Soka Gakkai, a 10 million member Japanese religious lay organisation, has rejected demands by its 700 year old parent Nichiren Shoshu sect that it disband. The conflict surfaced about a year ago when Soka Gakkai leader Daisaku Ikeda criticised what he called the luxurious lifestyles of priests at Taisekiji Temple, Nichiren Shoshu's chief temple at the foot of Mount Fuji, and their authoritarian attitude towards the lay organisation. The Soka Gakkai or 'Value-creating Study Society', was founded in 1930 by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. It claimed a membership of 3000 families in 1942, when Makiguchi, Josei Toda and other Soka Gakkai members were imprisoned by the Japanese wartime government. Makiguchi died in prison in 1944 but the movement was reconstituted under Toda after the war. By 1960, when Ikeda succeeded to the leadership, the Soka Gakkai had a membership of 750,000 households. In 1991, they claimed 13 million individual members in Japan, plus 1.26 million members in 115 countries overseas, including 600,000 in South Korea, 400,000 in Hong Kong and about 100,000 in the Philippines. Critics today doubt, that the membership actually exceeds 5 million in Japan.
But the Soka Gakkai is still the largest religious organisation in Japan and would be the richest and politically the most powerful. Its appearance is one of culture, humanitarianism, respectability, generosity and friendships between the association and the countries of its members. The first casualty of the Ideda-Nichiren war, may be the Komeito, or Clean Government Party (CGP), Japan's second largest opposition part, which was originally formed in the early 1960s by Junya Yano as the Soka Gakkai's political arm. Junya Yano lost his leadership of the CGP in 1989 when reports linked him to a businessman indicated for tax evasion. The first signs of open and public conflict between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai, came in December 1990 when Ikeda was stripped of his title as 'sokoto', or head of all Nichiren lay believers, a position he held since his gaining the leadership of the Soka Gakkai in the 1960's. Since then, the most recent sign that all was still not well, was a mysterious newspaper ad addressed to all Soka Gakkai members from Taisekiji Temple saying that from 2 July 1991, all members seeking to make the 'Tozan' pilgrimage to Taisekiji for the viewing of the 'Daigohonzon' - a scroll carved by the sect founder, which is the central object of worship of the faith, would have to make arrangements through their local Nichiren temple instead of their Soka Gakkai branch.
Insiders in both camps immediately recognised this as a concealed announcement amounting to a declaration of war between them.
Isao Nozaki, Soka Gakkai vice-president said, "The priests are trying to assert their own authority and leadership over the Soka Gakkai movement...The presxent high priest and those around him have deviated from this spirit...They want to cut off Ideda and destroy the Soka Gakkai". Although the Nichiren headquarters have not spoken to the media, a priest, speaking privately, said the clergymen believe that Ikeda wants to destroy the Nichiren priesthood and create his own religion. 'Ikeda tried once before about 10 years ago...That time he failed and he had to back down. Originally the intent of the Soka Gakkai was to propagate Nichiren doctrine to the world, but they have become rotten.' By requiring Soka Gakkai members to arrange pilgrimages through local temples rather than the Soka Gakkai association, the Nichiren priests hope to separate sincere believers in their doctrine from Ikeda loyalists. They also hope that within a few years, after all the pure believers have quit Soka Gakkai, that Nichiren Shoshu will ex-communicate the Soka Gakkai.
Even though the appearance of the Soka Gakkai is one of culture and respectability, there is another side to this sect that is also creating problems.
- Soka Gakkai was condemned in 1988 by a tribunal in Tokyo for bugging the telephone of the private home of the General Secretary of the Japanese Communist Party.
- Ikeda was found 'comforting' Manuel Noriega (at this time a disciple of Soka Gakkai) when America sanctioned Panama.
- In March 1990, a swirl of accusations over a mysterious transaction involving the Soka Gakkai, the Mitsubishi Corp and two Renoir paintings in which nearly 1.5 billion yen had gone missing. Also involved in the fiasco are two Frenchmen who allegedly owned the paintings and have disappeared, because no one corresponding to their description has lived at their alleged addresses in Switzerland.
- The first evidence that politicians, who regularly use the stock market to raise campaign funds, received improper payments from Japan's top brokerage houses, came in August 1991 with the disclosure that the Soka Gakkai received more than 3 million dollars in improper payments. Because of the affiliation with the CGP, suspicions have fed renewed public outrage over what seems to be incomplete inquiries into these affairs.
- The organisation operates five cemeteries in Japan through a joint venture with Mitsubishi Corps. In May 1991, Soka Gakkai paid 640 million yen in profits from the sale of gravestones over the three year period ending in March 1990.
- In early 1990, the CGP was linked to the Parrot True Reason cult (PTR) in scandals that involved huge sums of money and therefore involving Soka Gakkai. The PTR, which was once an unknown group in Japan, but because of an obscure clause in the Japanese election law enabling a party that fields 25 people or more to have campaign vans and five free broadcasts per person on national TV, there is hardly a Japanese who has not seen the group dressed up in elephant costumes dancing on top of vans or listening to adherents exhorting the leader Shoko Asahara.
