Erroneous Doctrine and Behavior
Nichiren Shoshu has turned formal religious services such as funerals, memorial services, the bestowal of posthumous Buddhist names, and the promotion of toba [memorial tablets] into moneymaking tools. To this end, they have made statements such as “All of the traditions of this school concerning the formalities of memorial services have generally not changed in the least since the time of the Daishonin” to justify their actions.
In reality, however, the Daishonin did not establish the formal religious services conducted by priests today. These were formalized much later on. There is not a single example of the Daishonin leading a funeral service and, while he bestowed Buddhist names upon the living, there is no evidence he ever bestowed a Buddhist name on someone who died. Nor did he erect toba tablets. The priesthood’s statement that these traditions have not changed since the Daishonin’s time is deceptive.
In a Notification of the Excommunication of the Soka Gakkai from Nichiren Shoshu the priesthood stated that these formal religious services are indispensable for attaining Buddhahood. However, this is nowhere to be found in the Daishonin’s writings. If funeral services conducted by priests were essential ceremonies for the attainment of Buddhahood, then it would seem natural that Nichiren Daishonin would have explained their importance. Would he not have given detailed instructions regarding the performance of such ceremonies? There is no indication that he did so. Rather, the Daishonin strongly emphasizes that each individual’s attainment of Buddhahood depends on his or her faith and practice while alive. He writes: Therefore, because your beloved departed father chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo while he was alive, he was a person who attained Buddhahood in his present form, in the same way that stones change into jewels (White Horses and White Swans, WND, 1064) and When he was alive, he was a Buddha in life, and now he is a Buddha in death. He is a Buddha in both life and death. This is what is meant by that most important doctrine called attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form (Hell Is the Land of Tranquil Light, WND, 456).
To ignore these teachings and assert that formal religious services conducted by a priest are indispensable to attaining Buddhahood is a corruption and distortion of Nichiren Buddhism. It is also a self-serving distortion by which the priests aim to keep believers dependent on them to officiate such important transitions in life, thus securing for themselves a formidable source of income.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was dying, he entrusted his funeral arrangements to his lay followers, not to those of his disciples who left secular life to become monks. He emphasized that those choosing to become monks or priests should concentrate on Buddhist practice, and therefore, he forbade them from involvement in such rites or ceremonies, and specified no formalities on how funeral services were to be conducted.
Funeral services conducted among friends in the SGI, therefore, accord with the original spirit of Buddhism and are in complete accord with Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.