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


February 25, 1989
Sokagakkai view:"Priesthood unilaterally raises the obligatory offering for gokaihi (worshipping the Dai-Gohonzon) for members from 1,600 yen to 2,300 yen. SG expresses concern about this."

Nichiren Shoshu view:"The priesthood has the authority to set the level of obligatory offerings."

March 1990
Sokagakkai view: "Priesthood unilaterally raises the obligatory contribution for receiving the Gohonzon from 2,000 yen to 3,000 yen, and other fees for memorial services, etc." 

Nichiren Shoshu view:"Again, this is an area of priestly authority, and none of SG's concern."

Sokagakkai view: "SG sees the priesthood as making policies based on a narrow view of what has become a global religion, e.g., refusing to let SG members sing Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' because it is a Christian song."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "SG deviates from the path of true Buddhism. They show disrespect to the priesthood."

Sokagakkai view: "The authority of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings is above that of the priesthood. The Gohonzon itself is the embodiment of the Three Treasures: Law, Buddha, and the Community of Believers."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "The priesthood is seen in the teachings as one of the Three Great Treasures of Buddhism, the Buddha, the Law, and the Priest. Any disrespect or criticism of the priesthood is a slander against Buddhism."

December 13, 1990
Sokagakkai view:"Nichiren Shoshu requests written answers to questions about President Ikeda's Nov. 16, 1990 speech to a Leaders Meeting. SG requests discussion instead."

Nichiren Shoshu view:"Pres. Ikeda showed great disrespect for the priesthood in his Nov. 16, 1990 speech and must apologize. SG is a 'secretive, undemocratic, and inhumane group' that permits slander against the High Priest." 

December 17, 1990
Sokagakkai view:"Nichiren Shoshu again requests written responses to questions which SG refuses to give. They prefer dialogue."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "SG refuses to repent from its deviant ways."

December 27 and 30, 1990
Sokagakkai view:"Decisions made about SG are made by Nichiren Shoshu without dialogue or consultations. This is unacceptable. SG protests the priesthood's decisions as undemocratic and one-sided. SG asks for changes from Nichiren Shoshu to make them less authoritarian and more democratic."

Nichiren Shoshu view:"A special meeting of the Nichiren Shoshu council decides to relieve Pres. Ikeda and other Soka Gakkai leaders of their positions. Lay believers who criticize the High Priest now can be punished. Nichiren Shoshu charges that SG is attempting to interrogate the priesthood."

February 7, 1991
Sokagakkai view:"A newspaper reports that the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood plans to sever its ties with SG and allow lay members to choose between Nichiren Shoshu and SG. (This plan is called 'Operation C' and is leaked to the press later in the year.) SG is upset by this plan."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu is acting to save true Buddhism. Nichiren Shoshu wants SG to disband and a temple-centered layman's organization to grow in its place."

March 5, 1991
Sokagakkai view: "Nichiren Shoshu priesthood sends a letter to all overseas members informing them that Pres. Ikeda is no longer responsible for providing guidance to them. New members now fall under direct control of the local temple priest. SG wishes for face-to-face discussion of these issues."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu demands a written apology from Pres. Ikeda to the High Priest Nikken Shonin. Pres. Ikeda has gone against the spirit of Nichiren Daishonin in his slander against the High Priest."

March 16, 1991
Sokagakkai view:"SG protests the priesthood's action. To the SG, preventing SG members from receiving the Gohonzon or seeing the Dai-Gohonzon denies the freedom of SG members as Nichiren Shoshu believers and is 'a totally unacceptable idea in today's society.'"

Nichiren Shoshu view:"Members must register with their local temples before making a tozan to the Head Temple. Ikeda has slandered the High Priest. 'Those who try to raise a tumult by calling the prohibition of remarks against the Kancho (High Priest) an attempt to suppress freedom of speech or an act contradictory to democracy are those who have lost correct faith.'"

June 5, 1991
Sokagakkai view: "SG will never forbid members to visit temples, especially the Head Temple Taiseki-ji. Members are free to visit their local temples if they wish."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu publishes a notice that all SG members seeking to make a tozan to the Head Temple must register with their local Nichiren temple instead of with their SG community center."

Sokagakkai view:"SG is working for kosen-rufu as originally taught by Nichiren. Pres. Ikeda has led SG to global kosen-rufu and thus supports the will of Nichiren."

Nichiren Shoshu view:"Ikeda wants to destroy the priesthood and create his own religion."

Sokagakkai view: "SG says that they expect some attrition of members. 300,000 is an overestimate."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu actively encourages members to leave SG. Nichiren Shoshu says that approximately 300,000 households have left SG."

November 8, 1991
Sokagakkai view:"SG sees the priests as exerting a doctrine that they are superior to lay believers, and this doctrine is not in the spirit of true Buddhism."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu High Priest sends a letter to the press urging Sokagakkai to disband."

