Volume 1, No. 7 November 25, 1991
In more than 100 nations, members are studying the issues and expressing their indignation over the high priest′s obstruction of kosen-rufu and the priesthood′s strategy to distort the True Law.
Recently, SGI President Ikeda discussed the United States’ civil rights movement in the early ’60s. In particular, he focused on the remarkable contribution of one woman who acted simply and without malice. Her name was Rosa Parks, and all she did was refuse to give up her seat on a city busÊa simple act that rang out like an alarm clock to awaken an entire nation to the fundamental rights of every human being. There are stories of such simple heroism all around us.
What is increasingly clear in the ’90s is that none of us can afford to wait for our rights to be handed to us. In this sense, ignoranceÊspecifically, refusing to understand what our rights are may be one of our greatest enemies.
In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, in South Africa and China, people are learning what it means to stand up for justice and freedom.
Our forefathers in this country knew what it meant to stand up against religious and political intolerance. We now have an opportunity, in the context of the faith we have freely chosen, to stand up for what we believe.
In response to the priesthood’s unreasonable actions, stemming from its clearly stated intention to destroy the SGI organizations throughout the world, petitions calling for the resignation of High Priest Nikken are circulating with ever-increasing momentum among SGI members worldwide. In what amounts to a blatant attempt to alter the doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu, the priesthood has asserted, among other points, that Nikken is the true Buddha of this time, while Nichiren Daishonin is but a transient Buddha. Its attempts to destroy the unity of believers has recently culminated in its official issuance of the ‘Order for the Soka Gakkai to Disband.’
The Seikyo Press has reported that more than 5 million members in Japan have already signed the petitions. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of believers have signed in more than 100 nations, including some 450,000 in South Korea.
In the SGI-USA, members are recognizing the need to get involved in signing the petitions, not only as a protest against closed-minded authoritarianism, but also as a means of taking a positive step in their individual faith awakening themselves to what SGI President Ikeda referred to in his recent Harvard lecture as ‘inner-motivated philosophy.’
Throughout the nation, many are voicing strong support of the petitions.
Steve Potoff, Boston-area territory chief, says: ‘I feel a strong sense of pride to be able to stand up on the side of justice. It is comfortable for me to do so, knowing the correctness of our cause and that I join millions of members in requesting the resignation of the high priest. It makes me reflect on the incredible courage of presidents Makiguchi and Toda, who stood alone against such authority. They were unique. We are fortunate to have them as examples of unyielding spirit. Without them, I never would have known of Nichiren Daishonin′s teachings.’
Donna Martin, a group chief in San Francisco, says: ‘I feel this move is very positive…. When I first heard about the petitions, I wanted to know when I could sign, because I have been waiting a whole year to be able to take a stand. I don′t want to be cut off from seeing the Dai-Gohonzon.’
From Atlanta, Henrietta Turnquest, a women′s division unit chief, says: ‘This issue is parallel to a lot of world situations. The small number in the ruling class has become accustomed to ruling the common people. Signing a petition gives all of us an opportunity to express our view. I felt good about signing it. It′s important for the high priest to know that his actions affect all of us.’
A scholar′s perspective on the current issue
The following article was contributed by Dr. Taro Hori, 70, professor emeritus at Shiga University and president of Shiga Cultural Junior College. It appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun. Dr. Hori graduated from the Hiroshima University of Humanities and Sciences with a degree in chemistry. He has served as a professor at Shiga University and as dean of the university′s School of Education. He has also been in charge of the school′s fresh water biology laboratory facilities. He received his doctorate in biochemistry.
Headlines such as ‘The Soka Gakkai Shaken’ or ‘Gakkai Uproar’ have recently appeared in the media, but in reality, is it not the Nichiren Shoshu head temple that has been shaken, and the media itself which is in an uproar? The Soka Gakkai, due to its circular structure with Honorary President Ikeda as a nucleus, has remained unperturbed.
