Soka Spirit
Kairen-ji Temple Has Decided to Disassociate

Volume 3, No. 3 –
April 19, 1993


Chief Priest Doshuku Watanabe (30) of Kairen-ji temple in Fukushima, who announced his intention to secede from Nichiren Shoshu on March 28, sent a letter, dated April 1, to Nikken ‘Calling for the formal apology and resignation of the high priest. ‘ A copy of the letter was also sent to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. The following is a translation of Chief Priest Watanabe’s letter, which was printed with his permission in the Seikyo Shimbun.

Seitoku-zan Kairen-ji temple has decided to disassociate itself from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood out of its desire for kosen-rufu and the harmonious unity of priests and lay believers. I would like to express to you my honest feelings concerning this important decision. I hope that in your capacity as high priest you will consider the genuine concerns of this local temple.

It will soon be four years since you so considerately entrusted me with my assignment as the first chief priest of Kairen-ji temple. My appreciation for the priesthood, which has raised me over the many years since I came to the head temple, shall never vanish. And I shall never forget my debt of gratitude to you, the high priest. For this reason, I feel that if I stop at merely clarifying my doubts and expressing hope for the reform and betterment of the priesthood, I would be serving no purpose. That would be regrettable. I believe that the only true way to repay my debt of gratitude is to strive to help establish a priesthood that is genuinely in accord with the sublime spirit of the true Buddha. I want to emphasize that my disassociation from the priesthood is the result of such irrepressible concerns.

In addition, Kairen-ji is the 95th temple to be constructed of the 200 temples promised by Honorary President Ikeda, and has been supported by the sincere faith and pure desire of the Fukushima members for kosen-rufu. When the current problem first broke out, we at the local temples received no clear explanation of what was happening. Completely unable to fathom the situation, I felt that at the very least my temple must maintain harmony with the laity, and I expressed this to the Gakkai members in my area.

Despite these intentions, the situation took a turn for the worse and the flame of hope we had tried to maintain eventually died out. Nevertheless, even amid such trying circumstances, Gakkai members chanted through the night, praying that the priesthood, and particularly we at Kairen-ji temple, would awaken to the truth as soon as possible. As a priest who followed the head temple, which was causing such trouble for the believers, it is only natural that I should have been subject to an onslaught of anger and resentment. However, there were many Soka Gakkai members who, upon meeting me in the street, would greet me as if nothing had changed and inquire in an encouraging tone, ‘How are you doing?’ These Gakkai members have continued to fight with a prayer for kosen-rufu based upon faith, unswayed by whatever scheme the priesthood has employed. As a priest it is my belief that I must never betray them.

I am deeply sorry for the great trouble and concern I have caused the local members before my decision to sever my ties with the priesthood. I am determined from this point to throw myself into the struggle for kosen-rufu as a genuine disciple of Nichiren Daishonin.

Beginning with its ‘Letter of Inquiry’ at the outset of this issue, the priesthood has undertaken a series of official measures against the Soka Gakkai, such as dismissing the SGI president as chief lay representative and amending the tozan procedures. However, whatever explanation the priesthood offered in each case, I could not sincerely accept or understand it. On each occasion, I was troubled by doubt and suspicion. The reason for this, I believe, is that their stance from the very outset did not accord with reason or common sense, but instead was a product of the high priest’s emotionalism. From beginning to end, the priesthood has responded in an extremely arbitrary and irresponsible manner.

The ultimate example of this is their handling of the current issue concerning the ‘geisha photograph.’ When this photograph was first revealed, you and the officials of the priesthood insisted that the photo was doctored that it was a composite in which your head was superimposed on a figure that was surrounded by geisha girls. Was this not your contention? In other words, you charged that the Gakkai had manufactured this photograph and thus completely invented a situation that had never taken place.

However, the testimony of the Rev. Hosho Shiina revealed that the photo is indeed authentic. You responded with the statement, ‘Now I remember.’ The photograph was even published in a special edition of the Daibyakuho [the Hokkeko Society’s nationwide publication, which has been a conduit for the priesthood’s position] along with many other photographs from the same party. Priesthood officials began to contend that the high priest’s appearance at such a party was not a problem. The reason for this, it was stated, was because you attended the party at the invitation of others, and that the affair was paid for by its organizer, the late Rev. Hoin Abe. It was also now alleged that the Gakkai’s version of the photo first published in the Soka Shimpo was fraudulent because two individuals who appeared on either side of the photo had been cropped out.

In your attempt to portray the Soka Shimpo’s coverage of the incident as a lie, you, the high priest, have instead exposed yourself as the one who has been lying. While this in itself is a problem, the real problem lies with your assumption that such a childish excuse would be accepted within the priesthood.

As I had anticipated, another of your lies was exposed when the Rev. Hosen Shiina, the chief priest of Jukai-ji temple (the father of the above-mentioned Hosho Shiina), verified that it was you, the high priest, who organized and sponsored the party. While the only concrete evidence Mr. Shiina can offer to support his assertion is an entry made in his own journal at the time, I am absolutely convinced that his account is accurate.

I once had the occasion to visit Mr. Shiina, who was then also a Nichiren Shoshu propagation district chief, to deliver some documents. At that time he showed me a chart he kept of his daily schedule. It was meticulously detailed. ‘Written here are my daily responsibilities,’ he said. ‘A person’s memory is unreliable, so I carefully write everything down like this.’ I cannot believe that the daily journal of such an exacting person would be mistaken.

Be that as it may, the Daibyakuho has recently issued a number of senseless statements [trying to justify the high priest’s participation in the party]. These include the argument that since parties with geisha are recognized socially, there is no problem with the high priest attending such affairs. Another statement suggests that the high priest’s participation is excusable because past high priests have been known to attend similar gatherings. And there is the argument that the high priests’ attendance at such affairs is acceptable based upon the spirit to save all people in the Latter Day equally without the need for practicing precepts [other than embracing the Gohonzon]. These statements are no more than shameless attempts to gloss over the real problem.

It is most likely that you personally ordered the printing of such statements. However, these sophistic twists of logic function only to degrade the Law and turn Nichiren Shoshu into a laughingstock in the eyes of society.

During a meeting for priests in my propagation district to explain the issue, only one-sided excuses were presented. Statements like ‘Do you believe what the priesthood says, or do you believe [the Gakkai’s] subversive literature?’ were intended only to quash discussion. Clearly, none of the priests present accepted the explanation that was offered. Some muttered quietly afterward, ‘They have changed their story entirely,’ or, ‘Dead men tell no tales’ [referring to the fact that Mr. Hoin Abe, who the priesthood claims organized and paid for the party, is now dead].’

No matter what kind of explanation is offered, isn’t it absolutely clear to anyone that dining lavishly on fine food and drink at a high class restaurant while being waited on and entertained by geishas is not something a priest should be proud of?

Nikko Shonin, in a document titled ‘A Complaint Against the Priests of Jisso-ji Temple,’ writes: ‘Showing no concern or reverence toward the Buddha, they continually hold banquets where they entertain themselves with food, drink and women. Under such circumstances, is it possible to imagine that they can adequately devote themselves to administering the temple?’ Also, in his ‘Twenty-six Admonitions,’ Nikko Shonin writes, ‘You should refrain from indulging in poetry or non-Buddhist works, or from engaging in idleness and chatter without [having the aim of] rebuking slander.’

Clearly, your behavior runs directly counter to the directions of Nikko Shonin, the founder of the head temple. At least the other priests who participated and their family members were aware from the very beginning that the photo of you posing with geishas published by the Gakkai was authentic. Clearly, then, they conspired with you, the high priest [by denying the picture’s authenticity] in deceiving the rest of the priesthood. All priests harbor a sense of indignation at having been taken for fools in this way.

I was unwilling to continue to bear the responsibility for your behavior. Your lies were being exposed one after another. Therefore, in spite of pressure from the Hokkeko not to do so, I repudiated the priesthood’s statements contained in the special issue of the Daibyakuho. I have heard that there are also many other priests who responded the same way.

With no proper explanation or apology, you tried to deceive us with the kind of lies that quickly became exposed. Then [when the fact that the party actually took place could no longer be denied] you defiantly claimed that there is nothing wrong with the high priest attending a party with geishas present. As a priest, I felt only shame, disgrace and sadness.

Desecration of the Cherry Trees

The same pattern is evident in your felling of a large number of cherry trees in front of the general lodging quarters at the head temple. The priesthood’s explanation is utterly unsatisfactory. The stated reason was that the trees obscured the view. Even if true, this would mean that the action was taken based upon some individual’s subjective sense of aesthetics.

To make such a rash decision without considering the wishes and the painstaking efforts of those who planted and cared for the trees, or without the spirit to cherish living things, clearly indicates a frightful deficiency on your part as high priest.

Moreover, the priesthood has stated that it was all right to cut the trees down because they were ‘mountain cherry’ trees. Do you think that the chief priests of local temples can offer such a heartless excuse to the believers before the Gohonzon? Mountain cherries are cherry trees nonetheless. Don’t they possess a certain kind of beauty that is not seen in the more popular someiyoshino variety?

After inspecting the grounds at the head temple where the cherry trees had been felled, Takekazu Oishi, former director general of the Environment Agency, is reported to have said: ‘How terrible! What a disgrace! Moreover, no matter how many times I ask why [the trees were cut], I receive nothing that passes for an explanation. It should be basic to a religion to cherish living things. I want to talk to the chief executive officer (the high priest) about this.’ Is it not shameful that the high priest of an entire sect must be admonished by an outsider to show respect for the dignity and preciousness of life? In the spring, when the grounds should be filled with a profusion of cherry blossoms, how disturbing it must be for believers and those connected with the head temple to view the sad remains of the cherry trees logs piled in continuous heaps where these beautiful trees once stood.

In his ‘Complaint against the Priests of Jisso-ji Temple,’ Nikko Shonin eloquently elucidates the offense of cutting down cherry trees, stating, ‘They have felled the cherry trees at the temple…. destroying the ornate beauty of the temple grounds and leaving bare the area before the Buddha’ (Collected Works of the Fuji School, vol. 10, p. 312.) It is indeed mysterious that your actions should coincide with what Nikko Shonin saw as an evil act.

Ultimately, there is absolutely no justification for this horrible deed. You have only been digging yourself in deeper with a stream of irrational and defensive statements. I cannot help concluding that you have once again inadvertently revealed your cold and callous nature. This was evidenced in the way you calmly went about excommunicating the sons and daughters of the Buddha who earnestly desire kosen-rufu.

Furthermore, plans have been announced to build a 1,000 tatami-mat lodging in the area where the cherry trees were felled. The explanation given at a meeting of our greater propagation district is that the structure is being built to accommodate 60,000 Hokkeko members who are slated to participate in a general pilgrimage next year. It was stated that this pilgrimage is scheduled for only next year, and that no similar activity is planned for subsequent years. With the continued attrition of Hokkeko members, it is doubtful whether the goal of 60,000 participants will even be realized.

Under such circumstances, many chief priests wonder why it is necessary to build a structure costing from 20 to 30 million dollars that will be used only once. No effort whatsoever was made beforehand to solicit opinions from the local temples. Moreover, this comes in the midst of the issue regarding the establishment of new propagation offices. At this time when many temples are experiencing financial difficulty, anyone would agree that there is no need to build a 1,000-tatami-mat lodging. It seems that the actual concerns of the priesthood’s rank and file are the furthest thing from the mind of the high priest.

Deception in the ‘Zen Temple Incident’

Although not as recent as those I have been addressing, the incident involving your erecting a tomb for your ancestors at a Zen temple involves lies on the part of the high priest and the priesthood administration that absolutely cannot be overlooked.

When I read the article reporting the Zen temple incident in October of 1991, I could not believe my eyes. This was in part because your visit to the cemetery of the Zen temple Hakusan-ji in Fukushima City to erect a grand tombstone for the ancestors of the Abe family and conduct an eye-opening ceremony took place the day before the completion and Gohonzon enshrinement ceremony you attended at my temple, Kairen-ji, on July 17, 1988. Neither I nor anyone else in my propagation district was aware of your actions the previous day. Everyone was therefore utterly astounded when the incident came to light.

For the high priest to visit a Zen temple cemetery and conduct an eye-opening ceremony clearly constitutes an act of slander and is a matter of grave seriousness. For this reason, I decided to go directly to Hakusan-ji myself to confirm the location of the tombstone. When I got there, I realized that no matter how I viewed it, the tombstone was unmistakably on the Hakusan-ji cemetery grounds. Moreover, I was filled with curiosity as to why the high priest would find it necessary to erect a tombstone on the grounds of a Zen cemetery when excellent plots were available at a nearby Nichiren Shoshu temple.