November 28, 1991
Sokagakkai view: "The priesthood excommunicating an entire lay organization has no basis in sect regulations. Excommunication deviates from the correct path of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu sends a 'Notification of the Excommunication of the Soka Gakkai from Nichiren Shoshu' to the Soka Gakkai. SG has defied the High Priest, has been disobedient, and has continued libelous slander against him."

December 5, 1991
Sokagakkai view:"Sokagakkai-USA requests that High Priest Nikken resign and the priesthood withdraw from all Nichiren Shoshu temples in the U.S. SG wants reform of the priesthood and the eventual resignation of the High Priest Nikken Shonin."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Nichiren Shoshu priests remain in control of the Nichiren Shoshu temples in the United States and throughout the world."

February 3, 8, and 15, 1992
Sokagakkai view: "Nine Nichiren Shoshu priests resign from Nichiren Shoshu. They remonstrate with High Priest Nikken for violating the original spirit of Nichiren."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Departure from this sect is a fundamental betrayal of Nichiren Shoshu's creed, which can never be tolerated."

Sokagakkai view:"SG is carrying forth the mission of kosen-rufu to the world."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "SG has forsaken the doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism."

Sokagakkai view:"The teachings of Nichiren Daishonin have the ultimate authority in Nichiren Buddhism. SG under the leadership and guidance of Pres. Ikeda, is following the true teachings."

Nichiren Shoshu view:"SG is committing slander against Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism in its criticism of the priests. The priesthood is one of the Three Great Treasures and must be honored as such."

Sokagakkai view:"Enlightenment is a battle against our own negative karma and against the fundamental darkness within ourselves. Through our practice to the Gohonzon, we control our own destiny and are directly connected to Nichiren Daishonin and the Dai-Gohonzon."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "The direct way to enlightenment is to follow the High Priest sincerely. Because the High Priest has the sole possession of the true Law."

Sokagakkai view:"SG begins to issue Gohonzon reproduced from a Gohonzon transcribed in 1720 by Nichikan, 26th High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, given to SG by incumbent chief priest Sendo Narita. SG can now fully admit new members."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "The SG 'Gohonzon' is an imitation made without the qualifications to endow it with the enlightened life of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin. This 'Gohonzon' is counterfeit and has no power to bring out one's Buddhahood. It can bring no benefit."

Sokagakkai view:"Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon for all people throughout the world. His fundamental intent was to make the Gohonzon available to all those who seek to practice his teachings."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Only Gohonzon issued by the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu are legitimate. He alone has inherited the Heritage of the Law. This is Nichiren Shoshu tradition for 700 years."

Sokagakkai view:"The blessing of the 'Opening of the Eyes' is accomplished by the faith and practice of a person chanting the Lotus Sutra to the Gohonzon. The priesthood did not consistently do this ceremony in the past."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Gohonzon must be empowered by the High Priest in a legitimate "Opening of the Eyes Ceremony." Only a Nichiren Shoshu priest can transcribe the mandala. Without the ceremony the practice does not bring benefit to the believer."

Sokagakkai view:"Our faith in the Dai-Gohonzon has nothing to do with physical proximity to it. It is still the Supreme Object of Worship whether we are near it or not."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "All believers must make a pilgrimage to the Head Temple Taiseki-ji. Only believers who practice at Nichiren Shoshu temples are allowed to make the pilgrimage."

Sokagakkai view: "The High Priest is arrogant and jealous of President Ikeda's success in taking Nichiren's teachings to the world. He acts in such a way as to defend his own power, even if it means ignoring Nichiren's own teachings."

Nichiren Shoshu view: "Daisaku Ikeda was in defiance of High Priest Nikken Shonin in his leadership of Sokagakkai. He has been motivated by personal arrogance, greed, and desire for power. He is not a legitimate teacher of Nichiren's Buddhism."

The sources for the information in this table are: 

  • Delfs, "Priestly Putsch," 16-17; Issues Between the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and the Soka Gakkai, Vols. 1-3. (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai International, 1991);
  • Soka Gakkai News, November 1991, January 1992, (Tokyo: SGl Culture Dept.); 
  • "The Excommunication of the Soka Gakkai?" World Tribune (November 11, 1991): 6; Reaffirming our Right to Happiness (SGl-USA, 1996); 
  • Myodo, Issues 1-3 (Pinole, CA: Nichiren Shoshu Temples of the United States, 1991-1992); 
  • Dai-Nichiren, Issues II, II-A. and III (N.p.: Nichiren Shoshu Bureau of Religious Affairs, n.d.); 
  • various unpublished photocopied letters and communiqués from Nichiren Shoshu Temples including "Sokagakkai 'Gohonzon': Source of Misfortune" (Broadside, no date but a response to 1993 events).