Jul 032013
 

On Tuesday, May 7th, Tenzin Gyasto, the 14th Dalai Lama, told an audience at the University of Maryland,

Really, killing people in the name of religion is unthinkable, very sad. Nowadays even Buddhists are involved in Burma . . . Buddhist monks  . . . destroy Muslim mosques or Muslim families. Really very sad.”

It might surprise you to learn that millions of Buddhists today follow the teachings of a man who openly advocated killing people in the name of religion.

I’m not talking about U Wirathu, the self-proclaimed “Buddhist bin Laden” and leader of a ultra-nationalist Buddhist movement, whom many believe is responsible for inciting anti-Muslim violence in Burma, where, as the NY Times reported on June 21, 2013, “Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes . . .” – the man Time Magazine labeled  “The Face of Buddhist Terror” on the cover of their recent Asian edition.

No, not this monk who refers to Muslims as “the enemy” and “mad dogs,” who wraps his twisted message around the idea of “protecting” Buddhism, and appeals to the Burmese people’s nationalist pride, telling them they must think and act as nationalists, for the good of the country, and says “I am proud to be called a radical Buddhist.” [1]

I am referring to Nichiren, a 13th century Japanese priest who promoted a single practice based on the Lotus Sutra, and who declared that the entire nation of Japan should abandon all other forms of Buddhism and take faith in his dharma or suffer dire consequences. Like U Wirathu, Nichiren claimed he was only trying to protect Buddhism and his nation.

There are close to 40 different Nichiren factions currently active in the world, and if the numbers of these “believers” were combined, it would might make Nichirenism the most followed form of Buddhism in the world, rivaled only by Pure Land. One group, the lay organization Soka Gakkai, alone claims to have 12 million members worldwide.

nichiren2

Nichiren

Nichiren’s intolerance and extremism has been almost universally glossed over, minimized by his followers, and by modern Buddhist academia. This “free pass” is regrettable. Convinced of the superiority of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren taught that all other forms of Buddhism were not only heretical but also invalidated by the Lotus teachings. He predicted that followers of other Buddhist traditions would “invariably fall into the great citadel of the Avichi hell”. [2]

In a letter to a woman named Konichi-bo, Nichiren wrote of an incident in which he was confronted by a number of government officials (who later exiled him to Sado Island),

I attacked the Zen school as the invention of the heavenly devil, and the Shingon school as an evil doctrine that will ruin the nation, and insisted that the temples of the Nembutsu [Pure Land], Zen, and Ritsu priests be burned down and the Nembutsu priests and the others beheaded.” [3]

Today, Nichiren’s followers will argue he really didn’t mean it. However, as Nichiren’s letter continues, ask yourself if this sounds like a man who doesn’t mean what says,

[I] repeated such things morning and evening and discussed them day and night. I also sternly informed [the government official] and several hundred officers that, no matter what punishment I might incur, I would not stop declaring these matters.”

In Senji Sho, “The Selection of the Time”, he tells the same story, this time saying that he told the government official,

Nichiren is the pillar and beam of Japan. Doing away with me is toppling the pillar of Japan! . . . All the Nembutsu and Zen temples, such as Kenchoji, Jufuku-ji, Gokuraku-ji, Daibutsuden, and Choraku-ji, should be burned to the ground, and their priests taken to Yui Beach to have their heads cut off. If this is not done, then Japan is certain to be destroyed!”

Nichiren (1222-1282) described himself as the “son of a fisherman,” medieval Japan’s lowest class. He was educated at a backwater temple that had ties with nembutsu followers within the Sanmon Tendai faction. The temple’s abbot was a nembutsu priest [4]. Nichiren’s lack of a “formal” education and lower-class origins provide some insight into his thinking. Based on scholarship by Yutaka Takagi (Nichiren: sono kodo to shiso, Tokyo: Hyoronsha, 1970), Laurel Rasplica Rodd writes in her biography of Nichiren,

Nichiren’s lowly origins were unique among the religious leaders of the Middle Ages in Japan. Honen, Shinran, Dogen, and Eisai all came from noble or samurai families . . . [At Mt. Hiei, the Japanese center of Buddhist learning] Probably Nichiren was not admitted to the circles of disciples gathered around the famous teachers. Thus while Nichiren could attend public lectures he was forced to draw his own conclusions from scriptures and commentaries as he might not have done had he been directed by one of the masters.” [5]

This might explain how Nichiren when he studied Nagarjuna was unable to appreciate the great philosopher’s warning about grasping for the absolute, and why, as noted by Bruno Petzold [6], even though “Nichiren incorporates into his own system the whole Tendai philosophy,” he could not fathom the subtlety of that school’s doctrine.

Nichiren had convinced himself that the seemingly unprecedented spate of natural disasters befalling Japan, and later, the threat of foreign invasion, was directly attributable to the proliferation of “evil religions”: heretical forms of Buddhism.

Superstition and an mistaken view of Buddhist history, such as the notion that the Buddha was born circa 3000 BCE, that the Buddha directly taught the Mahayana sutras, and the idea of the degenerative age of Mappo (“Latter Day of the Dharma”), contributed to Nichiren’s radical position. And yet, other Buddhist teachers of the same era labored under the same beliefs and misunderstandings and they did not adopt such  extremist views.

Unlike the militants in Burma today, Nichiren had more regard for the “foreign enemy” than he did for his fellow Japanese Buddhists. When Kublai Khan began sending messengers to Japan demanding the nation either pay tribute to him or face invasion, Nichiren wrote, “How pitiful that they have beheaded the innocent Mongol envoys and yet failed to cut off the heads of the priests of the Nembutsu, Shingon, Zen and Ritsu sects, who are the real enemies of our country.” [7]

Reading Nichiren, one is impressed with how at times he could be poetic, tender and wise, and yet a disturbing thread of paranoia and self-aggrandizement permeates his writings:

Now the great earthquake and the huge comet that have appeared are calamities brought about by heaven, which is enraged because the ruler of our country hates Nichiren and sides with the Zen, Nembutsu, and Shingon priests who preach doctrines that will destroy the nation!”

Senji Sho, “The Selection of the Time”

[Among] all the sacred teachings expounded by the Buddha in the course of his lifetime, the Lotus Sutra alone holds the position of absolute superiority.”

Jimyo hokke mondo-sho, “Questions and Answers on Embracing the Lotus Sutras”

I, Nichiren, am sovereign, teacher, and father and mother to all the people of Japan.”

Kaimoko Sho, “Opening of the Eyes”

I, Nichiren, am alone, without a single ally.”

Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro dono gosho, “Letter to Hyoe Shichiro” (“Encouragement to a Sick Person”)

It’s not a matter of taking these statements out of context. These statements are the context. If they were merely isolated remarks that could be excused or rationalized, but these declarations are repeated almost ad nasuem.

Contrary to his claim, Nichiren actually had many supporters and allies, including a great many samurai. Buddhism in Japan, especially during the Kamakura period, was a rather violent affair. Many of the Buddhist sects maintained small armies, and some of the influential teachers had at least a small band of armed warriors about them. Some scholars have suggested Nichiren, too, maintained a small army, and it is not unreasonable to consider. And while there were violent clashes between various Japanese Buddhist sects, as far as I am aware, Nichiren is the only Buddhist leader to actually advocate killing in the name of religion.

On several occasions, Nichiren’s followers were accused of arson, even murder; charges that they denied and blamed on Nembutsu (Pure Land) believers. The counter-charge was that they were framed by people who wanted Nichiren’s downfall. This paranoid sense of persecution still resonates among some contemporary Nichiren followers.

Today, these Nichiren believers will maintain that his radical Buddhism belongs to the past. However, my own experience as member of a Nichiren tradition for 12 years, the experiences of many others I’ve known and spoken with, as well as numerous published anecdotes and documented episodes, all tell a different story. The seeds of Nichiren’s intolerance and extremism continue to ripen and bear fruit.

And that is the point: Buddhist extremists and fundamentalists are not contained merely in one or two Asian countries. They may be in your city, in your neighborhood, down the street, maybe next door to you. They may not be dangerous, and yet, extremism is hardly ever harmless.

More about that next time.

- – – – – – – – – -

[1] Washington Post, June 21, 2013

[2] Yakuo-bon tokui sho, “Essence of the Medicine King Chapter”

[3] Konichibo gosho, “Letter to Konichi-bo”

[4] Alicia and Daigan Matsunaga, Foundations of Japanese Buddhism Vol. II, Buddhist Books International, Los Angeles-Tokyo, 1976; and others.

[5] Rodd, Laurel Rasplica, Nichiren: A Biography, Arizona State University, 1978

[6] Petzold, Bruno, Buddhist Prophet Nichiren: A Lotus in the Sun, Tokyo: Hokke Journal, Inc., 1978

[7] Moko Tsukai Gosho, “Writing on the Mongol Envoys”

All Nichiren quotes taken from SGI versions of these writings found in the Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin series.

