Volume 2, No. 3 March 02, 1992
Interview with Chief Priest Gen’ei Kudo
The following is an interview with Chief Priest Gen’ei Kudo, the former chief priest of Myoho-ji temple in Los Angeles and current chief priest of Choei-ji temple in Tokyo. In this interview, which appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of Soka Shimpo, Mr. Kudo explains why seven priests, including himself, sent their ‘Letter of Remonstration’ to High Priest Nikken (see the Feb. 10 issue of ‘The SGI-USA Newsletter’).
On Feb. 3, 1992, seven Nichiren Shoshu priests announced that they had officially left Nichiren Shoshu. The seven priests include: Gen’ei Kudo; Shojun Ohashi, chief priest of Daisho-ji temple in Wakayama; Kodo Yoshikawa,chief priest of Kenbutsu-ji temple in Kyoto; Takudo Ikeda, chief priest of Seyu-ji temple in Shiga; Yubin Kushioka, chief priest of Noken-ji temple in Aichi; Yushin Yoshikawa, chief priest of Zenko-ji temple in Nagano; and Yuho Miyagawa, assistant priest of Choei-ji temple in Tokyo. They took this action in hopes that Nichiren Shoshu will restore the original spirit of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin. Later, Yugu Nanta, chief priest of Koryu-ji temple in Hokkaido, followed their example with his own departure from Nichiren Shoshu on Feb. 8. (Editor’s Note: Throughout this interview, Mr. Kudo uses the Japanese term sensei when referring to SGI President Ikeda, signifying his deep respect.)
Soka Shimpo: We understand that you and the other seven priests were surprised when High Priest Nikken began to criticize the Soka Gakkai at the end of 1990.
Kudo: True. It seemed to us as though the high priest had changed personalities; from the time he became high priest in 1979 up to that point he had been praising the Soka Gakkai. However, closer observation reveals that the high priest’s underlying attitude has remained unchanged over the years. In other words, he has inherently been dominated by an elitist, who’s-senior-and-who’s-junior consciousness. You may also describe it as an abnormal thirst for authority and power. While he favors those who obey and kowtow to him, he despises those who even quietly voice slightly differing opinions. His anachronistic view of the priesthood’s alleged superiority, which is widely known today, compels him to insist that priests should always be considered superior to lay believers. This is why he overreacts whenever the Gakkai attempts to express its opinion, claiming that the Gakkai is trying to control Nichiren Shoshu. On the other hand, when people are obedient to him, he commends them as loyal believers.
Soka Shimpo: You have known High Priest Nikken since 1955 when you were an acolyte at Jonsen-ji temple in Tokyo, which is near Hongyo-ji temple where he was chief priest. What do you remember about him?
Kudo: He was well known in Nichiren Shoshu for his hot temper, which often resulted in violent outbursts toward acolytes. In fact, acolytes were frightened of him because he would often hit them. He never hit me; however, I knew that if he did I would hit him back. In short, he only hit those who didn’t seem to have the guts to retaliate. I think he is a coward.
Soka Shimpo: Second president Toda once scolded a youthful priest Abe (now High Priest Nikken). Do you recall that?
Kudo: Yes. I did not witness it, but I have heard of the incident. In his article, titled ‘On the Occasion of Toda Sensei’s Passing,’ in the May 1958 issue of Dai-nichiren, High Priest Nikken writes: ‘Perhaps because of my negative karma, or maybe because of the ‘baseness of the priest’s nature,’ which Toda Sensei always rebuked and which I must have had in me, I inadvertently built a wall in my heart around 1949 to ward him off. In those days, my attitude did not fully comply with the spirit of Toda Sensei, who was well versed in the ’round teachings’ of the Lotus Sutra and very strict about the mastery of the Way.’ The ‘baseness of the priest’s nature’ is well said. It seems to me that Toda Sensei was long aware of Mr. Abe’s innate contempt of the laity and his biased opinion that the priesthood is superior to lay believers.
Soka Shimpo: Recently, Nikken contended that President Toda told the 65th high priest, Nichijun Shonin, at Myoden-ji temple in Okayama City in August 1956, ‘In the future, if the Soka Gakkai grows big and starts pressuring Nichiren Shoshu, please order that it be disbanded.’ What is your reaction?
Kudo: How could President Toda have said such a thing? I don’t believe it. An important statement like that would have been officially recorded, but there is no such record. If someone within Nichiren Shoshu knew about this alleged statement by President Toda, it would have been brought out in the late 1970s during the earlier dispute between Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai. It is indeed strange that the priesthood suddenly produced this obviously fabricated story. One month after I became a priest in November 1956, I was chosen from among several acolytes to attend to High Priest Nichijun. Because of that opportunity, I was present at almost every meeting he had with President Toda. However, I never heard these alleged words or anything along similar lines. It’s only natural that I never heard such a remark between Nichijun Shonin and President Toda, because their relationship was filled with mutual trust and profound compassion. Even today, when I recall their relationship, I feel an upsurge of deep emotions in my heart. They set a great example of harmony between priesthood and laity.
Soka Shimpo: High Priest Nikken writes many more fabrications in an article he recently contributed to a Japanese monthly magazine, Bungei Shunju.
Kudo: Essentially, the high priest does not understand the true nature of the Soka Gakkai. I believe he has hardly read the Seikyo Shimbun or any other Gakkai publication. On top of that, his unconscionable staff keeps feeding him anti-Gakkai information, which he uses out of context. Therefore, his criticism often does not make sense. He denigrates Ikeda Sensei’s guidance without a proper grasp of the context in which it was given. He uses Ikeda Sensei’s own words to criticize him for criticism’s sake. A typical example is his criticism of Sensei’s guidance at the 1964 Student Division General Meeting. High Priest Nikken contends that Ikeda Sensei belittled the significance of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism in that guidance. But when you read the entirety of that guidance and consider that, in those days, the concept of a high sanctuary was attacked by many people in society, you can see that Ikeda Sensei was stressing the importance of the process of achieving kosen-rufu. In this respect, the high priest’s criticism of Ikeda Sensei is pointless. Because the tone of his complaint sounded familiar to me, I did some research and found exactly the same criticism in a book published in 1979 by a former leader who stopped practicing Buddhism (taiten) and is now against the Soka Gakkai. The high priest will use anything to defame the image of Ikeda Sensei. He denies everything that commends Sensei. He is so deeply jealousy of Sensei that we could say he is sick.
Soka Shimpo: The ‘Demand for Apology’ was sent by the priesthood to the honorary president last March. Would you say it was the result of Nikken’s jealousy?
Kudo: The contents of that document are so flimsy. Even the way it came about was pretty strange. If it was seeking an apology from a believer, then the Administrative Office should have simply issued it under its own recognizance. Instead, Nichiren Shoshu authorities forced this document upon each parish and insisted that each priest sign it. Thus each parish sent the same document to the honorary president. Consequently, executive priests such as Executive Officer Hayase, General Administrator Fujimoto and other officers of the Administrative Office signed their names only on the document issued from the parish to which they belong. Obviously, the Administrative Office is attempting to avoid responsibility for this matter and, at the same time, check the attitude of each priest at every local temple.
Soka Shimpo: You, Mr. Ohashi and others refused to endorse this ‘Demand for Apology,’ didn’t you?
Kudo: Ikeda Sensei has not done anything wrong in view of Buddhism, yet Nichiren Shoshu, without any proof of wrong-doing, asserted he had committed the great sin of attempting to destroy the Three Treasures. What an awful document that ‘Demand for Apology’ was! Unconvinced of the validity of this document, Mr. Ohashi and I visited the head temple on March 5 last year to meet with the high priest in his reception room. We asked that he lose no time in talking directly with Ikeda Sensei. However, for some reason, he hated the idea of meeting or talking with him. He repeatedly insisted, ‘Ikeda must apologize to me.’
Soka Shimpo: Did he say anything else at that time?
Kudo: We asked him several questions for two-and-a-half hours. One question was about Operation C. The high priest clearly said: ‘I know it. C stands for C-U-T. Yes, it means to cut off the head of that bastard.’ He also said, ‘But I did not write this scheme myself.’ It seemed to us that he did not want us to look any deeper into that subject. Then he added, to defend himself: ‘Ikeda criticizes Nichiren Shoshu too much at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters building. Some priests have heard this.’ When I heard the high priest say this, I immediately thought to myself, ‘Oh, no! Again?’ During the previous dispute between the Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu in the late 1970s, many groundless stories and slander of Ikeda Sensei flew around in Nichiren Shoshu. Because of this, anti-Gakkai sentiments were intentionally created among the executive priests. This time, too, criticism and slander of the Gakkai was aired within Nichiren Shoshu purely for the sake of criticism and slander, not for any constructive purpose. I became convinced of this when I heard that remark by the high priest. When I heard about the contents of Operation C, I felt the past conspiracy of Masatomo Yamazaki had abruptly reappeared after the passage of many years. As a matter of fact, when you read Operation C, anyone who experienced the earlier dispute can readily believe that Yamazaki injected his wicked wisdom into this document. The high priest himself refuted Yamazaki 10 years ago, but now he has accepted him. There is no doubt that the current issue is the result of a dark scheme to control the Soka Gakkai. In other words, Nichiren Shoshu intentionally caused the current dispute. Later in October, I requested that the executive priests clarify the existence of Operation C at my parish gathering. I belong to the second parish of Tokyo, to which all the bureau chiefs of the Administrative Office belong. Our gathering takes on the tone of a meeting of the Administrative Office. General Affairs Bureau Chief Hayase, Study Department Chief Ohmura, Overseas Bureau Chief Ohbayashi and Public Relations Bureau Chief Akimoto all insisted that they had no prior knowledge of Operation C. I was shocked at this answer. When I asked them if they had ever seen the document of Operation C, they excused themselves by saying, ‘We saw it in a weekly magazine.’ Then I asked, if the existence of Operation C is revealed, how would they, as the authorities of the Administrative Office, take responsibility. They neither committed themselves to take responsibility nor denied it. They only repeated that ‘We just don’t know about it.’ I felt as if I were dealing with indiscreet kids. Our discussion went nowhere.
Soka Shimpo: What other points did you bring up during your meeting with the high priest on March 5?
Kudo: We also requested that he clarify his lecture on the Sho-Hondo, part of which he later corrected. We put many old issues of Dainichiren and other reference materials on the table during our audience. We pointed out that even before Ikeda Sensei’s 1968 statement, Nittatsu Shonin and many other priests clearly stated that the Sho-Hondo would be the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism, whose construction was the mandate of Nichiren Daishonin. The high priest, first groaning slightly and then tapping his head, began to murmur. As a matter of fact, he always goes through these motions when he knows he is wrong. However, he never admits when he is wrong. As we expected, he just repeated excuses like, ‘I did not prepare for my speech on that occasion,’ and ‘I did not plan to make that kind of remark.’ He aimlessly repeated vague explanations, which did not address the essence of the matter. I deeply felt he admitted in his heart that he had made a mistake.
Soka Shimpo: Would you say that his character compels him to feel superior to everyone else?
Kudo: During our audience with him, he consistently called Honorary President Ikeda ‘that bastard’ or ‘that clown.’ Also, at times, he contemptuously called him ‘Daisaku-kun’ (kun, in this particular case, is a word added to indicate superiority). When I called him Ikeda Sensei, the high priest shouted angrily at me, ‘Why do you call him Ikeda Sensei? Just call him Ikeda.’ He can keep his cool when we talk about the Gakkai, but when our talk refers to the honorary president, his emotions pour out. When I replied, ‘General Affairs Bureau Chief Hayase also uses such expressions as Ikeda Sensei or Akiya Sensei,’ the high priest responded, ‘What you mean by calling him Sensei and what the General Affairs Bureau chief means are different.’ You can see how two-faced the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood is. For many years, their attitude toward the Gakkai appeared all right on the surface, but deep in their hearts they despised it.
Soka Shimpo: Is it true that the high priest’s view of the honorary president and the priesthood’s distorted view of the Soka Gakkai constitute the roots of the current issue?
