Volume 2, No. 7 (Part 1) July 27, 1992
Former Chief Priest Takes Legal Action Against Nikken
Mr. Kokudo Kanno, former chief priest of Jorai-bo, a lodging temple at Taiseki-ji, filed a civil suit in the Shizuoka District Court claiming he was unreasonably harassed by Nikken and two other executive priests of Nichiren Shoshu. The following interview was conducted by the Seikyo Shimbun with Mr. Kanno, who related his reasons for reproaching the high priest and described how slanderous the head temple has become. This interview was published in six installments (from July 4 through July 12) in theSeikyo Shimbun. The first three installments appear here (the second three will appear in a future issue of the SGI USA Newsletter.)
Q: To begin, please tell us why you chose to take legal action against Taiseki-ji, High Priest Nikken, Internal Affairs Bureau Senior Director Shimpo Yagi and Director Shido Ogawa.
A: For no valid reason, these three men put me in a position in which I am virtually no longer treated as a priest. I still dwell at the head temple, but I have been told not to attend gokaihi ceremonies, oko lectures or any other ceremonies conducted at Taiseki-ji. My salary was also substantially reduced; I now receive less than $700 per month. Their punitive action against me is not at all based on the Bylaws and Rules of Nichiren Shoshu. I am confident that I have never been negligent in my responsibilities, nor committed any serious slanders, nor taken any socially unjust actions. What is happening at the head temple is not merely my personal ordeal, but a serious revelation of the fundamental ills within Nichiren Shoshu, which find expression in the executive priests’ nonchalant disregard of fundamental human rights and shameless, illegal conduct.
I decided to sue the high priest and two executive priests as well as the head temple itself in hopes that my action will shed light on the condition of Nichiren Shoshu and reveal how erroneous the high priest’s actions have been. The head temple is a closed society in which some elitists believe they can get away with anything.
Q: What you report to be happening at the head temple differs greatly in spirit from Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, which
expounds that ‘All phenomena equal Buddhism.’
A: You are right. The fact is that the current high priest is completely antisocial. He feels he can do anything he wants because the head temple is a unique and separate domain from regular society. By making it known how antisocial the current Nichiren Shoshu priesthood is, I hope my action will be an incentive for the reformation of the sect.
Q: I see. They simply cannot be self-righteous in court as they are at the head temple.
A: Yes. The high priest cannot hit me with his chukei fan in court. If they refuse to appear in court, that in itself shows their spirit is vastly different from that of Nichiren Daishonin, who constantly sought opportunities for public debate.
Q: Like other reformist priests, are you going to leave the head temple and fight Nikken by positioning yourself outside of the sect?
A: No. I will remain within the head temple and fight slanderous actions taken by the high priest and Senior Director Yagi. I have been fulfilling my mission as a priest for the past 20 years, ever since I was appointed as chief priest of Jorai-bo lodging temple on the grounds of Taiseki-ji. I will elaborate on this later, but I have long been stripped of the status of chief priest, even though I am a qualified teacher. On top of that, my basic rights as a priest were denied. If I should leave the head temple now, it would mean that I had succumbed to the evil conduct of the high priest. As a priest dwelling at the head temple, isn’t it natural that I fight against this ‘one fundamental evil’ and oust slanderous priests? I am resolved to remain within the head temple as I carry on reformation activities, demanding that the high priest and all other executives resign.
Q: So it is your motivation to reform Nichiren Shoshu from within?
A: Yes. Presently the high priest, opposing the spirit of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin in every possible way, is committing one slander after another. I can no longer tolerate his evil conduct. That’s why I have chosen to take a stand. My bottom-line feeling is that High Priest Nikken himself should leave the head temple.
Q: You say you cannot tolerate slanderous acts. What is the gravest offense he has committed?
A: The gravest one is his attempt to destroy the movement of kosen-rufu, which is the mandate of Nichiren Daishonin. As the 65th high priest [Nichijun Shonin] stated, the Soka Gakkai is an organization that is in accord with the Buddha’s will. Yet the high priest unreasonably excommunicated this significant organization of kosen-rufu. Nothing is more outrageous than this attempt to destroy the harmonious unity of believers. He should prostrate himself on the ground and apologize to the honorary president and all Gakkai members.
