Volume 4, No. 1 (Part 2) –
May 16, 1994
By Alain Berger
Sherman Oaks, Calif.
AT the dawn of history, our ancestors would wander across the plains in packs, at the mercy of the elements and of their predators, until one tribe learned to harness the power of fire by gathering the embers from a tree that had been felled by lightning. These embers became their most precious possession and were carefully protected by each succeeding generation.
As long as the flame was kept alive, there was light, warmth, and security. As dusk fell on the plains, the members of the tribe could sit around the glow of the campfire and gaze at each other, and perhaps for the first time the sound of warm laughter, the mark of humanity, could be heard echoing in the night. Snuffing out the fire, however, would mean cold, darkness, and doom. So it was, that the people who kept the flame alive advanced and evolved, and those who lost it retreated into extinction.
It is written in the Gosho that as the Buddha’s disciple were transcribing his teaching, they were unable to restrain their tears: ‘from among those 1000 arhats, the venerable Ananda replied in tears ‘Thus I have heard.’ Thereupon the tears of all others fell, wetting their inkstones, as they wrote myoho-renge-kyo followed by ‘Thus I have Heard.’ I, Nichiren, feel exactly as they did-. I spread this teaching because I too, ‘heard thus.” From the same Gosho: ‘Birds cry but do not shed tears. I, Nichiren, do not cry, but my tears flow ceaselessly. I shed tears not for worldly affairs but solely for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. So surely they must be tears of amrita’ (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 94).
In the core of the Lotus, jewel of sutras, lay the gift of life for humankind. Shakyamuni carried it preciously wrapped in his teachings until the time was right for the Daishonin to crystallize it for us, and despite the efforts of the treacherous Devadatta, whose purpose it was to extinguish the flame of life, Shakyamuni’s great victory culminated in the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
Later on in China the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai revived the scattered embers of the Law into a bright burning flame, secretly wishing he had been born in the time of the Latter Day. Generations later, in Japan, a young priest named Saicho, who was earnestly seeking the way, came upon the writings of T’ien-t’ai. As the Gosho so movingly describes: ‘On his first perusal of them, he felt as though he had been awakened from all the delusions of birth and death’ (MW-4, l99).
With a burning, seeking mind, Saicho (later known as the Great Teacher Dengyo) brought back T’ien-t’ai’s teachings from China and surmounting the inevitable obstacles, revived the flame of the Law and established the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra in Japan through the T’ien-t’ai sect. As the Gosho says however, it is not the enemies from the outside but the parasites from inside its body that destroy the lion king. And sure enough, the third high priest of the sect, Jikaku, played Devadatta and turned the sect away from the correct teachings, thus temporarily extinguishing the flame of the Law.
With the advent of Nichiren Daishonin, the true Buddha, the Law was finally revealed in all its brilliance, for all humanity. What joy! Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the breath of life. It seeps into our lives and revitalizes every cell in our body. It shoots to the core of our being, the depth where dwells the indestructible, eternal essence of our lives, the Buddha nature.
There we can meet each other freely, with no obstructions. There is no black or white, rich or poor. There is no fear. There is just joy and a dazzling brilliance that enables us to frolic freely throughout the Universe. It is this power that manifests in our daily lives in the form of improved circumstances, better relationships and reformation of character. And in time it enables us to truly appreciate the dignity inherent in all living things, to enjoy the richness of the human spirit, and to savor in its fullness the texture of life itself.
How many of us in the SGI have experienced this expansion of our lives? Or perhaps have felt a little bit like the young priest Saicho upon first encountering this practice, as if a veil was slowly lifting from us? I still recall that time 20 years ago, when as a barefoot hippie I rushed back to my hollow home from a meeting I absolutely hated. Yet I could not wait to get on my knees and chant the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to an empty wall, feeling as I did as if the flame of life was being rekindled inside me.
Of course, since the Daishonin’s time the devilish functions have risen like gigantic waves to extinguish the flame of life, like Devadatta skip-hopping over the sea of time, taking at times the form of the authorities, at times that of the priests from within Nichiren Shoshu itself. The Law has endured almost miraculously through the centuries, protected and transmitted like a smoldering ember in a trembling vessel, until the advent of the SGI.
Makiguchi. Toda. Towers of humanity. They seized the ember with their bare hands and turned it into a burning flame. As the devilish functions inevitably arose in the form of the military authorities and the Nichiren Shoshu high priest himself, Makiguchi courageously gave his life to secure the pure flow of the Law, and his disciple Toda, an emaciated figure emerging from jail into a devastated land, used up every ounce of his remaining energy to bring the breath of life to a suffering people.
Now, the world has Ikeda. My mentor. As the Gosho says, one flame can set a whole prairie on fire. Or to change the analogy to water, with the third president of the SGI, the Law has become a rushing river flowing through the lives of the SGI members around the world, bringing hope in Africa, revitalization in Russia, and so forth. It should then be no surprise that the Devil of the Sixth Heaven once again rears its ugly head, now more than ever, to put a stop to this.
The function of Nikken is that of a parasite: to devour the body from within. It is clear that the vessel of the Law is not the priesthood but the life of each individual believer, which pulsates with the benefits of faith and practice. Within the flesh of the common mortal resides the enlightened, eternal life of the Universe, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The harmonious unity of all the believers in their efforts to promote world peace makes up the entity called SGI, which stretches like a web of life around the globe, through which flows the Law. This represents the heritage of the ultimate law of life and is the hope for the next evolutionary phase of the human race.
Since each member’s life is the vessel of the Law, the function of the parasite that seeks to destroy the Law is to sow the seeds of confusion in the minds of the members and lead them astray from the correct practice of faith. The Daishonin, President Ikeda and the SGI say, ‘You are all Buddhas, the Gohonzon is inside you, you are worthy of the highest respect-‘ while Nikken is saying ‘Do not seek benefits, seek formality; you can only find enlightenment through coming to me and Taiseki-ji.’ The SGI represents expansion, self liberation, brightness and warmth. The Nikken sect, contraction, repression, darkness and cold.
The fundamental darkness that has become manifest in the form of the Nikken sect is the same devilish function that exists within our lives. It is the voice inside that tells us we are not good enough, or that we will never make it. It is the darkness, as the Gosho says, that turns loved ones into shackles that bind us, and sovereigns (our bosses for example) into nets that cover the sky. It is the devil that drains vitality from human life. It makes enemies out of neighbors and blocks our life from exploding into full bloom.
In a sense we are very fortunate. Precisely because the fundamental darkness has manifested itself so clearly, now is the best possible time for us to defeat our own devils and weaknesses. I firmly believe that taking a strong stand toward the Nikken sect will enable us to clearly see and overcome the obstacles in our lives that are sources of setbacks, sufferings and confusion; to sever so called delusions and karmic impediments, and to become Buddhas. I am not talking about blindly taking sides and shouting all kinds of epithets. In the Gosho, which by the way says ‘Again, the point is not who preaches a doctrine, but whether it accords with truth’ (MW-4, 59) and in President Ikeda’s writings one can find clear answers to the questions concerning the so called temple issue.
By studying, chanting, and encouraging one another, as well as speaking out for the sake of the Law, we can at this time unfurl the banners of our personal victories and together take a glorious step toward the greatest victory of all, the happiness of all people.
By Sari Wilde
El Cerrito, Calif.
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
– from ‘The Hollow Men’ by T. S. Eliot
CYBERSPACE had crackled for days with a lively dialogue on the priesthood issue. Discussion had ensued when one member among a group of SGI members connected nationally and internationally via computer had expressed his frustration with the issue concluding that ‘in the end, this is a free country and they [danto] have as much right to practice their religion as we do ours.’
Opinions and experiences flew back and forth as members began opening up and expressing themselves. ‘What I have sensed lately is falling into the trap of not caring because we are so distant from the issue.’ ‘Hating Nikken is not going to solve the situation. Building ever stronger lives based on the Gohonzon will.’ ‘I received a post today from a danto member explaining to me that my current health problems-and job crisis-were due to my incorrect practice and affiliation with the SGI.’
Unexpectedly, an issue labeled ‘Ethical Dilemma’ arose. A member who is a pediatrician had encountered malpractice by a well-known physician in her environment. ‘How do I approach this from a Buddhist perspective? Children’s lives are at stake.’ Among the many replies, mine addressed a point regarding two non-Buddhist colleagues who had urged her to say nothing: ‘You fight a great devil – the tendency all people-possess to remain silent and do nothing either from cowardice, fear, and/or negligence toward life-.’
I had pointed out that the lack of resistance to Hitler’s consolidation of power and implementation of initial measures to segregate Jews ultimately enabled the Final Solution. General world sentiment acknowledged but reacted passively to the terrible evil emerging and ultimately failed to initiate positive action by expediting massive Jewish emigration from Germany during the mid-thirties.
Juxtaposition of the two dialogues created questions in my mind. A disturbing observation has been made of the 30s: ‘For it is not-through ignorance that the democracies had become entangled in Hitler’s nets. They had known, but they had refused to believe.”1 I wondered. Was indifference and a laissez-faire attitude toward the priesthood issue our refusal ‘to believe?’ What actions constituted appropriate and just ones for us now?
Perhaps understanding the roots to the silence and passivity that resulted in the murder of 6 million ‘unarmed and innocent Jewish…men, women, children, and babies’2 and that grew from preceding centuries could clarify the action necessary now on our part as disciples of Nichiren Daishonin.
Before World War I, Western societal perspectives derived from rationalism and materialism. Eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which ‘made a virtue of skepticism and free-thinking’3 fathered rationalism. Reason united with the exploration of physical phenomena and produced increasing dominion over nature and material progress for humankind; subsequently, the late 19th century underwent technological explosions in steelmaking, chemical industries and application of electricity.4 ‘Man had overthrown the domination of nature and made himself her master; he had overthrown the domination of the Church and the domination of the absolutist state.’5
Confidence in the rational mind, faith in science and material progress, and power derived from political freedom imploded ‘when the slaughter across Europe ceased after 11:00 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, and peace returned to the world….’6 The mind that had derived new insights for the chemical industries grappled with the devastation unleashed by gas poisonings. Orderly, rationally driven life had become a nightmare of mass killing driven by war’s own imperative: ‘World War I appeared to evolve a dynamism of its own, sweeping away the judgment of the decision-makers as well as the lives of troops sacrificed in vain infantry attacks….’7 Rational man confronted his own powerlessness.
The 20th century has been defined by Western humankind’s loss of
power and self (alienation) painstakingly elucidated by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. He contends that our reliance on reason since the Reformation and Renaissance coupled with the overthrow of religious and secular authorities and coronation of capitalism has created an illusion of freedom.
Freedom has a twofold meaning for modern man: that he has been freed from traditional authorities and has become an ‘individual,’ but that at the same time he has become isolated, powerless, and an instrument of purposes outside of himself, alienated from himself and others; furthermore, that this state undermines his self, weakens and frightens him, and makes him ready for submission to new kinds of bondage.8
Humankind has lost ‘relatedness’ to other human beings and nature.9 ‘A spirit of manipulation and instrumentality”10 defines our relationships, and we define worth by material and financial profitability. ‘If the individual fails in a profitable investment of himself, he feels that he is a failure; if he succeeds, he is a success.’ 11
The isolation from the self engenders numerous avenues of escape: addictions; power, money, and fame; lust; compulsive conforming; and authoritarianism.12 Fromm defines compulsive conforming as becoming an automaton who ‘thinks, feels, and wills what he believes he is supposed to think, feel, and will….”13 Mr. Ikeda has recently discussed this very illusion of freedom in an address at the University of Shenzhen:
An abstract freedom that is applied universally is a phantom, and if you were to try to make it real by force, anomalies would sooner or later manifest themselves and the human scale would be violated.14
He continued by examining the Chinese characters for person and humanity concluding that they denote a concept of the individual never isolated or alone. ‘In this organic view of humanity, there is nothing among all the phenomena of the universe that is not related to humankind.”15
The automaton who has no ‘relatedness’ to the world cannot ‘hear’ himself: his dried voice whispers like the wind in dry grass. Fromm asserts that ‘to the degree to which a person conforms he cannot hear the voice of his conscience, much less act upon it. Conscience exists only when man experiences himself as man, not as a thing, as a commodity.’16 The person filled with his own humanity roars like a lion because, as Mr. Ikeda continues, he experiences life in ‘relatedness’ to others:
In other words, all things are measured in terms of humanity. Science exists to serve humanity; government serves humanity; economics and ideology serve humanity. The human scale is used to measure the meaning…of all phenomena.l7
The automaton living with no ‘relatedness’ frantically seeks connections with others submitting to ‘new kinds of bondage’ to overcome his alienation from himself and fellow human beings. ‘Religion and nationalism, as well as any custom and any belief however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.’l8
Refuges opened very shortly after World War I as the men with black and brown shirts ‘booted and belted, marched past, or goose stepped to the measured beat and sound of warrior songs.”l9 The anomaly began appearing, and the human scale was violated.
