Soka Spirit
A View of the Current Issue (part 1)

Volume 1, No. 3 October 14, 1991

There are now, within Nichiren Shoshu, conscientious priests who are determined to carry on the correct spirit of Nichiren Daishonin. Their hope is that Soka Gakkai members will unite with the honorary president and win in this battle to preserve the true spirit of the Daishonin’s Buddhism.

One such priest recently set down his thoughts in a letter addressed to the members of the Soka Gakkai, as well as to selected priests and members of the laity who are close to the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. A desperate resolution is required to speak out for justice under such adverse conditions. It is known that the conditions at the head temple are now so closed that any airing of opinion contrary to the views of the high priest or the administrative office is looked upon harshly and may be grounds for dismissal. Under these circumstances, we feel it is our responsibility to give such priests a vehicle to directly address the membership, but that it is also our obligation to allow them to remain anonymous.

Reading this message in its entirety, it seems as if a brilliant sun of hope has begun to rise for the future of Nichiren Shoshu.

In the Gosho, ″Great Evil and Great Good,″ Nichiren Daishonin states: ″Great events do not have small omens. When great evil occurs, great good will follow. Since the worst slander already prevails throughout the country, the supreme True Law will spread without fail. What have any of you to regret?″ (MW-5, l6l) In another Gosho, the Daishonin states: ″Great evil portends the arrival of great good. If all of Jambudvipa (the whole world) should be thrown into chaos, there can be no doubt that (this sutra) will spread widely throughout the continent of Jambudvipa.″ (MW-6, l44)

In this light, a new age surely is being heralded by the current situation. The following is a translation of the above-mentioned letter in its entirety.


To all the priests and lay believers of Nichiren Shoshu:

I have come to realize that Nichiren Shoshu will be devastated if the priesthood continues its present course in its current dispute with the Soka Gakkai. It is with this awareness that I write this letter as a call to each member of the Soka Gakkai. I address it to all members of the Soka Gakkai, and also to representatives within the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and laity, in hopes that my seniors, peers and juniors will all read it somehow.

I am heartily delighted that you, the members of the Soka Gakkai, continue to be in high spirits and good health.

I presume that you have been wondering just what the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood has in mind concerning the current issue.

I myself was born into a family of priests. Naturally, I later abandoned a normal family life, was tonsured and thus became a disciple of the high priest. I am now a chief priest of a Nichiren Shoshu temple and have been dedicated to the eternal spread of the Law. Faced with this dispute, at first I found it difficult to understand why such a situation had arisen.

Honestly speaking, I am a priest, and thus in a position to follow and protect the high priest. I was dumfounded by the vehemence of the countercharges the Soka Gakkai first directed at the priesthood. I thought these charges reflected some sort of scheme. Yet I also believed that there must also have been profound significance in what was happening. After grappling with the situation, I have arrived at the following conclusion, and I would like to share it with you, hoping that it may lend support to you in your endeavors.

When viewed with one’s physical vision, the current situation might appear to be a dispute or disagreement between the priesthood and the Soka Gakkai. However, when viewed in light of the Lotus Sutra, it is a battle between the forces of the Buddha and the forces of devils, which have now arisen vehemently at the time of the kosen-rufu of substantiation.

In a letter titled ″Ben Dono Ama Goze Gosho,″ Nichiren Daishonin states, ″In waging battle against the votary of the Lotus Sutra, the King Devil of the Sixth Heaven employs his ten armies to gain control of, and, at times, to preserve his right over, the impure land where sages and common mortals dwell together amid the sea of suffering″ (Gosho Zenshu, p. l224).

The 10 armies correspond to 10 kinds of earthly desire or illusion: l) desire; 2) grief; 3) hunger and thirst; 4) attachment; 5) a yearning for sleep; 6) fear; 7) doubt and regret; 8) anger; 9) greed or self-interest (inviting a bad reputation) and l0) self-pride and disrespect toward others.

Who is it that most strongly possesses these 10 types of earthly desires? The priesthood claims that it is none other than Honorary President Ikeda, whom it has praised in the past as a man of great merit for kosen-rufu of the true teachings. Today the priesthood’s assessment of Mr. Ikeda has taken a dramatic turn, to the point that it now accuses him of acting only for the sake of personal fame and profit. On the other hand, the Gakkai points to the corruption of many priests, scorning them as ″animals who wear the robes of priests.″

Yes, I am a priest, but I am first a believer in the Daishonin’s Buddhism. Before the Dai-Gohonzon, we are all human beings, whether priests or lay believers. If one strictly examines, in light of the Daishonin’s teachings, the attitude in faith and reality of practice of priests in contrast to that of Gakkai members, comparing each aspect of their faith, practice and study, one must conclude unequivocally that it is the members of the Gakkai who will receive the praise of Nichiren Daishonin himself. This is evidenced in the Gakkai’s unprecedented history of realizing the global spread of the True Law. Also, when I consider Honorary President Ikeda’s activities overseas and read the content of his lectures and dialogues, I can see that he is indeed an exemplary disciple of Nichiren Daishonin, who is striving boldly to introduce the principles of the Daishonin’s Buddhism to first-rate scholars and statesmen around the world. Further, by beautifully incorporating Western thoughts and philosophies as an introduction to Buddhist principles, and by focusing on the belief in the dignity of life, he has been endeavoring to reveal the way for all humankind equally to attain enlightenment. What he is accomplishing is indeed historic.

I lament the narrowness and lack of intellectual sophistication of those priests, myself included, which have kept us from recognizing and opening our hearts to this stern reality. I fear that the original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, will admonish us on this account. Therefore, as a disciple of Nichiren Daishonin who wears the noble robe of Nichiren Shoshu, I would like to live up to the Daishonin’s golden words that exhort us to refute evil and reveal the truth. This I wish to do by courageously shedding light on the real nature of the devilish functions now trying to hinder the progress of kosen-rufu, and express my prayer that the forces of the Buddha emerge victorious.

In considering the current problem, it is most important not to get caught up in assigning blame or in arguing who is responsible for what. The fundamental issue lies in the intrinsic nature of the priesthood itself.

Also, when viewed from a historical perspective, the current situation was inevitable. It may be likened to a citizens’ revolt in which the common people, having matured and awakened, strive to gain freedom from the old Japanese ingrained perception of the ″lord-vassal″ relationship, which has been nurtured through centuries of feudalism in a society rife with slander and hostility toward true Buddhism and the principles it espouses.

To identify what is most essential in our discussion of the intrinsic nature of the priesthood, we must first be aware of the discriminatory structure within the clergy itself. This stems from the fact that seniority in terms of one’s tenure as a priest serves as an almost absolute yardstick governing relationships. One problem lies in the system by which acolytes (young priests) are educated at the head temple, in which apprenticeship is forced upon them through violence and abuse.

During the time of the late high priest Nittatsu Shonin, an annual enrollment system was instituted at the head temple to educate acolytes, who were tonsured in the sixth grade of elementary school (at the age of 12, the same age that Nichiren Daishonin took his vows). A system of educating and guiding all acolytes together at the head temple was instituted. Before this, the age at which one became a priest differed from person to person. Some young men began their training in faith at the priests’ lodging (the Dai-bo) at the head temple, while others began to practice under the tutelage of the chief priest of a local temple. (Detailed explanation is omitted here). By rights, a thoroughgoing educational system should have been established for the acolytes at the head temple, as it is vital to properly educate those young priests who will shoulder the future of Nichiren Shoshu and the task of kosen-rufu. But in reality, all that was established was a crude ″students department″ that could do no more than make the acolytes follow a set of rules and regulations.

Within this department, something akin to hazing began in which senior students bullied their juniors. The department itself has a regulation that allows corporal punishment, physical abuse justified in the name of compassionate training. Such unimaginably awful treatment, which strays far from the Daishonin’s teachings on the dignity of life based upon the innate Buddhahood of each individual, takes place literally on a daily basis amid an atmosphere of quiet approval.

One of the mottos acolytes are encouraged to uphold eloquently attests to the essentially unreasonable nature of the priesthood. It reads, ″An acolyte must always revere and obey those who are his senior, and must never be disrespectful toward them in his speech or conduct.″

Priests who have grown up under such abnormal circumstances naturally come to possess a nature characterized by the world of Animality, in which they tend to kowtow or submit begrudgingly to their seniors and demand absolute obedience from their juniors. Anyone who has grown up at the head temple acknowledges this fact. While some priests now feel that they were once guilty of abusing younger acolytes, others, feeling that they were victims, still harbor a deep grudge against their seniors.

