Tsunesaburo Makiguchi

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) was the founder and first president of the Soka Gakkai, the Value Creation Society. Makiguchi was a grammar school principal in Tokyo who was deeply concerned about the educational system in Japan. In 1928, a fellow principal convinced him to convert to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. From the age of three he had been raised in the household of his uncle which was affiliated with the Nichiren Shu, but religion had never been a significant part in his life until his conversion. However, the years between 1924 and 1932 were especially difficult ones for him. His second son died at the age of 23 in 1924, his fourth son died at the age of 19 in 1928, his first son died at the age of 31 in 1929, and his fourth daughter died at the age of 14 in 1932. (His last son would die in battle in 1944.) At that point in his life, religion became very important to him, but he was still primarily focused on his attempts to reform the Japanese educational system. In 1930 he finally published his first book on pedagogical reform titled The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. The Soka Gakkai considers the publication of that book the founding date of the Soka Gakkai because Makiguchi named the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, the Value Creating Education Society, as the publisher. It’s actual inaugural meeting was not held until 1937. At that first meeting, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai had only 60 members, most of them fellow educators. Around this time, Makiguchi began to integrate the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhismwith his own ideas for educational reform. The membership peaked at 400 in 1941, though the readership of its magazine was as high as 3,000. In 1943, the Imperialist government insisted that all Japanese citizens enshrine a Shinto talisman of the goddess Amaterasu from the Ise Shrine to show their loyalty to the emperor. Makiguchi, not only refused to compromise his faith by enshrining the talisman but he forbid the members of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai from doing so as well. Furthermore, he admonished the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu for supporting the worship of the emperor. In the end, Makiguchi and twenty other leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai were arrested for lese majeste and sedition. Of those arrested, only three refused to recant their opposition to State Shinto: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda, and Shuhei Yajima. Yajima would eventually become a chairman of the Soka Gakkai after the war. He eventually became a Nichiren Shoshu priest. Unfortunately, Makiguchi died of malnutrition in prison in 1944.

Josei Toda

Josei Toda(1900-1958) would become the second president of the Soka Gakkai. He had been hired as a teacher by Makiguchi in 1920, and showed steadfast loyalty to his mentor until Makiguchi’s death in prison in 1944. When Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Shoshu in 1928, so did Toda. Like his mentor, Toda was also going through a difficult period in his life. In 1924 his infant daughter died. His wife died of tuberculosis in 1925. Toda himself contracted tuberculosis and never fully recovered. In 1930, Josei Toda published his mentor’s book on value creation under the name Soka Kyoiku Gakkai. When Makiguchi was imprisoned for refusing the enshrine the Ise Shrine talisman, so was Toda. Toda had actually become a very successful businessman, but he willingly gave up his wealth and his freedom in order to stand by Makiguchi and remain faithful to the teachings of Nichiren Shonin as he understood them. In prison, Toda read the Lotus Sutra and chanted Odaimoku. He later testified that upon chanting two million Odaimoku he had a mystical experience in which he felt as though he were present at the Ceremony in the Air.

Toda was released from prison in 1945 and he immediately set to work trying to rebuild his life and also the Soka Gakkai. He dropped Kyoiku, or Education, from the name of the organization because he had decided to shift the focus from education to religion and open it up to a broader membership. When he began a lecture series on the Lotus Sutra at Taisekiji on January 1, 1946 there were only three other members. By May 1 there were enough members to create a board of directors, which named him the chairman. Until 1950, however, Toda directed most of his efforts to various business ventures, but none of them succeeded in the ruins of post-war Japan. In the end, Toda was left bankrupt and he resigned as chairman of the Soka Gakkai in November of 1950. Shuhei Yajima took his place as chairman. After a period of self-reflection, Toda concluded that his business failures were karmic retribution for not making the success of the Soka Gakkai his main priority. Up to that point, the Soka Gakkai had been growing at the relatively slow pace of 95 families per month, causing Toda to remark, “At this rate, we can reach an enormous number in ten thousand years.” (Murata, p.94) Toda determined to turn around the slow pace of Soka Gakkai’s growth by taking charge personally. On May 3, 1951, he finally agreed to be inaugurated as the second president of the Soka Gakkai and he made the following vow, “I intend to convert 750,000 families before I die. If this is not achieved by the time of my death, don’t hold a funeral service for me but throw my ashes into the sea off Shinagawa.” (Murata, p.94)