Nazism first spread between 1920-23 and began a ‘systematic dehumanization process [with] a deliberate indoctrination campaign of vilification of the Jew portraying them as evil, degenerate, and dangerous subhuman creatures….’20 Synagogues and books burned. Jews were driven from their professions and occupations, arrested, segregated and economically crushed. The hollow men burned 191 synagogues, destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, and arrested 26,000 Jews during Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) in 1938.
The human scale had long disappeared when the Nazis formed ghettos for slave labor and extermination through starvation and epidemics. How carefully the Nazis excluded every tree and free open space from the Warsaw Ghetto; ‘owners of the few rare trees charged a fee for the right to sit beneath them.”2l The automaton scale produced the hideous deaths seen on Warsaw streets: Mary Berg wrote in her diary of ”countless children, whose parents have perished, sitting in the streets. Their poor little bodies are frightfully thin, their bones stick out of a yellow skin that looks like parchment….”22 Finally, the world utterly devoid of conscience where humanity evaporated in smoke:
Mothers with babies at their breasts, naked; lots of children of all ages, naked, too; they hesitate, but they enter the gas chambers-chased by the whips of the SS men-. After thirty-two minutes, they were all dead-standing like stone statutes, there having been no room for them to fall or bend over. Though dead, the families could still be recognized, their hands still clasped.23
These images horrify and sadden us with their gripping pictorial information. However, the eyes need a greater depth of vision in order to see genocide that destroys a spiritual heritage alone, for spiritual genocide cannot be seen through pictorial images but through intent and words. Through ‘Order for the Soka Gakkai to Disband’ and ‘Notice of Excommunication,’ the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood led by Nikken Abe has attempted to eliminate the largest lay organization to practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism on earth.
Their words in the notice reveal an autocratic will to dominate: ‘There is no doubt that the Soka Gakkai has exhibited extreme and unmistakable disobedience and at the present time is violating the traditional doctrines of this sect.’24 ‘The high priest is the ‘Treasure of the Priesthood’ and correct faith means following this high priest joyfully and without question.’25 ‘Accordingly, in terms of personal practice and the worldwide propagation of the faith, the priests and lay members of this sect must carefully now follow the instruction of the High Priest.’26 In a letter dated Dec. 29, 1990, the priest Fujimoto, responding to nine questions submitted by the Soka Gakkai, writes: ‘In short, whenever the Soka Gakkai leaders make an issue of what the high priest has said, it means that, in the depths of their hearts, they despise and look down on the high priest. It indicates they have no faith-.’27
Faith as now defined by the priesthood means unquestioning obedience and adherence to Mr. Abe’s thoughts and instructions. Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism becomes a doctrine capable of interpretation by only one individual, Nikken Abe, although Nichiren Daishonin himself wrote copiously to lay believers fully trusting them to understand his instruction concerning Buddhism and their daily lives. The fact that Mr. Abe denies this Buddhism’s accessibility to each human being represents a spiritual holocaust.
We stand at a precipice just as the Jews did in the early 30s. Rabbi Joachim Prinz counseled his congregation to leave Germany despite their feelings that Hitler represented a passing episode in German life.
Some people believe time stands still Many of you really do not know what the time is now. Many of you live as though nothing was happening. But I am telling you the time is midnight. It depends upon you to understand it, look at the clock and understand what it really means. At midnight people should pack up and go, for it may very well be that they will have no opportunity whatsoever to look at the clock again.28
The time is midnight for Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. We won’t pack and leave, but we need concerted action.