Many priests overlook the evil doings of the high priest without refuting them. Such priests will be severely reprimanded by both Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin. The Nirvana Sutra reads: ‘If even a good priest sees someone slandering the Law and disregards him, failing to reproach him, to oust him or to punish him for his offense, then that priest is betraying Buddhism. But if he takes the slanderer severely to task, drives him off or punishes him, then he is my disciple and one who truly understands my teachings’ (MW-l, 165).
Q: It must take courage to remain at the head temple while you are suing Nikken, fighting alone for justice in the midst of slanderers.
A: In October 1972, when I attended the Sho-Hondo completion ceremony at the head temple, I was appointed as chief priest of Jorai-bo lodging temple by Nittatsu Shonin. However, as early as April 1989, two years before the current issue developed, I was unjustly banished from Jorai-bo by Nikken and his men. I did nothing slanderous in light of Buddhism, yet I was ousted from Jorai-bo. Never losing hope that the truth would eventually be revealed, I persevered at the head temple. As a matter of fact, even before I was removed, I had long sensed that the high priest wanted to keep me away from Jorai-bo. A few years after Nikken’s inauguration, Senior Director Yagi called me, saying,’Mr. Jorai-bo [it is customary to call a chief priest by the name of his temple], if you prefer to work at an outlying local temple, why don’t you go ahead?’ I sensed that the senior director’s words represented the high priest’s own feelings. Over the past 20 years I have suffered spiritually to an indescribable degree and been dismally harassed.
Q: What do you mean by ‘dismally harassed’?
A: On the surface they look like they are taking no particular action against me. They are very sneaky. In the meantime, the high priest’s intent prevails among the priests. Whether Nikken likes a priest determines how other priests behave toward him. The way the high priest scolds me, other priests sense I am in disfavor with him. It is not customary within the priesthood to voice one’s true feelings. The atmosphere the high priest has created against me is contagious. Rumors that I spoke amicably to the honorary president or that I warmly greeted him when he came to Jorai-bo spread quickly among the priests. At the head temple, they make an issue out of a simple friendly conversation with the honorary president. Because I lived in such distressed circumstances, I lost my health and was twice hospitalized. I am now 65. However, I have a solid determination to spare nothing of my life in fighting against the slanders of the Nikken sect. I have nothing to fear.
Q: Has Nikken been harboring negative thoughts about you over the past many years?
A: I think so. It may be more precise to say he has been making a fool of me. I am convinced that the Soka Gakkai is an organization to fulfill the Buddha’s mandate of kosen-rufu, and so I have deep respect for the honorary president as a great leader of kosen-rufu. The high priest did not like my attitude. When I was unreasonably removed from Jorai-bo, which Nittatsu Shonin had entrusted to me, I was determined to protect it, no matter what. So, I tried to hang on. This again upset the high priest. He is a very childish person and believes everything should go his way.
Q: How did he retaliate against you?
A: I was hospitalized in 1983 for a gall bladder operation. When I was released from the hospital two months later, I went to report to the high priest about my recovery. I told him that I had heard from a Soka Gakkai leader just before my hospitalization that Honorary President Ikeda wished to renovate Jorai-bo’s altar. The high priest suddenly screamed angrily at me, saying that ‘You shouldn’t act like a beggar!’ He was all fury and continued to attack me. My wife, who was there with me, was frozen in astonishment. Normal people would not act like that. He misunderstood the circumstances. He thought I had requested that the honorary president remodel the altar. Because I realized the high priest would get even more angry if I corrected him, I had no choice but to bear his fury, answering only with ‘yes, sir.’
Q: Why did they force you to resign as chief priest of Jorai-bo lodging temple?
