The Soka Gakkai, the Body of Believers Dedicated to Kosen-rufu
After the time of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin, up until the emergence of the Soka Gakkai in the twentieth century, the Daishonin’s Buddhism had barely spread. Nichiren Shoshu was, among Japanese Buddhist schools, a relatively small religious group, possessing approximately forty temples. Internally, it had become stagnant and corrupt, torn by intensifying factional fighting, and had lost sight of Nichiren Daishonin’s spirit.
While the priesthood leaned completely toward a discriminatory view of laity, a doctrine that emphasized their own authority, and an excessive emphasis on ceremonies and formality, the Soka Gakkai grew and advanced, inspired by direct faith in the Daishonin’s teachings and his spirit. The Soka Gakkai proceeded to spread the teachings with the conviction that Buddhism could not be separated from the lives of individuals and society. From the beginning, rather than simply serving as a parish organization of Nichiren Shoshu and submitting itself only to the guidance and instructions of the priests at branch temples, the Soka Gakkai was a spiritually independent group that also managed its own affairs.
During World War II, the Japan- ese militarist government tried to compel the citizenry to worship a talisman of the Shinto Sun God- dess. The government had estab- lished Shinto as the state religion in order to foster spiritual unity and support for its nationalistic war effort.
The Soka Gakkai, however, based upon the Daishonin’s spirit and guidance to strictly admonish religious error and refute the slander of Buddhism, refused to accept this talisman. The priesthood, fearing government oppression stemming from its association with the Soka Gakkai, appealed unsuccessfully to the Gakkai to accept the talisman.
In addition to its posture regarding the Shinto talisman, the priesthood issued an order prohibiting publication of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, and subsequently removed some fourteen passages it felt conflicted with state Shinto. One statement removed was, Nichiren is the foremost sage in all Jambudvipa [the entire world] (A Sage Perceives the Three Existences of Life, WND, 642). The Shinto religion held that the emperor was divine, regarding him as a living god, and that he was the only person to be revered in the nation. The priesthood was apparently afraid that any statement in the Daishonin’s writings in which he described his own role or mission as being foremost to Japan’s peace and prosperity might be regarded by the government as demeaning the role of the Emperor or the Shinto gods. Nichiren Shoshu also amended the silent prayers to be read during the sutra recitation in a manner that praised Shinto deities and the Emperor.
First Soka Gakkai President Makiguchi, unde- terred and unbowed by rigid controls on thought imposed by the Japanese govern- ment, continued to attend discussion meetings and promote the propagation of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, developing the Soka Gakkai into an organization of some 3,000 households. These efforts led to the govern- ment arresting all top leaders of the Soka Gakkai, including Mr. Makiguchi. Unfortu- nately, President Makiguchi would later die in prison.
After the war, though the organization had sustained a considerable setback, Josei Toda undertook the Soka Gakkai’s reconstruction and was responsible for accomplishing remarkable, dynamic growth. In August 1952, the Soka Gakkai was officially recognized as a religious corporation and thereafter Presi- dent Toda went on to build a foundation for the spread of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings in Japan, fulfilling his lifetime vow to achieve a membership of 750,000 households. No one had ever accomplished the propagation of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings on this scale in the 700-year history of Nichiren Buddhism.
Through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai, Nichijun, the 65th high priest of Taiseki-ji, defined 1952 as a significant point in the history of the widespread propagation of the Daishonin’s Buddhism. He stated that the time leading up to 1952 should be known as the era of protecting and upholding the Daishonin’s teachings by the priesthood, and that the era from 1952 on would be known as the era of ransmitting and spreading the teachings through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai.
Nichiren Daishonin stated, India is known as the Land of the Moon and this name indicates that it is from there that Buddhism spread; and Japan is known as the Land of the Sun, or the place where sages appear. The moon emerges in the west and moves toward the east [in its lunar orbit] just as the Buddhism of India, the Land of the Moon, spread to the East. The sun emerges in the east; this is symbolic of the fact that the Buddhism of Japan will return [Westward] to India, the Land of the Moon. The moon was not very bright, and it existed in this world for only eight years [the time it took for Shakyamuni to preach the Lotus Sutra]. The brilliance of the sun, however, far surpasses that of the moon and will illuminate the long darkness of the fifth five-hundred year period since the Buddha’s passing (Gosho Zenshu, p. 588). Thus, Nichiren Daishonin declared that in the Latter Day of the Law a new Buddhism would spread throughout Jambudvipa, or the entire world. This prediction is being realized by the Soka Gakkai, which has emerged to shoulder the mission to spread of the Daishonin’s teachings.