The innocent, kindergarten image of the PTR has been badly damaged, and it is now seen as a symbol of widespread aimlessness among the young and has caused considerable anguish to many Japanese parents. Mr Asahar has also been questioned over the disappearance, in mysterious circumstances, of a 34 year old lawyer, his wife and one year old son, who had been negotiating with cult members on behalf of parents demanding the return of teenage children converted by Mr Asahara.
He believes the supremacy of the parrot position in yoga and is believed by his followers to be able to levitate and to meditate under water for long periods without coming up for air. The parrot cult is perhaps the most visible of more than a thousand new religions in Japan. The linking of the CGP to the PTR has caused considerable damage to it.
- Equally damaging to the reputation of the CGP was an incident in early 1989, where just over 170 million yen in old but unused bills was found in an abandoned safe in a rubbish heap, which was traced to a chapter of Soka Gakkai. It had apparently been thrown out without being checked for its contents when the offices of the sects newspaper 'Seikyo Shimbun', moved in April 1989. It fuelled speculation that senior members of the group found more than just spiritual fulfillment through their faith.
- In France, the Soka Gakkai has about 6,000 members and about 10 centres. These are strategically situated in Essone, a region where 60% of the Grande Ecoles (specialised colleges) are located and 40% of French research takes place, and is close to the Centre of Nuclear Studies. In 1988, the association wanted to buy a Chateau situated just a few hundred meters from the Centre of Nuclear Testing in Bruyere, which is a very secret military site.
Soka Gakkai has also spread their influence into the General Council of Essonne (site of the instillations of the Centre for Nuclear Studies) by be-friending or making members of key people. French intelligence are concerned over these activities.
The Soka Gakkai, according to critics, is also known to play rough. In March 1991, 300 members of the Soka Gakkai Youth League allegedly, physically attacked 10 people at Kaishinji, a Nichiren temple in Fukuoka, and injured the chief priest and members of his family. The motive was, apparently, to intimidate the priests in the temple where about 100 families had severed ties with the Soka Gakkai.
A member of the Tokyo municipal assembly, recently published a 10 part series of articles harshly critical of Ikeda, said that he received threatening phone calls and a visit to his home by Soka Gakkai Youth League members. A similar occurrence happened to a free-lance journalist, who had to change his phone number after receiving more than 50 threatening phone calls a day, some of which were death threats.
The Soka Gakkai is secretive about its finances. Real estate and buildings, including the Tokyo headquarters and 800 elaborate meeting halls are believed to be worth more than 2 trillion yen (about 18.5 billion Aust. dollars). Outsiders say the organisation also holds 400 billion yen in time deposits and trust accounts. Other estimates of Soka Gakkai's annual income are in the range of 100-170 billion yen per year.
The largest source of income are the annual 'zaimu' donations by members each July, which are not taxable.. Money is also earned from publications and from sales of tombstones and gravesites.
There is little doubt that these scandals and the emergence of open dispute between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren leaderships is intensely traumatic for many ordinary believers, who essentially must now choose between the temple and the society.
Although officially denied, one Soka Gakkai watcher says 20,000 members have formally resigned and another 100,000 have been inactive. A Nichiren priest claimed that as many as 10,000 families had left Soka Gakkai within two weeks of July 1991.
This could deal a major blow to the CGP, which relies heavily on grassroots canvassing efforts of Soka GAkkai members. Members reportedly fell away in May of the same year, when the Soka Gakkai announced it would conduct its own funeral services for its members.
Although Ikeda resigned as president of Soka Gakkai in 1979, he remains president of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), and he is still the real power behind the scenes. His role has been to give spiritual guidance and nourishment. Ikeda has had highly publicised meetings with ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Philippine President Corazon Aquino and other world leaders. Under his leadership, SGI has become active in UN affairs and is a large contributor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Ikeda, a recipient of the UN Peace Award and the UNHCR Humanitarian Award, has worked hard at his public relations image. While coveting a meeting with US President George Bush, and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he does have some trouble with his image.
In 1988 one of his own followers, and a long-time Japanese Parliamentarian, Toshio Ohashi, then 62, denounced Ikeda in strong language. 'He's evil, a great hypocrite. On the surface he acts like a Buddha, but underneath he's a devil king. We have to bring him down.' Ohashi was excommunicated from Soka GAkkai.
It appears that now many more will be excommunicated from Soka Gakkai - or from Nichiren Shoshu. In May 1991 another forma Soka GAkkai member denounced Ikeda. Norio Okubo, 48, took rather drastic demonstrative action to make his point.
He hired a crane and, with it, attempted to scale the third floor balcony of a Soka GAkkai building in Shinjuku, Japan. He hung a screen up at the scene which read: ''I will protest against fascism led by Ikeda' (Daisaku Ikeda, honorary President of Soka Gakkai).
In the process of his very early morning protest Okubo stumbled and accidentally injured himself seriously in the abdomen.
A spokesman for Soka Gakkai commented at the time, 'His extraordinary action is troublesome for us.' The opposition of some lay members, and now from the Nichiren Priest, is bringing a lot more action that will be 'troublesome' for the exclusive and self-centred materialistic Buddhist cult with its promise of instant happiness through chanting. y