I Wanted to Yell "Run!"
This is my personal experience with the Temple Issue. When the split first happened, I really struggled with the issue. I felt that SGI was acting cynically and making changes that served to their own advantage. Maybe the temple was too. On the other hand, I had many good connections in SGI, so I decided to keep an open mind. I would often go to the temple on Saturdays to do morning gongyo and chant daimoku with the priest because I enjoyed the calm atmosphere.
A couple of years ago, I ran into an old friend and former roommate who was a temple member. He told me that there was a new priest now, Rev. Kawabe, and that I should come to hear him speak. I did, and I was initially impressed with him. He did speak some English and he said he disliked needless formality. He told the lay members that it was unnecessary to stand when he entered or left the sanctuary.
The next time I saw him was at the annual ceremony for Nichiren Daishonin's birthday. The priest spoke about SGI being like a colorless, odorless poison that you might not initially notice. He said that eventually "this poison might penetrate" your life.
I attended other ceremonies to see if this pattern would continue. Over the course of a year, I witnessed the priest's growing control over the members. Kawabe soon dictated every detail of their practice. He instructed them in detail on how to conduct group meetings: To chant daimoku for no less than 10 minutes or more than 20 minutes, to never debate doctrine, to only discuss articles from temple publications. Kawabe also said to never invite SGI members to meetings where guests will be present.
Temple members were told that one should not chant with any expectation of specific benefit, but just chant to purify their lives and make good causes. The priests promoted the idea that a lay member's connection is to their "Direct Master" (the local Chief Priest), and that visiting the local temple is the same as visiting the Head Temple. Serving the priest and attending temple ceremonies were necessary for attaining enlightenment.
The temple members seemed to have lost any real enthusiasm. They were passive and quiet at the temple. Being there was like being at church! They never talked about how their individual lives were improving. Most reports from lay members at meetings focused on how they were trying to follow the guidance of the local priest and the High Priest (who was called "the Living Master").
In November 1997, I witnessed Rev. Kawabe saying that NST was giving SGI members one last chance to come back to the temple. And he cautioned the temple members that, after the first of the year, the SGI members' Gohonzon would no longer work. This would be because they would be cut off from the Law. It was explained that there was a hierarchy about connecting to the Law that had a "tree" structure. The Dai-Gohonzon is the root; the High Priest is the trunk; the local temple and the local priest constitute the branches; and the individual lay members are the leaves.
This sounded really strange to me because I knew the Gosho said that a person inherits the Law by faith alone. The Gosho never mentioned the necessity of a priest interceding for you. But Rev. Kawabe never mentioned the necessity of an individual's faith.
Then he said that SGI members would be cut off from this lineage when they were excommunicated on December 31, 1997. Temple members were told to never chant to an SGI member's Gohonzon, no matter which High Priest had transcribed it.
Being at the temple was like being in some kind of parallel universe where High Priest Nikken was totally good, and President Ikeda and SGI were bad. I even heard some temple members speculating that the SGI-issued omomari Gohonzon were really just tiny pictures of President Ikeda. Many times, when I heard some of the conversation there, I wanted to say to the temple members, "How can you possibly believe this?" or "Run! Get out while you can!"
In June 1998, at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in downtown DC, there was a lightning strike and a woman was injured. This happened while SGI member Herbie Hancock was performing. Kawabe told temple members that the concert was sponsored by SGI (it wasn't!) and that the reason for the lightning strike was that SGI was no longer doing shakubuku.
Kawabe also changed some procedures at the temple regarding ceremonies and meetings. Most of them had been held on Sunday mornings at 10 AM and included a full morning gongyo. He changed the times to 11 AM and included only a ceremonial (A&C) gongyo. According to Kawabe, the local temple should always strive to closely match the way things were done at Taisekiji. He also said that one's regular gongyo was for one's own enlightenment, but ceremonial gongyos were to repay one's debt of gratitude to Nichiren Daishonin. Personally, I had never heard of Nichiren Daishonin demanding that someone do gongyo for him!
These decisions caused grumbling among members, because it was such an arbitrary decision, made without any consideration for the members. Myosenji Temple is responsible for a huge area, from Pennsylvania all the way down to the Southern tip of Florida. Some members drove for many hours to come to a ceremony. Kawabe's decision meant that they would have to do morning gongyo at home or in the car.
When the priest heard of the dissatisfaction with his decision, his sermons began to focus on the growing dissension. He threatened that he had the power to banish dissenters from the temple for 30 days, so that the person could chant alone at home. No lay members could communicate with the banished person during that period. Dissension quieted after that.
On the whole, the meetings at the temple became a boring litany of SGI-bashing, plus lectures and articles being reading aloud from magazines. There was still an opportunity to chant plenty of daimoku at the temple (which is what I enjoyed), but the negativity became overwhelming.
At New Year's gongyo this year, a very serious attitude about shakabuku was in evidence. A goal was announced which is considerably higher than last year's goal of forty. The temple is now holding two introductory meetings a month, and they have created a series of three introductory pamphlets for new people. They also chant an hour of daimoku every single day, always led by the Chief Priest or Assistant Priest.
The reason behind their campaign was summed up in Kawabe's speech: "Beginning with the New Year, we will aim to become financially independent in our administration of Myosenji Temple. To explain more clearly, this means that 'We support our Temple ourselves.'" Also at New Year's Gongyo there was a message from the High Priest warning that President Ikeda is leading the SGI to hell. The anti-Gakkai rhetoric had become constant.
In the "Rissho
Ankoku Ron," the host convinces the guest of the grave slander found in
allowing false forms of Buddhism to flourish. Finally agreeing with him,
the guest says: "But it is not enough that I alone should accept and have
faith in your words — we must see to it that others as well are warned
of their errors!" My years of research into what is going on at the temple
leads me to the same conclusion: We must warn others about the Nikken Sect.