I, I.’ Since his youth he has never experienced hardship and that is why he doesn’t understand the struggle for kosen-rufu. Neither can he understand the difficulties President Ikeda has had, nor how much the Soka Gakkai has struggled. Although he has praised President Ikeda at many ceremonies, it was just tacked onto the end of his speech.

On the other hand, Nittatsu Shonin praised President Ikeda’s achievements and what they meant based on the Gosho. However, I am sure that Nikken has never spoken of President Ikeda’s achievements on the basis of the Gosho.

The worst instance in which Nikken acted against the intent of earlier high priests was when he erected a tombstone in honor of his ancestors at a Zen temple in Fukushima on July 17, 1989. The next day, Nikken attended a completion ceremony at Kairen-ji (a Nichiren Shoshu temple in Fukushima). In fact, my son was the chief priest of Kairen-ji at the time.

I arrived in Fukushima one day early to prepare for the completion ceremony. I ran into Nikken and his group at the hotel where I was staying. His wife Masako and his daughter Yuriko were also there. I was surprised to see [Nikken’s family members] because they were not scheduled to attend the completion ceremony.

Now I realize that Nikken had just returned to the hotel after attending a ceremony at the Zen temple and then a party. I thought that running into Nikken there would have been awkward for him, so we tried to stay out of sight. The next morning I saw him at breakfast in the hotel restaurant. This time I greeted him, but he replied in a confused manner. Waving his hand [in a gesture of dismissal], he said: ‘Don’t worry. This is a private party, so you need not concern yourself with us.’

Even though Kofu-ji (a Nichiren Shoshu temple) is in Fukushima, Nikken found it necessary to install a tombstone for his family at the Zen temple grounds, surrounded by older and smaller tombs, in order to display his power. This is why he secretly imported $44,000 worth of stone directly from Sweden to build the tombstone. This incident reflects Nikken’s true nature, which is controlled by secular trends, his desire to flaunt his money and his need to be the center of attention. None of his actions in this matter were based upon faith.

One might think that priests within Nichiren Shoshu would have spoken up not only about the Zen temple incident, but about other scandalous behavior on his part as well. Yet although there might have been those who viewed Nikken as immoral, Gestapo-type tactics were set forth in order to prevent them from speaking out. If we as priests were to speak ill of Nikken in conversations even with our wives while at the temple, it soon became common knowledge. Those priests who excel at espionage always watch the words and actions of the chief priests and their wives and report to Nikken in order to distinguish themselves in his eyes.

Recently, not only the acolytes but also youthful chief priests have been driven to watch other priests. In fact, Gikei Sakaguchi, who used to be the chief priest of Shoko-ji temple in Kofu and also Koshin Propagation District chief, was demoted in October to a lodging at Myoren-ji temple in Shizuoka Prefecture.

I heard this happened because of secret information from a young chief priest in the same propagation district. In addition, the sect assigns younger assistant priests to older priests who know of Nikken’s past in order to watch them closely. In this way, Nikken’s ‘spy priests’ are placed in each of the propagation districts, and the web of espionage grows thicker and thicker.

The rendezvous point for these ‘spy-priests’ is Hokyo-in seminary in Shibuya, Tokyo. There, they bring information from their temples and exchange opinions. Hokyo-in seminary was established by Nikken to counter Soka University, which was established by President Ikeda. He considers it his university. In reality, however, it has become a training ground for young priests loyal to Nikken who are willing to do his bidding in the form of espionage against their peersÊa kind of secret police force like the Nazi S.S.

The truth is that there would be no prosperity of the head temple Taiseki-ji or global propagation of the Daishonin’s teachings without the Soka Gakkai. Nichiren Shoshu owes a great debt of gratitude to the Soka Gakkai.

I entered the priesthood in 1949 when I was a freshman in high school. At that time, people seldom visited Taiseki-ji. I had to go to Uwagawa on the other side of the Mieido and work to reclaim and farm the land. There were times when we didn’t have enough to eat or wear. I had no hope for the future. Although I was the son of a priest at the Jakunichi-bo (the highest ranked lodging hall) at Taiseki-ji, I could not afford the examination fee to enter a university, so I went to work as a substitute teacher for one year.

After World War II, the head temple was losing its land little by little because of the Agricultural Land Reform Policy, and the financial condition of the priesthood was growing worse. Eventually, the priesthood even proposed the idea of opening the head temple to tourists for sight-seeing, charging a fee.

Local temples also had difficulties during that time. My wife was the daughter of Chief Priest Gikan Hayase of Tsuchiura, Ibaragi Prefecture. To supplement his livelihood, he worked at a post office and a clothing store. His position as a priest seemed like a second job. Some priests from the head temple conducted funerals for believers of other sects at the request of neighborhood associations. Although it is already well known that parishioners of the head temple have little faith and act against the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, many priests as well were shamelessly committing such transgressions at that time. Soka Gakkai members, however, were dedicating their lives for the sake of kosen-rufu and the protection of Nichiren Shoshu even though they themselves led difficult lives. Compared to the members’ efforts, those of the priests were superficial. From another angle, the head temple showed no passion for kosen-rufu and forgot the strict spirit to refute slander.

It was the Soka Gakkai that saved the priesthood from serious deterioration. The shakubuku campaigns by the Soka Gakkai advanced kosen-rufu, promoted the refutation of slander and increased participation in Gohonzon-receiving (gojukai) ceremonies like never before. Above all, the head temple was able to develop and prosper because President Toda promoted and suggested the Soka Gakkai pilgrimage (tozan) system, contributed funds to repair the Five-Story Pagoda and donated the Hoanden and the Grand Lecture Hall.

However, even though the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood was given so much help, there were few at the time who understood that worldwide kosen-rufu could not be completed without the Gakkai, except former High Priest Nichiko Hori, former High Priest Nissho Horigome, and the head of General Affairs Hosoi (who later became Nittatsu Shonin, the 66th high priest). At least 90% of the people in the priesthood regarded the Gakkai as troublesome.

I think the priesthood failed to make an effort to understand the Soka Gakkai because of a conceited belief that those who wear priestly robes are superior to others. In addition, I suspect that the priesthood’s anti-Gakkai sentiment stems in part from the Ogasawara incident.

On April 27, 1952, the 700th anniversary of the establishment of Nichiren Shoshu was celebrated. I was then living at the Jakunichi-bo at the head temple. Although Jimon Ogasawara lived at the Honkyo-bo across the way, he happened to come to the Jakunichi-bo, where he saw some Hokkeko members from Owari. That’s when I became a witness.

Some people mistakenly believe that this incident was one of the Soka Gakkai youth division unfairly putting a priest on trial. However, it was actually a debate concerning the heretical doctrine of shinpon busshaku [the doctrine that Shinto represents the ‘true entity’ while the Buddha is its transient aspect, which Ogasawara promoted before and during the war in order to ingratiate himself with the military authorities].

The youth division grilled Ogasawara about his culpability in spreading this heretical doctrine within the priesthood. President Toda also came later and said to me: ‘We will never use violence. We just want him to apologize. Please observe as a witness.’ But Ogasawara was old and hard of hearing. Because he could hardly get the point, the youth division had to speak loudly. That’s why they might have seemed high-handed. But I can verify that the Soka Gakkai never used force.

However, the priesthood insisted that the youth division members used violence toward a priest. The priesthood held an assembly and decided to punish President Toda as a warning. As punishment, President Toda was:

1. Required to submit a written apology through the local temple.

2. Dismissed as chief lay representative (daikoto).

3. Prohibited from visiting the head temple.

[Similar actions were taken against President Ikeda at the beginning of the current dispute.]

As soon as this punishment was announced, youth division members, including President Ikeda, visited each member of the Nichiren Shoshu Council throughout Japan and negotiated with them to withdraw the punishment. I think some priests thought poorly of these actions and developed anti-Soka Gakkai sentiments from then on.

As the expression goes, many priests couldn’t ‘see the forest for the trees.’ They never clearly grasped the true story or the real problem. They saw only the surface. Moreover, publicly criticizing a fellow priest was out of the question.

After the Ogasawara incident, whenever a problem arose between Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai, anti-Gakkai sentiment gushed forth like a geyser from many priests. The feeling of ‘persecution paranoia’ has increased because of the perception [when the Gakkai would point out transgressions and laxity on the part of the priesthood prior to the current situation ] that ‘the Gakkai is attacking priests again.’ This is why I think that the Ogasawara incident is one source of the anti-Gakkai attitude within the priesthood.

It is well known that when Nikken was chief priest of Hongyo-ji temple he had already started forming a danto group. When the Ogasawara incident occurred, Nikken was already maneuvering behind the scenes. That was the time when the youth division visited each member of the Council throughout Japan to ask them to rescind President Toda’s punishment. At Myoko-ji temple in Shinagawa, Tokyo, where I worked, the assistant priest, Kocho Kakinuma, disagreed with the withdrawal of the punishment. He had received numerous phone calls from Nikken. I think Nikken thought it was a good opportunity to be recognized as an anti-Soka Gakkai priest.

After that, Nikken received support from other anti-Gakkai priests and was elected as a member of the Council in 1955, though he was still young. He was willing to say whatever it took to ensure his personal success.

Nikken was involved in many other schemes. One of them concerned the chapter on persecution in The Essential Writings of the Fuji School, which was compiled by former High Priest Nichiko. In this work, Nichiko Shonin stated that the suppression by the military government that the Soka Gakkai had to endure before World War II was much greater in scale and intensity than other persecutions in the history of Nichiren Shoshu.

Therefore, he recorded the incident in the chapter on persecution as an example for posterity to follow. Nikken seemed disgruntled by this.

Nikken talked about former High Priest Nichiko with contempt, saying he regarded the former high priest as ‘merely a scholar,’ at the August training seminar for the priest teachers. I believe he had been harboring these feelings for a long time.

The late high priest Nichiko praised first President Makiguchi by calling him ‘a person who surpasses a common priest.’

I believe that Nikken, who lacks depth and caliber, will never understand the true value of the contributions by members of the Soka Gakkai. Second president Toda dealt strictly with arrogant or corrupt priests, but nobody embraced the priests as warmly as Mr. Toda did, nor strove for the unity of priesthood and laity as sincerely. Every New Year’s Day, Mr. Toda kindly invited the acolytes of the local temples in Tokyo to the Soka Gakkai headquarters building and treated them to a feast. I had been working for Myoko-ji temple since 1951 and was treated to such feasts as one of the ‘people who would shoulder the future of Nichiren Shoshu.’

President Ikeda established the Eikokai (Glory Group), a group consisting of youthful priests, and took good care of them.

If the Soka Gakkai did not treasure the priesthood, President Ikeda and second president Toda would not have warmly supported the priesthood as they so clearly did.

It is a fact that young men’s division members raised contributions for Ogasawara and took care of him after he showed remorse and repented of advocating his erroneous doctrines.

To be continued.