This meanness of spirit is taken for granted. The unhealthy belief that absolute obedience must be demanded from juniors has become deeply rooted in their subconscious minds. Such individuals then become chief priests who soon start lording it over the lay believers. Most priests, myself included, have naturally accepted the view that there exists an absolute distinction between priesthood and laity, and that priests are superior and lay believers inferior. Their sense of judgment with respect to daily affairs is based in this way upon such a biased and discriminatory viewpoint.

This superiority complex is supported by a Japanese view of religion originating in the ″lord-vassal″ relationship between temples and their believers that has existed for centuries. This tendency was nurtured by the danka seido or ″temple parish system″ established during the Edo period (approx. 1600Œ1865) [which by government decree forced people to affiliate themselves with specific Buddhist temples, affording priests almost absolute authority over the people]. Because the traditional Japanese view of religion is rooted in this system, believers tend to accept the priesthood’s authority as a matter of course, closing their eyes and remaining silent, even if it is in error.

Another factor that complicates the tendency to be condescending toward the laity lies in the fact that priests are permitted to marry and raise families. Marriage by priests [a relatively new phenomenon] gave rise to two issues: the emergence of jizoku, temple families, and the erosion of the original meaning or spirit of the term shukke, a designation for a priest or monk that means one who has ″left one’s family.″

Essentially, the wives of chief priests are lay believers, and by rights should be regarded as equal to regular lay believers, but in fact their status in this regard is rather vague. In addition, clan-like groups have formed within Nichiren Shoshu through marriage among priests’ families, forming a sort of noble class of priests that is estranged from the common people. These closed groups further strengthen the perception of distinction between priesthood and laity. Furthermore, the children of priests who are raised within such a closed environment remain ignorant of the ordinary feelings of lay people. Thus, when people who have such an abnormal perception of reality become chief priests of local temples, they tend to guide lay believers with the feudalistic notion that they are the masters while lay believers are their servants.

One of Nikko Shonin’s warning articles reads, ″My disciples should be pure and sacred, just as my master was.″ In the Gosho ″Letter to the Brothers,″ Nichiren Daishonin mentions: ″Since this is so, the believers of the Lotus Sutra should fear those who plague their practice more than they fear bandits, burglars, midnight killers, tigers, wolves or lionsÊeven more than invasion by the Mongols. This world is the province of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. All of its people have been related to him since time without beginning. He has not only built the prison of twenty-five realms within the six paths and confined all mankind, but also made wives and children into shackles and parents and sovereigns into nets that block off the skies″ (MW-1, 135).

As this passage explains, one’s family members can easily become obstacles to one’s practice of faith. This is especially true in the case of a priest, who, according to Buddhist tradition, is by definition supposed to be one who has left his home and his family to selflessly devote himself to faith and practice. At this level of commitment, having a family should be considered a hindrance.

The fact is, however, that ordinary chief priests of Nichiren Shoshu nowadays devote a great deal of energy and money to tending to their wives by buying them fine clothes and jewelry. They also are concerned about saving money to pass on to their children. These problems inherent in the secularization of the priesthood could certainly be overcome through reflection and conscientious effort. The fundamental source of the problem lies in Nichiren Shoshu’s unprincipled acceptance of a political guideline from the Meiji government (during the late 19th century), which was specifically intended to weaken the Buddhist community in Japan [and thus strengthen the position of Shinto, the religion of the emperor]. This took the form of a proclamation that ″Buddhist priests may, from here on, eat meat and take wives as they please.″ Not only that, there was little initial discussion about the righteousness of marriage by priests and its possible ill effects. The priests’ right to marry is taken for granted within Nichiren Shoshu even today. This stance is far removed from the original spirit of the clergy to devote themselves wholly to kosen-rufu. This irresponsible attitude toward propagation lies at the bottom the priesthood’s current problematic tendencies.

By allowing this irresponsible nature within us to hold sway, we priests are now debasing ourselves. We have become like those mentioned in the ″Rissho Ankoku Ron″ who are priests only in appearance, for the purpose of securing clothing and food through offerings from the laity.

It is clear that this intrinsic problem within the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood would not have surfaced without such extreme circumstances as the current dispute.

In the battle between the Buddha and devils, devils always reveal their true nature when they are reprimanded by a Buddha. What is happening now is easy to understand in view of the analogy of Shakyamuni Buddha and Devadatta. While Shakyamuni Buddha was earning tremendous trust and respect from the people, Devadatta was nurturing an ambition to become the leader of Shakyamuni’s organization, the Buddhist Order, and craved the treatment and respect afforded the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha, who perceived such ambition on the part of Devadatta, severely scolded him before numerous disciples, saying: ″I would not permit even excellent disciples such as Shariputra and Maudgalyayana to lead our Order. If so, how could I entrust the task to a person like you, who is as childish as a baby who drivels.″ Having his pride hurt by the severe words of Shakyamuni, Devadatta lost his senses and turned to plotting to destroy Shakyamuni.

This represents a pattern that holds true even today. It is a fact that there are those among the priesthood who have been looking for the chance to control the Soka Gakkai, wishing only that Honorary President Ikeda was gone. Common among such priests is a deep-seated hatred, born out of jealousy, of Honorary President Ikeda. Honorary President Ikeda pointed to this basic tendency within the priesthood in his speech on November l6 last year, which inadvertently caused the priesthood to reveal its true nature.

The Gosho ″Letter from Sado,″ reads in part, ″Neither non-Buddhists nor the enemies of Buddhism can destroy the Buddha’s True Law, but the Buddha’s disciples definitely can″ (MW-1, 35). In this way, the struggle between the Buddha and devilish forces is sure to take the form of a battle between good disciples and bad disciples. This battle should be won through the harmonious unity of priesthood and laity, as indicated by the analogy of King Utoku and Priest Kakutoku in the ″Rissho Ankoku Ron.″ Nowadays, however, true priests who wish to emulate the monk Kakutoku [who reprimanded evil priests for breaking the precepts] can hardly make their appearance within the current framework of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. Honorary President Ikeda, playing both the roles of King Utoku [a devoted lay believer] and Priest Kakutoku, has commenced a battle against the devils nesting within Nichiren Shoshu.

In his effort to reply to the Buddha’s mandate, King Utoku, a lay leader, spared nothing of his life to protect the True Law together with his many followers. The members of the Soka Gakkai are now in a position similar to the followers of King Utoku, and as such you must continue to fight until you win, protecting your honorary president as the sutra proclaims, ″with your own sword.″

The priesthood criticizes the Gakkai for attacking it with its organizational power, but this is an outrageous statement. The Gakkai is using the modern ″sword″ of organizational power to protect the Law, just as King Utoku did at the cost of his own life. With this understanding, you must fight wholeheartedly. Because the enemy of the Law is the establishment of Nichiren Shoshu itself, you must admonish its fundamental ills, regardless of whether the chief priest in your area is good or bad. Any priest who sides with the people and protects them can be regarded as a righteous priest in line with the spirit of the monk Kakutoku.

In concrete terms, what the laity must do now in the course of this battle is to cease making offerings to the priesthood. To this end, you should stop inviting priests to funeral and wedding ceremonies. You should also refrain from making offerings in the form of requesting the inscription of toba (memorial) tablets. No matter how others may criticize your strict stance toward the priesthood in this regard, you must realize that unless you can help change the fundamental ills of Nichiren Shoshu now, we will never be able to build a solid, eternal foundation of kosen-rufu in the Latter Day of the Law. Toward this end, we must now strictly approach the current issue from the standpoint of helping Nichiren Shoshu abolish its dangerous tendencies.

Today, the priesthood insists on the infallibility of the high priest. Conversely speaking, this indicates that the high priest is responsible for everything that happens to Nichiren Shoshu. In other words, by asserting the supremacy of the high priest, all other priests can be irresponsible under the umbrella of the high priest’s authority. The condition within the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood is now remarkably similar to the condition inside Japan just before World War II. In those days, the emperor took a passive attitude toward engaging in a war with the United States with no sure prospect for victory. Nevertheless, he was coerced by pressure from impatient military leaders to plunge the nation toward war. Just as the emperor was later asked to take responsibility for Japan’s loss at war, the high priest will in the end be obliged to take responsibility for the damage Nichiren Shoshu will have to suffer. Now is the time to clarify the role of the high priest and to distribute his responsibility in some areas, so that other priests will also take responsibility for the essential matters of Nichiren Shoshu.

