Soka Spirit
A View of the Danto Movement

Volume 1, No. 2 September 30, 1991

Richard Sasaki
Vice General Director

Buddhism exists to enable all individuals to attain Buddhahood, an absolutely indestructible, happy, enlightened state of life. We have chosen to practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism as the means to reach this goal. In this light, it should not really matter whether we practice as a member of the SGI, or of a danto group affiliated with a specific NST temple. We should bear in mind, however, that practicing Buddhism correctly is difficult, revolutionary, in fact. In doing so we have chosen to do battle with the darkness, ignorance and force of habit inherent in ourselves. And just as any process of change always meets resistance, even the most ignoble or base aspects of our character seem to have a life of their own, a will to survive and supersede our more noble qualities. In order to continue to pursue and triumph in this battle over our own weakness and negativity, it is important to align ourselves with noble friends who are also fighting a similar battle. Practicing together with a group of believers allows us to seek out good friends or positive influences to our faith and practice (zenchishiki), and to recognize and distance ourselves from bad influences (akuchishiki) that might distract or dissuade us from correct practice. Practicing alone or among those who function as bad influences will eventually destroy our faith and practice, as Nichiren Daishonin indicates when he says, Even a feeble person will not stumble if those supporting him are strong, but a person of considerable strength, when alone, may lose his footing on an uneven path (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 6, p. 109).

From this standpoint of understanding the importance of practicing the Daishonin’s Buddhism with good influences or friends in faith comes serious concern regarding the so-called danto movement now being promoted by the chief priests of the six NST temples here in the United States.

First, it might be helpful to know what two high priests of Nichiren Shoshu have said about danto movements in the past.

Nittatsu Shonin, the 66th high priest, stated at a seminar for chief priests on Aug. 31, 1973: In trying to win them [Gakkai and Hokkeko members] over to your side, you display a very dangerous attitude. If your intention has been to usurp Soka Gakkai or Hokkeko members from their organizations, which have been giving them care and guidance, and attempt out of selfish emotionalism to make them your own followers, please stop doing so from today.

High Priest Nikken also said at the chief priests’ seminar on Aug. 28, 1980: You should not tell believers who belong to a lay organization things like, ‘You will not receive any benefit if you practice faith in your organization,’ or ‘You will receive only negative effects because the way you practice faith in your organization is not correct,’ thus attempting to win them over to your side. In other words, I believe the so-called danto movement contradicts the way Buddhism should be propagated. It is wholly erroneous for a person who embraces the Gohonzon of Nichiren Shoshu to speak ill of another who embraces the same Gohonzon.

There are still many people in society who are ignorant of the Gohonzon of Nichiren Shoshu. Therefore, we should preach the Law to those people. We should strive to spread the Law among such people, beginning with one person.

The first concern the current danto movement raises is that the priests involved claim that SGI President Ikeda is a slanderer of the high priest and of the Daishonin’s Buddhism itself. As is clear from reading the SGI President’s speeches, he has been continually making points in faith to remind the members of the fundamental spirit of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

Some of these points may sound quite severe with regard to the behavior and attitude of certain priests. In making such statements, however, the SGI President is simply reminding us of the Daishonin’s spirit in hopes that we can correctly understand how practitioners of Buddhism, including priests, should be.

Because the attitude of some priests today differs so fundamentally from the Daishonin’s original spirit, the SGI leader’s words may indeed sound harsh. The fact is, however, that such transgressions in spirit by members of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood have their roots quite a way back in the history of Nichiren Shoshu.

First Soka Gakkai President Makiguchi was well aware of them and stood up to correct them. He and his disciple Josei Toda were jailed when they refused the directive of the high priest to accept a Shinto talisman in accord with an edict from Japan’s military government.

As second president, Josei Toda also spoke out strongly when necessary about the arrogance of some priests and their condescending attitude toward believers. And now that the priesthood has become extremely wealthy through years of sincere donations by Soka Gakkai members, these tendencies have become more pronounced and dangerous. In dutifully pointing these things out, President Ikeda is not speaking ill of the priesthood. He is simply following the admonitions of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin to point out errors, even those of the high priest, when they become apparent.

