Part 15. Priesthood of Arrogance and Small-Mindedness

Discrimination and Violence Taught at the Head Temple

Starting on March 28, 1960, Nichiren Shoshu implemented a new system in which elementary school fifth-grade boys were annually adopted into the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. (The age level was later set higher to junior high school seventh grade.) It was an attempt by the priesthood to train younger priests by starting their religious education earlier, so they could shoulder the future of the sect. Twenty-two young boys became Nichiren Shoshu acolytes in 1960 for the first time under this new system. Their backgrounds were such that one acolyte came from a Nichiren Shoshu priest family, and all the others came from Soka Gakkai families. Nichiren Shoshu generated some twenty acolytes every year under this new program.

Nichiren Shoshu started another system in 1965 in which it forbid local temples’ chief priests adopting their own disciples. Thus, any new priest of Nichiren Shoshu automatically would become disciples of High Priest Nittatsu. His new disciples later constituted the core members of the Myokankai Group.

After initially serving at the head temple as “plain-white-wear” acolytes for one year in this new system, the acolytes are allowed to wear a koromo (plain robe) as shami. After serving for another three years, an acolyte is allowed to wear a kesa robe, becoming a shoke (student). There are three levels in elementary class: third-class, second-class, and first-class. Each shoke spends seven years to complete his assignment as shoke. When a person belongs to any level of the elementary class, he may be dispatched to a local temple to support its chief priest.

Unfortunately, the shoke acolytes were very susceptible due to their young age, and they observed the corrupted lifestyle of the chief priests and their family members at local Nichiren Shoshu temples. What they experienced there was so different from the image they originally had of the integrity of priesthood.

While serving at the head temple, these acolytes slept on a shabby futon mattress and kept each other warm through sharing their body heat. After moving to a local temple, they were treated by the chief priest and their families like slaves. At some temples, there were clear differences between what the chief priest's family ate and what acolytes ate.

In her Reprimanding Nikken Abe Who Has Lost His Debt of Gratitude, Nobuyo Watanabe, the wife of reformist priest Jisai Watanabe, wrote:

“What’s happening at the Daisen-ji temple is that the chief priest does not allow the acolyte to go to hospital even if he is sick. If his plain white kimono becomes frayed, no one at the temple will help him. The acolyte is forced to staple the hem so he can continue to wear it.

“In those days, the hot water for the bathtub was not made by turning on gas. Hot water was obtained by burning wood under the Japanese-style bathtub. Seniors first took a bath while a junior had to continue putting wood into the fire under the bathtub to continuously boil the water. When the time came for acolytes to take a bath, the hot water in the bathtub was already gone, and they could not take a bath even if they wanted to do so.

“Junior priests also received awful treatment in terms of their meals. On one Saturday, it happened that no food was prepared for them. The great food that the chief priest’s wife bought was taken to the second floor where their daughters had their individual rooms. Only its smell reached the junior priests. Moreover, Mr. Sugano, the chief priest of this temple, ordered his acolytes to wash the dishes from which his daughters (who were about the same age as these acolytes) had eaten .

“Those acolytes had to clean not only the temple but the residence of the chief priest. They even had to clean the bathrooms that the chief priest, his wife, and daughters used.

“Senior acolytes often used violence over their juniors. There were acolytes at this temple who were brothers. It was an unbearable sight to an elder brother that his younger brother was being hit by another acolyte. But even if this acolyte had his face swollen after being hit, the chief priest and his wife did nothing for him. They did not even reprimand the senior acolyte who had hit his junior.”

Jiun Sugano, the chief priest of Daisen-ji temple, later teamed up with Yamazaki to plot against the Soka Gakkai. Sugano’s wife was the third daughter of High Priest Nittatsu.

In the world of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, the number of years one has served as a priest is more important than one’s actual capability as a priest. And it always happens that those who become priests later in life receive horrible treatment from younger priests simply because the brevity of their service. In this regard, actual age does not matter in Nichiren Shoshu. Violence was rife in the discriminatory society of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.

Mrs. Watanabe also writes, “First of all, what is called ’education’ at the head temple is actually the instillation of discrimination and the practice of violence into the young hearts of acolytes. It does not deserve to be called education; it is a case of brainwashing. No reasonable character can be created in such a distorted environment. It only produces cowardly and arrogant individuals who are obsequious to their seniors and haughty to their juniors.” (ditto)

She continues, “No seniors are compassionate enough to speak kindly to those acolytes who were unreasonably scolded. Those acolytes don’t get any words of encouragement from senior priests. All that these grade-school-aged acolytes could do was to just persevere tearfully by themselves. They had no one to speak to about the mistreatment they endured, and they were in a situation where they had no hope for the future. Nothing positive educationally was going on within Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Daishonin teaches that all people are equal. His spirit was completely lost at the head temple which was supposed to be closest in spirit to the Daishonin.” (ditto)

Bullying acolytes was a day-to-day event at Taiseki-ji. Some acolytes were almost choked to death when they were wrapped in a futon by their seniors. There were numerous acolytes who were hit in the face more than ten times by senior priests — the justification used was that, by being hit, they looked more reddish (healthier) on their faces.

The Thought That “We Are Better Off if We Keep Our Distance from Soka Gakkai” Prevails in Nichiren Shoshu

Those acolytes who came from Nichiren Shoshu family lineage were cherished within Nichiren Shoshu. They received special treatment, especially if their fathers were highly ranked in Nichiren Shoshu. In contrast, those acolytes who came from Soka Gakkai families were often chastised by their heartless seniors. This was the clear reality in Nichiren Shoshu.

After completing the entire shoke training, young acolytes serve at the head temple for one year. After finishing one-year service at the head temple, they take exams to become teachers. If they pass, they can become teachers.

Needless to say, those who came from Nichiren Shoshu priesthood families were very negative toward the Soka Gakkai, and even those acolytes who came from Gakkai families came to think that they would be better off if they could erase their past image of having come from Gakkai families. This spiritual transformation took place within their minds because of their years within the distorted, discriminatory society of Nichiren Shoshu. Thus, they come to think that it is wiser and more beneficial for them as Nichiren Shoshu priests to keep their distance from the Soka Gakkai. This understanding became common sense within Nichiren Shoshu, and eventually, it became a consensus within the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu. Because the society of priesthood is a closed one, this biased mentality can continuously get worse.

With this kind of distorted thinking, many priests became angry when lay people spoke to them in a casual manner, as if they and the priests were on an equal level.

Those young acolytes who entered into the society of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood through the new system had no idea how Nichiren Shoshu had been before the appearance of the Soka Gakkai. They even came to harbor animosity against the organization of the Soka Gakkai, simply because the Gakkai kept expanding.

While such an anti-Gakkai atmosphere grew in Nichiren Shoshu, High Priest Nittatsu also began to express negative remarks about the Soka Gakkai. Details of his statements in those days are introduced in Part 11. Here I will introduce only part of what he said at that time.

The following are all High Priest Nittatsu’s statements:

“Today we are being put down very much by the Soka Gakkai. The way they refer to us is very derogatory.” (Renge, May 1974 issue, from a commencement ceremony at the head temple on March 27, 1974)

“I have somewhere heard that an organization is proclaiming that a new true Buddha has appeared in it. This is a very wrong teaching. If such a thing is true, people in this organization [meaning the Soka Gakkai] are not practicing the faith of Nichiren Shoshu any more. They can’t be called Nichiren Shoshu believers any more. … Availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to ask you Hokkeko members to carry on your faith, the kind of faith that is traditional in the Hokkeko group. And please share the faith of the head temple and the local temple you belong to.” (Renge, May 1974 issue, at a meeting of Hokkeko members during their pilgrimage to the head temple on April 25, 1974)

“A noted person in Fujinomiya City [where the head temple is located] is said to have openly mentioned that Taiseki-ji, which has allowed the Soka Gakkai to use part of its property, is actually having its main part stolen by the Soka Gakkai. As he points out, if such a thing should be happening to us, it is a shame on the part of Taiseki-ji. Not only that, he feels that it is a shame on the entire Fujinomiya City. When I heard this, I felt so bad. I really became concerned about the truth that was contained in his resentment. At the same time, I felt we would need to be even stricter with the Soka Gakkai.” (Renge, June 1974 issue, at a meeting of priests and their families on May 31, 1974)

The firestorm of criticism of the Soka Gakkai, once it began to spread, became inextinguishable. Those young children who became Nichiren Shoshu priests under High Priest Nittatsu had been hearing this kind of talk for years. And they had already come of age.

Though they were still young in a sense and might be regarded as “not so important” in regular society, they became disillusioned and conceited enough to feel higher or more important than the Soka Gakkai, simply because they had received the status of teacher within Nichiren Shoshu. They did not develop humility toward this great lay organization to which Nichiren Shoshu was so much indebted, nor did they develop any respect to those who had blazed the trail for kosen-rufu. They began to look down upon the lay organization, merely because they were priests. Although they were only in their 20’s, they developed distorted ideas, especially towards President Ikeda, looking upon him as arrogant.

