THE WORLD OF THE SOKA GAKKAI INTERNATIONAL
The beginning of the first Gosho (the first one in every English anthology) reads:
"If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured through eternity and attain supreme enlightenment in this lifetime, you must awaken to the mystic truth which has always been within your life. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo." Major Writings, Vol. 1, p. 1This basic tenet of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is eternal, infinite, and all- empowering for the individuals who practice it. Through this practice, the eternal nature of one's own life is manifest in his/her daily life, just as it is lived. The power of one's own Buddha nature influences oneself, one's family, one's work, one's community. It refreshes and revolutionizes one inner life, and the changes, as they occur inside, are reflected in the environment in the form of more pleasant surroundings and increased fortune. Adversity is looked on as a challenge, and is met with a sense of hope, rather than as a source of discouragement. In fact, this is the most significant change in the lives of most practitioners meeting the environment, including people, with a sense of hope and respect.
In short, there is no practice of Buddhism, and no Buddha, apart from one's own life and the world we live in. The same writing ("On Attaining Buddhahood") says:
"There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds." (ibid., p. 4)The practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism does not require withdrawal from the world, or special ceremonies, or abstract beliefs and practices. It is simply the consistent chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, supported by the recitation of two chapters of the Lotus Sutra, to a mandala on which the wonderful reality of one's life is depicted. This is the "practice for oneself".
The Gosho also says: "Once you realize that your own life is the Mystic Law, you will realize that so are the lives of all others" (ibid., p. 5). Our practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism involves compassionate action for others who have not yet been able to overcome their unhappiness caused by their ignorance of the Mystic Law within their lives. This is "practice for others".
These two aspects of Buddhists practice "for oneself and for others" are the underpinnings of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). As individuals, SGI members challenge themselves, through prayer, to optimize the positive qualities of human life compassion, fair-mindedness, courage etc. and to manifest those qualities in their own environments. As an organization, the SGI pursues "Peace, Culture and Education": promoting dialogue and cultural exchanges between disparate cultures and nations, opposing war, promoting education.
This, then, is the SGI: engagement in the real world, on both individual and social levels, in support and enhancement of the noblest human virtues.
In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda became president of the Soka Gakkai, then a fairly large organization in Japan, but virtually unknown elsewhere. That same year he took his first trip overseas to begin worldwide propagation. In 1975, the Soka Gakkai International was formed, with Mr. Ikeda as its president. The SGI now comprises some 163 member nations, each with organizations consistent with their respective nations' laws and cultures. But, while organizational activities may vary from nation to nation, the basic practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is the same throughout the world: chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, in practice "for oneself and others".
As the leader of the SGI, Mr. Ikeda has issued a Peace Proposal each year since the SGI's inception. To promote understanding and dialogue between people of varying even opposing political and social structures, he has held personal dialogues with political and cultural leaders as varied as Margaret Thatcher and Fidel Castro, Armand Hammer, and Chou-en Lai. He and Rosa Parks are mutual admirers, as are he and Nelson Mandela. He has been honored, on behalf of the SGI's efforts for world peace, with many awards and honorary degrees, from entities ranging from the Knights of Rizal in the Phillipines to the University of Denver and the Paris Academy of Art.
Since its founding in 1930, Soka Gakkai has been active in society, both in propagating Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism and in championing the causes of the common people. Because it is a lay organization, it has naturally received criticism that more static and cleric-centered Buddhist sects have avoided. It is the natural response of the something long-entrenched, whether a bad personal habit or a corrupt political system, to fight back when challenged and not always fairly, not always ethically.
One of the sects that had avoided such a reaction is called Nichiren Shoshu. Ironically, it has avoided it precisely because, for 60 years, the Soka Gakkai absorbed the criticism on Nichiren Shoshu's behalf.