The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood claims that President Ikeda criticized the high priest in his Nov. l6, l990 speech. As is explained in detail in the pamphlet series Issues Between the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai, his reference was simply about the role of the priesthood, which many priests, including the high priest, took personally and emotionally.

The priesthood contends that speaking about its role is none of President Ikeda’s business because he is, in its eyes, merely a lay believer. This attitude has developed in the lives of many present-day priests who have no idea of the struggles the Gakkai members have endured to help develop Nichiren Shoshu into what it is today.

Second, in criticizing President Ikeda while refusing to allow room for dialogue, the priesthood is creating disunity. Their allegations are causing much confusion and are in some cases pitting one believer against another. This is quite serious, particularly in that it is almost certainly deliberate. In fact, it has been revealed that some in the priesthood had actually contrived an entire, detailed and documented step-by-step scheme known as Operation C to destroy the Soka Gakkai. This plan was being executed even while thousands of Soka Gakkai members were busy preparing for the culture festival to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the founding of the head temple on the head temple grounds. It is well known that this lavish celebration had been a proud dream of those managing Nichiren Shoshu. It is extremely interesting that their attack on the SGI President and the Soka Gakkai did not begin openly until after this event was successfully completed by the membership.

Next, the priesthood has officially announced that it will actively try to recruit members from among the existing membership of the Soka Gakkai. This is in direct contrast to the two high priests’ declarations cited above. Rather than sincerely trying to teach people among the general populace about the Gohonzon, they are engaging themselves in trying to recruit members from the existing organization.

An enormous amount of effort is required to foster members until they develop staunch and confident faith. The current membership of the SGI organization in America can enjoy the benefit of strong faith thanks to the tenacious efforts of its seniors, the pioneers of today′s kosen-rufu movement on this continent. To make such efforts, these pioneers had to overcome culture shock, language barriers and many other obstacles. Yet the priests, armed with the cloak of religious authority, are trying to uproot the faith of these members from the soil of the Soka Gakkai, and assert themselves as the focus of the members’ respect and allegiance.

The question remains, what is their motivation and intent? Are they prepared to strive as our seniors in faith did, with the spirit of Buddhist compassion, to care for, nurture, protect and encourage these people through all kinds of adversity and difficulty?

As a saying goes, construction requires tremendous patience and effort, but destruction takes only a moment. Far less effort is required to destroy a person’s trust than to legitimately build that trust. Regardless of what chief priests may say to justify themselves, the essence of their current stance runs counter to the lifeblood of kosen-rufu, because the purpose of the Soka Gakkai, which they are trying to destroy, is nothing but the true happiness of individuals and humanity.

The Dai-Gohonzon has been protected at the head temple for more than 700 years and new members receive the Gohonzon at local temples. The role of the priesthood is therefore a noble and important one. For these reasons, the Soka Gakkai has refrained in the past from speaking out on any reported misconduct on the part of the priesthood, so that new members would not doubt the validity of the Gohonzon. In spite of the Gakkai′s 60 years of dedication to kosen-rufu, members of the priesthood conceived their plot to remove President Ikeda and gain the control of the entire Soka Gakkai membership.

As time passes, the temple’s real motivation for promoting its danto movement, which is to secure its financial base, will become clear. President Ikeda often mentions that our movement′s purpose is not the prosperity of our organization or its leaders. Our movement exists to achieve kosen-rufu, the Daishonin′s mandate. Likewise, the temple’s prosperity should not be an end in itself. Unfortunately, however, the actions and stance of the priesthood do not seem to reflect the slightest bit of concern for the future of kosen-rufu or the spread of the Daishonin′s teachings, let alone the happiness of the people.

In the Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin strongly encourages us to develop the insight to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil. One of the five cardinal sins in Buddhism is defined as destroying the harmonious unity that exists among believers.

If we think about it, we might conclude that the reason this is considered a serious offense in Buddhism is to protect sincere people from those who, for selfish reasons, would prey upon the harmonious gathering of believers, thus destroying the happiness of all. This important teaching demands that we ask ourselves who is trying to protect the unity among believers and who is trying to destroy it, who has built and is continuing to build an organization of good friends in faith, and who is attempting to dismantle it?

The danto movement, in the final analysis, is geared to destroy or fundamentally weaken our organization for kosen-rufu. It is, therefore, in light of the teachings of Buddhism, clearly a devilish function. Nichiren Daishonin says: Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken even a bit, demons will take advantage (MW-1, 241).

In another Gosho, the Daishonin presents a hypothetical statement in which the Devil of the Sixth Heaven speaks to his underlings: Each of you now go and harass that votary (a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra), according to your respective skills. If you should fail to make him abandon his Buddhist practice, then enter into the minds of his disciples, patrons and the people of his land and thus try to persuade or threaten him. If these attempts are also unsuccessful, I myself will go down and enter the mind and body of his sovereign to persecute that votary. Together, how can we fail to prevent him from attaining Buddhahood?

In these passages the Daishonin serves a warning to all believers, himself included, for he wrote this based on his own experience. It is important, of course, to realize that devils represent any function that serves to sap people’s life-force and destroy their faith, usually stemming from or hinging upon the weakness inherent in human life.

Nichiren Daishonin again and again reminds us that in response to the advancement of kosen-rufu and the growth of our faith in the Gohonzon, devils will enter the mind and body of those whom we trust, respect or who have power or influence over us and thus try to dissuade us in our Buddhist practice.

Of course, our organization is not perfect. We must continue to develop in every aspect and strive to embody the original spirit of Buddhism while advancing kosen-rufu.

We must be aware of our shortcomings and constantly reflect on ourselves and improve. But, essentially, it is clear that our organization is the organization of zenchishiki, of good friends with whom we can nurture our faith and good fortune. Sticking with it will ensure that our practice stays strong and correct. Continual encouragement in faith is essential to forge on in our practice until the final moment of our lives.

Let’s never allow our faith to be swayed under any circumstances. As President Ikeda recently said: We are the Buddha’s children and should always thoroughly discuss our questions. When fellow believers of the Mystic Law gather to study the Daishonin′s teachings sincerely, a wave of conviction and joy will expand among them. We should continue our dialogue. We should never break our unity. Nor should we ever allow our unity to be destroyed.

The Three Treasures (Part II)

Fred Zaitsu
Vice General Director

This is the second of a two-part article continued from the previous issue of the SGI-USA Newsletter.

What are the three treasures we should respect today as practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism? SGI President Ikeda answered this in a recent speech on the topic of the three treasures (which appears in this current issue of the World Tribune). In it he quotes the 66th high priest, Nittatsu Shonin, who states: In Nichiren Shoshu, the tree treasures, as set forth in the regulations of our school, are as follows: The Great Mandala (the Dai-Gohonzon) is the treasure of the Law; the founder Nichiren Daishonin is the treasure of the Buddha; and Nikko Shonin, the second high priest who directly inherited the lineage of the Daishonin′s teachings, is the treasure of the Priest.

Nittatsu Shonin goes on to point out that these three treasures are themselves embodied in the Gohonzon: The Gohonzon is in itself the embodiment of the three treasures. You have the Gohonzon enshrined in your altar at home, and each morning and evening you carry out your practice of faith [gongyo]. Through this practice you fully revere the three treasures. Thus he clarifies how we, as lay believers, revere the three treasures in practice. He further emphasizes, The most important thing is that, while faithfully following the Daishonin′ s teaching and basing yourself on faith, you apply yourself to your work and other duties, realizing brilliant success therein, and that, as a disciple of the Daishonin, at the same time persevere in faith and advance in the practice of shakubuku.

As I mentioned previously, many priests of Nichiren Shoshu are now using the concept of he treasure of the priesthood to emphasize respect for priests and a reverence for the high priest that places his authority beyond question and his words beyond challenge. But this is completely unacceptable to those of us who have been nurtured on American ideals of liberty and our right, rather, our duty to challenge authority when that authority becomes antagonistic to personal freedom and dignity.

Of course, under no circumstances does the Soka Gakkai or the SGI president intend to dispute or deny the formal and correct lineage of the high priests of Nichiren Shoshu. President Toda emphasized that this is something we should respect and protect. However, the priesthood′s current assertion that the high priest personally embodies the reasure of the priesthood, or that he is beyond reproach because he is equivalent to the Daishonin, is based on reverse reasoning and completely unfounded. Because the high priest inherits the seat of leadership of Nichiren Shoshu, does this mean that he automatically and unquestionably embodies the same boundless wisdom and compassion the Daishonin did himself?

An issue of the Dai-Nichiren (the priesthood′s study magazine) admonishes all believers to pay homage to the high priest, earnestly placing their palms together in reverence toward the one who embodies the heritage of the Law from Nichiren Daishonin. Is it not the Gohonzon that we should be worshipping in this manner? Indeed the stance described above is that which danto believers (those bound specifically to a single temple) in Japan have had toward priests for centuries. This attitude of complete deference to priests of all sects in Japan was actually reinforced by government edict, which gave priests almost absolute power over the common people at the behest of government bureaucrats. Such homage toward priests was similar to the deference of peasants toward the samurai elite. Failure to pay proper respect could cost a peasant his life.

The problem with using the concept of the hree treasures to insure the primacy of the high priest goes far beyond petty quibbling over doctrinal issues. What is at issue here is humanity.

In his letter On the Treasure Tower, Nichiren Daishonin answers the question of a believer named Abutsu-bo concerning the significance of the grand stupa, known as the treasure tower, that is depicted in the Lotus Sutra: In the Latter Day of the Law, there is no Treasure Tower other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra. It follows, therefore, that those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, irrespective of social status, are themselves the Treasure Tower and likewise they themselves are Taho Buddha. There is no Treasure Tower other than Myoho-renge-kyo. The daimoku of the Lotus Sutra is the Treasure Tower, that is to say, the Treasure Tower is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo…. Therefore, Abutsu-bo is the Treasure Tower itself, and the Treasure Tower is Abutsu-bo himself. No other knowledge is purposeful. The Daishonin then continues: You, yourself, are a true Buddha who possesses the three enlightened properties. You should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with this conviction (MW-1, 30).

Certainly, the Daishonin does not refer here specifically to the concept of the hree treasures. Further on he states, Faith like yours is so extremely rare that I will inscribe the Treasure Tower especially for you. From this passage it is clear that by the treasure tower the Daishonin means the Gohonzon. Abutsu-bo was a common believer of humble status. After reading this passage how could we possibly accept that one human being′s life represents more of a reasure than any other.

Next, why did Nikko Shonin later come to be respected as the reasure of the priesthood? The Daishonin himself risked his life to remonstrate with the religious establishment and the military authorities who were distorting the teachings of Buddhism and exploiting the people. Nikko Shonin become the Daishonin′s disciple when he was only 13. From that time on, he devotedly served the Daishonin, joining him in exile both on Izu and later amid the severe conditions on Sado Island. Nikko Shonin personally recorded and compiled the Daishonin′s oral teachings. He also stood at the forefront of propagation activities, leading priests and lay believers alike. He never quailed before any persecution, but faced each difficulty joyfully beside his master. Thus he perfectly manifested the spirit of oneness of master and disciple.

The sublime state of life he developed as a result must have served as striking proof to many of the efficacy of the Daishonin’s teachings. Needless to say, the Daishonin passed on the totality of his teachings, including the Dai-Gohonzon, directly to Nikko Shonin. Later, Nikko Shonin continued to courageously remonstrate with the authorities, just as his master had done. When five of the Daishonin’s senior disciples later betrayed his teachings, only Nikko stood to protect the Daishonin’s intent. In short, Nikko Shonin is not respected as the reasure of the Priesthood simply because he was formally designated as the second high priest. It was his actions that distinguished him as a reasure.

In the Gosho The Three Kinds of Treasure, Nichiren Daishonin states: The key to all of Shakyamuni’s teachings is the Lotus Sutra, and the key to the practice of the Lotus Sutra is expounded in the ‘Fukyo’ chapter. What does Bodhisattva Fukyo’s profound respect for people signify? The real meaning of the Lord Shakyamuni Buddha’s appearance in this world lay in his behavior as a human being. How profound! (MW-2, 281). I hope this can always be our criterion for determining whom we must respect.