Some Gakkai members may have been temporarily shaken by the recent incidents. But the posture of the Soka Gakkai at this juncture can be described in terms of the concept senyu koraku, an expression derived from Chinese that means ‘worry first, enjoy later.’ This means that a wise person is first concerned with the future, and takes action toward the future. Seeing that the people are enjoying the fruits of his or her labor, such a person enjoys personal fulfillment.
This is an opportunity for people to challenge their own inner tendencies that give rise to dependency and authoritarianism. By making efforts to resolve the current situation, each will accomplish remarkable growth.
Even after taking such abuse from the priesthood and the media, the members of the Soka Gakkai continue to revere Nichiren Daishonin while cherishing a desire to reform Nichiren Shoshu. Their posture distinctly embodies the Buddhist practice of ‘forbearance.’ There is educational value in maintaining such patience, tenacity and perseverance in the face of difficulty. It constitutes an excellent spiritual exercise for human beings and offers an opportunity for self-improvement and self-perfection. My hope is that the Soka Gakkai members will remain firmly determined to build, within their own hearts and minds, a solid foundation for the organization.
Religion today is exposed to a great trend toward globalization and democratization. Various religious groups are earnestly struggling to cast off their old ways and incorporate these principles.
The root of the current problem lies in the basic nature and character of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood being called into question in the context of this sweeping trend toward democracy and globalism. Yet, without the least bit of self-reflection or foresight, the priesthood has responded to this challenge by issuing the Soka Gakkai its ‘order to disband.’ This, I think, indicates that they have turned their backs on the important issues of the times. I would like to consider, on the other hand, how the Soka Gakkai and Honorary President Ikeda have continued to promote these themes.
For many years I have directly and objectively watched the Soka Gakkai’s activities as an outside observer, paying close attention to what it has been advocating. I felt I wanted to take a scientific approach, confirming information based on my own observations and not upon rumor or hearsay.
Thus I would like to talk about the Soka Gakkai’s achievements from an ‘external’ and an ‘internal’ perspective: First, from the perspective of what the Gakkai has been doing in the framework of its relationship with society and the global community, and then from the viewpoint of what kind of environment the Gakkai has built for its own members.
Regarding the first point, the Soka Gakkai has been emphasizing the importance of globalization and democratization since long before it was a trend to do so. The organization has been a front runner in taking concrete action toward realizing these ideals. Now, as the 20th century draws to a close, the Soka Gakkai has perceived and is striving to actualize the ideal qualities that befit a ‘religion of the 21st century.’
Rather than enslaving modern people with things of the past, a religion befitting the 21st century must open for the people of today the way to the future. The Soka Gakkai has most certainly been proceeding along these lines. Honorary President Ikeda has been advocating from early on the importance of protecting the environment, of reducing arms and of conducting dialogue between East and West. He has also been taking action in this direction. This is what has truly impressed me. While others decided that doing anything about these issues was ‘impractical,’ the honorary president has been focusing until today on these questions and making strenuous efforts toward their solutions. If the Soka Gakkai’s activities are not those of a genuine religion or of genuine Buddhists, or if they do not reflect the true teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, then just what are they? Anyone who charges [as the priesthood has] that the Soka Gakkai′s activities are ‘outside the realm of Buddhism’ should be aware that they themselves are ‘outside the realm of humanity.”
If I may venture to speak in terms of physics, I would like to cite as an example the subatomic particle known as a neutron. A neutron can penetrate deeply into any kind of matter. The reason for this is that it possesses no electrical chargeÊneither positive nor negative and is therefore not influenced by the electric fields of the atoms it passes by.
Honorary President Ikeda is an ‘ambassador’ of the people. Because he possesses no special status or authority, he has been able to transcend national politics and economics and meet with a great many leaders and scholars throughout the world. This may be a crude analogy, but like the charge-free neutron, the honorary president possesses no biases or prejudices. He is thus able to carry out his activities on a global scale by transcending any desire for personal gain or profit and basing himself on the universal principles of humanity.
Next, I will speak from the perspective of the ‘internal’ environment the Soka Gakkai has built. I once attended a Soka Gakkai culture festival. I saw that the performance went way beyond the bounds of mere talent or manpower. But I did discover the secret behind this. I saw one young woman quietly lighting the way for members of the audience with a flashlight, to keep them from tripping. She was wearing a big smile.
Wherever I looked, I could see such helpers wearing broad smiles. This was a world in which everyone, not just the people on stage, fulfilled their various functions with genuine joy and inspiration, a world in which light shone from deep within the life of each individual. This is the ‘inner world’ of the Soka Gakkai. This has been the source of the Gakkai′s achievements.
Is it permissible, then, to ask the Soka Gakkai, which has developed so much both internally and externally, to disband? It most certainly is not. In this regard, it is quite simple to see who is right and who is wrong.
We are now undergoing a period of development, in which humanity is moving from a material culture to one that focuses on the human spirit and on life itself. It is the Soka Gakkai′s mission to pioneer a historic cultural transformation. Therefore, it must challenge whatever problems now confront it in order to strengthen itself. I hope that the members of the Soka Gakkai will fight hard for the sake of humankind. It is my heartfelt wish that you will continue to make relentless progress.
Etsuko Uehara, Women′S Division Member, Toyonaka City
‘I am going to become a priest of Nichiren Shoshu,’ my eldest son announced. I was dumbfounded. I vehemently opposed his idea. Despite my wishes, my son passed the examination to become a Nichiren Shoshu acolyte with the highest score of all the candidates. In 1981, when he was 21, my son left us with a gentle smile, saying, ‘I will surely follow the path of the priesthood.’
In January of the next year, I visited him at the head temple. My son had become very courteous, and his language was formal, as if we were not family. I noticed that his hands were frostbitten and purple. Even though it was the dead of winter, acolytes were not permitted to wear even a topcoat. I was filled with emotion, thinking, ‘Yes, in this way my son is going to become a great priest.’
While working at the head temple, my son chanced to meet President and Mrs. Ikeda. That same night, very excited, he phoned me. ‘Mother, I wanted to call out, ′Sensei!′ President Ikeda is so great. He so courteously addressed mere acolytes like myself. His wife, Mrs. Ikeda, whom I also met for the first time, was wonderful and full of grace.’
Overjoyed at this report from my son, I wrote a letter to President Ikeda. I received a message immediately, in which he said, ‘I have chanted sincerely for your son.’ My whole family was deeply touched.
In 1984, my son began to work at Sentoku-ji temple in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. That summer, he came home on leave. He had lost 44 pounds, and he looked like a total stranger. Due to extreme fatigue and stress, his physical condition had truly deteriorated. Later, I found out that he was awakened at 2 or 3 o′clock in the morning several times a month. It was always because he had to pick up the temple′s chief priest from some exclusive nightclub or restaurant either in Akasaka or Yokohama [which is about a three- or four-hour drive]. The chief priest, the Rev. Akimoto, was also Nichiren Shoshu Liaison Department chief.
If my son was late picking up the chief priest, he was reprimanded in public and even struck. Accepting it as part of his practice, my son persevered. In the car, however, the Rev. Akimoto would speak bitterly of President Ikeda. For my son, this was spiritual torture. He didn′t want to hear such abuses.
He regularly had very little time to sleep. All the acolytes slept together in the Gohonzon room on the floor. They were treated literally like slaves, and because of it, my son suffered severe physical and spiritual fatigue. In contrast, the chief priest and his family lived in a gorgeous new temple lavishly furnished. They lived extravagantly and slept until noon. The chief priest rarely did gongyo in the morning.
Then my son told me about the following incident. There was a mother who lived alone with her children. When she passed away, my son was sent to their home to chant daimoku on the eve of her funeral. The deceased mother′s son and sister were warmly encouraged by fellow Soka Gakkai members, and it seemed that because of it they were in good spirits. As soon as my son returned to the temple after chanting daimoku sincerely for the mother′s repose, the chief priest severely reprimanded him, saying, ‘What happened to the offering from the family!’ My son replied, ‘I just gave it to your wife.’
The chief priest′s wife, shaking the envelope containing the offering, said, ‘Such a small amount cannot be called an offering!’ The chief priest demanded, ‘Why did you leave the Doshi Gohonzon at the home of a family that makes such a small offering?’ Then he struck my son.
Discouraged and speechless, my son wondered to himself, ‘Is this the correct attitude of a responsible Nichiren Shoshu priest who is close to the high priest?’
In 1986, my son was transferred to Myosei-ji temple in Kyoto. Six months later, the chief priest, the Rev. Okamura, suddenly called us and said: ‘This morning, your son disappeared. What an awful thing he has done. He has escaped. His sin deserves death. I hold you responsible for bringing him back to the temple right away.’ At the adamant insistence of the chief priest, my husband and I were intimidated into rushing to Kyoto.
From early morning until midnight, my guilt-ridden husband and I looked for our son, but we couldn′t find him. A few days later, he called us. I pleaded with him, ‘Please go back to the temple.’ No matter how strongly we tried to persuade him, he would not listen.
After a lot of argument, I found out why he absolutely refused to return. I was shocked. It turned out that in the base upon which the temple Gohonzon is enshrined, my son discovered golden statues of Amida Buddha and two other Bodhisattvas. Shocked and astonished, my son asked the chief priest why such slanderous objects were placed there. The chief priest replied, ‘The statues have financial value, so leave them where they are.’ My son couldn′t believe what he heard. No matter how valuable they may be, is it correct to place slanderous statues just below the Gohonzon?
He pleaded with the chief priest: ‘I feel sorry for sincere members if we simply leave these statues there. Can you please remove them?’ No matter how much my son begged him to move the statues, the chief priest refused to listen. Anxiety-ridden over the situation, my son left the temple.
No matter what my son said, I continued to scold him and asked him to return to the temple. I was too scared and confused to stand up to the priests.
Even my stepmother, who was close to 80, got down on her knees and cried, ‘If only I could die as a Buddhist apology.’ Because of extreme fatigue and depression, she had to be hospitalized.
I, myself, almost experienced an emotional breakdown. I couldn′t sleep at all. I didn′t know what to think. If my son returns to a layman′s life, I thought, the next seven generations of my family may fall into hell. I held a grudge against my son, but on the other hand, I really felt sorry for him.
Amidst this dilemma, an acolyte in my son′s class at the head temple called my son: I′ll never forget that call. He told my son, ‘You were at the top of the class, but because of you, we all lost face. You should apologize and return to the temple. Otherwise, you should take your own life.’ I shook with anger when I heard this. It was clear that compassion is just a word to Nichiren Shoshu priests.
Finally, one day, despite himself, my husband disowned my son. ‘I′ll never come home again’Êwith these words, my son left home and my heart was shattered to pieces. Even after we disowned our son, we still worried about him and went to visit him many times.
One rainy night, we waited at his place for him to return. When I saw him coming back in the rain, I thought to myself, ‘My son is struggling now to overcome his problems and find himself.’ Reassured that our son was well but struggling hard, my husband and I hardly said a word to each other during the taxi ride home.
My son, who is now a lay believer, is working on a movie set developing film. He works late into the night. Yet, on his own, he graduated from Ritsumeikan University last March. Incidentally, the chief priest, who was in his late 40s, died painfully of leukemia.
We have been taught that the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood is infallible and supreme, and that criticizing priests constitutes Buddhist slander. While reprimanding my son and feeling sorry for him at the same time, we were heavily laden with guilt. I now realize it was very na‰ve of me to be so blindly obedient to the priesthood. I realized my own foolishness and ignorance to respect the clergy because of its position.
In the midst of my painful struggles, what enabled me to make this important realization was President Ikeda′s guidance. Finally, my family and I were able to rid ourselves of our guilty conscience.
If we were never taught how to fight, to call forth our own sense of righteous indignation, under President Ikeda′s leadership, I am sure things would have been hell for us. We would have ended our lives dismally, holding on unwillingly to painful memories.