Kudo: Yes. I think that, in the final analysis, the moment the high priest believed Ikeda Sensei was wrong, his distortion in faith took place. The Gakkai alleges that his warped notion of Ikeda Sensei caused him to misinterpret the Gosho. Because the high priest reads the Gosho from this biased viewpoint, he misuses all the golden words and phrases of the Gosho to defame the honorary president and entrap the Soka Gakkai. The priesthood uses the Gosho, ‘Shonin Gohenji’ (Reply to Various People), to claim that it is superior to laity, and it uses ‘The Four Debts of Gratitude’ to insist that the high priest is the center of the Treasure of the Priest. It was inevitable that the priesthood would have to justify their contention that Ikeda Sensei represents evil. In addition, the high priest compared the honorary president to Hakiri Sanenaga, a grave slanderer, and began to praise Hakiri more than the honorary president. This is an ultimate example of how he has altered historical facts, as well as the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu.
Soka Shimpo: What about the high priest’s distorted view of the Soka Gakkai?
Kudo: In discussing this issue, first I would like to point out that Buddhism stresses the importance of the ‘time’; more specifically, what kind of time we live in now. The important thing is to put the age in which we now live into correct perspective. In an article titled ‘On the Occasion of the 704th Anniversary of the Establishment of True Buddhism,’ published on New Year’s Day, 1956, Nichijun Shonin writes, ‘Historians view the first 700 years after the establishment of true Buddhism as a period when the priesthood protected the Law, and the period after that as a time when true Buddhism was widely propagated (by the Soka Gakkai).’ It was the Soka Gakkai that stood up to realize the mandate of the Daishonin at a time when conditions in post-war Japanese society were ripe for the promotion of kosen-rufu. In fact, the Gakkai has successfully created a dynamic flow of Buddhist propagation throughout Japan and the world. That is why the Gakkai is called the organization of kosen-rufu that lives up to the Buddha’s will and mandate. Shallow people who do not understand the significance of the Soka Gakkai in view of the history of Buddhism boast that the priesthood is superior to the Gakkai just because of their robe of authority. Such a claim, whether it is made by the high priest or somebody else, cannot be tolerated.
Soka Shimpo: After all, the current priesthood does not understand Buddhism itself.
Kudo: The Daishonin’s Buddhism cannot exist apart from the goals of kosen-rufu and the people’s happiness. The Soka Gakkai has been actualizing these objectives. Priests must be aware of this. However, the priesthood, disregarding this fact, stubbornly tries to protect its conventional traditions. It is only natural that those people who are attached only to the past and do not look either at the present or to the future will become obstacles in the progress of kosen-rufu. It stands to reason that the Soka Gakkai, which aims toward kosen-rufu and gazes at the future and the world, contends that the current priesthood performs only a devilish function. Also, it can be said that, as long as it functions negatively for kosen-rufu, the current Nichiren Shoshu is useless for Buddhism. In short, it is a misunderstanding on the part of the priesthood to say that the Gakkai’s organization was built in post-war time based upon the 700-year-old tradition of Nichiren Shoshu. In general, the traditions that the priesthood emphasizes are the remains of formalities that formed as a result of its deviation from the Daishonin’s Buddhism. To regard such traditions as Buddhism itself is an illusion and is beneficial only to the priesthood. The Gakkai has not been swayed by such falsehood. Returning to the days of Nichiren Daishonin in terms of faith under the excellent leadership of the successive presidents of the Soka Gakkai, the Gakkai has established pure faith, making the Gohonzon the foundation and basing ourselves on the Gosho. The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood accepted the Shinto talisman during the war allegedly to protect the sect for the sake of the Law. Without being influenced by the priesthood’s compromise with the military government, the Soka Gakkai proceeded to live up to the Daishonin’s spirit and persisted in its resolute belief that it would never condone slanderous actions. The history of the Soka Gakkai eloquently speaks of its righteousness. Now, the Soka Gakkai is ready to construct the fortress of humanism and happiness on the solid foundation that has been built on Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. Though incapable, I am determined to fight wholeheartedly from now on against those evil priests of the current Nichiren Shoshu who are jealous of, hate, and intend to destroy the Gakkai’s castle of happiness.