On May 20, 1951, Nissho, the sixty-fourth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, transcribed and conferred a gohonzon to the Soka Gakkai at the request of Toda. The gohonzon was inscribed with the dedication: “For the achievement of the wide spread of the Great Dharma through compassionate propagation.” (SGI-USA, p.126) At that time the Soka Gakkai had an agreement with the Nichiren Shoshu that it would 1) ensure that all members were registered with a local Nichiren Shoshu temple, 2) strictly observe the doctrines of Nichiren Shoshu, and 3) protect the Three Treasures as defined by the Nichiren Shoshu. From that point on, the Soka Gakkai began its shakubuku campaign. Shakubuku was a Buddhist term that literally means “to break and subdue.” It originally referred to the breaking and subduing of false views by a teacher of the Dharma. Now it meant aggressive proselytization. Kosen rufu was taught to be the ultimate goal of shakubuku. Kosen rufu is a phrase from the Lotus Sutra which means “to widely declare and spread [the Dharma].” For Toda, kosen rufu meant the conversion of the Japanese nation and the establishment of a national Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching (Jap. honmon no kaidan). The Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching was the third of Nichiren’s Three Great Secret Dharmas. In the view of Toda and the Nichiren Shoshu, the Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching was meant to be an actual place sponsored by the government just as the previous precept platforms of the Nara schools and Mt. Hiei had been. This precept platform, however, would not represent the upholding of the monastic precepts of the Hinayana or Mahayana – it would represent Japan’s acceptance of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism as the new state religion. In his inaugural address as the new president of the Soka Gakkai, Toda declared:

There are some who think that kosen rufu would be achieved if we had the emperor accept a gohonzon and had him issue a rescript. This is an utterly foolish notion. Kosen rufu of today can be attained only when all of you take on evil religions and convert everyone in the country and let him accept a gohonzon. This is the only way we can establish the honmon no kaidan. (Murata, p.104)

This speech shows that Toda no longer believed that religion would be imposed from the top down, as in Japan’s past. Toda believed that Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism would become the national religion through a democratic process – after the mass conversion of Japan through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai. This convergence of politics and Buddhism was termed obutsu myogo. Obtusu myogo would be the practical political outcome of kosen rufu in Japan. In a speech on March 27, 1955, Toda made this very clear:

When kosen rufu is completed or in the process of being carried out, everyone, be he in business, journalism, the film world, or government – whether he is a business executive or a janitor – everyone realizes the worth of gohonzon. There will be Diet members from among these people, and there will be a petition for building the honmon no kaidan, and it will be approved by the Diet, and then the emperor will realize the great divine benefit of the gohonzon. Then kosen rufu will have been achieved. (Murata, p.113)

Toda organized his Young Men and Young Women’s Divisions like military units and sent them out to convert others and to debate with the leaders of other religions – even to the point of demanding written apologies from the losers of such debates. On October 31, 1954, a massive demonstration of thousands of young Soka Gakkai members gathered at Taisekiji. Like a commanding general, Toda reviewed his “troops” from horseback and made the following address:

In our attempt at kosen rufu, we are without an ally. We must consider all religions our enemies, and we must destroy them. Ladies and gentlemen, it is obvious that the road ahead is full of obstacles. Therefore, you must worship the gohonzon, take the Soka Gakkai spirit to your heart, and cultivate the strength of youth. I expect you to rise to the occasion to meet the many challenges that lie ahead. (Murata, p. 100)

The militancy of Soka Gakkai’s shakubuku campaign during Toda’s presidency was intense, unrelenting, and sometimes overzealous. In his book The Soka Gakkai and Mass Society, James W. White describes how shakubuku was conducted in those years:

Until the early 1960′s the literal translation of shakubuku, “to break and flatten,” was a reasonably accurate description of the proselyting process. On occasion Gakkai members would surround a home and make noise until one family member agreed to join. Or they would belabor a mark with argument and exhortation for hours on end. Sometimes threats of divine punishment were used: dire injuries and calamities might be predicted as the cost of resistance to the True Religion; a child’s illness or death might be traced to the parents’ heretical beliefs. In such instances the “fear of punishment [instilled] in a mind weakened and made receptive by hours of pressure” could lead to the collapse of the subject’s critical faculties and intellectual defenses, and to his acquiescing in the demands of the proselyters. (White, p.82)

Once someone joined the Soka Gakkai, they would then have to get rid of any items in their homes related to other religions. This often included the family ancestral tablets which would infuriate those members of the family who were not themselves converts. At times, overzealous Soka Gakkai members would even remove these items against the wishes of the new convert and their families. Finally, Toda gave new instructions that new members must be given time to make the decision to remove objects related to other religions on their own before they can receive a gohonzon. Still, the practice of removing all items of other religions even against the wishes of family members who had not converted contributed to the bad reputation of the Soka Gakkai among many Japanese.

Though a formal political party would not be created until the next decade, the Soka Gakkai did begin to run candidates for elections at different levels of government starting in the mid-50′s. They began with the successful campaigns of 55 Soka Gakkai members for ward assemblymen and city council positions in and around Tokyo in 1955. In 1956, they entered the national stage by winning three seats in the House of Councilors. They would win even more seats in 1958 on both the local and national levels of government. In light of Toda’s stated goal of converting Japan to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and establishing a national kaidan, the Soka Gakkai’s political victories were viewed as alarming by many Japanese.

Conflicts with the Nichiren Shoshu, however, began almost from the very start with the Ogasawara Incident. In April 1952, the Nichiren Shoshu held a four day celebration at Taisekiji to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Nichiren Shonin’s proclamation of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The first two days of the celebration were managed by the Hokkeko, the traditional lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu. The last two days of the celebration were managed by the Soka Gakkai. At the celebration, there were 4,000 members of the Soka Gakkai present, as compared to the 2,500 members of the Hokkeko. During the celebration, Toda learned that a priest named Jimon Ogasawara was present. During the war years, Ogasawara had been instrumental in pushing the Nichiren Shoshu into its compromises with the Imperialist government. Outraged, Toda sent 47 members of the Youth Division (perhaps a deliberate reference to the story of the 47 Ronin?), including Daisaku Ikeda, to track Ogasawara down so that he could confront him. The Youth Division members succeeded and found him at a priest’s lodging house drinking with friends. Toda confronted him and demanded an apology for his actions during the war. Actions which Toda felt had resulted in the death of Makiguchi. Toda apparently admitted in an interview with Kiyoaki Murata that he had even struck Ogasawara during the confrontation. Since Ogaswara refused to apologize or admit to any wrongdoing he was stripped to his underwear by the Youth Division and carried to the grave of Makiguchi where he was forced to sign an apology. In the months that followed, Toda realized that his actions and the actions of the Youth Division had jeopardized the relationship between the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai. Eventually Toda relented and apologized to the High Priest. Ogasawara tried to file lawsuits against both Toda and even the High Priest who had demanded that he withdraw his suit against Toda who had apologized. Public opinion then swung against Ogasawara, and he ultimately dropped his lawsuits and also apologized to the High Priest.

The breach between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood seemed to be healed. The Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu then enjoyed a period of mutual support and cooperation beginning with the publishing of a collection of Nichiren’s writings entitled the Gosho Zenshu in 1952 under the auspices of Nichiko Hori, the retired fifty-ninth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu. By the end of the decade, the Soka Gakkai had even raised enough money to fund the renovation of Taisekiji including the construction of the Grand Lecture Hall in 1958. Toda, however, was still wary of the priesthood, as evidenced in the following excerpt from a 1954 speech at a temple dedication:

It is our obligation to conduct shakubuku and serve the temple. Now that we have a new temple here, I want you to take good care of it. You see to it that the priest here doesn’t starve… But you must not allow the priest to swagger. [Priests] have always had a bad habit. They have the bad habit of making use of parishioners as though the lay people were their retainers or servants. You must never allow this to happen in Takasaki. If the priests are officers, we are the soldiers. In the big war of shakubuku, the soldiers can’t sit and watch when the officers don’t move. They must move past the officers to fight… (Murata, p.95)

The Ogasawara scandal, the aggressive proselytization tactics, military style organization, political ambitions, and the Soka Gakkai’s intolerance towards all other religions tarnished its reputation in the eyes of the Japanese media and many in the general public. Nevertheless, Toda’s dream of the conversion of 750,000 families was reported to have been met in 1957. One reason for the Soka Gakkai’s success may have been the promise of material benefits through the simple practice of chanting daimoku to the gohonzon. Toda described the Daigohonzon as a kind of “happiness machine”:

Suppose a machine which never fails to make everyone happy were built by the power of science or by medicine…Such a machine, I think, could be sold at a very high price. Don’t you agree? If you used it wisely, you could be sure to become happy and build up a terrific company. You could make a lot of money. You could sell such machines for ¥100,000 apiece.

But Western science has not yet produced such a machine. It cannot be made. Still, such a machine has been in existence in this country, Japan, since seven hundred years ago. This is the Daigohonzon. [Nichiren] Daishonin made this machine for us and gave it to us common people. He told us: “Use [the machine] freely. It won’t cost you any money.” And yet, people of today don’t want to use it because they don’t understand the explanation that the Daigohonzon is such a splendid machine. (Murata, p. 107)

Toda was also not speaking metaphorically about material benefits. For Toda, true faith should bring rewards in terms of health and wealth, as is made clear in another talk:

When I meet you, I don’t ask: “Are you keeping faith?” The reason is that I take your shakubuku for granted. What I really want to ask you is how your business is, whether you are making money, and if you are healthy. Only when all of you receive divine benefits do I feel happy. A person who says “I keep faith; I conduct shakubuku” when he is poor – I don’t consider him my pupil. Your faith has only one purpose: to improve your business and family life. Those who talk about “faith” and do not attend to their business are sacrilegious. Business is a service to the community. I will expel those of you who do nothing but shakubuku without engaging in business. (Murata, pp.107-8)

Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Shonin would probably have been startled to hear that the sole purpose of faith is to improve business and family life. In fact, both of them taught that faith in the Wonderful Dharma should transcend worldly considerations. Nevertheless, Toda taught a version of Buddhism that emphasized worldly success above all. He even defines worldly success solely in terms of health and wealth. In yet another talk, Toda again discusses this in terms of the gohonzon as a happiness machine as well as bringing in his idea of having a powerful life force. Needless to say, neither Shakyamuni Buddha, nor Nichiren Shonin ever spoke in terms of “happiness machines” or life force for material gain and comfort.

How can we live happily in this world and enjoy life? If anyone says he enjoys life without being rich and even when he is sick – he is a liar. We’ve got to have money and physical vigor, and underneath all we need is life force. This we cannot get by theorizing or mere efforts as such. You can’t get it unless you worship a gohonzon…It may be irreverent to use this figure of speech, but a gohonzon is a machine that makes you happy. How to use this machine? You conduct five sittings of prayer in the morning and three sittings in the evening and shakubuku ten people. Let’s make money and build health and enjoy life to our hearts’ content before we die! (Murata, p.108)

Toda, however, seemed to have been sincerely convinced that he was providing the answer to the suffering of the Japanese people. In fact, he had himself laid his life on the line for his convictions during the war. In his talks, he would even offer to let people beat him up if he turned out to be wrong.

If you do as I tell you, and if things don’t work out as you want by the time I come to Niigata next time, then you may come up here and beat me and kick me as much as you want. With this promise, I conclude my talk for tonight. (Murata, p.110)

Toda’s salesmanship and fiery rhetoric seemed to work. When he died in 1958, the Soka Gakkai had surpassed the membership goal that he had set for it and was reported to be 1,050,000 families.

Daisaku Ikeda

Daisaku Ikeda (1928-) took over as the general director of the Soka Gakkai in 1958. In 1960 he became the third president of the Soka Gakkai. Daisaku Ikeda had joined the Soka Gakkai in 1947 as a member of the Youth Division. In 1949, Ikeda became Toda’s secretary. Toda also became his private tutor from 1950 – 1951. In 1954, Ikeda became the chief-of-staff of the Youth Division and thus was a key figure in the shakubuku campaigns of the 1950′s. As early as 1951, Toda seemed to be grooming his protege to be the third president of the Soka Gakkai and made remarks to the effect that his successor would come from the Young Men’s Division. In Ikeda’s inauguration address as the third president of the Soka Gakkai he made it clear that he intended to strengthen the bonds between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood (referring to the High Priest as “His Excellency” and to continue the relentless campaign against “evil religions.”

In accordance with the spirit of our first president, Mr. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, and the second president, our teacher, Josei Toda, who had loyally dedicated themselves to the head temple, I, representing the entire membership of our organization, pledge even greater loyalty to His Excellency. Soka Gakkai is the greatest ally of the masses. Our enemies are the evil religions. Evil religions drive people to hell. True Buddhism makes Buddhas out of all people. Nichiren Daishonin said the source of all unhappiness and misfortunes of people is evil religion. It was our teacher, Mr. Josei Toda, who repeated this great saying.

With the great spirit of this teacher of ours for destroying the evil religions, we, his pupils must once again fiercely attack them. (Murata, pp. 118-9)

Ikeda continued his predecessor’s effort to contribute new facilities to Taisekiji. Through the donations of millions of dollars by Soka Gakkai members, the Grand Reception Hall was built in 1964. In 1965, over 8 million dollars were raised in four days for the building of a Grand Main Temple (Sho-Hondo) where the Daigohonzon of Taisekiji could be displayed for pilgrims from all over the world. The Grand Main Temple was finally completed in 1972. The Grand Main Temple was the largest religious structure in the world and would receive more than 3.5 million pilgrims a year.

Ikeda also continued the Soka Gakkai’s involvement in Japanese politics. In fact, under Ikeda, the Soka Gakkai formed its own political party – the Komeito (Clean Government Party) in 1964 and successfully ran 25 candidates in the general election for the House of Representatives. The Komeito also had a total of 20 members in the House of Councilors, and had won many seats in local legislatures. By 1969 the Komeito had become the third largest party after the Liberal Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party. The Komeito would remain a strong force in Japanese politics for decades to come. In 1993, it even became part of the coalition which temporarily dethroned the LDP. Following the disastrous defeat of that coalition, the Komeito disbanded. However, it reformed as the New Komeito in 1998 and resumed its place as the third strongest party in Japanese politics. Given the Soka Gakkai’s previously stated goal of establishing Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism as the state religion, the Komeito’s rising strength made many Japanese afraid that the Soka Gakkai’s ambitions were being realized.

In fact, the Komeito was to change its nature as an extension of the Soka Gakkai sooner than expected. In 1970, the year after it became the third largest political party in the House of Representatives, the so-called “freedom of press incident” occurred, exposing the close relationship that the Komeito enjoyed with the Soka Gakkai to public criticism. Komeito party officials allegedly tried to obstruct the publication of a book that was critical of the Soka Gakkai and the Komeito. The Komeito flatly denied the allegations, and the details of the case remain unsubstantiated. However, the incident prompted the Komeito to shed its religious identity and become an “open” party that enjoys more widespread support of the Japanese people. Serious steps were taken with a view to severing ties between politics and religion, as proven in the amendment to the party’s program and party regulations, and as reflected in the subsequent reorganization of party alliances and positions in the opposition. First, regarding the new party principles and program, all Buddhist doctrinal terminology, which abounded in the original version, disappeared. Policies were proposed in a more concrete form. For example, regarding the constitution, which is not even mentioned in the original document, the amended version declares, “Our party shall uphold the Japanese Constitution…and shall not only protect fundamental human rights, but also seek to secure fundamental social rights,” clearly indicating its new orientation as a secular, non-religious party. Furthermore, Komeito’s participation in the realignment of opposition party alliances became a serious option, hitherto impossible as long as it adhered to the religious tenets of the Soka Gakkai. As for the Gakkai, it officially renounced the idea of a national sanctuary in 1970, which had been one of its religious themes. In its relationship with the Komeito, it decided upon clear guidelines not to appoint party representatives to leadership positions in the Soka Gakkai, and to dissociate itself completely from personnel affairs, candidacy decisions, finances, and management of the party. (Machaceck & Wilson, pp. 116-117)

Though the Soka Gakkai officially renounced the establishment of a state sponsored Precept Platform in 1970, both the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai had actually been moving towards a new understanding of how the Precept Platform was to be established for some time. As early as February 16, 1965, in a sermon given at the first meeting of the Sho-Hondo Construction Committee, High Priest Nittatsu declared that the new Grand Main Temple (Sho-Hondo) would be the Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching. This view was then taken up by Ikeda over the next few years, most notably on October 12, 1968 at the ground breaking ceremony for the Sho-Hondo. This was made the official view of the Nichiren Shoshu by High Priest Nittatu on April 28, 1972. In the Admonition he gave that day, High Priest Nittatsu stated,

The Sho-Hondo is the actual High Sanctuary of True Buddhism (ji no kaidan) of this time, which contains the significance described in On the Three Great Secret Laws and the Minobu Transfer Document. The Sho-Hondo is a supreme edifice that should be the High Sanctuary of Honmon-ji (Temple of True Buddhism) at the time of kosen-rufu. (Issues Vol. 3, p.132)

So as early as 1965, the view that the Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching had to be established by the government had changed. By 1972, it was the official view of the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu that the Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching had been established with the completion of the Sho-Hondo and the enshrinement of the Dai-Gohonzon within it. The government mandate was no longer required. In fact, the previous goal of converting the entire Japanese nation in order to get a mandate from the people had also been changed. In it’s place was the concept of the “300,000 of Shravasti” (Jap: Shae no san-oku). The “300,000 of Shravasti” referred to the one-third of the population of the kingdom of Shravasti which took faith in the Buddha’s teachings when the Buddha lived and taught there. In Ikeda’s own words:

The membership of our association now far exceeds five million families [as of July 1965]. There is a formula called Shae no san-oku concerning the country of Shae, which was known in the Buddha’s lifetime as the country most closely related to him in all of India. That is to say, in the Shae of those years, one-third of its people saw and heard the Buddha and believed in him. Another one-third saw the Buddha but did not hear him preach. The remaining one-third, it is said, neither saw nor heard the Buddha.

If we are to apply this formula to our program of kosen rufu and of realizing obutsu myogo, it would mean as follows: if one-third of the population of Japan became members of Soka Gakkai and another third, though not gaining our faith, supported Komeito, and the remaining third opposed espousing our faith, it would mean virtual kosen rufu. We can realize obutsu myogo by attaining a Shae no san-oku [in Japan]… (Murata, pp. 130-131)

Aside from religion and politics, Ikeda also expanded the Soka Gakkai’s involvement in culture and education. Beginning in 1964, the Soka Gakkai began establishing elementary schools, primary schools, and secondary schools. Soka University was founded in 1971 and Soka University of America in 1987. The interest in education and the application of Makiguchi’s educational theories were very much in keeping with the Soka Gakkai’s origins. In addition, the Soka Gakkai founded the Min’on Concert Association and the Min’en Theatrical Association. Over the years, the Soka Gakkai would sponsor or begin many other cultural and educational projects and exhibits.

The Soka Gakkai also began to expand outside of Japan under the presidency of Ikeda. In 1960, Ikeda made his first trip to the United States, Canada, and Brazil. The number of Soka Gakkai members in the United States grew dramatically during the 60′s and 70′s as the result of the efforts of Japanese war brides and students who were members of the Soka Gakkai living in U.S. A young student named Masayasu Sadanaga was especially instrumental in organizing the propagation efforts in the U.S. and in 1963 Ikeda made him the national director of the Nichiren Shoshu Academy (which would later be renamed Nichiren Shoshu of America). In 1972, Masayasu Sadanaga changed his name to George M. Williams in order to better assimilate himself to American culture. The NSA followed suit in the diversity of its members which soon represented a cross-section of American ethnic groups, classes, and educational levels, though the Japanese provided the core membership and leadership for quite some time. And despite the counter-culture movement which enabled it to grow, the NSA did not shy away from embracing patriotic displays in its conventions and in its participation in various public events and parades. Despite its solidly Japanese practice of chanting in Sino-Japanese, the NSA became the most well assimilated and diverse of all forms of American Buddhism, a fact which is noted to this day. NSA’s growth was also remarkable for a group consisting primarily of American converts as opposed to immigrants from Buddhist cultures. Santa Barbara sociologists Phillip Hammond and David Machaceck estimate that the NSA grew from 4,000 members in 1965 to over 35,000 members by the end of the century. (Hammond & Machaceck, p.42)

With the completion of the Grand Main Temple in 1972, the Soka Gakkai was at its peak strength. Even though there was no government or popular mandate by the Japanese people, High Priest Nittatsu had declared the Grand Main Temple the actual Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching. Through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai it appeared that the third of Nichiren’s Three Great Secret Dharmas (Honzon, Daimoku, and Kaidan) had finally been concretely established. Nittatsu and Ikeda seemed to be of one mind, and the cooperation and harmony between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu was at the highest point it would ever reach. The Soka Gakkai estimated that it’s membership had reached 7.5 million households (though outside estimates put it at around 3.75 million – see Machaceck & Wilson, pp.100-101) and the Komeito remained a formidable force in Japanese politics. A university and various other cultural institutions had been established by this time as well to round out the Soka Gakkai’s accomplishments. The Soka Gakkai was even experiencing phenomenal growth overseas in the Americas, Europe, and other parts of Asia. In 1975, the Soka Gakkai International was formed in order to unify the various overseas branches under the umbrella of a single international movement.

The Split

In 1977, however, the relationship between the Soka Gakkai leadership and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood began to break down. Due to statements made by Ikeda and the change of the gongyo prayers to include references to the Soka Gakkai, the Nichiren Shoshu priests were angered that the Soka Gakkai seemed to be equating itself with the third of the Three Treasure, the priesthood. On June 30, 1978, the Soka Gakkai printed an article entitled “Basic Questions of Study” in its newspaper, the Seikyo Shinbun. In the article, the Soka Gakkai repented of its deviations and pledged to follow the Nichiren Shoshu teachings. Specifically the article reaffirmed the doctrine of kechimyaku, which means “lifeblood” of faith. According to the Nichiren Shoshu, the heritage of the Dharma can only be preserved for all mankind through a person-to-person transmission among the successive high priests:

Therefore to embrace the Gohonzon inscribed and transmitted by the successive high priests is the correct way of faith and becomes the basis for Kechimyaku in the more general sense. We wish to confirm here the difference between the specific transmission of the Law and the general lifeblood of faith. (as translated in the World Tribune, February 5, 1979)

The priesthood, however, were further angered in 1978 when the Soka Gakkai allegedly made unauthorized copies of the Gohonzon for their community centers. The Soka Gakkai insists to this day that they had received approval from Nittatsu for them. In any case, seven of eight were returned except for one that Nittatu’s granted them permission to keep at Soka Gakkai Headquarters. On November 11 of that year at a leaders meeting at Taisekiji, Hiroshi Hojo, the general director, made the following statement:

In this vein, we, the Soka Gakkai, frankly admit the next two points: 1) The fundamental principles that the Soka Gakkai must follow through as the lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu were somehow disregarded during the last several years in its orientation, in its direction of advance and in its application of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. 2) The attitude the Soka Gakkai took toward Nichiren Shoshu last year was out of bounds. We, executives of the Soka Gakkai, deeply apologize for these two points. (World Tribune, February 5, 1979)

The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and its original lay organization, the Hokkeko, however, were still not satisfied with the Soka Gakkai’s apologies and were not convinced that the Soka Gakkai had changed its attitudes. In March 1979, the Hokkeko began pressuring Ikeda to resign as chief lay representative of Nichiren Shoshu. In April, Ikeda stepped down as president of Soka Gakkai and as chief lay representative of Nichiren Shoshu. In his place, Hiroshi Hojo became the fourth president of the Soka Gakkai. Ikeda, however, became the honorary president of Soka Gakkai and the president of Soka Gakkai International. In May at the 40th Soka Gakkai Headquarters general meeting, Nittatsu delivered a speech of reconciliation and a plea for cooperation and harmony between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and the Hokkeko. In July, Nittatsu passed away and by August Nikken Abe had become the 67th High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu.

The problems had not been resolved to the satisfaction of all the priests however. Even as early as 1970, a group of priests called the Myoshinko (or Myokankai) had protested the declaration of the Grand Main Temple as the Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching. They insisted that the Precept Platform must be established by the government as a national sanctuary. In 1974 they were expelled from Nichiren Shoshu by Nittatsu. These nationalist priests later renamed themselves the Kenshokai.

In 1980, a new schism erupted when a group of priests formed the Shoshinkai. Their objective was to promote direct membership with the temples and to weaken or abolish the power of the Soka Gakkai in Nichiren Shoshu. When they were rebuked for their attacks on the Soka Gakkai by Nikken, the Shoshinkai began to attack the legitimacy of his succession as well. Between 1981 and 1983, Nikken expelled 180 of the Shoshinkai priests in the second schism within the ranks of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood over the Soka Gakkai in a decade.

