Lotus Buddhism / Nichiren Shoshu and SGI Buddhism

Nichiren Shoshu and SGI Buddhism

Safwan Darshams

Over many centuries, the sect of Nichiren Shoshu remained as a small temple within the group of “Nichiren sects” in Japan. As history presents, the position of the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu in society was boosted in the 17th century by a government decree, requiring all Japanese citizens to be assigned to local temples in order to record their status and report to the government. As representatives (or extended hand) of the government, various temples fulfilled a public census function, keeping records such as birth, death and marriages. This administrative function provided temples with a guaranteed economic base, and added a secular weight to the spiritual authority of the priests.

Allegiance between the Priesthood and government authorities was clearly manifested in Nichiren Shoshu High Priest’s Nikkyo statement of support to the emperor’s declaration of War in the Pacific (1941):

Today His Majesty [Emperor Hirohito] declared war….. I can hardly suppress my awe and joy at this

Lay believers, however, did not share the same line of the Priesthood’s obedience to political authorities, and differences between the priesthood and laity (Soka Kyoiku Gakkai) started to emerge. After the war ended, further friction and disagreement between the priesthood and laity widened their differences, leading finally to their complete separation in early 1990-s.

The question of who is the “reference” in Nichiren Buddhism

The essential question behind the dispute between the Priesthood and Lay Believers is about the reference one should acknowledge in Buddhist teachings. According to the Priesthood, this reference is the High Priest - who is regarded as almost infallible, while according to the Laity, however, the reference in Buddhist teachings is Nichiren’s own explanations found in his writings.

In the opinion of various impartial academics, such as D. Metraux:

“The priesthood claims that it is the sole custodian of religious authority and dogma, while the
Soka Gakkai leadership argues that the sacred writings of Nichiren, not the priesthood,
represent the ultimate source of authority, and that any individual with deep faith in Nichiren’s
teachings can attain enlightenment without the assistance of a priest” The Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1992 - 19/4, D. Metraux, p. 326

Another scholar’s view of the cause of diversion between the Lay Believers and Priesthood is that:

“A spirit of openness, egalitarianism, and democratization pervaded the Soka Gakkai, embodying and giving new life to the idea of self-empowerment. In 1991, these liberalizing developments led to the split between the Japan-oriented, priestly Nichiren Shoshu and the lay-based, globalized SGI” Prof. M. Bumann of the University of Lucerne, Switzerland.

After separation from the priesthood, SGI expanded its presence in many areas of activities and countries around the world. The separation from Nichiren Shoshu and the cause of religious dispute is viewed by independent scholars as the result of:

“lay members seeking religious support for their lives, priests seeking perpetuation of hierarchical institutions” Prof. Jane Hurst of Gallaudet University.

The following outlines the core of the dispute between laity and the priesthood: