Volume 1, No. 1 September 16, 1991
You are holding in your hands the first issue of the SGI USA Newsletter. Through it we hope to inform you of facts surrounding the situation between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood before whispered rumors and half truths can take root. Armed with facts, we can practice more comfortably and confidently and not be swayed from correct faith or waste time with confusion.
President Ikeda has stressed in his guidance the value of focusing on the basics of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. It is crucial to clearly understand the fundamental source of this dispute, which goes far beyond the recent events that have occurred to this date. The kosen rufu movement – the mandate of Nichiren Daishonin – should not be hampered under any circumstances.
This issue erupted at the end of last year when the head temple abruptly dismissed President Ikeda as head of all lay organizations. Just as abruptly, the priesthood added an article to its Rules, providing for the punishment and expulsion of lay believers should they criticize the high priest or the chief administrator of Nichiren Shoshu.
How the temple attributed President Ikeda’s dismissal to his alleged criticism of the high priest, based upon a surreptitious tape, is explained in detail in the pamphlets titled Issues Between the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai. In fact, as you can tell from his many speeches, he has never slandered the high priest.
Also, the behavior of some priests in Japan caused many members to question their sincerity. In response, the Soka Gakkai made three official requests last July to the temple, specifically:
1. That the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood become open to the world in a manner that befits the age of democracy;
2. That the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood correct its authoritarian manner and contemptuous attitude toward lay believers; and
3. That the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood correct any corruption among priests and return to a tradition of modesty and wisdom.
The priesthood’s inherent elitist attitude led to its emotional reaction to these requests, resulting in a steady stream of actions, including the temple’s sudden decision to take over supervision of the tozan system (after the Soka Gakkai had carefully in conjunction with the priesthood itself developed and managed a system for more than 40 years) and the launching of a danto movement overseas. The latter is intended to discredit President Ikeda’s guidance and destroy the SGI’s kosen rufu movement. Again, much of this has been documented in the ongoing series, Issues Between the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai.
The Gakkai has begged for dialogue, but the priesthood has rejected every attempt, thus widening the unfortunate gap between priesthood and Gakkai.
It is ironic, even tragic, that while Gakkai members completely dedicated themselves to commemorating the 700th anniversary of the head temple last year, contributing their time, effort, skills and money, Operation C (its stated goal being the destruction of the Soka Gakkai) was being planned within the ranks of the priesthood. Over the years, the Soka Gakkai has contributed much for kosen rufu, including the donation of about 350 temples. Yet rather than work with the Soka Gakkai to correct any perceived problems, the priesthood chose to attack.
Like any other challenge, however, this dispute can become a source of great joy. As we learn about the problems within the priesthood, we can reflect all the more on our own attitudes in faith. Because of this situation, we can deepen our faith and strengthen our practice. And because of this situation, we can bring world peace closer to reality. This is our motivation in publishing this newsletter.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT TEMPLE ISSUE
Vice General Director
Recently, many members have asked about the status of the current dispute between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. Even more significantly, members are asking, How should I chant to the Gohonzon to resolve this problem? In my opinion, the best way to answer is to tell you the facts – current and historical — behind this crisis, and to recognize this event as a great sansho shima threatening to block our efforts for kosen rufu.
Since the World Tribune last reported, there have been several developments. In this article, I will bring you up to date on a few of the unfortunate developments with the priesthood here in America.
To better understand the situation, however, I feel there are several points we must keep in mind. First, every event in this tragic dispute has been instigated by top officials of the priesthood itself. The Soka Gakkai has simply but resolutely responded to the actions and accusations of the priesthood.
Second, this situation did not suddenly happen — its roots can be seen far back into the history of Nichiren Shoshu. Though many of the problems were not made public, they nevertheless existed. This is a sad but historic truth. To understand the present, we must first understand the past.
Third, since this problem did not just happen, its solution won’t appear quickly either. It took several decades to come to a head, and although it will not take that long to resolve, I believe it will be a matter of years.
Fourth, as Mr. Wada told us recently: If we merely criticize the priesthood without reflecting on ourselves, we cannot consider ourselves Buddhists. We should have the attitude that if even priests can be influenced this way, I must be even more diligent.