The relationship between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu was fairly harmonious during the rest of the 80′s. Ikeda was even reappointed as the chief lay representative of Nichiren Shoshu on January 2, 1984. This peace would not last however. During 1990 the tensions between the two groups erupted again, resulting in the dismissal of Ikeda as the chief lay representative of Nichiren Shoshu in December. Throughout 1991 the accusations and recriminations between the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai intensified. On November 8, 1991, the Nichiren Shoshu demanded that the Soka Gakkai disband. When the Soka Gakkai refused and instead intensified its criticisms of Nikken and the actions of the priesthood, the Nichiren Shoshu excommunicated the Soka Gakkai en masse on November 28. In response, the Soka Gakkai sent a petition with 16.25 million names demanding the resignation of Nikken as High Priest. The next year, on August 11, 1992, the Nichiren Shoshu personally excommunicated Ikeda from the Nichiren Shoshu. On October 2, 1993 the Soka Gakkai began to issue its own Gohonzons, using one originally transcribed by Nichikan, the 26th High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu. On November 30, 1997, the Nichiren Shoshu excommunicated the actual members of Soka Gakkai who refused to leave the organization to join the Hokkeko. On April 5, 1998, Nikken secretly transferred the Dai-Gohonzon from the Grand Main Temple to the Hoanden and on June 23 began the demolition of the Grand Main Temple. The seeming fulfillment of the establishment of Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching by Daisaku Ikeda was over. The grand symbol of the former unity between the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai was demolished and there would be no turning back.

As of 2001, the Soka Gakkai still continues its official policy of fighting to destroy what it perceives as the evil and corruption of the priesthood and what it perceives as Nikken’s betrayal of Nichiren Daishonin. The Soka Gakkai has also made itself self-sufficient in that it now performs its own wedding, funerals, and Gohonzon conferrals. It has also been taking a more ecumenical stance towards other religions and even other Buddhist groups (except for the Nichiren Shoshu) in its efforts to broaden its appeal and establish legitimacy with the academic community and the mainstream of Buddhism. The Soka Gakkai’s doctrines also seem to be in flux, with several key elements of Nichiren Shoshu teachings being rejected or reevaluated and others retained. One things is for certain, it has rejected the doctrines relating to the priesthood, the High Priests, and even some if not all of the teachings relating to the Daigohonzon. The teaching that Nichiren is the True Buddha has also been downplayed if not changed. It remains to be seen how deep and far reaching these doctrinal changes will become. The Soka Gakkai claims to have 8 million members in Japan and 300,000 in the U.S., but more conservative estimates put the Japanese membership at 4 million and the U.S. membership at just under 36,000 in 1997.

The Nichiren Shoshu has not succeeded in drawing away the vast majority of Soka Gakkai members, and several score of its priests have actually left the Nichiren Shoshu. Some priests have even defected to the Soka Gakkai and are known as the domei priests. However, the Hokkeko continues to thrive in a modest way now that it can directly promote direct temple membership. The Nichiren Shoshu and Hokkeko in general have been withdrawing from the fight and seem to be taking a more reclusive stance.

Due to the efforts of Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda, the Nichiren Shoshu teachings have spread throughout the world. Even in Japan, Nichiren Buddhism is almost always associated with the Soka Gakkai. Outside of Japan, the Nichiren Shoshu teachings as promoted by the Soka Gakkai are assumed to be the normative form of Nichiren Buddhism, an assumption held even by many within academia. With a handful of exceptions, Western scholars and writers do not seem to be aware of the other schools of Nichiren Buddhism in Japan or of the standards of Nichiren Buddhist scholarship set by Rissho University, nor is there any sign of interest in a deeper understanding of Nichiren Buddhism which is seen as a popularized or even nationalistic form of Buddhism with no real substance. Though the phenomenal growth of the Soka Gakkai seems to have peaked in the early 70′s, it would still be safe to say that outside of Asia, and excluding immigrants from Buddhist countries, the majority of actively practicing Buddhists are or once were members of Soka Gakkai. Nichiren Buddhism, as defined by the Soka Gakkai, has succeeded in becoming a form of Buddhism known and practiced all over the world. It remains to be seen how long it will survive outside of Japan beyond the current generation of practitioners, and it remains to be seen if any of the other more traditional forms of Nichiren Buddhism will ever gain as wide a following.


Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi the Value Creator: Revolutionary Japanese Educator and Founder of Soka Gakkai. New York: Weatherhill, 1994.

Hammond, Phillip & Machacek, David. Soka Gakkai in America: Accomodation and Conversion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Machacek, David & Wilson, Bryan. Global Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Montgomery, Daniel B. Fire in the Lotus: The Dynamic Buddhism of Nichiren. London: Mandala, 1991.

Murata, Kiyoaki. Japan’s New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai. New York: Walker/Weatherhill, 1969.

SGI-USA Study Department. The Untold Story of the Fuji School: The True Story of Nichiren Shoshu. Santa Monica: The World Tribune Press, 2000.

White, James W. The Soka Gakkai and Mass Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1970.

Internet Resources

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2001