History of Nichiren Shoshu's Action During World War II

I. The reality of the priesthood's war efforts

Examining the priesthood’s official publication Dai-Nichiren from that period, it is obvious that the publication was designed as a weapon to arouse public sentiment for war. Also, judging from the contents and tone of the priesthood’s official documents, clearly the priesthood supported war from the nationalistic viewpoint and intended to spread propaganda for the military regime.

A typical example is High Priest Nikkyo’s following communique issued on Dec. 8, 1941 (Dec. 7 in the United States) the day on which Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, starting the Pacific war:

Today His Majesty [Emperor Hirohito] declared war on the United States of America and the United Kingdom. I can hardly suppress my awe and joy at this....

I ask that all believers summon forth the faith and practice they assiduously developed thus far and ensure victory in this great, unprecedented battle, through their resolve to endure any hardship and exert their utmost in their respective positions and capacities.

High Priest Nikkyo’s communique is filled with expressions longing for the outbreak of the Pacific war; his attitude can in no way be described as the priesthood’s unwilling support for the military regime.

As a proof of its aggressive, prompt support of war, the priesthood received the following certificate of commendation from the Navy minister in recognition of its financial contributions to the military prior to the Pacific war:

Certificate of Commendation 

Upon receiving the financial contributions for the repletion of national defense at the time of the War of the Great East Asia, we hereby express our profound appreciation. 

December 1941 

Hantaro Shimada 
Minister of the Navy

To Nichiren Shoshu 

Thereafter, as the military regime’s minion, the priesthood started its aggressive campaign to support war. Examples of its war efforts are too many to enumerate.

After the outbreak of the Pacific war, each year all priests at the head temple, led by High Priest Nikkyo, prayed for Japan’s victory in the War of the Great East Asia and the eternal good fortune of Japan’s Imperial Army at the New Year ceremony to worship the Dai-Gohonzon. The priesthood also started a special service to pray for Japan’s victory on the eighth of every month — the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing.

The priesthood made special efforts to glorify those who died in action, describing them as those who “preserved the honor of this school’s believers” or “the supreme honor and model for the rest of this school’s believers.”

In November 1942, the priesthood established the"Organization of Nichiren Shoshu Believers Dedicated to the Support of the Nation" nationwide to support the religious branch of the government-sponsored nationalistic movement. The Organization, as recorded in the Dai-Nichiren, solicited financial contributions for national defense, indoctrinated priests and lay believers with nationalistic beliefs “to crush and eliminate the Americans and the British,” sponsored a lecture series, and even established the “Marriage Counseling Service” to respond to the government’s policy to increase population.

Nichiren Shoshu’s two major ceremonies — the scroll-airing ceremony and the otaiya ceremony to honor the Daishonin’s passing — also became opportunities to pray for the nation and hold a nationalistic lecture series sponsored by the Organization of Nichiren Shoshu Believers Dedicated to the Support of the Nation.

For example, the otaiya ceremony held in November 1943 was renamed “the otaiya ceremony to crush and eliminate the Americans and the British and to arouse conviction in [Japan’s] sure victory.” During the ceremony to worship the Dai-Gohonzon, priests prayed for “the increase and spread of the nation’s majesty,” “the eternal good fortune of [Japan’s] Imperial Army,” and “the recovery of wounded and ill soldiers.” The ceremony was followed by nationalistic lectures by the military officials and senior priests in charge of the Organization of Nichiren Shoshu Believers Dedicated to the Support of the Nation. For example, National Support Section Chief Teiryo Aoyama gave a lecture titled “On the Intrigue of the Jews.” General Affairs Department Chief Jikai Watanabe delivered a speech titled “The Just Path of Japan.” The ceremony, which was supposed to express appreciation and gratitude to the founder, was turned into a war support rally.

Next year, the Nichiren Shoshu Administrative Office issued the following memorandum regarding the scroll-airing ceremony:

To All Nichiren Shoshu affiliates:

Instead of conducting the scroll-airing ceremony, this year the head temple will hold the Grand National Ceremony to pray for victory in the sacred war, the increase and spread of the nation’s majesty, the eternal good fortune of the Imperial Army, and the defeat of the American and British enemies during the week of March 28-April 3 as specified in the following. Please be notified of the aforementioned.

The priesthood cancelled the annual scroll-airing ceremony, which has been conducted to perpetuate the Daishonin’s teaching; instead, it voluntarily held a “Grand National Ceremony” to pray for Japan’s victory in the Pacific war.

We have mentioned in the above only a fraction of the priesthood’s war efforts. In light of these facts, how could anyone possibly say that the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood followed the government policy merely “on the surface”?

Even if we consider those who were manipulated by the military regime’s propaganda as victims of war, the priesthood’s war support was too aggressive and prompt to be called the actions of a victim. The priesthood clearly acted as an agent of the oppressor.

II. The priesthood’s distortion and revision of the Daishonin’s teaching

NST's Committee on Current Affairs states that the priesthood unwillingly adopted the government policy in order “not to allow the secret doctrine that had been transmitted from Nichiren Daishonin to be destroyed and deified by the military regime’s oppression and the Minobu sect’s ambition.” This is a lie.

The priesthood, in fear of governmental oppression, catered to the military regime’s nationalistic beliefs and on many occasions actively “destroyed and defiled” the fundamental teaching of the Daishonin’s Buddhism in order to support war. The priesthood did so solely for the purpose of self-preservation. Nothing is more despicable for the Daishonin’s disciples than this.

The sense of purpose to protect “the secret doctrine” is nowhere to be found in the priesthood’s behavior despite its assertion.

Quoting from the Nirvana Sutra, the Daishonin admonishes us, saying, “He should never hold back any of the teachings, even though it may cost him his life” (Major Writings, Vol. 4, p. 253). In light of this sutra passage, the priest’s behavior was the exactly opposite — holding back the Buddha’s teachings for their lives. We loudly condemn such behavior as a grave slander.

(1) The deletion of Gosho passages
The priesthood took early care to protect itself in 1941 — immediately before the start of the Pacific war. In August of that year, the Minobu sect decided to stop publishing the Reikokukan Publishing Company’s version of the Gosho and issued a ban on its use.

The Minobu sect also actively deleted Gosho passages [that might be considered offensive to the military regime or the State Shinto].

This preemptive move by the Minobu sect gave the senior officials of Nichiren Shoshu a sense of growing crisis. Shamelessly discarding their pride and awareness as the original Buddha’s legitimate successors, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood chose the same path as the erroneous Minobu sect.

In September 1941, the Nichiren Shoshu Study Department issued a memorandum that instructed the deletion of the Gosho passages where the Sun Goddess [which Shinto considers as the supreme deity] or the nation’s sovereign is described as inferior to the Buddha. For example, the priesthood deleted the following Gosho passage where the Daishonin declares himself to be the original Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law: 

“I am the foremost sage in the entire world” 
(Major Writings, Vol. 2, p. 259).
This Study Department memorandum also strictly prohibits the use of the deleted passages, stating, “Do not quote [the deleted Gosho passages] in sermons or lectures.”

One-month prior to this Study Department memorandum, the Administrative Office issued a memo on Aug. 24 titled “Regarding Publication of the Gosho.” The memo states that because the Gosho were written over 700 years ago in accordance with the social conditions of the Kamakura period, people of the present age in reading the Gosho might “doubt the Daishonin’s desire to respect the emperor and protect his empire.” The Administrative Office, therefore, decided to stop the publication of the Gosho.

The Administrative Office memo also stated: “The doctrine that the Buddha is true, while deities are transient is a vulgar belief in Buddhism.... This school, therefore, shall not rely on this doctrine in its original meaning.” The priesthood shamelessly denied the Daishonin’s teaching that the Buddha is true while deities are transient, thus committing another treachery against the master, Nichiren Daishonin.

Currying favor with State Shinto, the priesthood deliberately withdrew its view that the Daishonin is the original Buddha. The priesthood, however, realized that the Gosho would present an obstacle to its scheme, and hence the ban on Gosho publication. The priesthood committed an even more insidious crime of slandering the Law than the five senior priests, who, slighting the importance of the Gosho, burned and destroyed it.

The priesthood abandoned its significant responsibility while claiming to be the only orthodox lineage of Buddhism. It went so far as concealing the original Buddha in order to praise the Sun Goddess and the sovereign. The priesthood’s servile, shameless attitude was indicative of the obscuration of the Pure Law — the true cause that invited the misery and atrocity of worldwide conflict. The Daishonin states: “Buddhism is like the body and society like the shadow. When the body is crooked, so is the shadow” (Major Writings, Vol. 3, p. 308).

(2) The revision of the silent prayers
For both priesthood and laity of this school, morning and evening gongyo is the basic daily practice. Two days before the memorandum that prohibited the publication of the Gosho, the Administrative Office issued another memorandum regarding a revision of the silent prayers in gongyo. The priesthood revised the silent prayers to promote the military regime’s nationalistic beliefs based on Shinto.

The priesthood adopted the erroneous doctrine that the Sun Goddess is true and the Buddha transient — an idea that Jimon Ogasawara, a senior Nichiren Shoshu priest who was scheming to take over the priesthood in league with the military regime, was propounding at that time. The revised silent prayers were entirely based on praising the Sun Goddess.

The revised first silent prayer reads:

“I humbly thank the Sun Goddess, the ancestor of the emperor, and all emperors of the successive reigns since the time of first Emperor Jimmu for the great debt of gratitude I owe to them. I also offer benefits that I derive from the Law to gods of the sun and moon and all other deities — the guardians of the Empire. I sincerely wish that they mercifully accept my offerings.”
The priesthood first singled out the Sun Goddess among various Buddhist gods, honoring her beyond reason. Then it expresses appreciation for the successive emperors. Finally the prayer for other Buddhist gods follows in an abbreviated fashion — ”gods of the sun and moon and all other deities.”

In the second and third silent prayers, the prayers that should express the greatest degree of appreciation for the three treasures are overly simplified and downplayed when compared to the rest of the silent prayers.

In the fourth silent prayer — the prayer for kosen-rufu, the priesthood purposefully inserted nationalistic words and expressions such as “the unity of government and people” or “the increase of the nation’s majesty.” The priesthood here committed slander by misrepresenting the Daishonin’s view of worldwide kosen-rufu and incorporating the military regime’s nationalistic Shinto views. Such action was warned against in [Miao-lo’s] statement regarding “crushing the noble Buddhist teaching and incorporating it into a lesser non-Buddhist teaching.”

In the past we thought that the priesthood expelled Ogasawara because he propounded the erroneous doctrine that the Sun Goddess is true while the Buddha is transient. However, now that the reality of the priesthood’s corruption has been revealed, it is clear that the priesthood expelled Ogasawara for the sole purpose of preventing his scheme to take over the priesthood.

If we just compare their positions from the doctrinal standpoint, it is conclusive that the priesthood, influenced by Ogasawara, held a view extremely similar to his.

(3) The priesthood’s betrayal against the Buddhist spirit to uphold the dignity of life
When the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) broke out, the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy pleaded with Japanese Buddhists to uphold the Buddhist spirit not to kill and to rise up in an antiwar campaign. The representatives of the Japanese Buddhist clergy replied that they were subject nationals of Japan and they must cooperate with war. This episode precisely indicates the narrow and inflexible attitude of the Japanese Buddhist clergy.

Needless to say, the fundamental spirit of Buddhism lies in absolute pacifism based on compassion and non-violence. The Daishonin states: “Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life” (Major Writings, Vol. 1, p. 267). In other words, the Daishonin teaches here that one human life contains absolute value that cannot be compared to all the treasures of the universe.

The dignity of life is clearly expounded in the Daishonin’s teaching.

The unprincipled priesthood continued to curry favor with the military regime. Instead of condemning war as an act of killing that goes against the fundamental spirit of Buddhism, it nonchalantly encouraged killing. The extent of the priesthood’s corruption is truly amazing, and it infuriates us. In the following we reveal some of the priesthood’s atrocities as published in the Dai-Nichiren.

  1. In January 1942, Chief Priest Kocho Kakinurna of the Yahata Temple in Kyushu decided to consecrate and then donate metal Buddhist accessories for munitions. During the service, Mr. Kakinuma stated: “If [the Buddhist accessories] become bullets for soldier’s rifles, these bullets shall be the ones that kill [enemy soldiers] with a single shot, thus 'crushing the evil and revealing the truth.'” He also stated that he “sincerely offered prayer” to the Gohonzon for this to happen.
  2. In September 1942, the annual memorial service for Nichikan Shonin was held at the head temple. As part of the commemorative events, the head temple sponsored a bayonet fencing tournament for the students of the Ueno Village Youth School on the playground of the Fuji Seminary. Chief Priest Jijin Ochiai of the Rikyo-bo temple — one of the lodging temples on the head temple grounds — served as a referee. The Dai Nichiren explains the event’s significance as training to kill enemy soldiers with a “relentless spirit” in case of “an airborne landing of the demons and beasts from the United States and the United Kingdom.”
  3. At the end of page 8 of the January 1944 Dai-Nichiren, there is an article soliciting financial contributions for munitions. The author, who identifies himself as “Person-in-charge,” states: “We need weapons to blow [American and British soldier’s] goddamn heads off at every opportunity available.” “Person-in-charge” asks those who wish to make donations to talk to “Accounting Section Chief Jikan Maekawa of the Organization of Nichiren Shoshu Believers Dedicated to the Service of the Nation within the Nichiren Shoshu Administrative Office.”
Such behavior by the priesthood should not be regarded as unavoidable on the pretext of the wartime frenzy sweeping the country. Nichiren Daishonin issued a warning against Buddhist clergy who debased themselves in the minion of the political authority. To revive the humanism and absolute pacifism originally inherent in Buddhism, the founder stood up for a religious revolution.

Therefore, if Nichiren Shoshu priests wish to call themselves the Daishonin’s disciples, they should become warriors of peace and heroes of religious revolution who fight against established authority and spread the dignity of life always standing on the side of the people. The priesthood’s cruelty to encourage killing or pray for the success of killing while completely ignoring the fundamental Buddhist precept of non-killing is truly preposterous.

(4) The priesthood’s acceptance of Shinto talisman
As the government revised the Peace Preservation Act, people were forced to accept the Shinto talisman regardless of their religion. Nikko Shonin inherited from the Daishonin the teaching that when people slander the Law, the Buddhist gods [protective functions of life and the universe] leave the land and devils and demons [destructive forces of life and the universe] enter the land instead. The priesthood, who supposedly inherited this teaching from Nikko Shonin, should have held strongly to the belief that the Shinto shrine is a dwelling of demons and devils.

Yet the priesthood easily surrendered to the government authority. Surprisingly, High Priest Nikkyo took initiative himself and praised the emperor’s pilgrimage to the Ise Imperial Shinto Shrine. The high priest states: “His Holiness and Majesty [Emperor Hirohito] paid a visit to the Ise Shinto Shrine and worshipped there on Dec. 12 of last winter [1942]. We nationals as [His Majesty’s] babies feel tremendous awe and excitement at this.”

Around the same time, Soka Kyoiku Gakkai President Makiguchi and General Director Toda were, in order to protect the Daishonin’s true teaching, resolutely maintaining their strict attitude to refuse to visit Shinto shrines or accept the Shinto talisman.

If its own lay organization resists the military regime, the priesthood would risk the oppression from the government. So thinking, in June 1943, the priesthood summoned President Makiguchi and other senior Soka Gakkai leaders to the head temple. With the attendance of High Priest Nikkyo, General Affairs Department Chief Jikai Watanabe pressed President Makiguchi to accept a Shinto talisman.

But President Makiguchi strictly refused to accept a Shinto talisman. [The Soka Gakkai] was completely isolated. Soon after, he was arrested and imprisoned. He courageously walked along the road of martyrdom with the spirit of the Daishonin.

On the other hand, the priesthood prohibited the Gakkai members — its own believers — to come to the head temple to worship the Dai-Gohonzon, pretending that it had no relation to the Gakkai. In November 1943, the priesthood also issued an Administrative Office memo encouraging believers to worship the Imperial Palace and visit Shinto shrines. (According to Jimon Ogasawara’s document, the priesthood’s decision to accept Shinto dates back to the Nichiren Shoshu Senior Council held on Aug. 20, 1941, before the Pacific war.)

 (Excerpted from http://www.nichiren.com/war.htm)

See also History and Conviction of the Soka Gakkai,
President Toda's own account of the strange days of World War II.