A Profile of Soka
Re-arranged by T.
George Orwell (1903-1950) once said, 'Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent' (Reflections on Gandhi, 1950) while Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said, 'Great Spirits Have Always Encountered Violent Objections From Mediocre Minds.' Please therefore do not read this as an attack on anyone, while comments, corrections and amplifications are welcome.
Soka (Soka means to create value; , association), is a unique phenomenon in modern Japanese history. As the largest Buddhist organisation in Japan, it has also evoked much controversy.
Internationally, Soka is acclaimed as an open, constructive religious body and its supreme leader, Ikeda Daisaku (1928- ), is praised as an educator, thinker and pacifist. Domestically, Soka is condemned as a self-righteous cult, intolerant of other religions. Ikeda himself is portrayed as a tyrant, slanderer and despot.
These two conflicting perceptions were better summed up in The Los Angeles Times (15 Mar 96) : '... perhaps no other figure in Japan today presents such a puzzle of conflicting perceptions. Ikeda resembles a prism, reflecting people's greatest hopes and worst fears...'
On the Internet, there are an average of 100 postings each day in Newsgroup's alt.religion.buddhism.nichiren; and there are also several anti-Soka sites on the Web, such as http://coyote.accessnv.com/tamonten. But for non-Japanese to understand the Soka , one has to surmount the surrounding linguistic wall and the cultural gap first, and this article attempts to present a profile of the organisation, through the examination of its historical development, its motivations, its agenda and its activities.
2. Nichiren Buddhism
Soka bases its theology on the doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu, one of the thirty over sects that claims orthodoxy to Nichiren Buddhism, a radical form of Buddhism developed by Nichiren (1222-1282).
Nichiren first studied Tendai and Shingon Buddhism. He soon became dissatisfied with their rituals and returned to his hometown. In the year 1253, he chanted one early morning for the first time, at Mt. Kiyosumi, Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo ten times. This day, 28 April in the lunar calendar, is regarded as the day Nichiren established his Buddhism.
According to Nichiren, 'the nembutsu (chanting of Namu Amida Butsu by Pure Land believers) was the way to hell; Zen was a doctrine of demons; and Shingon rituals led to ruin...', and in order to attain enlightenment at this age of Mappo (Latter Day of Law), one must commit himself only to the Lotus Sutra and chant only Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Namu is derived from a Sanskrit word Namas meaning devotion, Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the title of Lotus Sutra in Japanese. Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo can therefore be interpreted as "Devotion to the Lotus Sutra" and is called the Dai-moku (Sacred Title) in Nichiren Buddhism.
Nichiren was a controversial and serious crusader. In 1260, Nichiren submitted his Ris-sho An-koku Ron (Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Law) to a retired Kamakura Shogunate, who was a Pure Land devotee, in which he regarded the misery caused by the frequent disasters ravaging Japan in those days as due to the erroneous teachings of false Buddhism. In the treatise, he told the Shogunate that in order to establish peace, the government should banish all other Buddhist sects and order the country and the people to embrace his True Law. He provoked complaints by other sects to the Shogunate and the latter had him exiled on two occasions.
Although it was his provocative statements that invited punishments, Nichiren nevertheless saw the exiles as honan (religious persecution). In his another treatise, the Sen-ji-sho (Treatise on Selecting the Right Time, 1275), Nichiren said that in order to avenge his exile after his death, Honen (founder of Pure Land Sect) would become an evil spirit and enter the bodies of the leaders who had charged him with sedition as well as various temple priests, and create revolt.
Nichiren not only condemns other branches of Buddhism; he also comments other schools of philosophy. Although it is not known that Nichiren has specialised knowledge of Confucianism and Taoism, however, in his Kaimoku Sho (Treatise of Opening of the Eyes, 1272), he criticises that '... Although their names suggest they are wise men, in reality they are as ignorant as infants, who know nothing of cause and effect...'
It would also be interesting to know what would Nichiren's comments be on Christianity and other western thoughts such as those of Socrates and Plato if he had ever heard about them; and would Ikeda put forward the following remark to the author of an English book titled 'Japan's New Buddhism' (1973), 'We and Christianity have something in common : we are both monotheistic religions. Therefore we can respect each other, not being mutually hostile. We can study each other's doctrine and thus elevate ourselves.'
When Nichiren died, his disciples numbered about 260, and this small number split into several sects. Later, most Nichiren sects loosely reconciled with the founding sect Nichiren Shu (Nichiren Sect) but Nichiren Shoshu (Nichiren True Sect) remained an independent sect.
3. Theology : Nichiren Shoshu
Nichiren Shoshu's head temple, the Tai-seki Temple at Mt. Fuji, was built in 1290 by Nichiren's closest disciple, Nikko(1246-1333). The present High Priest, Nikken (1922- ) is its 67th.
One of the main doctrinal differences between Nichiren Shoshu and most other Nichiren sects is its interpretation of the identity of Nichiren, and hence the meaning of the Three Treasures of Buddhism.
Most Nichiren sects see Nichiren as the incarnation of Bodhistsatva Jogyo, one of the four Bodhistsatvas of Buddha Shakyamuni as expounded in Chapter 15 of the Lotus Sutra. But Nichiren Shoshu sees Nichiren as the incarnation of the Eternal Buddha who is not the historical Shakyamuni. According to Nichiren Shoshu's doctrine, there exists an Eternal Buddha but the historical Shakyamuni could not attain enlightenment to this stage because his teachings were too primitive. The True Buddha (or original Buddha) is Nichiren and he is regarded as superior than the historical Shakyamuni.
Because Nichiren is regarded as the true Buddha, the object of worship in Nichiren Shoshu is a large camphor wooden plank (about 2 m high with a 30-cm-square cross-section weighing about 150 Kg) called the Dai-Gohonzon (Supreme Object of Worship), on which the scared phrase (in Japanese kanji) Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo are carved. Nichiren Shoshu claims that this wooden Dai-Gohonzon, presently enshrined in its head temple, the Tai-seki Temple, was inscribed by Nichiren who had infused all his 'Buddha life' into it. To Nichiren Shoshu followers, this wooden Dai-Gohonzon is the only correct Object of Worship for all mankind.
The traditional Three Treasures of Buddhism (the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood) therefore means different things in Nichiren Shoshu : the Buddha is Nichiren and not Shakyamuni; the Law is the wooden Dai-Gohonzon; and the Priesthood only means the successive High Priests of Tai-seki Temple because they are the Kechi-myaku (Direct Inheritors) of 'True Buddha' Nichiren and his successor, Nikko. The High Priest of Tai-seki Temple is therefore Nichiren's messenger who alone carries the lineage of 'True' Buddhism.
As the wooden Dai-Gohonzon is the only piece in the world and is enshrined at the head temple, the object of worship for a Nichiren Shoshu's subsidiary temple is a large mandala, in a form of a large paper scroll (about the usual size of a Chinese ink-painting) created by Nichiren, known as Gohonzon (Devoted Object of Worship). Nichiren had inscribed many large paper Gohonzon to his disciples (about 128 of them still exist today). Paper Gohonzon also has the scared phrase Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo written vertically in the center, around which are arranged names of various deities, including a Shinto God, as if to protect the Lotus Sutra.
Under the doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu, a large paper Gohonzon must be inscribed by the High Priest of Tai-seki Temple because he is the only Kechi-myaku (Direct Inheritors) of the 'True Law' of Nichiren and Nikko. Every High Priest will inscribe a large paper Gohonzon for a new subsidiary temple, which must be recorded down in the Temple's Registry.
