A Buddhist Reformation in the 20th Century:
Causes and Implications of the Conflict between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood

by Dr. Jane Hurst, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.

Presented at the Conference 'Buddhism in America: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship,' Harvard University, May 1997

Part 1
The essential Buddhist practice taught by Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282) was chanting the Hoben and Juryo chapters of the Lotus Sutra and its title (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) to the Supreme Object of Worship, the Gohonzon, a sacred mandala scroll inscribed with prayers and sections of the sutra. When the lay organization Soka Gakkai brought this practice to the United States in 1960, it brought with it copies of a small book "The Liturgy of Nichiren Shoshu," called the gongyo book by members. In it were the Japanese characters (which are a classical Chinese translation from Sanskrit transliterated into Japanese) with a phonetic translation into the Roman alphabet so that American converts could chant without learning Japanese first. The Order of Recitation included silent prayers of gratitude to the shoten zenjin (the guardians of Buddhism), the Three Great Secret Laws (including the Dai-Gohonzon, Daimoku, and the High Sanctuary of true Buddhism), and for Nichiren Daishonin and the successive High Priests. Prayers were then to be offered for the attainment of kosen rufu (the spread of Buddhism throughout the world) and for the deceased. The textured cover of the gongyo book became a testimony to the member's faith. The more worn it became, the more the member had been chanting. A member would treasure the gongyo (1) book, carrying it constantly as a reminder of the Buddhist practice that was transforming his or her life.

The exact content of the silent prayers changed with the fluctuating relationship between the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and the Soka Gakkai organization responsible for the worldwide propagation of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. From 1976-1978, when the relationship was at its high point, the fourth silent prayer included the phrase "I pray for the Soka Gakkai to flourish and accomplish the merciful propagation of true Buddhism." The fifth prayer included specific thanks to the first two Soka Gakkai Presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) and Josei Toda (1900-1958). After open conflict between the priests and the laity erupted in late 1978 these sections of the prayer were omitted from gongyo books.

After the permanent split in 1991, when all 11 million Soka Gakkai members were excommunicated by the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood, two different gongyo books were printed. The priesthood version is still called "The Liturgy of Nichiren Shoshu," and the prayers remain as they have been since 1978 with no mention of the Soka Gakkai. The Soka Gakkai version with the SGI symbol on the cover is called "The Liturgy of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin." What Soka Gakkai considers to be the intent of the fourth and fifth prayers has been restored, with prayers for kosen-rufu, Soka Gakkai's role in fulfilling it and with gratitude for Presidents Makiguchi and Toda. The third prayer has a glaring omission from the past version. The section thanking the first three High Priests has been retained, but the section offering "praise and deep gratitude to the successive High Priests" is nowhere to be found.

1.  Diacritical marks have been omitted in conformity with the printed materials of both the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai.

Part 2 of A Buddhist Reformation in the 20th Century