  57 Responses to “Nichiren The Original Face of Buddhist Terror”

  1. FYI: Some Reddit discussion here.

  2. Somehow, this does not gel with my understanding of Nichiren. Besides, The Budha “Gautama” or Sakhya Muni is a recent avatar of a long Budhist tradition that started long before Kanjisai Bosatsu. As a visit to Kenkozan Nihon Ji on Mount Nokogiri in Boshu might reveal, Nichiren was a profound patriot who was attempting to adopt the Lotus Sutra into a Shinto-Japanese original.

    • This is what I mean about superstition and erroneous or even ‘magical’ history. Buddhism is a human philosophy founded by a human being some 2500 years ago. Notions about Buddhas prior to Gautama/Shayamuni are pure myth. As to whether or not Nichiren was a “profound patriot” that is a matter of opinion. Judging from your other comment, I can see how you might think he was.

  3. As for contemporary Budhist violence, it is either that or the Sharia. Islam takes no prisoners.

  4. None of these cherry picked, out of context examples rise to prove the thesis suggested by the title:

    “Nichiren The Original Face of Buddhist Terror”

    Nichiren never advocated for terrorism or violence, he never urges followers to do any such things and he himself never practiced any violence.

    What he did was believe that Buddhism was rotten in its current forms and that the country was suffering for it. Did he use hyperbole and scream and shout to get their attention. Yes.

    Was he a terrorist? Give me a break David.

    This is a hit piece 100% and hopefully you post this. Thanks.

    • I have no problem posting your comment. You’re entitled to your opinion, just as I am, and to my way of thinking the quotes I used show a very troubling aspect of Nichiren’s philosophy, and one that does justifies the title of the post.

      I’m not sure what a hit piece means, but if you are implying that the post is pointed, you are entirely correct. There are plenty of positive spins on Nichiren available on the web. My intention was to offer a different perspective. You would rather dismiss these disturbing words, or find some way to excuse them? Poor Nichiren and his followers, everyone is out to get them, every criticism is a smear, an attack. Why don’t you give me a break from this rather typical response?

      The problem with this subject is that we only have the one-sided accounts from Nichiren himself and his loyal followers in which the Nichiren believers are always the persecuted and never the persecutors. I will concede there is no direct evidence that he himself practiced violence or urged his followers to do so, but to say that he never advocated violence is just not true. And from the few objective accounts of his life that are available in English, there is enough information to raise questions about violent acts his immediate supporters may have perpetrated.

    • Nichiren was right about this. Unilaterally Ashoka broke the treaty of Bharatha (Aryavarta) and waged war on his neighbours to conquer by surprise and through destructive force, 2,400 years ago. He was declared an outcaste (paraiah) by the Brahmin Council of Kashi, and embraced pacifist Budhism. For nearly four hundred years after that, the reputation of the formidable fighting force that the alliance of Aryavarta had been kept enemies at bay. Thereafter, the result of this defeatist philosophy are best captured by Will Durant: http://www.scribd.com/doc/142229342/The-Moslem-Conquest-of-India-An-extract-from-Will-Durant-s-11-volume-Story-of-Civilization. It is all very well to embark on the quest for self realization which is a purely individual pursuit, even if assisted by a mentor and a group of similar minded sojourners. But creating a valid and defensible space for such an exercise is a pre requisite.

  5. I’ve just posted a piece on the Non-Buddhist blog which includes reference to Japanese ‘new Buddhism’ and Imperial Way Buddhism, both of which collaborated with Japanese militarism before and during world war two. I thought of including a bit on Soka Gakkai and its opposition to co-option but thought better of it when I researched further. It seems to me to exhibit al the hallmarks of a cult ( particularly its use of a form of extreme proselytizing called ‘shakubuku’) The organization seems have been involved in some very questionable doings, despite its apparent stand against the demands of the militarist government . Its later development , especially its strident anti-marxist stand and its involvement with the Japanese socialist party through its political wing Komeito (“Clean Government Party”) make for interesting reading.

    What all of this proves is that for the most part, western involvement with Japanese Buddhism in all its forms, is be-devilled with a wilful blindness to the ways in which religion is intertwined with and often conditioned by, ideological , political and economic interests. Not that it is the only aspect that deserves emphasis, of course.

    Congrats on an interesting post. I’ve only just discovered the blog and look forward to perusing .

    • Thanks for your kinds words and for the comment.

      To call the Soka Gakkai a cult is fightin’ words to any SG member, but there are certainly cultish aspects. I feel that it is a new kind of cult, one that does not easily fit the traditional definitions. The stand that the two leaders, Makiguchi and Toda, took against the military government during WW2, I think had more to do with resistance to forcing Shintoism on Buddhism than any anti-war sentiments. But that is a murky part of SG history and no one knows the true story.

      I’m not sure I would describe the SG as anti-marxist, since Ikeda, the 3rd President and real builder of the organization, is a great admirer of Mao and seems to have learned a lot from him, especially on how to create a cult of personality.

  6. Dear friend that I should examine the issue from the following factors and conditions:

    1 – The time when Nichiren lived and beliefs that gave base of their creed.
    2 – The Japanese moral force at that time (without the influence of Buddhism as a philosophy of moral basis)
    3 – The Samurai’s culture influences, their code of honor, and their attitudes in the Japanese population as a whole (secular and religious).

    If coldly analyze from this point of view, Nichiren did not seem as terrorist as well, at least for the Japanese of his time, these days for with sure.

    hugs
    fernando

    • Thanks for your comment Fernando.

      Yes, these are factors to be considered, but to me they do not excuse the extremism being discussed here. I did note the time when Nichiren lived, that it was a violent period, and it should be added that Japanese Buddhism has a long history of violence, and that applies to Japan as a whole. But then, what country has not had a violent history? Indeed, this has and continues to be a violent world, but even in acknowledging the world as such, we esteem peacemakers and disapprove of those who advocate violence.

      Nichiren was not samurai, and his extreme views were not based on the bushido, the samurai code. They were religious in nature, the idea that one sutra, one teaching was superior and invalidated all other Buddhist teachings, and this elitism and prejudice can’t be overlooked, minimized or excused either. And that is the link to the “terror” of people like U Wirathu. I see very little difference between espousing the superiority of one race of people over others and espousing the superiority of one religious teaching over others.

      • I agree with you, and do not believe in violence, and to be justified by any cause or reason. I think there are good things in the teachings of Nichiren, and these yes should be seized. As the Lotus Sutra, as I myself have quoted, without the knowledge and study of other sutras, it becomes a beautiful poetic work of fiction, almost unintelligible to people outside of Buddhism to read it first. For this reason I do not agree with the position of Nichiren in classifying this sutra as the sole and ultimate teaching of the Buddha.

        Thanks for one more excellent post

        Hugs
        fernando

  7. Yes, it was a violent period, but then so was the British Raj’s involvement in India, yet I don’t see any suggestion of beheadings in Mahatma Gandhi’s anthology.

    • Very true. Because this was a blog post, which by its very nature is limited, and not a thesis or a book, and because I choose to focus on one aspect solely, for reasons I’ve explained several times, folks should not be tempted to look at this black and white. Fernando’s point about the Japanese moral force at the time is valid. In those ancient times, they chopped people’s heads off with some regularity, and we should also keep in mind that Gandhi’s “non-violent” revolution gave way to one of the biggest blood-lettings in modern history. However, I do think there is a difference when someone openly advocates such extreme measures for religious reasons, and it is important to look at, owning to the fact that Nichiren intolerance continues to influence the minds of contemporary supporters, as you and I have both experienced.

    • http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/ambedkar/web/index.html The Annihilation of Caste by Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, the great Indian Buddhist philosopher and reformer of the 20th Century and sharcritic of Mahatma Ghandi,.

  8. Ultimately, we have to ask what we are prepared to do in order to protect a “religion”. You can’t destroy an idea, or a view once it exists. You can oppress people, but not ideas. To fight against oppression is pointless in the long run – by acting to oppose an enemy, you only guarantee the appearance of more enemies, and your doctrine (even if borne from the best of intentions) will be misunderstood and turned into dogma by others and used to beat down others with different beliefs – the only way to peace is through individual practice. I’m not going to fight for it though – I’m going to “do” nothing at all. That is all one can do.

    A religion is merely a point of view. Life, which (if my understanding of the path is correct) is ultimately things just as they are, is merely what it is, and will continue to be so. Man’s complete inability to sit quietly in a room without trying to control his environment will very likely continue for as long as we are here. Those who can’t see this will continue to fight and suffer, and make others suffer. Why try to stop them when all you do is create a new wave of suffering?

    Nichiren, Christianity, Islam – to my simple mind, they are all trying to “do” something – trying to promote the “truth” – this never works. You can’t write the truth down or directly teach it to people – the truth can only be found individually, without aim – without a goal.

    • All religions comprise a peg of spirituality poured into a glass of rituals with a few cubes of culture and topped up with politics. The quest for the truth is individual. How about creating the faciiltative space? We are still to create a “secular” state where the rights of the minorities are protected. The pursuivant is a minority of one.

  9. Nichiren does indeed clarify his violent stance in Establishing the Correct Law for the Peace of the Land:

    “The host said: You have clearly seen the sutra passages that I have cited, and yet you can ask a question like that! Are they beyond the power of your mind to comprehend? Or do you fail to understand the reasoning behind them? I certainly have no intention of censuring the sons of the Buddha. My only hatred is for the act of slandering the Law. According to the Buddhist teachings, prior to Shakyamuni slanderous monks would have incurred the death penalty. But since the time of Shakyamuni, the One Who Can Endure, the giving of alms to slanderous monks is forbidden in the sutra teachings. Now if all the four kinds of Buddhists within the four seas and the ten thousand lands would only cease giving alms to wicked priests and instead all come over to the side of the good, then how could any more troubles rise to plague us, or disasters come to confront us?”

    Even were it not the case, when Nichiren made that statement about his persecutors having their heads cut off at Yui beach [1274], he had recently been sentenced for execution and subsequent exile to certain death in a cold and foreboding place. Please compare his life to the comfortable life of the Princeton grad and Nobel laureate Thich Nat Hanh and the Dalai Lama who were born with platinum spoons in his mouths.

    More importantly, if you are to castigate Nichiren, you would have to castigate, the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra without which you would have never even have heard of Buddha-nature.

    One last point. As far as violence in the Lotus Sutra, there is not one exhortation to kill, unlike in the principle “holy” books of Islam, Christianity, Brahmanism, and Judaism.

    Mark

    • Violence is not always physical. There is violence in words, too. When someone in the course of making a case for their side, consistently resorts to insulting those who are not part of his or her group, it really calls into question the validity of the side being defended. Making snide remarks about teachers of other traditions is no different from the Christian crusaders branding Muslims as pagans and heretics, or Muslims calling those who do not share their faith infidels.

  10. “Nichiren’s intolerance and extremism has been almost universally glossed over, or minimized by these followers and also by modern Buddhist academia, and this “free pass” is regrettable.”

    Setting aside conclusions about “Nichrien’s intolerance and extremism”, I’m not quite sure what you mean by “modern Buddhist academia” – do you mean scholars who study contemporary Buddhism? For those who study religion in the modern period, medieval teachers, like Nichiren, are not going to be of particular interest unless the object of study is the manner in which modern practitioners interpret these teachings. Nichiren would more likely be the object of study for scholars who study medieval Japanese Buddhism. In either case, I’m not sure where you are looking, but there is considerable scholarship on both modern interpretations of Nichiren. I don’t think anyone is giving Nichiren Buddhists a free pass – I think Nichiren gets a good deal of close scrutiny, precisely because of the controversies around him. The leading scholar on Nichiren in the United States, Jaqueline Stone, certainly does not gloss over Nichiren’s controversial ideas and addresses many of them in a straight forward manner. http://www.princeton.edu/~jstone/lotus-sutra-tendai-nichiren.html There are several other scholars studying Nichiren and publishing work in English as well see issue 26 of the Nanzan Journal of Japanese Religion for instance – http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/en/publications/jjrs/listofjournals/. In Japanese, there is a considerable body of scholarship on Nichiren and the entire history of Nichiren Buddhism, including in the modern period. Certainly there are apologists writing on Nichiren, but there are many critics as well. In any event, I disagree with your assessment of scholarly treatment of Nichiren and Nichiren Buddhism in general.

    “Convinced of the superiority of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren taught that all other forms of Buddhism were not only invalid but also heretical. He predicted that followers of other Buddhist teachings would “invariably fall into the great citadel of the Avichi hell”.”

    Nichiren’s message is actually more nuanced than that, but I get the impression, you don’t care about that. Your objective is to prove the substance of your opinion of Nichiren– that Nichiren was a “Terrorist”. The biggest problem with your post is that you ignore Nichiren’s writings that undermine your point about physical violence. In 1260, Nichiren wrote a letter directly to the military government appealing to them to cease supporting the spread of Honen’s interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism. The letter, Rissho Ankoku Ron, was in a question and answer format. One passage directly addresses your point.