Ordinary adherents use a replica, much reduced in size, so as to fit it into the family altars. Once inscribed or reproduced, the paper Gohonzon (large or small size) must also be consecrated by the High Priest in a Go-jin-kai (Opening of the Eyes Ceremony) to bring forth its Buddha-nature. The adherent must also make regular to-zan (pilgrimage) to the Tai-seki Temple to pray to the wooden Dai-Gohonzon, in order to draw its power to the individual paper Gohonzon.
4. Nichiren Shoshu vs. Other Nichiren Sects
To other Nichiren sects, the Lotus Sutra is the basis to Nichiren Buddhism; but in Nichiren Shoshu's (and Soka ) theology, the Lotus Sutra of Shakyamuni is 'repudiated and replaced by the writings of Nichiren, although the Sutra may be borrowed from to illustrate Nichiren's teachings.' (Toda, 'Lecture on the Sutra') The 26th High Priest of Tai-seki Temple, Nichikan, writes, 'we recite the Hoben-pon (Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra) to smash the provisional Lotus Sutra, then we recite the Juryo-hon (Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra) to smash the Hoben-pon, then we recite the Dai-moku to smash the Juryo-hon.'
Because other 30-plus Nichiren sects identify the historical Shakyamuni as the True Buddha, their object of worship is the statues of Isshon Shishi (one master and four disciples) as expounded in Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra : the master is Buddha Shakyamuni and the four disciples are the four Bodhistsatvas. Other Nichiren sects say that treating a paper Gohonzon as an object of worship for individual followers is a tradition rather than a rule because Nichiren followers were subject to constant conflicts with Buddhists from other sects and a paper Gohonzon could be rolled up and brought to safety in times of emergency. To them, a paper Gohonzon could be inscribed by any priest as they view the Kechi-myaku (Direct Inheritors) as meaning that those who have faith in Nichiren Buddhism would be directly connected to Nichiren.
Pronunciation in the Dai-moku is also different : other Nichiren sects pronounce it as Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo whereas Nichiren Shoshu (and Soka ) recites it as Nam' Myoho-Renge-Kyo. As Nichiren said that all the characters on the Gohonzon are Golden Buddhas, other Nichiren sects claim that Nichiren Shoshu (and Soka ) is not just dropping a vowel, but dropping a Buddha.
According to other Nichiren sects, the idea of Buddha Nichiren did not originate with Nichiren or Nikko but is the brainchild of Nichiu (1402-1482), and Nichikan (1665-1726), the 9th and 26th High Priests respectively of Tai-seki Temple. Other Nichiren sects say that Nichiren Shoshu (and Soka ) altered the Gosho (Nichiren's Major Writings) in order to fit its doctrines and theories: Nichiren Shoshu (and Soka ) is said to have eliminated a lot of the 'Eternal Shakyamuni' in the original Gosho and replaced it with either 'Shakyamuni' or 'Original Buddha', so that it can add footnotes that read, 'Nichiren says Shakyamuni but he is referring to himself as the True Buddha'. Other Nichiren sects also say that many forged documents originated from Tai-seki Temple between 15th and 18th centuries. They say that in reality, Nichikan is the true founder of Nichiren Shoshu, not Nichiren or Nikko. They say that although it is innovative to interpret Nichiren as the 'True Buddha', it actually goes against the Nichiren teachings.
Other Nichiren sects claim that there is also no historical or documentary proof that Nichiren had ever inscribed a wooden Dai-Gohonzon, and that the word 'wooden Dai-Gohonzon' first appeared only after the year 1488, 200 years after Nichiren's death. There was also no evidence that Tai-seki Temple was worshipping the wooden Dai-Gohonzon in the 13th and 14th century. But Nichiren Shoshu insists that, according to Nichiren's documents kept at Tai-seki Temple, Nichiren inscribed this wooden Dai-Gohonzon secretly on 12 October, 1279 for a mysterious man named Yashiro Kunashige. In the 17th century, Tai-seki Temple's High Priest, while conceding no such man existed in Nichiren's time, explained that what Nichiren meant about this mysterious man in fact was 'the all mankind.' Nichiren Shoshu claims that when Nikko left Mt. Minobu to Mt. Fuji, he secretly brought it out of Ku-on Temple.
Other Nichiren sects claim that in view of the size and weight of the wooden Dai-Gohonzon, it would take several weeks, if not several months to complete it; and would be impossible for Nichiren to ask someone to carve and for Nikko to take it out of Ku-on Temple without the notice of other priests. The original Nichiren Shu claims that Ku-on Temple, its Head Temple which was built by Nichiren himself, had all along worshipped the statues of Isshon Shishi as the object of worship. Other Nichiren sects also say that Nikko, after building Tai-seki Temple in 1290, built another temple called Hon-mon Temple at Omosu, not far from Tai-seki Temple, in 1293 and stayed there until he died and never returned to Tai-seki Temple. If Nikko had ever left the wooden Dai-Gohonzon at Tai-seki Temple, he would have made pilgrimages to Tai-seki Temple in his last 40 years of his life, staying around Mt. Fuji.
On the claim of orthodoxy to Nichiren Buddhism, Tai-seki Temple based its claim on two documents (not originals) in which Nichiren was said to have bequeathed to Nikko. By Transmission of Kechi-myaku (Direct Inheritors), Tai-seki Temple therefore places itself as the only orthodox sect of Nichiren Buddhism. Other Nichiren sects counter-claim that the two documents are forged by Nichikan, while Tai-seki Temple maintains that they were faithfully copied by Nikko after the originals were lost.
On the other hand, the original Nichiren Shu claims its orthodoxy based on the historical fact that its Head Temple, Ku-on Temple at Mt. Minobu was built by Nichiren in 1274 and most importantly, Nichiren asked his disciples, including Nikko, to bury him at Ku-on Temple. When Nikko died at Hon-mon Temple at Omosu, Mt. Fuji, he had also asked that his body be placed to face Mt. Minobu. Nichiren Shu says that Nikko also built several (eight ?) other temples around Mt. Fuji, out of which only Tai-seki Temple has not reconciled with Nichiren Shu.
Other Nichiren sects interpret Kechi-myaku as the inheriting of the Law, the Buddha Nature of the Lotus Sutra and not, as claimed by Nichiren Shoshu, only the successive High Priests of Tai-seki Temple. They say that Nichiren wants his followers to 'follow the Law not the person', and the Kechi-myaku is inherited directly from the scrolls of the Lotus Sutra based on a person's faith and any faithful person can directly receive this Kechi-myaku. They say that it is illogical for the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu to claim himself an omniscient God.
Because other Nichiren sects worship Shakyamuni, Tai-seki Temple (and Soka ) considers them as slanders of the 'True Buddhism' and accuse them as Jyashu (heretical sects); on the other hand, other Nichiren sects accuse Tai-seki Temple (and Soka ) for mystifying the Nichiren Buddhism. They claim that Nichiren Shoshu (and Soka ) berates and slanders the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Buddhism by mixing up reasoning and intuitive interpretation.
5. The Lotus Sutra and the Nichiren Buddhism
The Lotus Sutra was said to be the Buddha's last message, originally written in Sanskrit. The present-day Lotus Sutra was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (344-413) and consists of 28 chapters. It is one of the main sutras of Mahayana Buddhism and the most important sutra of Tendai (Ch. Tian-Tai) Sect. Tendai was established by Chih-I (Ch. Zhi-Yi, 538-597) at Mt. Tian-Tai in China, hence its name. Chih-I assigns the Lotus Sutra the highest position among all sutras and his thoughts on Lotus Sutra resulted in three authoritative books which later became guides for all who revered the Lotus Sutra.
