Soka Spirit
A View of the Current Issue (part 2)

Volume 1, No. 4 October 28, 1991

In this issue, we are carrying an excerpt from an editorial that appeared in the Aug. 19 issue of the Chugai Nippo, a religious and philosophical journal that covers the Japanese Buddhist community in general. It is affiliated with neither the Soka Gakkai nor with Nichiren Shoshu. Some references to names or Buddhist terms might differ from our familiar usage (for instance, Nichiren Daishonin is most often referred to as Nichiren Shonin, the designation commonly used by those outside of Nichiren Shoshu), and we have preserved this in translation.

We have chosen to run it because it is our belief that to understand the current conflict, we need first to understand its roots. It may be said that the birth of the Soka Gakkai itself was the beginning of a revolution within the modern Buddhist establishment, specifically, within Nichiren Shoshu, which had followed the Japanese religious trend over the centuries to cater to the wishes and demands of government authorities. First Soka Gakkai president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, gleaning and grasping the essence of Nichiren Daishonin′s original spirit, stood up resolutely to challenge the government authorities′ control over the believers of his day and restore that original spirit to the practice of Nichiren Shoshu. Unfortunately, there have been and are currently those who do not recognize, or who even try to negate, the significance of Mr. Makiguchi′s actions, and thus attempt to undermine the spirit upon which the Soka Gakkai was founded. While at times strongly worded, this article offers a historical perspective. Due to space considerations, only a portion of the original article is reproduced here in translation. It has been edited in some places for brevity:


In March of this year, a document titled ‘On the Shinto Talisman Issue’ was distributed by a group of Nichiren Shoshu priests designated ‘Information-Gathering Group No. 1 in Conjunction with the Current Issue.’ As this document was compiled by a group of responsible priests of the Head Temple Taiseki-ji, it is clear that Nikken Abe, the chief administrator and high priest, General Administrator Nichijun Fujimoto and Study Department Chief Juken Ohmura must have seen it before distribution. Since this document is an official document of Nichiren Shoshu, High Priest Nikken, who is the chief officer of the head temple and the entire Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, is naturally responsible for its contents. We understand that it was published in Daibyappo, an organ magazine of the Hokkeko United Association, an old nationwide lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu.

This document reveals some basic historical facts. Between the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, the Japanese government forced each religious sect in Japan (whose territory in those days included the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, Sakalin, the Kurile Islands) to worship the Shinto talisman issued by the Ise Shrine. The document addresses five major points:

* First, the Nichiren Shoshu Head Temple Taiseki-ji and local Nichiren Shoshu temples agreed to accept the talisman.

* Second, Jikai Watanabe, then the Internal Affairs Chief of Nichiren Shoshu, spoke to Soka Kyoiku Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and General Director Josei Toda in the presence of the 62nd High Priest Nikkyo Suzuki and the retired 59th High Priest Nichiko, urging the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, a lay organization of Taiseki-ji, to accept the Shinto talisman as the head temple itself had done. At the same time, Internal Affairs Chief Watanabe admonished the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, stating that it should stop its practice of encouraging new believers to discard objects from slanderous teachings, particularly Shinto-related items.

* Third, Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, clinging to the golden words of Nichiren Shonin and Nikko Shonin that strictly prohibit slander of the Law, rejected the head temple′s order in light of the 17th of Nikko Shonin’s ‘Twenty-six Admonitions’, which reads, ‘Do not follow even the high priest if he goes against the Buddha’s Law and propounds his own views.î Conversely, as Japan, intoxicated by its belief in Shinto, nose-dived insanely into war, Mr. Makiguchi admonished the priesthood of Taiseki-ji that the time had come to remonstrate with the nation in the spirit of the ‘Rissho Ankoku Ron.’

* Fourth, it is a matter of fact that while vigorously engaged in its shakubuku activities, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai resolutely continued to encourage new members to remove slanderous objects of worship, such as the Shinto talisman from the Ise Shrine, from their homes.

* Fifth, as a result, Mr. Makiguchi, Mr. Toda and all Soka Kyoiku Gakkai members were prohibited by the Taiseki-ji authorities from visiting the head temple and worshiping the Dai-Gohonzon, which was inscribed by Nichiren Shonin for all humankind. The Soka Kyoiku Gakkai was thus forsaken by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.

The document continues, If the priesthood persisted in declining to accept the Shinto talisman, it would have been praised for having brilliantly lived up to the orthodox doctrines of Nichiren Shoshu. Had it done so, however, Nichiren Shoshu would have been incorporated into the Minobu sect and the Head Temple Taiseki-ji would have been placed under the control of the Minobu sect’s head temple. If the priesthood had continued to refuse acceptance of the Shinto talisman, those priests most responsible, that is, Nikkyo Shonin and Nichiko Shonin, could have been imprisoned. Though these two high priests would not have begrudged themselves, had they been put in jail, the lifeblood or heritage of Nichiren Shoshu could have been endangered.

Furthermore, if Taiseki-ji had been placed under the control of Minobu, this would have meant that the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary would literally have been at the mercy of the Minobu sect. Nothing could be more slanderous than allowing the Dai-Gohonzon to be controlled by another sect. This sin would be equivalent to that of allowing the lifeblood of Nichiren Shoshu to be severed. Surely, the high priest of the time, who received the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu, could not have allowed such awful things to happen.

Nichiren Shoshu has been extremely strict toward slander since the days of Nichiren Shonin and second High Priest Nikko Shonin. Therefore, accepting the Shinto talisman and persuading believers to do the same must have been a heartbreaking decision for the priesthood to make. In the meantime, Nikkyo Shonin, in a desperate effort to avoid the merger of Nichiren Shoshu with the Minobu sect, went to the Ministry of Education to express his resolute wish, fully aware that he was risking his life in doing so. Fortunately, the situation turned out favorably for Nichiren Shoshu, successfully closing the issue of its possible incorporation into the Minobu sect.

It is a historical fact that under the Japan′s Religious Organizations Act, instituted to lead the entire nation to support the war, each religion or religious sect was forced to combine with what the government viewed as the mainstream school of that teaching. During these days of Japanese imperialism, this happened to not only the Nichiren schools but also to the Zen, Tendai and Shingon schools.

However, there were clearly other Buddhist sects that for doctrinal reasons resolutely refused to abide by the governmental directive to merge. This suggests that the conditions Nichiren Shoshu faced in avoiding possible incorporation into the Minobu sect were not as perilous as indicated in the Nichiren Shoshu document cited above in expressions like ‘fully aware that he was risking his life in doing so.’ The ten schools of the Jodo Shinshu sect, for instance, did not follow the governmental order. Also, among the Nichiren sects, the Honshaku Itchi school did not join with the Minobu sect either. In other words, several other schools besides Nichiren Shoshu, such as the Fuju Fuse school and Honshaku Shoretsu school, did not agree to merge into the Minobu sect. This fact also should be known.

In addition, national authorities ordered all Nichiren sects to eliminate the names of the traditional Japanese deities Tensho Daijin (Sun Goddess) and Hachiman from the mandala or Gohonzon [because they are shown in a position subordinate to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] and delete from the Gosho those passages which appear to be critical of Shintoism. Many Nichiren sects readily followed this outrageous governmental order and also agreed to eliminate from the original Gosho more than 200 expressions that the government saw as challenging the sanctity of Shintoism. While such appalling actions, which betray the spirit of Nichiren Shonin, were officially taken by most Nichiren schools, it also should also be noted that the chief administrator, general administrator and all other executive priests of the Hokkeshu Honmon Ryu school were imprisoned for more than 100 days as a result of their protest against the religious policy of the government.

From these facts it is evident that Nichiren Shoshu need not have been so overly concerned about the risk to the high priest′s life. Also, the priesthood′s fear that the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary would be placed under the control of the Minobu sect was unfounded and unreasonable. The Minobu sect′s views on the object of worship are completely different from those of Nichiren Shoshu. It is very peculiar that they would think that the Minobu sect would be eager to obtain the Dai-Gohonzon.