President Ikeda, thank you very much. Fellow members, thank you very much. With a heartfelt cheer to the Soka Gakkai, I will continue to talk and fight through to create my own drama of personal victory.
The following article, which appeared in the Nov. 18 Seikyo Shimbun, was contributed by Dr. Fumio Tamamuro, professor of business administration at Japan′s Meiji University. He is a leading expert in the Buddhism of Japan′s early modern period, having completed his doctorate in Japanese history at Meiji University in 1965. He has authored many books, including The History of Japanese Buddhism During the Early Modern Period; The System of Religious Control Under the Edo Shogunate; The Separation of Shintoism and Buddhism and Japan′s Spirituality.
For many years, I have been engaged in the study of the Buddhism of Japan′s early modern era. That is, as it existed under the shogunate-dominated system of the Edo period (from the beginning of the 17th through the middle of the 19th century). As a result of my studies, I have come to the conclusion that none of the various sects or schools of Buddhism that existed during that period was able to carry on the original spirit and doctrine of its founder. Rather, these Buddhist sects loomed before the people as a second line of authority in addition to the feudal lords, ignoring the people′s happiness and becoming preoccupied with self-preservation and the administration and finance of temples.
As I watched the current problem between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood unfold, I could not help thinking that it revealed a tendency toward this early-modern-era feudalism within the priesthood.
Buddhism was introduced from China to Japan in the sixth century, some 1,400 years ago. Thus it has been a relatively short time in terms of history since, during the Edo period, a system requiring all Japanese citizens to belong to a specific Buddhist temple was instituted. The formalities associated with ‘Buddhist rites’ such as funerals, and the custom, among the ordinary populace, of erecting tombstones for the deceased, began as well during the Edo period. These practices served the purpose of the shogunate government in that they allowed the daimyo (feudal lords) to rely on priests of Buddhist temples, which were scattered well throughout the cities and villages of the land, to fulfill the function of keeping tabs on the populace and ‘inquisitors’ for exposing Christians.
Until the Middle Ages, the relationship between Buddhist temples and their parishioners was such that ordinary citizens were able to choose or reject a particular faith or temple as they wished. From the early modern period, however, people no longer were free to choose a faith or temple to belong to, but were forced to remain, generation upon generation, with the religion and temple of their ancestors and to fulfill their obligations as parishioners.
The power lay overwhelmingly on the side of the temples and not with the people. Priests expected the laity to do exactly as they were told. The reason for this was that if a believer should be ‘excommunicated’ or expelled from the temple by the chief priest, that person would automatically be assumed to be a Christian. To be a Christian in those days meant that one′s name would not be recorded in the census on what is known as the ‘family register.’ One would thus forfeit one′s credentials as a ‘person’ in Japanese society and be assigned to a segregated underclass. It has become clear that this underclass was composed of people from a great many ‘banned’ religious groups, including Christianity. It has been determined that several tens of thousands of such people existed throughout the country. In terms of social standing and employment opportunity, such people and their descendants have been discriminated against since the Edo period.
The point I am making here is that the priests of Buddhist temples pinned labels on these people and thus doomed them and their descendants to a life of discrimination. In this sense, priests were responsible for creating a segregated underclass, a fact under critical examination by today′s researchers and human rights organizations.
Around the year 1700, a document known as the ‘temple guarantee edict’ was circulated among temples throughout Japan. Though purportedly an official government decree, it was actually forged by the temples themselves. Even today, older temples in Japan are almost certain to have a copy of this document, listing 15 conditions required for the bestowal of ‘temple guarantees,’ verification of individuals′ affiliation with the temple and thus their right to be entered on a ‘family register.’ These guarantees even came to be used as text for students at temple schools (the prevalent mode of education in those days). Thus children were indoctrinated from a young age as to the nature of their religious relationship with the temples. Anyone who violated these provisions was branded as impious and ostracized.