Prince Shotoku (574-622) was the first Japanese to undertake the writing of commentaries on the Lotus Sutra followed by Saicho (767-822) who later established Japan's Tendai Sect at Mt. Hi-ei. Tendai's influence extended to various persons in Japan : Honen (1173-1212, Pure Land Sect), Shinran (1173-1262, New Pure Land Sect), Dogen (1200-1253, Soto School of Zen Sect), and Nichiren who all studied the Lotus Sutra on Mt. Hi-ei at one time or another. Dogen and Nichiren, in particular, espoused the Lotus Sutra as their spiritual support.
In China, various stories and allegories of rich literary quality were depicted in pictorial art, such as those which appear in Dung Huang Caves (300-1000 ?). Similarly in Japan, the great literary work The Tale of Genji (871), for example, also mentioned that people learnt the art of copying Lotus Sutra as a means of acquiring religious merit; and the contemporary writer Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1932) was so fond of the Sutra that he even requested his family to print 1,000 copies of the Lotus Sutra for distribution to his friends after his death. We can therefore say that the Lotus Sutra is popular in China and Japan not because of any sectarian affiliation but because of its own merits.
Nichiren further developed the Lotus Sutra and called the first 14 chapters of the Lotus Sutra as the shaku-mon (Shadow Gate), which means teaching in theory or substance with its 'shadow', and the last 14 chapters as Hon-mon (True Gate) which means teaching in practice or real substance.
In Nichiren teachings, one can find elements of Shingon Buddhism, Shinto and Japanese bushido (Way of Warriors), and to Japanese Nichirenists (including Nichiren Shu, Hokkei Kai, Kempon Hokkei, Nichiren Shoshu etc), Nichiren Buddhism is an indigenous religion. Nichiren himself claimed that Buddhism had declined in India and China and that Japan was now the central land of the religion. This statement was used as an excuse by the Japan's Militarist Government in suppressing local Buddhist organisations in Korea and Taiwan when both places were colonies of Japan.
As to his own identity, Nichiren was beating about the bush and some Japanese scholars even insist that Nichiren only considered himself as a human being. But it should not come as a surprise if radical Nichirenists identify Nichiren as the only True Buddha in this universe if one knows the unique Japanese sense of distinctiveness -- the attitude of superiority and, sometimes, contempt for others. A good example to illustrate this point is that a Chinese Emperor called himself Ten-Shi (Son of Heaven Court) while a Japanese Emperor called himself as Ten-Nõ (King of Heaven Court).
Many sincere Nichirenists in Japan might feel hurt by this assertion but it cannot be denied that they, for example, always take pride in saying that the chanting of 'Namu Myoho Renge Kyo' (invented by Nichiren) phonetically reverberates better than 'Namu Amida Butsu' (imported from Chinese). The claim of orthodoxy by each and every Nichiren sect, not only to their branch of Buddhism, but also to all religions in this world, is also similar to the Japanese Militarist's mystical term, hakko ichi-u (the eight corners of the world under one roof); which signified vaguely a Japanese moral predominance over the world.
There is no doubt that this nationalistic element contributes to the single-mindedness in the faith of Nichiren Shoshu followers : that it is the supreme religion in the world, as the only True Buddha in this universe is none other than a Japanese call Nichiren.
6. Founding of Soka
Soka was founded in 1930 by Makiguchi (1871-1944) and Toda (1900-1958) as a lay organisation of Nichiren Shoshu. At that time, Makiguchi was already a member of Nichiren Shoshu for 2 years and Soka was known as Soka Education then. Makiguchi became its first president.
In the Constitution of Soka , it takes the doctrine of Tai-seki Temple as its doctrine and takes the wooden Dai-Gohonzon as its Object of Worship. It also vows to protect the Three Treasures of Nichiren Shoshu.
During WW2, the Japanese Militarist Government promoted Shinto as a state religion in order to rally its people to its war cause. Some religious bodies objected to the war, but most, including Nichiren Shoshu and Soka , were forced to support it. When the Militarist Government further put all religions under state control, many religious leaders resisted and refused to buy amulets from the Grand Shrine of Ise which were distributed with government backing, resulting in the arrest of over 2,000 religious leaders during that time. Makiguchi and Toda were arrested towards the end of the War in November 1944. Makiguchi died in the jail but Toda was released in July 1945. Makiguchi is now depicted by Soka as a martyr who opposed the War; however, the facts do not necessarily support this.
Toda reconstructed the organisation after WW2 and gave it the present name. He also became the second president in May 1951. At that time, Soka had only a few thousand members and Toda vowed that if he could not achieve a membership of 750,000 families before he died, he would rather his ashes be thrown into Shinagawa River. A fanatical and successful shaku-buku program was then undertaken.
At that time, defeat in WW2 (1945) brought great and sudden shifts to Japan and the State Shinto was abolished by the American Occupation Forces. The Japanese were confused, disillusioned and demoralised. When the Korean War (1950) broke out and General MacArthur subsequently vowed to use atomic bombs on China, many Japanese saw WW3 as imminent, and Soka cleverly hinted that if Japanese did not embrace the 'True Law' this time, Japan would again be punished with more atomic bombs. The Korean War also accelerated the economic development of Japan and increasing numbers of Japanese started to move to the cities. The bonding of groups familiar to the common Japanese had suddenly disappeared. Soka therefore catered to the spiritual needs of those at the lower end of Japanese society and helped them to overcome their isolation vis-à-vis the giant unions and corporations and gave them something to look forward to.
Since the Japanese Emperor was forced to deny his own divinity by General MacArthur and become a human being, Toda vowed that the Emperor should also be shaku-buku-ed one day to the 'True Buddhism'; meaning that the Emperor, whom has been looked upon by the Japanese people as their spiritual god for centuries, should now look upon the High Priest of Tai-seki Temple for his own eternal salvation.
Toda's goal was said to have been achieved one year before he passed away, when Soka claimed a membership of 760,000 families in 1957.
7. Ikeda and His 'Human Revolution'
Ikeda succeeded Toda in 1960 as the third president of Soka , a position that had been left vacant for 2 years after Toda died.
Ikeda was an employee of Toda's Okura Trading Co, its main business in the 1950s being money lending. Under the influence of Toda, Ikeda joint Soka and later became the Head of the Young Men's Department.
After Ikeda became the president, he started to modify the policies and programs of his predecessor to improve Soka public image, and in 1964, Ikeda decided to abandon the fanatical methods of shaku-buku as Soka made its debut in national politics.
On 30 June 1967, he was said to have told a meeting of headquarters leaders that '...if you become rigid and inflexible in your manner, there is the danger of your becoming isolated from society. What we advocate is something everyone can agree on. We must always bear in mind that we are living in society...'
In his speech 'Humanism and The Human Revolution' to the Men's Division of Soka on 20 August 1975, Ikeda again said, 'We have resolved never to sanction war or other forms of violence and always to use peaceful means, no matter how important the task. A revolution should never kill, it should liberate people to let them live fully.'
But curiously, in Soka 70-year history, one can find a string of records in which constant aggressive behaviour and antagonistic views toward other religions in Japan are common norms. In Japan, therefore, Soka is seen to be only adapting itself using the concept of geyu (appearance change) and naisho (inner true being) : any apparent change in Soka policies and activities is merely geyu, while its naisho remains immutable.
As the spiritual leader of millions of followers in Japan and overseas, he acts as an international citizen and travels extensively, meeting important international figures, such as Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, General Fidel Castro and many others. Ikeda attached much importance to these meetings as it helped Soka appear as respectable as any other Japanese party or pressure group. Many books have been published in this respect, and his most recent publication is a book called 'My Intimate Talks With Global Pioneers' (1996).