A: I insisted on the significance of the mission of the Soka Gakkai. Because of this, I was treated by other priests as an outcast. It is not my nature to do something that makes no sense to me, so I always said what I felt should be said. I refused to compromise to accommodate the attitude of other priests. Therefore, they often told me, ‘How silly you are!’ Even though my mind was clear, my health suffered greatly because of the harassment I received from the high priest and others. As a result, I developed a heart condition. My doctor told me that I would no longer be able to do heavy labor or work all night. In February 1989, I asked to be excused from midnight security and ushitora gongyo duties as well as assignments in the memorial tablet (toba) room.
Q: Did your request provide Nikken and his associates with a chance to oust you?
A: I think so. Later, on March 31, 1989, Senior Director Yagi said to me: ‘The high priest is concerned about your health. Your lodging temple is big, so it must be difficult for you to take good care of it. The high priest suggests you move to the Suimei dormitory (a dwelling on the grounds of the head temple for those priests who, though qualified to be chief priests, are not assigned to any specific lodging temple) to recuperate.’
Q: Mr. Yagi’s remark makes the high priest sound like he cares about your health, doesn’t it?
A: He sounds caring on the surface. However, priests like Mr. Yagi never admit their real feelings. Instead of saying, ‘Because you do not kowtow to the high priest, we will not use you as chief priest,’ he made some feeble excuse. Thus they virtually dismissed me as chief priest. I was told at that time that I would return to Jorai-bo after my recovery, but it was just lip service. I was also told that this move was thanks to the high priest’s mercy. I had no choice to but accept their proposal. Also, because I was spiritually cornered in those days, I cannot deny that I was strongly motivated to escape the spiritual torture as quickly as possible.
Q: Then, you agreed to write a letter of resignation?
A: No, I did not. Senior Director Yagi forced me to write it. No doubt the high priest directed him to do so. On the day the new chief priest was installed at Jorai-bo, the high priest coldly told me: ‘Kokudo, from now on, you only need to attend gokaihi ceremonies. That’s all.’ Delighted with his success in dismissing me, the high priest must have been laughing in his sleeve.
Q: What are the ramifications when a certified priest is stripped of his position as chief priest?
A: In a nutshell, it is the utmost insult. It is no different than saying he should retire because he is useless. It almost never happens at the head temple that a chief priest is replaced even if he is seriously ill. It is common that the bedridden chief priest remain as such until he dies. There are deep connections between a chief priest and his assigned lodging temple at Taiseki-ji, which is reflected in the custom of calling the chief priest by the name of the lodging temple to which he is assigned. In the past, some chief priests were dismissed because of scandalous incidents they created. But I was the first one ever dismissed without valid reason. Over the past 20 years, I have never witnessed a case like mine.
Q: That’s really nasty, isn’t it?
A: As soon as I moved to the Suimei dormitory, a new chief priest succeeded me at Jorai-bo. Later, in April 1991, Senior Director Yagi despisingly told me, ‘You no longer have any temple to reside in as chief priest, do you?’ First using words like ‘thanks to the high priest’s mercy,’ he tactically disassociated me from the lodging temple and afterward made a fool of me, saying, ‘You no longer have any temple to reside in as chief priest, do you?’ Such behavior is far from how clergy should act.
Q: Why did the high priest and his associates want to banish you so desperately?
A: It seems to me that they wanted to use me as an example to other priests to show what would happen to them if they should harbor thoughts similar to mine. I heard that my case became the topic of conversation among many priests. Everybody understood that I was having a hard time because I disregarded the high priest’s personal sentiments. Mr. Jun’ei Yasuzawa, the territory administrator of the Shikoku Propagation Territory, once expressed his true feeling inadvertently by asking me casually, ‘Do you hold a grudge against the high priest because you were banished from Jorai-bo?’ From this statement, I can see that the priesthood viewed my release from Jorai-bo as punishment. In fact, after I was officially released from Jorai-bo, many other chief priests began to give me the cold shoulder. It was obvious that they were avoiding me.
Q: What was the purpose of banishing you?