NICHIREN SHOSHU AND THE SOKA GAKKAI
In 1930, Nichiren Shoshu was a small, impoverished sect barely known beyond the immediate area of its head temple Taisekiji. Like most other Buddhist sects, its priests performed ceremonies for followers, and granted transcriptions of its object of worship in return for donations. Nichiren Shoshu made little effort to spread the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin throughout the world, and in fact most of its followers were unaware that Nichiren had taught the dynamic application of his Buddhism to their daily lives.
However, Nichiren Shoshu possessed the fundamental object of worship inscribed by Nichiren for all humanity, called the Dai Gohonzon. In 1928 an educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi began practicing, and in 1930 he founded what was to become the Soka Gakkai. Makiguchi perceived that Nichiren's teachings were principles inherent in daily life, and taught his followers to practice daily, with faith in and dedication to the Dai Gohonzon. Priests of Nichiren Shoshu opposed this idea; it devalued their own place in the practice of Buddhism. But Makiguchi persevered and by the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Soka Gakkai had a membership in the thousands.
In 1943, in the midst of the war, the priests of Nichiren Shoshu ordered their followers to enshrine a talisman of the Shinto faith, as demanded by the military government. Makiguchi refused, on the grounds that doing so would constitute slander of the supreme teaching of Nichiren Daishonin. The priests banished him from the head temple, and he was arrested a month later along with his follower Josei Toda.
Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. Around that time, Toda's intense study of Buddhist scripture, coupled with his voluminous chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, led him to perceive that the most fundamental principle of Buddhism is that Buddhahood, the ultimate reality of all existence, is nothing other than life itself just as Nichiren declared in "On Attaining Buddhahood". Upon his release after the war, Toda engaged in propagation with a great determination to spread Nichiren's practice and teachings throughout Japan, Asia and the world. By the time of his death in 1958, he had rebuilt the Soka Gakkai to over 750,000 members.
Nichiren Shoshu's cooperation with the government was consistent with its centuries-old place in Japanese society and in the world of Japanese religion. Nichiren's Buddhism, as taught by Nichiren, is a dynamic force for change in society. Nichiren himself met violent opposition from the guardians of the status quo, both religious and governmental; and he insisted that true practitioners of his teachings would meet the same. But as the years passed, Nichiren Shoshu, along with other Nichiren sects, became more and more willing to accept the status quo, and their own place in it the very last thing they wanted was a "revolution", even a peaceful revolution of the way people viewed themselves. Nichiren Shoshu, like other sects, became an instrument of the government when it allowed its membership rolls to be used as the means for the government to register citizens. Like the others, it adapted its bylaws when the government revised its rules for religions (for instance, allowing priests to marry).
As late as the 1920s, Nichiren Shoshu joined with other Nichiren sects in petitioning the government to bestow the title of "Great Teacher" upon Nichiren as if Nichiren needed, or would have himself accepted, such a validation. So its reluctance to oppose a government edict even one that undermined its very reason for being is no surprise, and even understandable given the sect's history. Its banishment of Makiguchi was, in effect, a message to the government that "we are not associated with this troublemaker".
Nonetheless, there were priests within Nichiren Shoshu who were appalled at the sect's behavior, and who recognized the great mission and determination of the Soka Gakkai to finally, after nearly 700 years, accomplish the widespread propagation of Nichiren's teachings. After the war, a succession of these priests rose to the highest levels of the sect, including a succession of high priests. So after his release from prison, Toda had hopes for the sect, and by agreement with the priesthood, Soka Gakkai members were also members of Nichiren Shoshu; and because of the Soka Gakkai's tremendous success at propagation, Nichiren Shoshu became prosperous. Soka Gakkai members not priests, just ordinary people with jobs and families went into the streets and neighborhoods and work places, and introduced the Daishonin's Buddhism to their friends. They debated with other, heretical Nichiren sects, winning many converts in that way. They taught these people the sutra recitation, they gave them guidance in hard times when their continued faith was on the line. And their financial donations allowed Taisekiji to expand, to renovate, and to build literally hundreds of branch temples throughout Japan.