In August 1981, High Priest Nikken stated at a nationwide teachers’ seminar: ″Some time ago, someone within Nichiren Shoshu referred to the high priest as equivalent to the true Buddha. Producing an old document that had been handed down in a temple other than Taiseki-ji, this priest said: ‚Nikko Shonin was a Buddha. Nichimoku Shonin was also a Buddha. And the current high priest is a Buddha, as well. My thought on this particular matter is that such a statement is truly misleading. It is a remark that stems from a misunderstanding of the basic difference between naisho (identity) and geyu (appearance), and‚ being not one and‚ being two. Certainly, the high priest has inherited the Law that Nichiren Daishonin was enlightened to. But this does not signify that the high priest is a Buddha. Nikko Shonin is the treasure of the Priest in Taiseki-ji’s basic interpretation of the Daishonin’s Buddhism.″

In his ″Exegesis on‚ The Selection of the Time,″ Nichikan Shonin, the 26th high priest, mentioned three points related to bestowing the Law: 1) spreading it, while enhancing it; 2) transferring it, while embracing it; and 3) protecting it, while watching over it. The first condition is to be fulfilled by both priesthood and laity. The second is to be achieved by the priesthood, a concrete example being the protection of the Dai-Gohonzon by the successive high priests. The third mandate is to be realized by the laity alone. In actuality, it is the members of the Soka Gakkai who have stood up to reply to the mandate of Nichiren Daishonin. In this light, the original role of the high priest is very clear. Nevertheless, in Nichiren Shoshu today many in the priesthood harbor the mistaken idea that the high priest is equal to the modern true Buddha. I feel the biggest problem in the structure of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood lies in the fact that the high priest and the chief administrator’s position are assumed by the same person.

I can also point to a fatal shortcoming in the structure of the current central offices in Nichiren Shoshu, which center on the Administrative Office. Due to this structure, information that reaches the high priest can easily be manipulated by the intermediate bodies.

At the same nationwide teachers’ seminar in August 1981, High Priest Nikken mentioned: ″Many of you, young priests especially, trust that information you hear in the form of hearsay or statements about the Soka Gakkai and Honorary President Ikeda by such individuals as Yamazaki are all true. Yet in most cases, more than half or even two-thirds of what is written is a twisted product of Yamazaki’s manipulation. Reading what Yamazaki and others wrote, I think many of you thought, ‚I did not know what an awful person President Ikeda is, or I did not know the Soka Gakkai was that bad.″

This past statement by the high priest applies exactly to today’s situation. Today, people like Fukushima or Ryu, rather than Yamazaki, are the manipulators of information. Due to the structural fault mentioned above, devilish functions hiding within Nichiren Shoshu emerge exclusively from the life of the high priest. I am sorry to say it, but it seems that the high priest is pulling toward him all of the devils that are hiding within Nichiren Shoshu and embodying them himself. This is what is happening to the high priest.

Ultimately, we must refute the high priest’s own views to save him from the grasp of these devilish forces. We must do so to protect the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu, as well. One such view involves his distortion of the former high priest’s guidance regarding the significance of the Sho-Hondo. His second erroneous view is expressed in his exhortation of priests to launch the danto (temple movement) movement, which, in light of Buddhism, is a cardinal sin in that it destroys the harmonious unity among believers.

At the same teachers’ seminar held in August l98l, the high priest clearly mentioned: ″Some of you are speaking ill of the Gakkai and thereby pulling irresolute members toward your temple, thus making them danto members. I think this is becoming harder for you to do these days, but it still is much easier than doing shakubuku and introducing a non-believer to faith in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. At any rate, if you move in such an erroneous direction, even those who maintain correct faith may be swayed by you and thus have their faith tarnished. Making danto members out of Gakkai members is not shakubuku. Rather, it is a corruption in your faith.″

Correct faith in the Law is now about to perish from Nichiren Shoshu. As members of the Soka Gakkai, you alone can crush the devils hidden within the established structure of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, enhance the original teachings of the Daishonin’s Buddhism and protect the high priest, who inherits the Law, from the grasp of devils. The movement you are now staging may be called a people’s revolution. It will change not only one sect but the ideological soil of Japanese society and the world. We priests who wish to follow in the footsteps of the monk Kakutoku sincerely pray that you will unite with Honorary President Ikeda and win in this battle of the Law. We wholeheartedly pledge that when the time is right, we too will definitely arise.