Here are a few of the most recent developments in America:
‚ The most significant is that the temple is now actively recruiting SGI USA members for its own danto group, in which believers practice only under individual temples. This recruitment has not been based on compassionately spreading the teachings in society, but on breaking the unity of the lay believers within the SGI. This campaign has confused and frustrated members around the world.
‚ A combined meeting between SGI USA leaders and the members of NST (Nichiren Shoshu Temples, a group composed of the chief priests of each temple in the United States) was scheduled for July 4, 1991, in Honolulu. This type of meeting has been held twice a year for the past three years. I was delighted. Here, I thought, was a wonderful opportunity for open dialogue. At the last minute, however, after we had all made plans and paid for our airfare and hotels, NST cancelled without explanation. We were again denied a chance to exchange ideas and concerns.
‚ In early August, the traditional month for propagation, it became apparent that every temple in the United States, except for Myohoji in Southern California, had stopped performing gojukai ceremonies in outlying areas. SGI USA leaders asked the Rev. Jiho Takahashi, chief priest of San Francisco′s Myoshinji temple, about arrangements for a gojukai ceremony for more than 40 new members in the Seattle area. He declined, saying that his schedule would not permit him to visit the city. Later it was learned that he quietly visited the Seattle area to perform a gojukai ceremony for two danto members there. We all wondered why the ceremony couldn’t be held for the SGI USA members, why more than 40 people were denied the chance to receive gojukai?
‚ At Myohoji temple, the Temple Committee (a longstanding group comprising SGI USA members) was informed that, starting in October, only one gojukai ceremony would be held each month. My first reaction was to ask the priests who refuse to perform gojukai ceremonies at the request of believers, what is your purpose, if not to serve believers? Why are you here? Are you only interested in creating a danto group for your own sake?
‚ Recently, SGI USA members visited their respective regional temples to request the forms necessary to arrange for a pilgrimage (tozan) to the head temple. In many cases, priests took advantage of their sincere request to try to persuade them to leave the SGI USA organization. I want to urge members who go to the temple to keep their eyes open and think for themselves. Why should believers be subjected to such haranguing?
My personal feeling is that, until I am confident that all Nichiren Shoshu priests are living up to the spirit of true disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, I will wait to make a pilgrimage to the head temple.
I feel that in this age of democracy, the spirit of open dialogue should permeate the relationship between the priesthood and the laity. But it is clear to me that the temple has intentionally avoided every significant opportunity to work out this situation as equals.
In response to a growing number of cases in Japan where some priests conspicuously took advantage of their positions (please refer to the pamphlets titled Issues Between the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai for specific examples), the Soka Gakkai has for several years brought them to the attention of the head temple, keeping in mind Nichiren Daishonin′s admonition that priests should be people of humility and modest desires. To simply tolerate someone′s abuse of power would make us as guilty as that person.
I stated above, this situation is a great obstacle (sansho shima), because it opens the door to the following possibilities: (1) doubting the Gohonzon; (2) doubting the organization that exists for the sake of kosen rufu; (3) delaying kosen rufu. These are all contrary to Nichiren Daishonin′s desire. Therefore, I consider this event as a test of our faith, and I encourage every member to pray that they never leave the Gohonzon or the organization, and to understand the essence of this conflict for the sake of doing shakubuku in the future.
This dispute is a tragic reality, one that each of us must confront. However, I believe that it is ultimately a cause for rejoicing, not for despairing. Because of this problem, we will bridge the gap between the original spirit of Nichiren Daishonin and the present attitude of Nichiren Shoshu, thus developing our confidence in the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. President Ikeda himself is teaching us, through both word and action, not to lose sight of our dream for kosen rufu.
Over the years, we have faced many obstacles and challenges, working together to turn each into a source of growth, joy, and victory. I am confident that we can work together once again to overcome this present challenge.