As Buddhists, a united, soaring volume of daimoku chanted for the preservation of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching must be at the core of our own personal daimoku. Mr. Abe’s sect misguides and imprisons humankind by distorting this teaching; we must utterly defeat this denigration of the Daishonin’s Buddhism. Our hearts must infinitely grow and expand to embrace every danto member we encounter. If we don’t know any danto members, let’s participate in activities which support the movement to help wake them up. We must study and examine every issue and point in this dispute until we feel fully satisfied. Lastly, we must remind ourselves of the wonder and rarity that we chant Nam-myoho renge kyo together and treat one another accordingly.
Our efforts will preserve and further this great religion. Mr. Ikeda has said: ‘We are now on the verge of the time when the sun [of the Daishonin’s Buddhism] will at last begin its genuine ascent. It is imperative that – for the sake of the people, together with the people, and with the power of the people – we seize the victory of true peace and happiness.’29 Where else will humankind learn through their hearts and not reason that they and their fellow human beings make the measure – the scale – to weigh life’s value? Who else will teach conscience or, as Albert Schweitzer urged, ‘reverence for all that is called life’?
I cannot but have reverence for all that is called life. I cannot avoid compassion for everything that is called life. That is the beginning and foundation of morality. Once a man has experienced it and continues to do so…he is ethical. He carries his morality within him and can never lose it, for it continues to develop within him.30
Western humankind cries out of their loneliness and isolation for a life in which they can escape their hollowness inside and each one become part of a process ‘of being born as long as he is alive, and consider the gift of life the most precious chance he has.”31 As the sun ascends and the Daughter of Elysium visits humankind, let’s unite together and remind one another of these words from ‘Ode to Joy’:
Joy, thou spark from flame immortal
Daughter of Elysium!…
Let thy magic bring together
All whom earth-born laws divide.
All mankind shall be as brothers
‘Neath their tender wings and wide.
1. Robert Rothschild, Peace for Our Time (Brassey’s Defence Publishers, England, 1982), p.
2. Hehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust (Franklin Watts, New York, 1982), p. 204.
3. Alan Cassels, Fascism (Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, 1975), p. 18.
4. Ibid., p. 1.
5. Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (Avon Books, New York, 1965), p. 18.
6. Keith Eubank, ed., The Origins of World War ll, 2nd ed. (Harland Davidson, Inc., Arlington Heights, IL, 1969), p. 1.
7. Cassels, p. 13.
8. Fromm, pp. 295-6.
9. Ibid., p. 280.
10. Ibid., p. 139.
11. Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1960), p. 142.
12. Fromm, Escape, p. 223 and 284.
13. Ibid., p. 280.
14. ‘Building a New World System Based on Humanity,’ World Tribune (March 7, 1994), p. 4.
16. Fromm, Society, p. 173.
17. ‘Building a New World,’ op. cit.
18. Fromm, Escape, p. 35.
19. Rothschild, p. 29.
20. Shamai Davidson, Holding onto Humanity – The Message of Holocaust Survivors (New York University Press, New York, 1992), p. 34.
21. LÃon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate (Elek Books, London, 1956), p. 87.
22. Ibid., p. 96.
23. Azriel Eisenberg, Witness to the Holocaust (The Pilgrim Press, New York, 1981), p. 251.
24. ‘Notification of Expulsion of the Soka Gakkai from Nichiren Shoshu,’ The SGI-USA Newsletter (January 27,1992), p. 2.
25. ‘Q & A on the Priesthood Issue,’ World Tribune (December 9, 1991), p. 6.
26. ‘Notification,’ op. cit.
27. ‘Q & A Regarding Priesthood-Laity Relations,’ World Tribune (February 25, 1991), p. 6
28. Eisenberg, p. 97.
29. Soka Gakkai International Headquarters, Issues Between the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai, Vol. 3 (The Soka Gakkai International, U.S.A.), p. 16.
30. Albert Schweitzer, Reverence for Life, trans. Reginald H. Fuller (Harper & Row, New York, 1966), p. 1 16.
31. Fromm, Society, p. 275.