A: After his inauguration, the high priestÊin an effort to strengthen his regimeÊ installed those who blindly followed him in important positions in the Administrative Office or as chief priests. It seems that manipulating my position was part of his scheme to solidify his status within Nichiren Shoshu. Also, Jorai-bo was where the Soka Gakkai held big meetings such as summer training courses, which the high priest resented. In the final analysis, I have no alternative but to say that my sincere feelings toward Gakkai members and my deep respect for Honorary President Ikeda invited the high priest’s disfavor. I find no other reason to justify his treatment of me. I committed no slanderous acts; I made no particular mistakes; I was not negligent in fulfilling my responsibilities; and I did not cause any scandals as other priests had. As I explained before, my health problem was not a legitimate reason. It is obvious that the high priest wanted to make clear what would happen to those priests who revere the honorary president. However, the high priest’s harassment did not end there. Because I refused to side with the high priest or to criticize the Gakkai, I was gradually stripped of even my fundamental rights as a priest.
Q: After you recovered your health, didn’t Nikken recommend that you become chief priest again, as had been promised?
A: The high priest once told me: ‘Kokudo, from now on, you only need to attend gokaihi ceremonies. That’s all.’ It was a very odd order. So I continued to attend other events such as oko lectures, sutra-reciting meetings, and other major ceremonies at the head temple. Anyway, there was no indication that I would become chief priest again. As a matter of fact, I began to suffer more harassment. For example, a young priest pointed out to me : ‘The Suimei dormitory where you now dwell is also the residence for the staff of the Administrative Office, including those working for the Internal Affairs Bureau. It is not a place for people who have no official position at the head temple.’ He sounded as if I wasn’t qualified to live there. Also, those who used to be friendly with me stopped visiting me. The situation worsened to the point that I actually had no one to open my heart to at the head temple. Not a single day was peaceful for me after I moved to the dormitory.
Q: In 1991, priests were forced to put their signatures on certain documents on three different occasions. Is that correct?
[Editor’s note: First, in early February 1991, all certified priests were coerced by the executive priests of the head temple, headed up by Nikken, to sign a document, acknowledging agreement with its contents. The document was intended to unite all priests with High Priest Nikken in attacking the Gakkai. Second, in late February, they were pressured to sign the Demand for Apology, which was sent to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. Third, in late October, they were also coerced into signing a document requesting that the Administrative Office issue a demand for the dissolution of the Soka Gakkai. The atmosphere surrounding these signature-gathering campaigns was strange, which is well illustrated by what a regional administrator said to Mr. Yushin Yoshikawa, a chief priest who later left Nichiren Shoshu. The regional administrator told him: ‘I will get your signature no matter what it takes. I am so determined, I may even have to kill you and let your dead body hold your hanko (seal) and sign the petition; I may do so if that is what it takes.’]
A: Three times they forced us to sign their documents. They wanted their attack against the Gakkai to appear as if it were unanimously backed by all priests. Each scenario the priesthood mapped out was a farce. Coercing each priest to sign these documents is no different than the tactics employed during the Edo period to make people confess whether they were Christians by forcing them to trample upon the crucifix.
Q: You refused to sign each document, didn’t you?
A: Yes, I did. Honorary President Ikeda has done nothing wrong. Demanding that he apologize is nonsense. It is only natural that I refused to sign such a ridiculous document. I began to practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism in 1957. After I became a priest, the Gakkai did much for me. Also, after I was designated as chief priest of Jorai-bo in 1972 by Nittatsu Shonin, I received a great deal of sincere offerings from the Soka Gakkai members as did other chief priests of the lodging temples at Taiseki-ji.
For instance, on the day each month that marks the beginning of the monthly pilgrimage, I received a heartfelt offering from the honorary president together with a message that said, ‘Thank you for your constant support of our pilgrimage (tozan).’ He cherished and protected the priesthood to an incredible degree. I am deeply grateful to him. Those who signed the documents denouncing the honorary president betrayed him and the Gakkai. They owe so much to the honorary president and to the Gakkai. In no way can they be called legitimate priests of Nichiren Shoshu. Even dogs and cats respond sincerely to their keepers’ sincere actions. The priests who betrayed the sincerity of the Gakkai members are worse than animals.