Kendo Sugano Identifies Soka Gakkai with Myoshinko Group

At the beginning of 1977, a draft copy of an issue of Fuji Gakuho (the organ of Fuji Gakurin School at the head temple) was presented to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. The person who took it to the Soka Gakkai was Shinno Abe (Nikken), then Study Department Chief of Nichiren Shoshu. The thesis in this magazine was written by 28-year-old Kendo Sugano and this article was implicitly critical of the Soka Gakkai. A part of the thesis goes:

“It is true that, as the number of Nichiren Shoshu believers has increased, there have appeared individuals who are attached to their arrogant and distorted views, intentionally interpreted the Daishonin’s Buddhism in their own way. In their interpretations, they became overly concerned about minor points while losing sight of the fundamentals of Nichiren Shoshu’s doctrines. There were times when it was almost openly said in the Soka Gakkai that its president was the True Buddha. Nowadays, the Myoshinko group, who are attached to the formalism of the ’national sanctuary,’ are slandering the high priest who has inherited the entity of the Law, and thus slighting the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism. In this thesis, I won’t cite all the other cases in which people advocate teachings that are different from Nichiren Shoshu’s doctrines, but we are now finding ourselves in a situation where the devil is rampant both within and without Nichiren Shoshu.”

Sugano’s thesis further goes, “Both inside and outside Nichiren Shoshu, there have appeared slanderous doctrines, but we must not be disillusioned by such subversive views. We need to see through the evil that occupies their essence, and refute them all. Otherwise, we will have major regrets in the future — this is what I have to say.”

It was shocking to the Soka Gakkai that it was referred to on the same level as the Myoshinko Group. It was appalling that the Soka Gakkai, which had been protecting Nichiren Shoshu and its high priest with all its might, and the Myoshinko Group, which had been causing confusion within Nichiren Shoshu and annoying the high priest so much, were being treated on an equal basis. Not only that, the thesis urged its readers to note that the Soka Gakkai was teaching a new slanderous belief, just like the Myoshinko Group. In this way, the Nichiren Shoshu priest Sugano openly disparaged the Soka Gakkai, an organization that was truly devoted to the promotion of kosen-rufu.

The backlash was so great that Sugano visited Soka Gakkai Headquarters with a letter of apology on January 20. In addition, it was decided that the publication of the Fuji Gakuho, which published Sugano’s groundless article, would be discontinued.

However, the priesthood’s disparagement of the Soka Gakkai continued. This was all based on the prevailing Nichiren Shoshu ideas of inequality and discrimination between lay people and the priesthood. The Soka Gakkai investigated and discovered that chief priests of local Nichiren Shoshu temples often openly criticized the Soka Gakkai during their monthly oko lecture. Naturally, the Soka Gakkai youth division demanded Nichiren Shoshu to apologize for this.

Several anti-Gakkai priests, including Sugano, formed the Shoshinkai Group on July 4, 1979, at the Rento-bo lodging of the head temple, right before the passing of High Priest Nittatsu. Many of them were defrocked from Nichiren Shoshu after Nikken took office as 67th High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu. A total of 179 priests were expelled. However, they maintained the organization of the Shoshinkai even after they were kicked out from Nichiren Shoshu. And it still exists today.

The Shoshinkai Group conducted a global exhibition of Nichiren Shoshu at fifteen locations throughout Japan from July 2001 to May 2002 in commemoration of the 750th anniversary of the establishment of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism that coincided with the year of 2002. It was held in 15 cities. They were: Tokyo, Sapporo, Aomori, Sendai, Yokohama, Shizuoka, Nagoya, Gifu, Mie, Kanazawa, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and Kagoshima.

It was Sugano who took the lead in having the exhibition in these areas. Notably, this exhibition was titled “Exhibition of Nichiren Shonin,” and the word “Dai” was omitted in reference to Nichiren Daishonin. The reason why they decided to take out the word “Dai” was so that their views would sound different than those maintained by the Soka Gakkai or Nichiren Shoshu. Instead of viewing Nichiren Daishonin as the True Buddha, the Shoshinkai stresses the human aspect of Nichiren Daishonin. In 1977, Sugano had put distance between the Soka Gakkai and himself, criticizing the integrity of the Soka Gakkai, but in 2001, he went on to revise his view of Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha, thus distancing himself from the way of mentor and disciple.

The Shoshinkai Group introduced Nichiren Daishonin along with Kenji Miyazawa, a member of the slanderous Nichirenist Kokuchukai; Toshio Doko, a believer of the slanderous Ikegami Honmon-ji temple; Chogyu Takayama, a Nichirenist writer; and Senroku Uehara. The Shoshinkai Group used to claim that the Soka Gakkai was opposed to the teaching of Nichiren Shoshu, but now it puts its priority on secularism over dedication to the propagation of the Law with pure faith in it.

The true nature of their faith is now being exposed with the passage of time.