But Ikeda's most important book is the 'Human Revolution', a 10-volume 'novel' which is said to be a survey of the early history of Soka under Toda's leadership. Ikeda appears in the book as the student of Toda under the name of Yamamoto Shinichi. The book tells of how Toda and Ikeda could repeatedly overcome 'great difficulties' during the development stage of Soka through faith in Nichiren Buddhism.
'Human Revolution' is the modern term given by Ikeda to Nichiren's teachings on attaining Buddhahood; in other words, 'Human Revolution' is to revolutionise one's life through Nichiren Buddhism. He claims that Nichiren Buddhism is 'a religion of man, strives to put man himself in the center of all affairs, and seeks to direct the course of history on the basis of this principle,' and through 'Human Revolution', individuals will become the source of authority of the religion.
However, there are stories in the book, especially the part related to the priesthood, that do not conform with what Soka is saying today after Soka has been excommunicated by the priesthood. For example, the 62nd High Priest, Nikkyo (1869-1945), who died in the fire in the Head Temple's kyaku-den (Reception Hall), was described in the book as : 'not only did he fight courageously for his faith, he also risked his life to oppose state authorities when they attempted to suppress his religion'; but in the latest anti-priesthood literature, the same High Priest was condemned as a traitor to the faith and therefore the body was burnt to a chaotic state. As pointed out by Josh Billings (1818-1885), 'Autobiographies are the most difficult things to write correctly, for there is nothing that a man knows less about than himself'; and it would not come to a surprise if the book is being revised to fit the new atmosphere.
This year (1996), Ikeda started a new fiction-series called 'New Human Revolution' which tells the history of Soka during his own era. Although it is termed as a fiction, members are, however, told to strengthen their grasp of Nichiren's Buddhism by deepening their study of 'the Gosho, the New Human Revolution and Ikeda's Guidance'; members are also encouraged to use the book 'as a source of encouragement and food for dialogue.' At this point, what British journalist Anthony Sampson (1926 - ) has said might be relevant, 'Members rise from CMG (call me God), to KCMG (kindly call me God), to GCMG (God calls me God).'
Under Ikeda's leadership, Soka membership has increased to 8.5 million household members in Japan and 1.2 million in 120 countries. He has also transformed Soka into an organisation with a very broad-reaching political, cultural and philosophical agenda. For his contributions to world peace, education and cultural activities, he received in 1983 the UN Peace Award and has about 40 Honorary Doctorate Degrees from overseas universities.
8. UN's Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)
Soka is a member of UN's NGO, supporting and donating generously to UN's world peace, human rights, educational and cultural activities; and to cash-strapped UN, it certainly welcomes and appreciates these generosities. In his recent iterview with the BBC (14 October, 1995), Ikeda said, 'Religion can be compared to mother earth. We must cultivate the earth in order to bring forth plants and flowers. The promotion of peace, education, and culture is a fundmental role for religion.'
Soka considers fundamental human rights as a foundation of Nichiren Buddhism: the dignity and respect for human life. They also consider that world peace can be brought about through Nichiren Buddhism as it is the 'most tolerant and most firmly founded in the spirit of compassion and peace'.
But unlike other religions which pray for the blessings of their deities in bringing peace to mankind, Soka sees permanent world peace possible only if the entire world worships Nichiren's 'True' Buddhism. Soka claims that only Nichiren Buddhism can make mankind experience a series of 'human revolutions' and improve the individual karmas, and thus contribute to lasting peace. Ikeda, quoting from Nichiren's Gosho, believes that if Itai doshin (many in body, one in faith) prevails among the people, they will achieve their goals.
This conviction originated from Nichiren when he was pardoned from his final exile in 1274. He refused to perform any ritual for the benefit of the nation and interpreted the attempted Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281 as a warning to Japan for not embracing his 'True Buddhism'. He declared to his followers : " I, Nichiren, am the master and lord of the sovereign, as well as of all the Buddhists of other schools. Notwithstanding this, the rulers and the people treat us maliciously... Therefore, ... the Mongols are coming to chastise them..." A similar conviction was repeated by Toda, Soka Second President, who interpreted Japan's defeat in WW2 as due to its turning to a false religion (Shinto) for help, and as punishment for slandering 'True Buddhism', atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, meaning that had Japan turned to Nichiren Buddhism, it would have won the War.
In his speech on 26 Jan 1975 delivered at the Soka World Peace Conference, Ikeda said that the British historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), in a 10-day dialogue with him, had agreed with his argument that the 'dissemination of a world-wide religion could become the spiritual basis on which to create an ideal world state' and that Toynbee requested that Soka go on bravely with its task after he was told that 'though Soka may have been criticised by many people, it has continued steadily to struggle for lasting peace.' Ikeda therefore urged members to 'dedicate your whole lives to sowing the seeds of Nichiren Buddhism for the sake of peace for the whole world.'
9. Political Activities
But the most controversial activity that Soka engages in is politics. Soka claims that its involvement in politics in Japan was inspired by fact that Nichiren had always advocated the ideal of national prosperity and security through the establishment of "True Buddhism".
Soka self-appointed role in politics is based on the concept of Õ-Butsu Myo-Go, a term abbreviated from Nichiren's writings. Õ is an abbreviation, referring to society as a whole; Butsu refers to Nichiren Buddhism; Myo-Go means unity. The term therefore means that all political, economic, cultural and artistic pursuits must be based on Nichiren's teachings in order to have a truly humanistic nature.
Although Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution expressly states that politics and religion must be separated, the Japanese Government has put on record that it is lawful for a religious body to engage in political activities as long as the religious body does not seek to exercise executive power.
So far, Soka is the only religious body which has set up a serious political arm, the Komeito (Clean Government Party). As the number of Soka members increases, so too has the strength of Komeito. However, this affiliation also works as a double-edged sword: on one hand, almost all members of Soka vote for the Komeito while other voters are reluctant to do so. But this was enough for Komeito to become the third largest political party in the Parliament before it joined the Opposition, Shinshinto (New Frontier Party) in December 1994: it has over 50 members each in both Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament.
Because of the fragmentation of power in today's politics in Japan, coupled with the low turnout rate of the general public versus the high turnout rate of Soka members in every election, Soka has increased its bargaining power and Komeito has proved to be a useful tool for achieving its strategic objectives. In fact, Ikeda has already played the role of a political god-father behind the scenes in the past two decades, using religion to command full support of his followers both morally and financially, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
Soka public stance on the issue of politics and religion shifts from time to time. In 1970, Ikeda publicly announced that Soka would stay out of politics and Komeito would be independent after a scandal was exposed, in which Soka tried to persuade book-shops not to sell a book critical of Soka . But the people have never been convinced and in May 1988, two Komeito parliamentarians revealed in the Bungei Shunju magazine that Komeito all along received financial support from Soka , and this story was also carried in the Far Eastern Economic Review (30 June 1988).
A most recent example of Soka involvement in politics was the Upper House mid-term by-election in July 1995. With the help of Soka members' votes, the opposition Shinshinto was able to win more votes than the ruling coalition although on the whole, the ruling coalition still maintained a majority in the Upper House. Shinshinto's Ozawa publicly acknowledged that half of the 12 million votes collected was delivered by Soka members.
After the election, other political parties accused Soka of not only morally supporting the Shinshinto, but also providing political funds and using its members to canvass votes for Shinshinto. Over 1,000 of Soka Kaikan (Community Centres) all over Japan were said to have been used for election purposes.
The charges by other political parties are understandable. They consider the Soka as enjoying an unfair advantage when engaged in political activities: any investigation of wrong-doings could easily be lamented as religions persecution, resulting in the undermining of Japan's democratic process. They also regard Soka as a long-term threat to the democratic system because of its huge financial resources. The Soka is estimated to have a yearly income of US$ 2 billion from its various religious activities, which are mostly tax-free. The Soka also reportedly has assets of more than US$ 100 billion.
