The High Priest as Absolute 

Nikken allows senior priests to state that "the high priest is as respectable as the Dai-Gohonzon; they are not two" or "The high priest and Nichiren Daishonin are one, not two" (from a letter to the Soka Gakkai written by senior priests on July 30, 1991). Such a view has never existed in Nichiren Shoshu. 

The same letter states: 

"The foundation of this school is the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism and the high priest, who alone has inherited the Living Essence of the Law directly from the former high priest, ... for the heritage of Buddhism exists in the high priest's venerable life that is one with the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism. Therefore, our faith in these two fundamentals must be absolute" (Ibid.). 
"It is important in faith for lay believers of this school to regard the inner enlightenment of the successive high priests as that of Nichiren Daishonin" (Nikken's sermon at the 46th nationwide teachers seminar at the head temple, Taiseki-ji, August 1997). 

Thus, Nichiren Shoshu under Nikken now teaches that the high priest's life alone is one with the life of Nichiren Daishonin and with the Dai-Gohonzon. This view is far from Nichiren Shoshu's traditional view of the role of a high priest a view once embraced by Nikken himself. 

Concerning the position of high priest, Nittatsu, the 66th high priest, clearly states that it is an organizational role responsible for administering the school. Inheriting the role of high priest was not intended to turn that person and that person alone into a living Buddha. Nor, by any reasonable reckoning, could it. 

Nittatsu says: 

"Regarding the Three Treasures of this school, the Gohonzon is the Treasure of the Law, Nichiren Daishonin is the Treasure of the Buddha, and Nikko Shonin is the Treasure of the Priest. In contrast, Nichimoku Shonin is the lord of the chair, which means he is an administrator who is responsible to govern this school and put the matters of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism in order. The successive high priests after Nichimoku Shonin carry on this task functioning like a tube through which the water of this [administrative] role is transmitted. ... Hence the successive high priests are not Nichiren Daishonin" (sermon at a meeting for priests and their family members at the head temple, Taiseki-ji, May 1977). 
By allowing priests to teach that the high priest is equal to the Daishonin, Nikken has betrayed his own teacher's words. 

Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin both strictly admonish us not to follow a teacher who has deviated from the correct teaching: "A disciple should abandon even his teacher if the teacher is misguided" (MW-1, 165). 

"Do not follow even the high priest if he goes against the Buddha's Law and propounds his own views" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1618). 

Questions & Answers 

Q: Nichiren Shoshu teaches that one can attain Buddhahood only by following the high priest with absolute faith in and strict obedience to him. Is this true? 

A: No, the high priest is not the cause for attaining Buddhahood. The important point for attaining Buddhahood is to have faith in the Gohonzon and follow the Gosho, the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. Nowhere in the Gosho can we find a passage teaching that absolute faith in a high priest is needed to attain Buddhahood. If anything, we should have absolute faith in the Gohonzon and practice in strict accordance with the Gosho. Nichiren Daishonin is explicit that we should "follow the Law, not the Person." 

Q: How could someone who has risen to such a high responsibility in Nichiren Shoshu, the school that is supposed to correctly inherit the Daishonin's teachings, make such grievous mistakes? 

A: The idea that the high priest is infallible, which is Nichiren Shoshu's current stance, clearly denies the very meaning of the "mutual possession of the ten worlds" and "the attainment of Buddhahood in one's present form" principles confirming the equality of all human beings. In addition, examination of the history of Nichiren Shoshu reveals that there were a number of high priests who erroneously interpreted Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. The record shows that they clearly committed serious errors in interpretation and practice, thus impeding people's correct understanding of faith. How can their errors be reconciled with the priesthood's current doctrine of the high priest's infallibility? To cite just two examples: 

Nisei, the 17th high priest, created a statue of Shakyamuni as an object of worship, something that Nikko Shonin severely admonished his contemporaries and those of future generations not to do. Nissei further wrote a thesis entitled "Zuigi Ron" to justify his erection of the statue of Shakyamuni in the year after he became high priest. 

Nikkyo, the 62nd high priest, accepted and enshrined a talisman to the Shinto Sun Goddess while urging the Soka Gakkai to do the same. He succumbed to oppression from the military government, enshrining the talisman at the Shoin building on the grounds of the head temple. In addition, he ordered that various Gosho passages that might offend the tyrannical militarist authorities be stricken from copies of the Daishonin's writings. In that the Daishonin himself expounded his teachings fully aware that they would incur the wrath of the authorities, Nissei's stance completely contradicted that of the Daishonin. He died in a fire at the head temple in June 1945. 

Further, everyone in Nichiren Shoshu knows that the 26th high priest is referred to as the "Great Restorer" of Nichiren Shoshu. The reason why Nichiren Shoshu, then called the Fuji School, had to be "restored" was that the previous high priests had allowed it to degenerate. The idea of the infallibility of high priests is thus a preposterous fabrication. It is the clearest indication that Nikken and Nichiren Shoshu have abandoned faith in their own teachings in order to justify their actions against the Soka Gakkai. 
 

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Source: Confirming Our Path of Faith: Temple Issue Handbook, SGI-USA Temple Issue Committee (Santa Monica, CA: SGI-USA {1999})