Despite the largesse provided by the Soka Gakkai, resentment lingered toward the lay organization among many Nichiren Shoshu priests. The great growth of the Soka Gakkai was due to its correct practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, and this correct practice conflicted with the way priests had taught for hundreds of years in that priests were not central in the correct practice.
There were numerous conflicts between the laity and the priesthood over the years, basically over the role of priests and the respect they felt they were due because they had entered the priesthood. In 1979 one of the most resentful priests became the high priest, Nikken. He brought the conflicts to a head in 1991 by excommunicating the Soka Gakkai and the SGI.
Nikken's stated reason for taking the initial disciplinary action (that culminated in excommunication) was a speech given by Mr. Ikeda in November 1990, in which he said that priests should not treat laity as their servants, and the "power" attached to the position of high priest was not "power" in the sense that it gave him authority to boss people around. To Nikken, this was slandering the priesthood which, in his mind, was still the central component to faith in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.
It is apparent that this idea does not originate with Nichiren Daishonin, but in the interpretations and traditions initiated by the priesthood long after the Daishonin passed away. It is equally apparent that, not only does it not originate with Nichiren, but is directly contradictory to everything he taught and stood for.
THE WORLD OF NICHIREN SHOSHU
In Nichiren Shoshu, enlightenment, or "the heritage of the Law", is an object that can only be received if one is part of a linear progression. The "linear progression" is, specifically, the successive High Priests of Nichiren Shoshu.
"The "heritage", in this sense, can be thought of as "completely understanding the heart of the Buddha, being able to manifest it in one's own time."
Nichiren Shoshu says:
"In other words, because the enlightened life of Nichiren Daishonin continues to exist through the transmission of the Face to Face Bestowal of the Living Essence of the Law to the only one who is to receive it, we are being strictly directed to believe in the existence of that enlightened life within the body of each High Priest". Dai Nichiren Special Edition 2, "Remonstrance to the Soka Gakkai to Disband," Section I-ABecause the enlightened life of the Buddha exists only in the body of the high priest, then, belief in the high priest's enlightenment is the basic component of faith. Because of his inherited enlightenment, the high priest can endow the object of worship with the power to grant enlightenment to the practitioner.
The "face to face bestowal" mentioned above means that the Daishonin's enlightened life and the concomitant power to pass enlightenment to others is something that is transferred from one high priest to his successor in a special ceremony It is the contention of Nichiren Shoshu that one cannot understand the heart of the Buddha unless one has received this face-to-face bestowal.
Nichiren Shoshu's view that Nichiren's Buddhism is alive only in ceremonies, has a parallel in it's view of the fundamental essence of all existence.
According to Nichiren Shoshu, the essence of the universe is found only in the camphor wood and sumi ink that comprise the Dai Gohonzon enshrined at their head temple Taisekiji. What's more, the high priest, by virtue of his office, possesses "the Living Essence of the Body of the entirety of the Law of all existence". (Dai Nichiren Special Edition, On the Soka Gakkai Problem 2, p. 14)
The fundamental Law, or nature, of existence, according to Nichiren Shoshu, is a specific icon; and the icon passes it's essence to one person, the high priest of Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Shoshu members have gone so far as to say that, were the Dai Gohonzon to cease to exist in its present form, no one could ever again attain enlightenment.
Further, the Handbook for Hokkeko Members ("Hokkeko" is the organization for followers of the Nikken priesthood) states:
"That is, if there are only lay believers, without the priesthood, even though the sect may continue to exist, the True Law and correct doctrine will disappear". (p. 7)The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, according to Nichiren Shoshu, is contained in objects, titles and position.
NICHIREN SHOSHU, THE SGI, AND NICHIREN DAISHONIN'S TEACHINGS
Heritage of the Law
But Nichiren Daishonin wrote:
"During the lifetime of the Buddha, as well as the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law that followed after his death, there were only three votaries of the Lotus Sutra. They were Shakyamuni Buddha himself, T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo . . . In view of all this, it must be that a votary of the Lotus Sutra will appear at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law, just as the Buddha predicted."The last sentence refers to Nichiren himself, who lived in Japan in the 13th Century AD. Dengyo lived in Japan around 800 AD, T'ien-t'ai in China in the 6th Century AD, Shakyamuni in India, thought to have lived around 1000 BC.
Obviously, Nichiren did not believe that the Buddha's heart could only be inherited through a linear progression.
Nichiren also said:
"Exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism. You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others. Both practice and study arise from faith." "The True Entity of Life," MW 1, p. 95He thus places the responsibility for the existence of Buddhism in the lives and real actions of all practitioners not in a series of bestowal ceremonies to a single person.
Ultimate Reality and the Dai Gohonzon
Nichiren, quoting the teacher Miao-lo that "the true entity is invariably revealed in all phenomena," says:
". . . all being and their environments in any of the Ten Worlds . . . are, without exception, the manifestation of Myoho-renge-kyo . . . all life in the universe is clearly Myoho-renge-kyo." ibid., p. 89And, Nichiren himself said:
"The real meaning of the Lord Shakyamuni Buddha's appearance in this world lay in his behavior as a human being. How profound!"The Buddha preached for fifty years, revealing many profound teachings and concepts. Yet Nichiren Daishonin says that it was his actions, not dogma and ceremony, that are "the real meaning" of his appearance.
Concerning the relationship of the believer and the Gohonzon, in April 1998 a priest of Nichiren Shoshu said:
"Nichiren Shoshu has always regarded Nichiren Daishonin as the True Buddha. He is the Oneness of the Person and the Law. The Dai-Gohonzon is this. We chant to the Dai Gohonzon to achieve Kyochi Myogo (fusion between us and the True Buddha). We fuse with, but never become the Gohonzon and hence, cannot become the True Buddha. The new Soka Gakkai doctrine teaches a fundamentally different concept, that the Gohonzon exists within the heart of the common mortal. That each of us are exactly the same as Nichiren Daishonin. The Dai Gohonzon is therefore not really necessary. The other Nichiren sects regard Nichiren Daishonin as an intermediary and not the True Buddha." ARBN message, 19 Apr 1998, 13:19:01 -0700Nichiren had much to say about the physical object of the Gohonzon. But each time he addressed it in those terms, he made sure that his audience understood the true nature of the Gohonzon. In a writing called "The Heritage of the Ultimate Law," he wrote:
"Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment countless eons ago, the Lotus Sutra which leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from each other." MW 1, p. 22In another writing, a letter to a lay follower, he wrote:
"Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only in the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Myoho-renge-kyo."Nichiren Shoshu calls this last sentence, written by Nichiren himself, "heretical" ("100 Questions and Answers", question 93)
While Nichiren Shoshu teaches that "we cannot become the True Buddha," Nichiren himself says we and the True Buddha "are in no way" different. While Nichiren Shoshu calls the concept that the Gohonzon exists in the heart of the common mortal "new" and "different", Nichiren says we should "never" seek it anywhere else.
By contrast, SGI President Ikeda has said, referring to the meaning of the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra:
"Actually, it has a very important bearing, for the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past ultimately is none other than us, the ordinary people who embrace the Mystic Law." Lectures on the Expedient Means and Life Span Chapters, Vol. 2, p. 8He also says:
"In other words, he clarifies that not only Shakyamuni, but all people in the Ten Worlds are entities of the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past. In essence, our own lives are endowed with the eternal life of the Buddha." ibid., p. 47In short, it is the SGI that is practicing the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin exactly as it was taught. Nichiren Shoshu retains the word "Nichiren" in its name, but teaches a religion fundamentally opposed to that of Nichiren. There can be no lasting benefit in such a practice. As Nichiren wrote in "On Attaining Buddhahood":
"However, even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but some inferior teaching . . . unless one perceives the nature of his life, his practice will become an endless, painful austerity." MW 1, pp. 3-4