But Soka repeatedly claims that their stated aim is not to 'take over' Japan nor to impose Nichiren Buddhism on an unwilling population. The objective is to bring into office humanistic individuals who truly have the welfare of the people at heart, not the interests of large enterprises. Nowadays, Soka avoids the use of the term Õ-Butsu Myo-Go and Ikeda declared : 'We don't have the slightest intention of ever supporting a theocratic government. Soka was almost destroyed by State Shinto, by a form of nationalism that really did merge the political and the religious. Why in the world would we want to repeat that bitter experience ?'
But since this year (1996), Soka changes its official stance again. It has claimed that the principle of separating religion and state only means that the state cannot interfere with religion and not the other way round. It points to the example that in Europe, some political parties are based on Christianity.
10. New Single-Seat Constituency System
Until now, Soka had been able to send its candidates through Komeito to Parliament because of the Japanese multi-seat constituency election system. Two to six members in a single constituency are elected to Parliament based on the number of votes each candidate obtains. Komeito could therefore calculate its chances of winning as it knew the number of Soka members in a particular constituency, and could send in as many candidates as possible to stand in that constituency.
However, starting from the next election, the present constituencies will be divided into 300 single-seat constituencies and another 200 parliamentary seats will be given to political parties in proportion to the number of votes the parties garner. In the single-seat constituency, only one candidate with the highest number of votes will be elected in each constituency. The smaller parties, like Komeito and Social Democratic Party (the former Socialist Party), will find it difficult to win in any constituency under the new system and would have to find political alliances in order to survive.
The opposition Shinshinto is led by Ozawa who was a member of the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), the largest political party in Japan. He has a good personal relationship with Soka leaders and hence Komeito. Their relationship dates back to 1970 when Soka was involved in the suppression of the publication and sales of a book critical of Soka . Tanaka, Ozawa's guru, was the then secretary-general of LDP . Tanaka helped Ikeda avoid indictment in Parliament as LDP controlled Parliament. At the time when Ozawa wanted to enlarge his political base after splitting from the LDP, Komeito was also searching for a political alliance. It was natural that the two parties join forces.
For Komeito in the Shinshinto, one of its biggest assets is the guaranteed number of votes it can collect in each constituency. The number of Komeito supporters, who are invariably Soka members, is not a majority in most constituencies, but is significant enough to affect the outcome of the election.
11. Revision to the 1951 Religious Corporation Law
Although the LDP tried to curb the political influence of Soka , it could not do so because it was afraid of being accused of interfering with religious freedom. Similarly, the Police Department was also unable to carry out any serious investigations into any incidents reported against religious bodies. This was due to the bad reputation of the Government and the Police Department during WW2 for their part in religious persecutions, and also because of the weakness of 1951 Religious Corporation Law.
Under the 1951 Religious Corporation Law, a religious body need only register with a local authority. Presently, there are some 185,000 registered religious bodies in Japan. Once registered, a religious body in Japan is virtually free to do whatever it wants.
When the Aum Shinri-kyo cult was found to be involved in the Tokyo subway gas attack in March 1995, public sentiments towards the 1951 Law changed. This was a golden opportunity for the LDP to push through a revision of the law, and the LDP used the issue to engage in Soka bashing.
Basically, the revised law requires a nationally religious body to register with the Ministry of Education instead of a local authority; to submit financial reports, and to allow its members to question its activities. Before the amendment, Soka was the only one out of the five largest religious bodies in Japan which did not release its financial accounts to the public on a voluntarily basis.
Soka objected to the amendment, and its daily, the Seikyo Shimbun (circ. 5.5 million), devoted significant pages each day between September and December 1995 to voice its denunciation. Among the reasons given, Soka argued that by revising the law, the Government was imposing unity of the church and state as had happened during the War. It argued that to place religious bodies under state control was to violate human rights and curb religious freedom. Soka also said that there was no necessity to open its financial books because it already had a stringent internal audit policy. It claimed that the members' right to question its activities would be subject to abuse.
But Soka yearly fund-drives raise an estimated US$ 2 billion in cash, which is more than the revenue of many countries in the world. It is therefore questionable that its financial management could satisfactorily rely on its internal audit especially when there have already been a few financial improprieties revolving around Soka .
In June 1989, an old safe abandoned by Soka was found. It contained unused Japanese notes equivalent to about US$ 1.5 million, all in the Japanese Central Bank's original wrapping,. A few days later, a senior Soka officer, Nakanishi, claimed that the money actually belonged to him. He claimed that it was the profit he had made by selling gold-plated religious cups at Tai-seki Temple. He said that he had placed the money in the Soka safe and had forgotten to take it back after having left it in one of the Soka buildings for several years. He also admitted that he did not apply for the trading license and had not paid tax on the gains. Nakanishi was also an employee of Toda's Okura Trading and is presently the Director of General Affairs of Soka .
In April 1991, Nikkei Shimbun reported on the irregularity of an oil painting purchased by the Soka . Two paintings by the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir had been purchased for US$ 41 million for its Tokyo Fuji Art Museum. It was found that the officials of Soka had actually paid only US$ 26 million for the paintings, while the balance of US$ 15 million was unaccounted for. However, even after an investigation by the police, no further action has been taken.
Then a month later, Soka was asked to pay about US$ 7 million in back taxes and penalties for failing to report its earnings of about US$ 23 million in selling cemetery stones to its members. It was also discovered that a sum of about US$ 3 million from the profit had been paid to a former Soka lawyer, Yamazaki, who had extorted from the Soka by threatening to reveal its financial matters. When the same lawyer intended to extort another US$ 5 million, Soka reported the matter to the police and Yamazaki was sentenced to 3 years in jail.
Again in June 1991, Soka was on the list of 231 favoured clients, including Sony, Shell, Mitsubishi and other big corporations, who shared a total of US$ 1.5 billion in compensation payment for stock-market losses. Although the list was prepared by the Stock-Brokers' Association under the sanction of the Ministry of Finance, Soka argues that the money was not compensation but for repayment of loans.
It is believed that these incidents represent just a tip of the iceberg had not Yamazaki sold Soka out after being arrested. Religious bodies in Japan are relatively free of scandals because under the old law, the authorities could not investigate on the basis of complaints. Evidence was required in order to get an investigation underway.
12. Ikeda Avoids the Call to Testify
Because the coalition was still in control, the Revision to present legislation was passed in the Lower House in November 1995. But when the bill was presented to the Upper House in December 1995, Soka flexed its political muscle.
At that time, the Upper House's special committee, controlled by the LDP, intended to summon Ikeda to testify about his links with Shinshinto. LDP hoped that this would unnerve Soka members, and perhaps dampen Soka support of the Shinshinto. Some 100 Shinshinto (mainly from Komeito camp) members opposed to the subpoenaing of Ikeda put up physical resistance and threatened bloodshed. They blocked the meeting room of the special committee and placed the committee members under virtual confinement forseveral hours.
Of this incident, Soka claimed that the Shinshinto members were defending Japan's democratic system while the ruling coalition said otherwise. The LDP charged that if Ikeda had done nothing wrong, he should not be afraid to be examined and should not think that he is above the Parliament, especially since Soka had denounced the revision so vigorously to the extent of accusing the Government of persecuting religious bodies.
The bizarre incident has left people sceptical about the link between Shinshinto and the Soka --which was exactly what the LDP wanted-- and the Upper House later compromised by calling only Akiya, the present President of Soka , to the floor. This was the fifth time that Ikeda had successfully avoided the call to testify in Parliament, and the LDP has indicated that it will not give up on subpoenaing Ikeda at another 'appropriate time'.
13. Recent Political Development
There is already growing criticism that Soka , which has gone beyond the boundaries of actions characterising the manner of a religious organisation, is displaying behaviour that violates the rules of a democratic society. In the next Parliament sitting, LDP intends to enact a new law known as "Basic Law on Religious Corporation" to prohibit religious bodies from engaging in political activities entirely, and vows to call Ikeda to testify.
As usual, what has concerned Soka is the possibility of Ikeda being called to testify in the Parliament this time. Now that the possibility of Shinshinto winning the next election has become less promising after Ozawa's own closest allies, Hosokawa, Hata (both were prime ministers installed by Ozawa last year), Hatoyama and Funada forms their own factions, the one way out for Soka to avoid this embarrassment is for the Komeito faction to break away from the Shinshinto. The possibility of Komeito re-aligning its political base with Hata and Hatoyama, or even LDP, in the next election should not be ruled out. In fact, in the recent Kurabuki City Mayor election (May 1996), Soka , as a gesture, was helping LDP's candidates to win the election. Kurabuki City is the hometown and the power base of the Prime Minister Hashimoto and the elected Mayor is from the Hashimoto's faction.
Obviously, LDP only intends to play the Soka card to its political advantage, and the strategy of calling Ikeda to testify in the Parliament has proven effective in squeezing political concessions from Soka . It could also use the Soka issue as a leverage in its political bargaining with other political parties. On one hand, if Soka discontinued its associations with the Shinshinto, this would immediately neutralise the Shinshinto's strength and Ikeda would not be called for the time being. LDP could always postpone the calling of Ikeda until it feels it can maximise its political benefits from the issue. On the other hand, if Soka continued with the Shinshinto, then LDP would proceed with the proposed new law and hopes that the envisaged resistance put up by the Shinshinto (and Soka ) and the testimony to be made by Ikeda would again arouse the public's distaste for the Soka and the Shinshinto again.
Ikeda appears to be more intellectually flexible, and sometimes to the extent that he has radically departed from the rigid doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu. He even allowed 'Ode to Joy' to be played as background music even though the priests complained that the music was 'Christian' in nature. But his 'openness' did not amuse the priesthood at Tai-seki Temple and in November 1991, the High Priest of Tai-seki Temple, Nikken, excommunicated Soka from Nichiren Shoshu after he received a tape recording of Ikeda criticising him. Thereafter, a war erupted between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka .
In fact, this is the second clergy/laity war during Soka 60-year affiliation with Nichiren Shoshu. When Soka sought affiliation with Nichiren Shoshu in 1930, Nichiren Shoshu had a direct membership of about 100,000 and Soka started with only 3,000. Soka developed tremendously after WW2 and now has a membership of over 8 million families in Japan. With this disparity in membership, Soka could no longer tolerate Tai-seki Temple's 'authoritative' and 'insensitive' interpretations on its doctrine and felt that Nichiren Shoshu should not be led by Tai-seki Temple (the priesthood) anymore but by Soka (the laity).
In the 1970s, rumours of Ikeda being the reincarnation of Nichiren spread and Tai-seki Temple pressed Ikeda for a retraction. Ikeda later said that 'Can a person such as I ...be thought of as a living god or a Buddha-incarnation ? It is sheer nonsense !.....' But the rumour persisted, albeit in an underground fashion.
In 1975, Soka made 8 wooden Dai-Gohonzons for Soka Kaikans (community centres) in Japan, USA and Europe. The then High Priest, Nittatsu, threatened to excommunicate Soka and Ikeda later apologised to the Tai-seki Temple, withdrawing all wooden Dai-Gohonzons. In 1979, Ikeda resigned as President to take responsibility for the incident but still remains as its de-facto leader.
This time, however, the dispute had become so petty and nasty that there was no hope of reconciliation. Nichiren Shoshu charged that Soka had deviated and betrayed its doctrine in 'scope and depth', and that Soka activities and meetings were centered on Ikeda's Guidance and not on Gosho (Nichiren's Major Writings), meaning 'following people rather than the Law'. Nichiren Shoshu also stripped Ikeda from the position of So-ko-to (General Representative for Lay Believers) and expelled him from Nichiren Shoshu.
Nichiren Shoshu claims that being an 'orthodox' sect of Nichiren Buddhism for the past 700 years, the 'True' Buddhism cannot be altered in the least. To change would be heretical. It claims that this was why the first and second presidents of Soka sought affiliation to Nichiren Shoshu despite it being a small, but 'exclusive', sect. It further claims that this was also why Soka , using the power of wooden Dai-Gohonzon had been able to firmly establish itself with more members and more kaikans through its 60 years history. Nichiren Shoshu says that Soka is at its liberty to establish its own doctrine but it should not confuse people with Nichiren Shoshu's.
15. Claim of Kechi-myaku (True Inheritors)
For the obvious reason, Soka did not favour the idea of going independent. It maintains that the Nichiren Shoshu must be reformed under Ikeda's leadership and calls for High Priest Nikken to resign. To Soka , Nichiren Shoshu becomes Nikken Shu (Nikken Sect) and Nikken, once regarded as Soka High Priest, is being condemned as Tenma (Demon from the Sky). To suit the occasion, Soka also revised its books and study materials on the Nichiren Shoshu's doctrines, especially on the point of Kechi-myaku (true inheritors) of Nichiren and Nikko.
For example, Ikeda, in his book, 'Buddhism in Action', said that 'Presently, as you know, the 67th High Priest, Nikken, has inherited the Law. Now he is the master of 'True' Buddhism....'; that 'The Gohonzon, which we are allowed to receive so that we can pray in our own home, can be inscribed only by one of the successive high priests who inherit the true lineage of Nichiren Shoshu ....'; and that 'Though [other Nichiren sects] may seem the same as ours, they lack the single, unbroken heritage of the Law received directly from Nichiren. If one's faith is not based on this line of inheritance, it is worthless to embrace any Gohonzon, for no benefit will be forthcoming ....'
Now, Soka charges that Nikken is a heretic because he expelled Ikeda and excommunicated Soka , and that his loose life-style disqualified Nikken from receiving Nichiren and Nikko's heritage, claiming every prerogative concerning the Gohonzon should rest with Soka . It also claims that it is now 'directly connected' to Nichiren and Nikko because Soka has converted millions of people to the 'True' Buddhism. Ikeda declares (1992), 'Without our organisation, the True Law would be utterly lost. There would be no way to save humanity. This is why supporting and defending Soka is the same as defending and advancing Nichiren Buddhism ....' Here, Ikeda was referring to the incident during WW2, when the Militarist Government wanted Nichiren Shoshu and Soka to pay respect to the State Shinto God. At that time, Nichiren Shoshu obliged but Soka objected. Nichiren Shoshu explains that it is easy to say and to misunderstand all this now but if one put it in historical perspective it is not so unreasonable, especially when they did not want to see the Dai-Gohonzon and the Tai-seki Temple being destroyed during that difficult period.
Soka has since intensified its focus on Ikeda's Guidance. To members, it is not so much that Ikeda is a Buddha incarnated from Nichiren, but that his 'Human Revolution' (and lately, the 'New Human Revolution') and Daily Guidance are the modern Gosho (Nichiren's Major Writings). In a US Soka publication, World Tribune (16 November 92), it was stated that 'one way [of making 'sincerity' real in our lives] is to constantly renew our determination to live with sincerity by putting Ikeda's Guidance into action everyday.... It is important to study Nichiren's Writings and the Guidance of Ikeda, but unless we put all these words into action, they are meaningless.' As far as members of Soka are concerned, they believe that Ikeda is protecting Nichiren Shoshu's doctrine, and see no necessity in debating nor deliberating the issue, despite inconsistencies in before and after quotes from Ikeda that give Soka a completely new doctrine.