Just when I thought it strange that the priesthood had not referred to the incident at all, an explanatory document was released. It stated that the place where the tombstone was erected was not part of the Zen cemetery, but was in fact on a ‘public cemetery site’ separated from the Zen temple grounds by a ‘wall.’ But this story ultimately proved to be a deception.

When I asked another priest what he thought about this issue, he said, ‘I don’t understand. I don’t know,’ apparently intending to completely ignore it. When the Zen temple incident came to light, most priests took the attitude that ‘it’s better not to get involved; it’s dangerous just to talk about it,’ abandoning themselves to the sophistry of the high priest and the priesthood administration.

At the Gohonzon-enshrinement ceremony at Kairen-ji, you said, ‘As I have encountered the True Law in this lifetime, today I am so fortunate to assume the role of high priest and in this capacity dedicate myself to protecting the Law….’ How disgraceful are such empty words from one who, in his capacity as high priest, erected a tombstone at a Zen cemetery just the day before. What understanding have you of what it means to protect the True Law or of the hardship faced by Soka Gakkai members in carrying out shakubuku [the act of refuting erroneous interpretations of Buddhism, such as Zen, and leading people to the True Law].

If I were to describe the sorrowful conditions that have emerged within the priesthood as a result of the current situation, I must say that it has been the high priest and the executive officers who have continued to employ trickery and fraud in order to sidestep and deceive both priests and Hokkeko members alike. One can only conclude that not a single ounce of good intention remains within the senior administration of Nichiren Shoshu.

This fundamental state of insincerity, in which ordinary people are scoffed at, is nothing but extreme arrogance. It is indicative of the corruption and degeneration that prevail within the priesthood. Unless a reformation takes place, springtime will never come again to Nichiren Shoshu. I would even go so far as to say that we are at a dangerous crossroads beyond which there is no recovery. I appeal to all priests who now directly confront this extremely grave situation to seriously consider the course of action they must follow.

I am still young and inexperienced. However, I have been able to continue as a priest until today due to the guidance and encouragement of many seniors and peers within the priesthood. Another experience that has supported me greatly is the education and training I received as a student at Soka Junior and Senior High Schools. At the suggestion of Nittatsu Shonin, I resolved to study at the Soka Schools, which were founded by SGI President Ikeda. Taking the entrance examination as a priest, I became a member of the eighth class of Soka Junior High School in 1975, commuting to school from Daisen-ji temple in Kokubunji City. There I mixed with gifted young students from across the nation. While exerting myself in my studies, I shared with them my true feelings on many subjects. The friendships I cultivated in this way still remain as my greatest treasure.

I was raised in a house where both my father and grandfather were priests. The time I spent at school was my one and only chance to have contact with the world outside of the priesthood.

The students then were mostly the children of Gakkai members, and we discussed many things concerning faith. Among these friends, I experienced a fresh joy in faith and an enjoyment of working and struggling together that I had never experienced among priests. In the various events at school sports festivals, we all pooled our strength and ability, uniting to experience the joy, passion and sense of victory one feels in accomplishing a seemingly impossible task.

This is what I experienced during my school years. I realized that this was the Gakkai spirit the spirit to overcome all difficulties. I truly sensed that it was with this kind of painstaking toil that Gakkai members had been striving to advance kosen-rufu. President Ikeda encouraged the students with heartfelt sincerity and worried over them as if they were his own children. On the day I entered Soka Junior High School, President Ikeda was truly overjoyed to see us, the acolyte priests who had become new students, and presented each of us with a fountain pen to commemorate the occasion. I was so happy that I went back to the temple and reported it to my seniors. But there were those even then who told me that I should return the gift.

A strange atmosphere prevailed at the temple, in which President Ikeda was spoken of in a condescending manner. This was because he was considered a ‘mere lay believer.’ I thought this was strange. It was then that I first sensed the great prejudice existing within the priesthood toward the Soka Gakkai and its president. Around the time I entered high school, the atmosphere of mistrust worsened between the priesthood and the Gakkai. At the temple President Ikeda was only spoken ill of.

Knowing that the founder of my school was not the sort of person the priests said he was, I felt torn. Unable to endure the dilemma I was facing, I took my sleeping bag and left for about two weeks, wandering about and sleeping under the stars. While I caused considerable trouble for people both at the temple and at school, one person who truly showed sincere concern at that time, sending a message of encouragement to my parents, was the founder himself, President Ikeda. I will never be able to repay my debt of gratitude to him for this as long as I live.