Nichiren Shoshu cooperated with the military government and supported the war effort by making donations for the production of airplanes. [It also held prayer sessions for Japan′s victory and the defeat of the United States.] Interestingly, another Nichiren sect, the Hokkeshu Honmon Ryu school, refused to make such offerings to the government. It challenged its obligation to do so in court in a lawsuit that lasted until the autumn of 1945, the year Japan was defeated. It instead donated to the Red Cross carts for transporting the wounded.

Regarding the contention that the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu would be severed should the high priest and the former high priest be imprisoned for their rejection of the governmental order, it should be pointed out that there were a few cases in the past in which the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu was transferred indirectly.

For instance, Mr. Seido Hosoi, who later became the 66th high priest (Nittatsu Shonin), wrote that it was agreed during the tenure of 56th High Priest Nichio that the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu would be transferred from 57th High Priest Nissho Abe to 58th High Priest Nitchu Tsuchiya in the future. In other words, the transfer ceremony between the 57th high priest and the 58th high priest seems to have taken place indirectly. 59th High Priest Nichiko left written evidence that prior to 58th High Priest Nitchu′s inauguration, the document revealing who would receive the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu was entrusted to a person who resided in Osaka.

In the same work cited above, Mr. Hosoi refuted the erroneous contentions of one Bentetsu Yasui. He writes, ‘Mr. Bentetsu Yasui, a former professor of Rissho University … says that the heritage of Nichiren Shoshu was severed twice in the history of the Head Temple Taiseki-ji, but this is simply malicious rhetoric. The 62nd high priest, Nikkyo Shonin, was prepared for the worst possible situation, in which he may have been unable to conduct a heritage-transferring ceremony due to, for example, his sudden death. Fortunately, in those days two retired high priests of Nichiren Shoshu were still in good health and therefore, it was possible for High Priest Nikkyo to transfer the heritage to either one of them beforehand. When Nikkyo did indeed pass away, 63rd High Priest Nichiman inherited the Law from the 61st High Priest Nichiryu the following day. I am very sorry for Mr. Yasui, but his contention is simply invalid.’

From these facts we can see that in case a high priest could not conduct an official transfer ceremony, there were and are various additional means for transferring the heritage to the next high priest.

Mr. Hosoi′s statements clarify that there was no need to worry about the severance of the lifeblood of Nichiren Shoshu even if High Priest Nikkyo and retired High Priest Nichiko had been put in jail.

There is no doubt that the Taiseki-ji authorities, Nichiren Shoshu Administrative Office authorities, and all those who called themselves Nichiren Shoshu priests at the time lacked the original Buddhist spirit of ‘revering the Law unbegrudgingly and spreading it unsparingly.’ Based on this spirit, all Nichiren Shoshu priests throughout Japan should have been united in their determination to go to prison if need be to protect the purity of the Law. If the priesthood had expressed such a sublime spirit of martyrdom, then even if they had all been imprisoned, the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary would certainly have been protected by the acolytes of the head temple, Hokkeko believers and general members of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai as they surely would have been deeply inspired by these priests′ courageous actions.

On Sept. 12, 1271, when Nichiren Shonin was arrested by the soldiers of Hei no Saemon, the executive administrator of the Hojo clan, and was led on horseback to the execution grounds at Tatsunokuchi, did he give in and acquiesce to the demands of the military rulers? Did he rationalize: ‘I have not yet completed the establishment of the Three Great Secret Laws, which will constitute the true teaching of the Latter Day of the Law. Thus far, I have only propagated the daimoku of the true teaching, but I have not yet inscribed the Gohonzon, which will embody the Three Great Secret Laws. Nor have I taught of the establishment of the High Sanctuary. Because I have yet to fulfill these things, which constitute the purpose of of my advent, please spare my life. I will do exactly as the government says. I am ready to compromise.’ Clearly, he did no such thing.

One of Nichiren Shonin’s writings, titled ‘On the Buddha′s Behavior,’ reads in part:

‘Thinking how tragic it would be if our country should meet the same fate, I risked my reputation and life to remonstrate with the authorities. But, just as a high wind creates high waves or a powerful dragon brings forth torrential rains, so my admonitions called forth increasing animosity. The Regent′s Supreme Council met to discuss whether to behead me or banish me from Kamakura and whether to confiscate the estates of my disciples and lay supporters, or to imprison, exile or execute them. Hearing of this, I rejoiced, saying that I had long expected it to come to this…. My disciples, form your ranks and follow me, and you shall surpass even Mahakashyapa or Ananda, T′ien-t′ai or Dengyo! If you quail before the threats of the rulers of this little island country and abandon your faith, how will you face the even more terrible anger of Enma, the King of Hell? You have proclaimed yourselves to be the messengers of the Buddha. But if you falter, there will be no one more despicable than you.’

In this section of the Gosho, Nichiren Shonin uses such expressions as ‘my disciples and lay supporters,’ but he also states, ‘None of you who declare yourselves to be my disciples should ever be cowardly.’ He also writes, ‘My disciples, form your ranks and follow me.’ In his mind, there was no distinction or superiority and inferiority between disciples (priests) and lay believers. This point is obvious in his other expressions such as ‘Nichiren and those (who chant…),’ ‘Nichiren and my followers,’ ‘My disciples,’ and ‘Those who follow Nichiren.’

In Nichiren Shoshu, is it not commonly held that Nichiren Shonin is the original Buddha who possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent? Whether priests or lay believers, those who admire him as sovereign are all his subjects, and those who yearn for him as parent are all his children, and those who seek him as teacher are all his disciples. In this connection, there is no discrimination whatsoever between priests and laymen. Neither is superior or inferior to the other. Both are equal. Therefore, essentially, his words ‘my disciples’ refer equally to both priests and lay persons.

In any case, when the Shinto talisman incident occurred in l943, High Priest Nikkyo Suzuki, former High Priest Nichiko Hori, Internal Affairs Chief Jikai Watanabe, the general administrator and other directors of Taiseki-ji should have been prepared to go to jail or even offer their lives, exactly in accord with the teachings of Nichiren Shonin and Nikko Shonin. They should have gladly gone to prison together with, mercifully on behalf of, or even earlier than the 21 leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, including its President Makiguchi and General Director Toda. If they had the true spirit of priests to abandon worldly concerns for the sake of the Law, they should have needed to fear nothing, as Nichiren Shonin says, ‘I will not lament as I have no wife and children.’

While their wives and children grieved over their imprisonment, neither Mr. Makiguchi nor Mr. Toda changed their beliefs while in prison, maintaining steadfast resolve until the very end. They did not compromise with the authority of national power. They even tried to conduct shakubuku on their prosecutors and wardens. Mr. Makiguchi died of malnutrition in prison. He was 73. He is said to have died in peace.

General Director Toda, who was running a number of successful businesses at the time of his imprisonment, dedicated his life to chanting daimoku day after day in his cell. He thus reached the state of enlightenment in which he became aware that ‘the Buddha means life itself.’ He, too, endured physical emaciation due to malnutrition, but because he was much younger than Mr. Makiguchi, he was able, barely, to survive.

In July 1945, he was released after spending about two years in prison, only to find that practically the whole of Tokyo had been burned to the ground. Later, he also found that the majority of his businesses, which had been running successfully before his imprisonment, had been forced into bankruptcy.

President Makiguchi and General Director Toda staked their lives on upholding the teachings of the sect′s founders, Nichiren Shonin and Nikko, while the Nichiren Shoshu priests accepted the talisman of the Sun Goddess in opposition to Nichiren Shonin and Nikko Shonin′s admonitions. Fearing persecution by the national authorities, they buckled under and submitted to Shintoism. They cast off those sincere believers whom they were supposed to cherish, while highly praising and even promoting the Japanese war effort. To protect themselves, they felt they had to break with the original spirit of Buddhism. What a contrast!

Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda were imprisoned one month after the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood issued a notice that it would prohibit Soka Kyoiku Gakkai members from visiting the Head Temple Taiseki-ji. Hearing of Makiguchi′s and Toda′s imprisonment, the priesthood sent a priest as a messenger to Mr. Makiguchi′s residence in Mejiro, Tokyo, to persuade his family to talk him into apologizing to the military police as soon as possible. In other words, the Taiseki-ji authorities wanted Mr. Makiguchi to alter his resolution, which, from the standpoint of Buddhism, would be equivalent to encouraging him to retreat in faith.

In June 1943, when both Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai faced the critical situation in which they had to decide whether to accept the Shinto talisman, the seed of who would emerge victorious had already been sown. This was well before Aug. 15, 1945, when Japanese imperialism and national Shintoism collapsed and a new Japan was born with the introduction of freedom, equality and democracy.

We can say this because things always follow the Buddhist principle of the simultaneity of cause and effect. Whereas Nichiren Shoshu altered its stance and compromised in a cowardly manner, tarnishing the pure current of the Fuji school (Nichiren Shoshu), the Soka Gakkai, following the example of the Atsuhara martyrs of the Kamakura period, marched dauntlessly into persecution and thus revived the original spirit of the Fuji school.

Nichiren Shonin, Nikko Shonin, Shakyamuni Buddha, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the universe and all Buddhist gods must have acknowledged Mr. Makiguchi′s and Mr. Toda′s victory. This we can tell from the ensuing miraculous development of the Soka Gakkai toward global kosen-rufu.

On the other hand, after the priesthood accepted the Shinto talisman and prayed to support the war, terrible incidents occurred at Taiseki-ji. A fire broke out on the grounds of the head temple in June 1945, destroying the priesthood lodging quarters, the Shoin room, the six-compartment room, and the Grand Reception Hall. Nikkyo Shonin, the 62nd high priest, burned to death in the flames.

Again in his ‘On the Buddha′s Behavior,’ Nichiren Shonin writes: ‘I myself was born to become a poor priest, unable fully to repay the debt of gratitude I owe to my parents and to my country. Now I will present my severed head to the Lotus Sutra and share the blessings therefrom with my parents, and with my disciples and believers, just as I have promised you.î From this passage, we can feel the boundlessness of Nichiren Shonin′s compassion toward his disciples. Many modern lay believers arouse deep faith when reading such compassionate words of Nichiren Shonin, and redetermine to work further for world kosen-rufu day and night, without sparing anything of their lives.

In contrast, many Nichiren Shoshu priests, now led by High Priest Nikken, indulge themselves in living luxurious lifestyles from the very generous offerings they and their families receive from dedicated believers. The priesthood, jealous over the splendid actual proof of benefit and accomplishments on the part of the Soka Gakkai, especially its leader, Honorary President Ikeda, is functioning not only as an obstacle to kosen-rufu but has started, outrageously enough, a movement to destroy the Soka Gakkai and hence, kosen-rufu. How foolish! Such a thing has never before happened in the history of Nichiren Shoshu.

In his letter to Shijo Kingo, Nichiren Shonin reminisces over the Tatsunokuchi persecution, stating, ‘Over and over I recall the moment, unforgettable even now, when I was about to be beheaded and you accompanied me, holding the reigns of my horse and weeping tears of grief. Nor could I ever forget it in any lifetime to come. If you should fall into hell for some grave offense, no matter how Shakyamuni might urge me to become a Buddha, I would refuse; I would rather go to hell with you. For if you and I should fall into hell together, we would find Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra there.’

What profound compassion! Shijo King was not a priest; he was a lay believer. In this statement we can see Nichiren Shonin′s great spirit of oneness with his disciple. What a magnificent and noble master he was.

In contrast, we cannot find even a hint of this great compassion of the original Buddha among High Priest Nikken and those priests who surround him, proclaiming his infallibility. It seems that they have no compassion at all.