16. Seattle 'Scandal'
Soka is determined to win the war this time. It claims that it wants to modernise Nichiren Shoshu to get it out of the 'dark ages' of 'authoritarianism' in this 'new age of democracy'.
Soon after the excommunication, Soka changed the contents of the Gongyo (Silent Prayers) Book to include the names of its past two presidents as Kechi-myaku of Nichiren and Nikko. It also announced that members' weddings were not to be held in a temple, but instead at local Soka kaikan and officiated by a Soka leader. It also promotes yujin-so (Funeral Ceremony by Soka Officials and Members) telling members that their funerals do not require a priest to chant for them anymore. Soka hopes that these measures would cause financial hardships to local temples thereby forcing them to denounce the Head Temple and bend to Soka instead. Its members also initiated more than 100 civil suits against 'defiant' temples for misplacing their ancestors' urns.
Members are also asked to attend regular Dai-moku campaigns held at Soka kaikans around the world to pray for the downfall and break-up of 'Nikken Sect'; while in 1991, a California State Attorney responsible of religious body matters, Ms Linda Johnson, a Soka (USA) leader, was found to have had participated in meetings aiming to disband Nichiren Shoshu (USA) in her 'private' capacity. To the Japanese, this scenario is not totally unfamiliar as it is quite similar to a 1970 case, where Kanzaki, a senior leader of Soka and a district attorney in Japan then, was involved in the illegal wire-tap on the residence of the chairman of the Japan Communist Party.
As to the position of the wooden Dai-Gohonzon, Soka position is still not clear although its present stance is that the wooden Dai-Gohonzon is now under the 'hostage' of Tai-seki Temple. But as from 1993, Soka decided to confer its own paper Gohonzon to its members. The paper Gohonzon that Soka confers is a reproduction of another paper Gohonzon inscribed by the 26th High Priest, Nichikan. Soka says that if one prays with faith to Soka Gohonzon, one would by-pass the priesthood's kechi-myaku and connect to Nichiren and Nikko through Soka .
Nichiren Shoshu terms these paper Gohonzon as counterfeits and counter-claims that this has put Soka as heretical as other Nichiren sects that Soka once condemned. Nichiren Shoshu claims that 'good gods would return to heaven' if Gongyo was not recited correctly, in reference to the Soka version. Without the power of wooden Dai-Gohonzon, the paper Gohonzon would be powerless let alone Soka 'imitation in form without any substance' and anyone praying to it will not attain enlightenment. It also claims that Ikeda, by 'selfishly' and 'unethically' promoting his own doctrine, has in fact led his faithful and unsuspecting members to fall into the hell of incessant suffering with him together.
Nothing is more sensational than the so-called 'Seattle Scandal'. A few months after Soka was excommunicated in 1991, a Japanese-American woman called Hiroe Clow, a Soka member for more than 40 years, came out to say that she was witness to Nikken's involvement in a prostitution scandal and arrest in the USA when Nikken visited Seattle some 30 years ago (1963). Soka published the story and also two photographs of Nikken proving that he was flirting with geishas. Although the FBI has since announced that they could not trace any records in FBI's computer network to the incident, and Nikken was able to show that the two photos had been doctored, Soka maintains that they are true and contests the libel action petitioned by Nikken who is claiming US$ 10 million in damages. However, the case is now complicated by the sudden death of Hiroe Clow in her home in California on 23 Mar 96, two weeks before she was to give evidence in the libel suit.
Physical assaults and harassment against priesthood and members sympathetic to them were allegedly carried out by members of Soka in certain areas (Time Magazine, 20 November 1995). Soka newspapers and publications also carry stories and comics almost everyday aiming to destroy the credibility of the priesthood. The war has escalated to such an extent that those visions propagated by Soka as humanistic Buddhists who claim to respect an individual's happiness, human rights, religious freedom and world peace are now very much doubted by the Japanese people.
17. Demolition of the Sho-hon-do
In December 1995, Nichiren Shoshu tore down the Sho-hon-do (Grand Main Hall) at Tai-seki Temple. With this demolition, Nichiren Shoshu and Soka are determined that they will never look back again.
The Sho-hon-do project was conceived in May, 1964 when Ikeda decided to build a hall of worship to accommodate the Dai-Gohonzon and 5,000 followers. Members were asked to save for a year and donated the money in a 4-day fund-raising drive scheduled in October 1965. The original target for the fund-raising was US$ 10 million, but the actual collection was more than US$ 100 million from 8 million members.
Sho-hon-do was completed and dedicated to Nichiren Shoshu in 1972. This building was regarded as the Kaidan Nichiren had hoped to build : in Nichiren Buddhism, the Kaidan is the ultimate place where the entire world can congregate to worship Nichiren teachings. To symbolise the goal of Kosen-rufu (propagation of the Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world), the foundation was laid with pebbles and stones from all over the world. Although according to Nichiren's own words, the Kaidan should only be built upon the completion of Kosen-rufu, but Ikeda insisted that 'we build the Sho-hon-do first and then get people to come to worship in it. We get the container first and the contents later, as it were..."
When the Sho-hon-do was completed, there was a dispute between Soka and Nichiren Shoshu with regard to who was entitled to the surplus fund; Soka was said to have sent several auditors to check the building accounts. Under the usual circumstances, and in the interest of all members, both parties should have voluntarily published an audited accounts in respect of the building fund to clarify the doubt, but it has never been done so as it was not required under the law. With the advantage of hindsight, this incident could be interpreted as the start of a serious rift between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka .
With its huge resources, Soka obviously has the upper hand, putting Nichiren Shoshu on the defensive so far. Although most members still stick to Soka , the greatest test has yet to come : under the Revised Religious Corporations Bill, Soka has to apply for registration again by September 96, and it is unlikely that Tai-seki Temple will issue the Certificate of Recognition to Soka this time. If it cannot win the war with its Head Temple by then, Soka must change its doctrines and the object of worship. Soka therefore has to convince its members that its new doctrine is the true Nichiren doctrine and not that of Tai-seki Temple.
18. Ordinary Members
In contrast with traditional Buddhism or Shinto, Soka stresses worldly values rather than afterlife ones, emphasising the achievement of health, prosperity, self-improvement, and happiness through faith in Nichiren. During Toda's era, the wooden Dai-Gohonzon was described as the 'Happiness-Generating Machine', and instant benefit could be derived from it if one reveres to it. It therefore has a special appeal to housewives because of chauvinism typical of male Japanese. This is especially so when they enter the climacteric period of menopause and they see the organisation as a source of community and spiritual comfort as they can find every answer in it. Some 65% of Soka members in Japan are female.
Members are told that they have a "higher purpose". Although many of them do not know much about Nichiren and his teachings, they fanatically believe that their faith is 'the truest religion with the only correct object of worship in the world'. They are also proud of their religion because they think that their religion is a 'non-superficial' one. This conviction leads them to believe that they have the 'right' and 'duty' to shaku-buku other people, and they would be upset, or would even turn to violence, if people told them that their religion or behaviour was objectionable. Otherwise, members are generally well disciplined and respectworthy, and are certainly useful and positive citizens if Soka issue was not involved.
Members are grateful to Ikeda for bringing the 'true' religion to them and, especially among the female members, dutifully pray for Ikeda's good health and safe return to Japan whenever Ikeda is on an overseas trip. They also believe that Ikeda Sensei (Learned Teacher) is a crusader who fights the oppressive establishment, and many are prepared to die for him.
Members usually get their news from Seikyo Shimbun in which one can find countless pictures and articles about Ikeda, who expounds on a wide range of topics from world peace to the prevention of flu, from philosophy to the arts, as if he were the only person in the world who was knowledgeable in these areas of life.
Another important channel through which members get their 'news' is from their leaders at zadankai (Monthly Discussion Meetings). For example, in the 1995 Great Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake, members were told that there had been no mention made by major newspapers on the help extended by Soka to the earthquake's victims. The reason given was that the media was 'unfair and biased against Soka ', and that 'Ms so and so just got back from Kobe and she says that she saw TV cameramen telling victims at a Soka relief centre that if they expressed gratitude to Soka , the interview would not be telecast' and so on.
And because of numerous study, cultural and other activities, their social lives are webbed into Soka circle, and have not much time for outside materials. This is why whenever there is an adverse report on Soka 'secular' matters and not 'religious' matters, they still believe that Soka and Ikeda are subject to constant 'persecution' and 'jealousy.' And in order to fight 'persecution' and 'jealousy' in election time, they always get the 'hint' and most will campaign and vote for Komeito. It can be said that members have a fixed mindset, refusing to accept views other than that of their leaders.
As far as international members are concerned, they can be described as an asset to Soka . Many of them were initially drawn to the organisation with an admiration for, and an interest in Japan and Japanese. However, because of the language barrier, their understanding of Soka in respect to the Japanese society is mainly from their own internal publications, whose accounts are necessarily incomplete, vary in comprehension and detail, and to some extent, speculative. Generally speaking, they are just as sincere and diligent as ordinary Japanese members; and their genuine religious faiths have also been translated by their leaders in Japan to the extent that Soka agenda, including political ones, have the support of the international communities.
As far as the doctrine is concerned, Nichiren Shoshu and Soka both claim the Line of Transmission of the 'True Law', as if the rest of the human race have to go to either one of them for salvation. Some FAQ (Frequently-Asked-Questions) are : Does Nichiren, claim to be the only 'True' Buddha, outdoing Shakyamuni ? Or is Nichiren Buddhism only a mirror reflecting the light shed from the Bodhi Tree ? Is the Dai-Gohonzon genuine or not ? Is reciting only 2 chapters of the Lotus Sutra without really studying them, sufficient to understand the wisdom of Buddha (Shakyamuni or Nichiren, it's doesn't matter here) ? And by rejecting the centrality of Shakyamuni, can one still be called a 'Buddhist' ?
People may no longer look at the religion as a misfortune-preventing or supernatural system anymore and just believe "encouraging" stories at face value, having no criteria to evaluate its truth. They may also want to practice the religion in daily life rather than only chant for wealth or personal benefits, as this might not have been Buddha's (Shakyamuni or Nichiren, again, it doesn't matter) original ideas. Some even believe that a true prayer is an inward examination of self-conscience and an outward well-wishing to others, attaching not much importance on praying for selfish favour. They may also prefer to perform meritorious deeds throughgenerosity, good moral conduct, etc. The exclusive devotion to a single personality (living or dead) whose authority is final would gradually give way to beliefs using 'common sense'. In short, they may want to 'investigate' and 'know' instead of being made to 'listen' and 'believe.'
Buddhists, unlike Nichirenists, generally discard sectarian bias too. Nowadays, Mahayana Buddhists are free to visit Hinayana Temples (like those in Thailand) and pay respect to different deities enshrined in the temples. To them, all sutras are Shakyamuni's teachings but represent different vehicle, and paying respect because they all belong to Shakyamuni's family.
Japanese culture in fact is a mixture of Shinto, Zen Buddhism and Confucian Thoughts, but not Nichiren Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism was never central to Japanese civilisation although it has existed for more than 700 years. This could be due to all Nichiren sects taking a narrow view on Nichiren teachings. Even in the Soka Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, none of their collections are related to Nichiren Buddhism, except at the Reception Hall where Ikeda's photography is displayed, and yet again has nothing to do with Nichiren Buddhism. If we take lessons from history, Japanese civilisation might be destroyed one day if everything were to follow the present narrow interpretation of Nichiren teachings, just like in China's Cultural Revolution.
A Buddhist is also supposed to be compassionate and tolerant, but the general view on Soka is that it lacks either of them, not to mention mutual respect. Other social and religious organisations in Japan thus always throw prejudice towards its 'conciliatory' attitude.
For example, in January 1996, Soka International (SGI), the international arm of Soka , unveiled its new Charter where Clause 7 reads : 'SGI shall, based on the Buddhist spirit of tolerance, respect other religions, engage in dialogue and work together with them towards the resolution of fundamental issues concerning humanity.' They see Soka generalising the term 'Buddhism' again as meaning only Nichiren Buddhism; and its intentions as politically motivated, with the general elections coming up within a year.
In fact, Soka greatest vulnerability is its dark side: it is suspected of using religion as a means of gaining political power.
To most people, political issues are ideally dealt with by consensus in a pragmatic way, beyond narrow ideology and blind passion. Although many social ills can be dealt with by using wisdom gained from a religion, religious wisdom is reflected through the actions of individuals and not through religious bodies. A religious believer must therefore be free to support and engage in any social or political causes they deem worthy. Thus it is common that people do not always agree on political or social issues even if they have the same religious belief.
If religions interfered with politics, the consequences could be disastrous. Externally, whenever there is a wrongdoing, a religious body could shield itself in the sanctuary of religious freedom and lament any criticism as religious persecution and anti-religious, so as to arouse its members' emotion. This would hinder a normal democratic process. Internally, a religious organisation has always divided itself into factions, some fundamental and some moderate. When leaders of different doctrinal factions are involved in power plays, a bloodshed-prone struggle would intensify. Vast energies and resources would be wasted on arguing about these issues which leads to no end.
Furthermore, most religious leaders believe in absolute power, which make them prone to abusing their positions rather than fulfilling their responsibilities. Some religious leaders may at certain time show 'good' character and conduct, but again, there is no guarantee that they, and as a matter of fact, their successors, will be able to retain the high social and political morals in response to increasing power. It could be said that these leaders show no signs of heeding the old adage that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As an example, Mao Zedong, a person so trusted and respected in his early days of struggle for his ideology, turned out to be a monster who nearly destroyed 5,000 years of civilisation in China during his 10-year Cultural Revolution.
Since there is also no mechanism for checking and balancing the powers of religious leaders, and since cons have always outweighed pros, it could be argued that it is irresponsible, even sinister, for a religious body to make use of its members for its political cause because these people are so intensively inculcated with their religious teachings that they totally believe and trust their leaders. And no matter how 'sacred' the political mission is, religious leaders, who are supposed to be more learned than ordinary people and thus know the consequences, can only be seen as having their own ulterior motives.
Soka argues that Buddhism and democracy can co-exist because Buddhism is supposed to be compassionate and tolerant. This is quite a departure from the universal understanding of a democratic system: democracy, if entangled with religious confrontation, with no room for compromise, will not be able to function. People in Japan also do not generally hold this contention because mixing politics with religion have caused immeasurable human tragedies through the ages, as evident from the bloodshed in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. This could also be illustrated as Ikeda's repeated avoidment to appear in the Parliament under the sanctuary of religious freedom : is he above the law or is he defending Japan's democratic system ?
Dr. Bryan Wilson, Professor Emeritus at the Oxford University, in a speech on 10 April 1996 delivered at the Soka -affiliated Boston Research Centre, highlighted 10 appealing features of Soka to prove that it was a 'world affirming' religious body. This makes Soka appear nearer to the definition of a self-help group, in which a variety of social and religious institutions already exist today, having similar features but without political equivalents.
Whether the next century will be the 'Century of Big Victory', as claimed by Soka , remains to be seen.
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