After many encouraging experiences during my high school years, I attended college and then returned to the head temple. At that time I regrettably became aware of many problems with the education of acolytes at the Daibo lodging. At the Daibo, a strict hierarchical structure was being forced upon junior and senior high school age children. Little or no concern was shown toward the junior acolytes, and their strenuous efforts went without reward or compensation. Fearing only the wrath of the high priest and other seniors, such acolytes later learned the skill of enjoying themselves while evading the scrutiny of others. Today, from among those acolytes of junior high school age, we see many who perfectly imitate the high priest in their actions, disposition and way of thinking. The education of acolytes at the Daibo is producing priests who lack common sense, faith or any understanding of society outside of the priesthood, let alone appreciation for the earnest efforts of the lay believers. When I see this, I can only predict how dark a future is in store for the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu.

As the current situation progresses, I feel it is most important for you, the high priest, to issue a formal apology that is free of any deception. While this is something that the senior priests and executive administrators ought to tell you directly, I am afraid they lack the strength of will to do so. For this reason, I have dared to speak out myself. The seemingly insane series of actions and plots by the priesthood against the Soka Gakkai include the scheme called ‘Operation C,’ the dismissal of Honorary President Ikeda from his position as chief lay representative, the enactment of provisions for the punishment of lay believers, the rejection of the SGI as a lay organization, the forced amendment of the tozan system and finally, the excommunication of the Soka Gakkai.

Episodes such as the geisha party, the Zen temple tombstone affair and the Seattle incident indicate a breakdown in moral self-discipline. Various other scandals surrounding your behavior include your excursions to expensive hot spring spas and the felling of the cherry trees on the head temple grounds. Beyond this, you have attempted to alter the significance of the Sho-Hondo, lectured erroneously on the principle of the heritage of the Law, tried to praise the slanderous Hakiri Sanenaga and put forth many other dubious doctrinal interpretations that have in no time at all piled as high as a mountain.

It is natural that the members of the Soka Gakkai are angered when they hear of these transgressions. In addition, with the awareness that it is you the high priest who is responsible for the destruction of the sect, a nagging sense of distrust and feelings of antipathy and anger have been growing among the priests of Nichiren Shoshu.

Regarding the measures you have taken and the explanations you have offered for your actions, never once did you or the senior priests consult or solicit opinions from the other members of the priesthood. Everything was carried out based upon your individual judgment and ultimate authority. Therefore, as the high priest and chief executive officer of the sect, there is no way for you to avoid taking the responsibility. I must ask you to cease your prevarication and stop trying to evade responsibility or foist it upon others. Should you succeed in thoroughly destroying the sect, there will be no way for you to claim ignorance later on and escape the blame.

If you would just consider your accountability as high priest, you would properly clarify the details of what has happened, offer an acceptable apology and take responsibility by stepping down. Of course, your simple words of apology and your resignation will not adequately compensate for cruel injustices you have inflicted against President Ikeda and the entire Soka Gakkai. Your crimes have been so grave that they will not be atoned for so easily.

However, what is most necessary now is an expression of profound self-reflection and deep Buddhist apology from you the high priest, accompanied by a clear revelation of the facts behind the current issue. This is needed so that we may correctly record this period of evil history for the sake of future generations of priests and so that we may make a fresh start based upon a reawakening of faith in our mission for kosen-rufu. If you cannot do this much, then you will be remembered only as a person who utterly disqualified himself as a disciple of Nichiren Daishonin. I implore you not to allow your arrogance and ignorance to further occlude the future of Nichiren Shoshu.

In spite of my shallow understanding and ability, I have directly stated what has been on my mind. What I have stated must be painful for you, but I ask you once again to somehow consider what I have written here out of my utmost sincerity.

In seceding from Nichiren Shoshu, I hope also to part company with the thoughtlessness that I myself have shown in the past and make a fresh start as a priest and as a true disciple of Nichiren Daishonin. I will always from here on show deep respect to the believers, who are my comrades in fulfilling the Daishonin’s will for kosen-rufu. I pledge to the Dai-Gohonzon that I will persevere in carrying out my mission as a priest whose spirit accords with that of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin. I want also to continue ceaselessly to train and develop myself.

Thank you for everything you have done for me over the years.

April 1, 1993.
Doshuku Watanabe,
Kairen-ji Temple Chief Priest

To High Priest Nikken