Q: How did the other priests respond when you refused to put your signature on those documents?
A: They annoyed me incessantly. One priest after anotherÊmore than 10Êvisited or called me to reproach me. Even a newly certified priest rang me up to attack me. It is obvious that the high priest and Senior Director Yagi endorsed their actions.
Q: What did these priests actually say to you?
A: One priest said to me: ‘The Shoshinkai priests were eventually defrocked because they stood up on their own and against the will of the high priest. This time there is no problem as the high priest himself has been taking the initiative in this anti-Gakkai campaign. All you have to do is pledge to follow him with absolute faith and obedience and sign the document. If you disregard this document, you will give the wrong impression that you are opposed to the high priest. Just sign it. You will be better off.’ Another priest told me: ‘You are not a relative of Honorary President Ikeda. So, isn’t it strange that you alone refuse to sign the document whereas all the other priests who came from the Gakkai have put their signatures on it? Especially because you are at the head temple. Right?’
Q: Did you respond to these remarks?
A: Had I countered with a single remark, it would have been construed to mean I opposed the high priest. I was in deep spiritual agony. If somebody criticized me for two hours straight in an oppressive manner, I could not talk about it at all. In the first place, it is impossible to dialogue with them. They just harassed me constantly. Mr. Yasuzawa, administrator of the Shikoku Propagation Territory, once told me hysterically with an angry look as he pounded on a table: ‘You will fall into hell. Your relatives and family members all will fall into hell. You will not survive as a priest. You will be abandoned by believers as well. Signing the document is the way of the priesthood.’ Director Ogawa, too, intimidated me, saying: ‘If you maintain your current attitude and continue to refuse to sign, you will have more trouble from now…. You may have to leave this Suimei dormitory, too. You might also not be able to attend even the gokaihi ceremony.’ Intimidating me and hinting that I would lose my livelihood, they all attacked me for my refusal to sign the document. I see no sign of the Daishonin’s spirit in their behavior.
Q: Did any priest try to use logic to persuade you?
A: None. One of the worst was Senior Director Yagi, who treats people without status like me in a condescending manner. Sometime around April 2 of last year, he told me to come to the Internal Affairs Bureau of Taiseki-ji and screamed at me, saying, ‘You are so self-righteous that you can oppose the high priest.’ He continued to intimidate me: ‘How regrettable. You have lost your temple. You have no place to go…Nittatsu Shonin must be sorry for you.’ Hearing this, anger welled up from the depths of my heart. I almost said to him, ‘How dare you insult even Nittatsu Shonin?’
Q: How base they are! Talking about Yagi, Gakkai members will never forget the demeaning attitude he took when the priesthood forcefully carried out a new pilgrimage system last year.
[Editor’s note: In March 199l, Taiseki-ji’s Internal Affairs Bureau unilaterally notified the Gakkai of its intention to abolish the conventional Gakkai pilgrimage system and replace it with a new one. This abrupt move could create confusion in society and therefore was hardly acceptable. Trying to minimize the possible damage due to the sudden change of the system, the Gakkai proposed to the priesthood that they discuss this matter. The head temple agreed, and it was Yagi who represented the priesthood.
After the first round of discussion, Yagi agreed to a second one, but later he reneged. Instead, he sent a document to the Gakkai headquarters in which he camouflaged his stance, implying that it was the Gakkai who refused to have a dialogue. In addition, when President Akiya asked to see the high priest, Yagi coldly replied, ‘Mr. Akiya is now disqualified from the honor of an audience with the high priest.’ Later, when the Gakkai pointed out how mistaken he was, Yagi stopped all discussion with them about the implementation of the new pilgrimage system, and Director Ogawa took his place.]
A: The senior director makes everything appear all right on the surface; he never looks like the bad guy. But in reality, he is a cowardly, cruel and ungrateful man. Honorary President Ikeda did so much for him, yet he easily dismissed the honorary president. Yagi is despicable. The high priest and senior director are similar in personality. Yagi is called the high priest’s protege. He will do anything to curry favor with the high priest. He is a pitiable man.