According to the ‘temple guarantee edict,’ even if senior lay representatives were to miss an important ceremony or fail to come to the temple on the anniversary of a deceased ancestor′s passing, then their names could be expunged from the family register. They could then be reported to the authorities as being Christians.
In addition, those who failed to invite priests to family observances, or who did not eagerly come up with excessive donations or offerings, could also be branded as heretics. Thus priests virtually held the power of life and death over parishioners.
The biggest problem with Japan′s temple parish (danka) system was that while parishioners had no choice over which temple they belonged to, the temple could expel or ostracize them at any time. Priests have understood this over many generations.
This feudalistic tendency, which dates from the early modern era of Japanese Buddhism, exists in the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood today. It is evident in their recent actions that infringe upon the human rights of believersÊsuch as their implementing a provision for punishing believers who ‘criticize the chief administrator’ or their effective dismissal of Honorary President Ikeda as chief lay representative, based on the content of an illicit tape. Such actions, which have thus far culminated in their ‘Order for the Soka Gakkai to Disband,’ may be termed manifestations of this feudalistic inclination, which has existed since early modern times and has been extremely difficult to sever.
The ideology that permeated the relationship between the temple and its group of parishioners was one of ‘exploiters and the exploited’Êan ‘ideology of exploitation.’ This is what lies behind the priesthood′s charging, in response to the Gakkai′s expression of opinion, that Soka Gakkai leaders had ‘forgotten their place as lay followers.’
While the temple had long continued to enjoy the freedom to say whatever it pleased, lay parishioners, however, were rarely able to leave the temple, no matter how unreasonably or tyrannically the priest behaved. However the times may change, the priesthood only persists in its anachronistic way of thinking.
When I heard a recording of High Priest Nikken′s words on a recent television program, I felt that he is not essentially a man of religion. In the recording, he yelled, ‘I don′t care if they say they don′t want to practice faith any longer!’ If he really believed in the teachings of the founder, I do not think he could say such a thing. I doubt if he is a religious man at all. The reason I say this is that to be persuasive, one must first explain things with an attitude of humility. I was shocked by his gruff and condescending manner; it was as if one of the Tokugawa shoguns had somehow appeared today, on the brink of the 21st century. This way of dealing with people is no longer effective and is far too crude. Rather then occupy themselves only with self-preservation and the administration and finance of temples, I believe the high priest and those who surround him should undertake to study the teachings of the founder of their school more deeply.
Since the members of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood have proven themselves no longer men of religion, those believers whose faith remains alive must be responsible for deciding the nature of their relationship with them. While the Soka Gakkai is striving to turn the teachings of the founder into a world religion, the priesthood has stopped progressing, clinging to tendencies that date back to the ‘temple guarantee system’ of the Edo period.
I visited Head Temple Taiseki-ji once on a field trip in 1953. I believe the growth and development Nichiren Shoshu has achieved since then are undoubtedly due to the contributions and support of the Soka Gakkai. When I saw an aerial view of the Taiseki-ji grounds on television the other day, I was truly astounded by its magnificence. I cannot image how the temple could sever ties with the Soka Gakkai, to which it owes so much.
The current situation can be seen as one that affects the entire religious community in Japan. As the teachings and spirit of the founder are being inherited and given new life, a reformation to break the old framework of the feudalistic ‘temple parish (danka) system’ and replace it with a new revitalized system is being undertaken. Herein lies one important aspect of the current problem.
Historically speaking, it has always been a characteristic of those who believe in Nichiren′s Buddhism to use obstacles and controversy as springboards for advancement.
Viewed from a long, historical perspective, this problem will serve to leave behind the part that is most pure and polished. Rather, if it does not, the entirety will become defiled and stagnant.
It is important that Soka Gakkai members view this situation as a ‘detonator’ to blast them toward even greater progress and advancement.
While portions of the media are sensationalizing the issue, I hope the Soka Gakkai members will have the spirit to change it into a ‘tailwind’ that propels them forward, and an excellent opportunity to do away with negative influences from the past.