At the 45th Headquarters Leaders Meeting in Hokkaido on Aug. 24, President Ikeda referred to Nichiren Daishonin’s words in the Gosho, Should you slacken even a bit, demons will take advantage (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 241). He explained: We must never allow devils any room to take advantage. We must deliberately determine to pray to destroy such devils. Although you may wonder how people could turn against the organization, when you view this in terms of the Gosho, there is no reason to be surprised or afraid. It is simply proof of the validity of the Gosho′s teachings. Therefore, the important thing is not to be mistaken about what to trust. Using the Gosho as your basis, you must always keenly discern right from wrong, based on the eyes of faith.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE THREE TREASURES (PART I)
Vice General Director
The ongoing situation between the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and the Soka Gakkai can be viewed from many perspectives, but to understand the real nature of the problem, it is important to examine and objectively consider some of the main issues involved and try to understand their origin or source.
As you, the reader, may be aware, one of the major points of contention between the priesthood and the Soka Gakkai now fueling this problem is the view of the respective status of priests and lay believers (which include all Soka Gakkai and SGI members). Many in the priesthood contend that because SGI President Ikeda has dared to point out areas that some members of the priesthood should reflect upon and correct, he has forgotten his status as a lay believer. And the Nichiren Shoshu Administration has even stated officially that Those who insist that priests and laymen are essentially equal or occupy the same status are people of great arrogance who fail to understand their status as laity. This statement is based on their view that priests occupy a fundamentally higher religious status than any lay believer. Needless to say, we strongly feel that this attitude runs counter to the Daishonin’s own spirit that all people equally possess the Buddha nature and are therefore equally respect worthy. The Daishonin himself viewed each individual in light of that person′s own merits and character, sufferings and dreams. He absolutely did not discriminate with respect to status or power, be it religious or otherwise.
To support the idea that the priests of Nichiren Shoshu are fundamentally superior to lay believers, the priesthood has been interpreting a basic Buddhist concept known as the hree treasures in such a way as to imply that the high priest of Nichiren Shoshu and all Nichiren Shoshu priests correspond to the reasure of the priesthood, which we as Buddhists are bound to respect. Today, some priests are going so far as to proclaim that the high priest is equal to a modern day Nichiren Daishonin. We strongly feel, however, that this amounts to nothing more than the misuse of doctrine to establish religious authority Ü- an age old formula that has been employed since early times, in many religions both East and West, to intimidate and manipulate believers who are basically naive about such matters. This is something that the Daishonin himself risked his life to challenge.
Therefore, beginning with this issue of the SGI USA Newsletter, we would like to examine the principle of the three treasures and its significance to us as believers in the Daishonin’s Buddhism.
In the Gosho The Four Debts of Gratitude Nichiren Daishonin cites the three treasures of Buddhism as one of four important things to which people owe a debt of gratitude. The three treasures are the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood. At times the word priesthood has simply appeared as priest in English translation. Let′s take a look now at the origin of this term.
Perhaps the earliest mention of the hree treasures is found in the Kammuryoju Sutra, a work that was translated into Chinese from Sanskrit during the Liu Sung dynasty in China. The three treasures Ü- the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood — come from the Sanskrit terms Buddha, Dharma and Samgha. The Buddha indicates the one who is enlightened to the law of life and is devoted to leading people to happiness by teaching them that law. Dharma can mean law, principle, or eaching, and here indicates the law or principle upon which the Buddha’s enlightenment is based, which he reveals as a teaching to lead people to happiness. The word samgha originally meant gathering or meeting in ancient Sanskrit. For a period of some fifty years, Shakyamuni Buddha traversed the land of India, expounding his teachings to those who were suffering and seeking to become happy. As he traveled from place to place, there were people who, moved by his charisma and compassion, chose to follow him to learn. This gathering of people who sought to learn from Shakyamuni was the first samgha or Buddhist Order. Among them were those who felt the need to devote themselves entirely as the Buddha’s disciples, renouncing their responsibilities and attachments in the mundane world. These people became monks or nuns. Others either wanted to or had to maintain their family and social obligations, but nonetheless devoted themselves to Buddhism in their available time. These people became the equivalent of the Buddhist laity. Shakyamuni himself never discriminated between the two groups that comprised the samgha. The word samgha was later transliterated in the Chinese characters that form the Japanese word sogya, which has subsequently been shortened to the single character so. It is this character so that is translated into English as priesthood of the treasures of the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood.