Soka Spirit
4. 'My Thoughts on Leaving Nichiren Shoshu,' by Bando Sato

Bando Sato’s letter to Nikken:

On Sept. 9, 1999, Bando Sato, chief priest of Daien-ji temple in Kanagawa, Japan, announced that his temple had left Nichiren Shoshu. Here is a complete translation of his letter to Nikken:

To Mr. Nikken Abe High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu:

The Daishonin, founder of this school, states in The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra: “Even if my counsel is heeded, if I am not given due respect as the votary of the Lotus Sutra, then the country will perish. How ominous that the authorities have turned hundreds of persons against me and have even banished me twice! This country is surely doomed, but since I have asked the gods to withhold their punishment on our land, it has survived until now. However, that punishment has finally descended because these unreasonable actions continued. And if my counsel is not heeded on this occasion, the gods will cause the Mongol empire to send its forces to destroy Japan” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 773).

Respecting the Daishonin as the true Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law is the basis of this school’s creed and its sense of justice. However, it has become clear that you, the high priest, have committed grave slander, asserting that the Dai-Gohonzon, whose inscription constitutes the ultimate purpose of the Daishonin’s advent in this world, is a forgery. Nothing could be more disrespectful toward the Daishonin than this. It is certain that Nichiren Shoshu will continue to decline and eventually perish if such an exceptionally arrogant person remains its high priest.

Daien-ji is a temple that I take care of for the sake of kosen-rufu on the Daishonin’s behalf. However, as long as we must obediently follow you and the current priesthood, we will unable to carry out the true teachings of the Daishonin and Nikko Shonin or maintain a joyful, vibrant faith directed toward kosen-rufu. If we maintain our ties with your sect, we will only wind up committing grave slander ourselves. In this vein, I am now convinced that parting with Nichiren Shoshu is the true way of the Buddha’s disciples. With this resolution to leave Nichiren Shoshu, I share my current thoughts with you:

The decisive factor that convinced me that you are not qualified to be chief administrator of Nichiren Shoshu is the recent leak of the so-called Kawabe Memo, which proves that you asserted the Dai-Gohonzon, this school’s most essential object of devotion, is counterfeit.

Shocking indeed were the contents of this Memo, as reported in the July 7 Domei Tsushin (Association Newsletter) a publication of the Association of Priests Concerned About Nichiren Shoshu and Dedicated to Protecting the Law, a group of reformist priests. According to this memo, in a private meeting with Reverend Jitoku Kawabe at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel on Feb. 7, 1978, when you were Study Department leader of Nichiren Shoshu, you expressed your erroneous view that the Dai-Gohonzon is a forgery. Kawabe’s notes include explicit statements from you that betray the orthodoxy of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, such as, I found this out [that the Dai-Gohonzon is counterfeit] through various forms of analysis such as examining the brush strokes of the Chinese characters and Somebody copied onto the Dai-Gohonzon the daimoku and seal part of a Gohonzon conferred upon Nichizen that was transferred from Hodo’in temple to the head temple.

When I heard this, I could not believe it. My initial reaction was to wish that the memo was untrue, although upon seeing it I trusted that Reverend Kawabe actually wrote it.

The way in which you and the Administrative Office handled this matter crushed what little hope I had for the future of this school. Pressed by the seriousness of the matter, the Administrative Office hurriedly issued two notices — neither of which was effective in clearing up our doubts. These notices only lent further proof that there indeed had been an appalling conversation about the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism between you and Reverend Kawabe.

Either you or Reverend Kawabe is now obviously lying. Ironically, a second Kawabe Memo was leaked, in which Reverend Kawabe had jotted down his options for coping with the leaking of the initial memo. In it he reveals that one of his options is to do what I think is right, even if it means quitting the priesthood. The second memo eloquently displays how confident Reverend Kawabe was in the accuracy of the first memo’s content.

All of this notwithstanding, I went to the head temple to attend the teachers seminar slated for Aug. 26–27, with some hope remaining that you would offer a convincing explanation of what had happened. All the priests present were eagerly looking forward to hearing something from you on the matter.

However, neither you nor the executive priests of the Administrative Office addressed the issue at all. You merely focused on something completely unrelated, greatly playing up some new development in the Seattle Incident trial.

Obviously, what you were attempting to do was shift people’s attention somewhere else. This made me feel that you are intolerably irresponsible and self-righteous. Many of our seniors and fellow priests were disappointed and some were even angry. A number of them are closing their hearts to you due to your deep-seated hypocrisy.

In the final analysis, that you chose to remain silent, offering no explanation, proved to me that you know that the Kawabe Memo is true. It is now proven that you are a man of grave slander who has advocated that the Dai-Gohonzon is counterfeit.

The Dai-Gohonzon is the source of this school’s faith. It is the foundation of its creed. The heritage of the Law that is transferred from one high priest to another boils down to the Dai-Gohonzon. It is clear that the Fuji school’s pure current of faith no longer flows in your life. You never placed your faith in the foundation of our creed and once denied it. That you assert the Dai-Gohonzon is a forgery means that you are fraudulently holding the office of high priest. What value does Nichiren Shoshu continue to hold, if its high priest denies the Dai-Gohonzon? Nichiren Shoshu then has nothing more to offer the people.

I became a priest of Nichiren Shoshu in 1978, at age 18. I became a priest because I wanted to save as many people as possible with the great beneficial power of the Dai-Gohonzon. I wanted to help people embrace the True Law. However, I am now confronted with an unheard of situation: Nichiren Shoshu’s high priest denies the Dai-Gohonzon.
Should I continue to follow the high priest with absolute faith in him? Or should I part with the current Nichiren Shoshu? The choice is now crystal clear to me.

Nikko Shonin states in his Twenty-six Admonitions, Do not follow even the high priest if he goes against the Buddha’s law and propounds his own views (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1618).

And the Daishonin states, One should abandon even one’s teacher if he or she is misguided (WND, 747).

High Priest Nikken, you gave me special favors when I was assigned to the Students’ Department. You also favored me by appointing me the first chief priest of Daien-ji temple. And I still remember the many considerations you have extended to me over the years.

However, the primary thing I have to do as a priest of Nichiren Shoshu is to follow the Daishonin’s and Nikko Shonin’s teachings. If I continue to follow you, it would be a path of hypocrisy. My way of repaying my debt of gratitude to you is to pursue the correct way taught by the Daishonin and Nikko Shonin — to right the wrongs of High Priest Nikken, who has no faith and has committed grave slander. With this belief, I have resolved to free Daien-ji from Nichiren Shoshu. It is my determination to save all of Daien-ji’s 500 believers from your misguided ways.

Furthermore, how you dealt with Reverend Kawabe, whom you forced to apologize about this matter in the official Nichiren Shoshu notices after the first memo leaked, is a problem. In these notices, you made him say that it was all a mistake in my note-taking, and that he defamed the dignity of the Dai-Gohonzon. Hence, I expected that you would deal him a considerable demotion or something like that. What actually happened, though, was this: After a long closed-door session with General Administrator Fujimoto, General Affairs Department Chief Hayase and Reverend Kawabe, you decided to give Reverend Kawabe a substantial promotion. He moved to Daigan-ji temple in Tokyo from Nissho-ji temple in Sapporo at the end of September this year.

Daigan-ji is situated in a prime location of Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward. Its former chief priest, General Affairs Department Chief Hayase, built extravagant lodging quarters there for himself and his family. Moreover, it is rumored that Reverend Kawabe’s son, Shoshin, will be transferred, in another promotion for the family, to this temple as the senior Kawabe’s assistant chief priest. For such a young priest to be transferred to a temple in Tokyo is truly unprecedented. Although Nissho-ji is above Daigan-ji in ranking among the branch temples, everyone knows that a transfer from Sapporo to a temple in the center of Tokyo is in reality a promotion.
Again, if the two notices issued by the Administrative Office are true, Reverend Kawabe should have been given a severe reprimand, in the form being transferred back to the head temple with no branch temple assignment. This did not happen. This suspicious promotion of Reverend Kawabe clearly shows that what he wrote in his memos was true: You harbored an appalling notion that no other high priest has ever had.

Justice has been lost in the current Nichiren Shoshu, which is now blindly committed to covering each and every mistake made by the high priest, including spreading lies in official Administrative Office notices, remaining silent before a meeting of senior priests and manipulating personnel matters to appease Reverend Kawabe. You are now at his mercy; he knows your points of weakness, including your past assertion against the authenticity of the Dai-Gohonzon. Nothing is more condescending toward the people of this school than the manner in which you have handled this issue.

A number of priests, including the Reverends Homyo Yamamoto, Kido Fukuda and Kashiwazaki have been demoted this year because of personal reports to the head temple by Hokkeko members.

But what of Reverend Kawabe? After rocking all of Nichiren Shoshu by spreading the notion that the high priest entertains doubts about the Dai-Gohonzon, he was apparently treated to what amounts to a promotion. It is said that some 120 or 130 priests have thus far written memos of apology in response to complaints from Hokkeko members. Nichiren Shoshu should be an organization where mutual encouragement and profound compassion are commonplace. But nowadays Nichiren Shoshu has become a cold-hearted sect where backbiting and purges abound. This solely stems from your self-righteous and perverse nature.

Now that the Kawabe Memo has revealed the true nature of your faith and character, all the doubts I have had about you have been confirmed.
Another questionable matter that you need to clarify is the issue of your alleged heritage. It is now clear from the fact that you were vehemently criticizing High Priest Nittatsu on Feb. 7, 1978 [also detailed in the Kawabe Memo], that you could not have received any heritage of the Law from him. You have asserted that you received the heritage from him on April 15—just two months after you had this private meeting with Reverend Kawabe. In no way could High Priest Nittatsu have transferred the heritage of Buddhism to a person like you, who lacked any intention to support his mentor.

Another thing that has been bothering me is the fact that ever since you took office, you have continued to destroy those structures that were dear to the former high priest. Nothing is as heartbreaking as seeing the destruction of the Grand Main Temple (Sho-Hondo), the Grand Reception Hall, the Six-Compartment Lodging and the Daike-jo Temple, as well as the cutting down of camphor woods and cherry trees in the general lodging area. What enabled you to do this so easily is that your heart is devoid of any appreciation for High Priest Nittatsu. The Grand Main Temple, in particular, was a culmination of all the former high priest’s accomplishments. Yet, having already asserted that the Dai-Gohonzon is counterfeit, it must have been quite easy for you to deny your own praise of the Grand Main Temple as Study Department chief, and destroy this structure that housed the Dai-Gohonzon.

Also, I wish to cite one last example of your error: the excommunication of the Soka Gakkai. You were able to excommunicate the Soka Gakkai so mercilessly because you had put yourself in the center of everything, instead of basing yourself upon the Dai-Gohonzon. You could not have cut off the Soka Gakkai if you had really been aware of how difficult and important it is to convert even one person to the Daishonin’s Buddhism and nurture his or her faith.

In any case, Nichiren Shoshu under your leadership — the leadership of someone who, at the fundamental level, has no faith in the Dai-Gohonzon — has become an organization that now thrusts goals upon its believers. The 300,000-participant pilgrimage slated for 2002 is not geared toward helping believers develop their faith. It is aimed only at satisfying your ego and enhancing the prosperity of your family and relatives. You have said that this pilgrimage is based on an order from the Daishonin himself. But using his name in such a self-serving manner exactly constitutes failure to pay him due respect.

Also, no one in the school voiced a request for the building of a new structure like the planned Hoando. Your desire to build it one meter higher than the Grand Main Temple can only be called childish. You destroyed the Grand Main Temple, and now plan to collect $150 million more from believers supposedly to replace it with Hoando, this is really for no other purpose but to feed your own ego.

The Daishonin states: Buddhism is like the body, and society like the shadow. When the body bends, so does the shadow (WND, 1039). It is clear that Nichiren Shoshu’s current incorrigible distortions are grounded in the abnormality of a high priest who, on the deepest level, has no faith.
Daien-ji was completed as the 10th of the 200 temples whose construction was initiated by Soka Gakkai Honorary President Ikeda. Daien-ji’s construction was supported by the sincere donations of Soka Gakkai members in the Yamato area of Kanagawa Prefecture. It was to serve their activities for kosen-rufu. And I believe that this temple should be returned to those members who made donations for its construction, so that they can use it freely for its original purpose. This is how I feel about this temple. Returning it to them is the right thing to do.

I hereby declare that Daien-ji will sever ties with Nichiren Shoshu. I also strongly request that you, High Priest Nikken, who is lacking in faith to the point where you have denied the Dai-Gohonzon, resign as soon as possible.

Bando Sato
Chief Priest of Daien-ji temple
Sept. 9, 1999

(Previously published in The Justice Chronicle, Oct. 1, 1999)