    “[Question:] If we are to put an end to these people who slander the Law and do away with those who violate the prohibitions of the Buddha, then are we to condemn them to death as described in the sutra passages you have just cited? If we do that, then we ourselves will be guilty of inflicting injury and death upon others, and will suffer the consequences, will we not?…

    “[Answer:] … I certainly have no intention of censuring the sons of the Buddha. My only hatred is for the act of slandering the Law. According to the Buddhist teachings, prior to Shakyamuni slanderous monks would have incurred the death penalty. But since the time of Shakyamuni, the One Who Can Endure, the giving of alms to slanderous monks is forbidden in the sutra teachings. Now if all the four kinds of Buddhists within the four seas and the ten thousand lands would only cease giving alms to wicked priests and instead all come over to the side of the good, then how could any more troubles rise to plague us, or disasters come to confront us?”

    When another poster cited this quote, you didn’t really address it. You changed the subject by stating, “There is violence in words, too.” Now we’re talking about something very different. I think you “glossed” over it because you realize that it undermines your argument about Nichiren being a “terrorist”.

    I’m not suggesting that Nichiren is not problematic, especially when read through the lens of contemporary sensibilities. He is. But, he was also a complex thinker who I would argue does not fall that far outside of the Tientai/Tendai movement of his time. I don’t sense you’re interested in that discussion so aside from your opinions, there’s not much left to address aside from your factual errors.

    Just a few, real quick.

    “Nichiren (1222-1282) described himself as the “son of a fisherman,” medieval Japan’s lowest class. He was educated at a backwater Pure Land (Nembutsu) Temple. Nichiren’s lack of a “formal” education and low-class origins provide some insight into his thinking…”

    Nichiren’s claim aside, he was not likely as low on the social totem pole as he suggested. The village he hailed from was an Imperial fief pledged to the Ise Shrine. Consider this -Nichiren spent 20 some odd years studying at various temples, including Hieizan… and somebody paid for it. Was it his “fishermen” parents? Maybe. That would be a lot of fish. He was likely assisted by the widow of the Imperial steward overseeing the fief and his family probably was connected to her somehow in a vassal-patron relationship. Admittedly, though, we don’t know. Something about what we know about him and his claim of low class birth does not, however, add up. The “backwater Pure Land Temple” Nichrien studied at, Seichoji, was actually one of the National Imperial Monasteries – admission was still for a select few. It was Middlebury College to Hieizan’s Harvard. And it was a Tendai Temple, not Pure Land. As for whether the select disciples on Hiei understood Buddhism any better than Nichiren – I think his writings speak for themselves. Maybe he “got” Zhiyi and Saicho better than the aristocrats in their secret chambers carrying on esoteric rites. Its possible. These are other discussions for which you’d have to actually consider the historical record rather than force bits and pieces to fit a sensational thesis.

    I’ll leave it at this final point:

    You write, “This paranoid sense of persecution still resonates among contemporary Nichiren followers…”

    And you close with this: “And that is the point: Buddhist extremists and fundamentalists are not contained merely in one or two Asian countries. They may be in your city, in your neighborhood, down the street, maybe next door to you.”

    I’m sure you don’t mean to be ironic, but, do you see it?

    • Quite a lot to deal with here, but thank you for leaving this comment, queequeg. I am not, however, going to address every single point you make, but try to cover most of them.

      First, I am not sure if “modern Buddhist academia” is too vague or not, however on hindsight, I should have left “modern” out and written “anyone who has ever written on Nichiren in English or had works about Nichiren translated into English past or present.” I know there has been a great deal of scholarship about Nichiren done in Japan, and much of it critical, however little of it is accessible to those who do not read Japanese, and that is the audience I am addressing. Jaqueline Stone is a scholar I admire, and you are correct that she has not glossed over Nichiren’s controversies. I regret to say that I have not read much of what she has written in recent years.

      As far as the Nanzan Journal of Japanese Religion, with the exception of Volume 26 which has a number of papers on the subject of Nichiren’s teachings, and one paper in another volume by Christina Naylor, “Nichiren, Imperialism, and the Peace Movement” (which begins with how one Nichirenite, Tanaka Chigaku, “extended the meaning of shakubuku to justify military aggression against China in 1931”), there is little else in the remaining 39 volumes that deal directly with Nichiren, as opposed to contemporary Nichiren organizations. In fact, the number of papers dealing with Nichiren directly, out of the hundreds of other papers, amounts to seven, (including one by Laurel Rasplica Rodd, whom I quoted in my post, and two by Jacqueline Stone), and they are not particularly critical and aside from Naylor’s paper do not really touch on the subject of my post.

      It’s not that I don’t care if Nichiren’s message is more nuanced than it appears, rather it’s that I don’t believe it is. The only complex aspects of Nichiren’s Buddhism are the aspects he borrowed from others. His own take on dharma is based entirely on superstition and faulty history. He cannot really be held to blame for the latter, however as I said in my post, others during the same period were guided by the same information and they did not arrive at the same extreme black and white conclusions he did.

      The “other poster” you refer to was Mark Rogow, and yes I did not address that particular comment of his, but was answering several other comments he tried to post which I did not approve because of their tone, and besides I am not really interested in opening up a discussion with that individual. I’m sure you know his history.

      In any case, there is nothing in that quote that cancels out Nichiren’s other remarks about beheading slanderous priests. In fact, going by the excerpt, it seems that Nichiren doesn’t even answer the question about condemning them to death, he just replies that he has no intention of censuring the sons of the Buddha (and then does), talks about his “hatred” of slanderous acts, and then says if they would quit then everything in Japan would be peaceful and calm. Now think for a moment about this last suggestion. The idea that by sincerely following a Buddhist teaching other than the Lotus Sutra a person commits an act so grave that it could actually invite disaster on a land and its people is simply ludicrous.

      In regards to Nichiren’s history, there are no accounts of his life contemporary to his own time, save his own. Everything I have ever read suggests that fishing in that age was considered “humble” at the very least. My other comments about Nichiren’s background are based on what I remember from the official biography taught by the SGI and Nichiren Shoshu, and I don’t believe you can find an real factual errors in what I wrote. Seicho-ji was a Tendai temple but it was part of the Nembutsu faction within Tendai, and that’s why it was really an affront to the master of the temple, Dozen, for Nichiren to condemn Nembutsu the way he did in his first public talk. “20 some odd years studying at various temples” could mean most anything, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he was engaged in formal study at those places.

      To sum up, I don’t see this as a sensational thesis, rather as something that needs to be pointed out and should have had more attention paid to in the past. Naturally, I did not expect that Nichiren followers would see any merit in my remarks.

      No, I do not think Nichiren was a complex thinker. You are correct that on one hand, he did not fall that far outside of the Tientai/Tendai movement of his time, but on the other hand, with his exclusivism he made a radical departure.

      • Wow, dude. Give it a rest. Take more care when you draft these posts and you won’t have to backtrack and explain yourself. The reference to a volume of the Nanzan journal was explicitly offered as an example of scholars writing in English, not meant as an exhaustive bibliography. And by the way, I’m sure if given the chance you’d readily admit, the Nanzan Journal of Japanese Religion is not the only publication in which scholarly articles on Nichren appear, right?

        For a person who has very strong opinions about what Nichiren’s ideas were, you don’t seem to have much familiarity with what he actually taught. Your reply here bears this out – I could have copy pasta’d the whole essay, Rissho Ankoku Ron, but that would be redundant. I figured, I don’t think unreasonably, that if you, or some reader were interested, they could go read the text for themselves and gain a personal understanding of the context in which this quote appears. Instead, you… well, your reply speaks for itself as to what you did. More of the same sloppy “research and analysis” on which you seem to be very confident about.

        Let’s be straight. For my benefit, because I’m kind of slow: this blog amounts to a vanity project where you publish your personal opinions and beliefs. The tone of authority and appearance of scholarship are stylistic, not substantive. There isn’t much more to it than that, right? These are your opinions, which you are entitled to, and that’s the end of it, right?

        Very well. Carry on.

        • Whatever, man. This post is over two months old and you come along and post an extremely long comment, which I tried to reply to seriously, and you don’t like it. I can understand disagreeing about certain points, but this just follows the typical pattern: anyone who criticizes Nichiren doesn’t know what they are talking about. If Nichiren Buddhism, which I practiced for well over a decade, is so great, then why can’t you guys take some criticism in stride and not get so huffy about it?

          I merely replied to your comments. I didn’t backtrack or explain anything. I stand by the post, it is factual and a valid point of view.

          • “I’m not suggesting that Nichiren is not problematic, especially when read through the lens of contemporary sensibilities. He is.”

            Is that the typical pattern you’re talking about?

            There is plenty of controversy around Nichiren, but your statement calling him a terrorist is problematic on multiple levels, especially as we see, you relied on a selective record. When challenged on your statements pointing out your selective reading and pointing out facts you did not take into account, you blew it all off. Your only response was, “Its my opinion and its valid.”

            And I stand by my comments, they are factual and a valid point of view.

          • “Wow, dude. Give it a rest. Take more care when you draft these posts and you won’t have to backtrack and explain yourself.” “You don’t seem to have much familiarity with what he actually taught.” “this blog amounts to a vanity project.”

            That’s the kind of typical pattern I’m talking about. The superior, dismissive attitude. The inevitable accusation that anyone who criticizes Nichiren doesn’t know what they are talking about. The insults.

            Yes, I relied on a selective record. The scope of the post was to put Nichiren’s controversial statements regarding violence into the spotlight. Not to discuss his view on flowers and seeds, or lessening karmic retribution, faith, or anything else. The focus of the post was narrow and I stuck to it.

            I don’t know what facts you think I left out. Did he make these statements? Did he say that he meant what he said? The answer to both questions is yes. What else is there? The claims that he didn’t mean what he said, that he was being sarcastic, or speaking figuratively do not appear to be valid because there is no evidence to support it, not that I’ve seen; the only way you can arrive at that conclusion is by reading something into it that really isn’t there.

            The bottom line here is that you don’t respect the opinions of others. I’m not saying you have to accept them, but you should give some respect. I stated a point of view, and I offered up some of Nichiren’s own words to illustrate what I was referring to, and if you don’t like it, and I’d be surprised if you did, that’s fine. But you’re so thin skinned about the subject you can’t discuss it reasonably, nor can you give it a rest.

            I know you are well read in Nichiren philosophy and Tendai. I remember you from the e-sangha forum. I understand very well that you have your point of view and stand by your comments. I tried to provide a reasonable, thoughtful response to your original comment. You came back with a bunch of negativity and insults. I am sorry to say but in my experience from these kinds of discussions with Nichiren believers, it’s typical, predictable, and rather sad.

  11. See
    Nichiren’s Sarcasm at Fraught with Peril

    I am not defending Nichiren’s harsh style of rhetoric. However, context really does make a difference. Also, at least one of his letters actually states that he intended the bit about beheading figuratively. Also, in my more than 40 years experience with Nichiren Buddhism, this issue is not something that has been glossed over. Not at all.

    • Thanks for leaving a comment, Rob. I keep hearing that in one of his letters Nichiren says he is only speaking figuratively about the beheading bit, but I have never been able to find it. Perhaps you can point out where that is?

  12. Dave,

    In Rissho Ankoku Ron, Nichiren seems to be saying that cutting off the government support, the patronage, was enough. iirc. he specifically urged that the Hojo Regency cease their support of the Pure Land faction founded by Honen.

    • Thanks, Rob. I guess I would have to read the actual passage. I read the Rissho Ankoku Ron once and frankly don’t feel like wading through it again. Nichiren is not one of my main Buddhist interests these days. Hope you are doing well.

      • Thanks, hope you are doing well too I do not blame you for not wishing to wade through RAR. However, what I suggested — about figurative language — is the consensus view of informed individuals whose opinions I trust. Again, I am neither approving of nor apologizing for Nichiren Shonin’s rhetorical style; which I think was often laced with sarcasm.

        • I really don’t see the sarcasm. Perhaps it’s just the way I see Nichiren but that seems far too subtle for him. He has always struck me as bellicose and in-your-face. Ditto for the figurative language. Something else I was going to add to this post but didn’t because it was already too long was that he often seems contradictory, and I’m not sure he really had a cohesive, well-thought out point of view. Much of it seems rather emotional. In any case, it’s a subjective thing, and this is a blog where most of what is written is opinion, although I hope I usually have my facts straight, and should be read with that in mind.

    • “In Rissho Ankoku Ron, Nichiren seems to be saying that cutting off the government support, the patronage, was enough. iirc. he specifically urged that the Hojo Regency cease their support of the Pure Land faction founded by Honen.”

      It still amounts, though, to government deciding which religions will be allowed, and Nichiren ultimately demanding that the government establish a strict theocracy focusing exclusively on (and benefiting only) him, Nichiren.

      How does one measure the violence inherent in banning temples and priests from accepting donations? Since temples and priests can only survive via donations, won’t that result in their “going out of business” just as surely as if they were being burned to the ground and beheaded, respectively, though just not so quickly and without the blood-on-their-hands stigma of having done it by force? It’s the same end result, I hope you can see that.

  13. Yes, Nichiren did say a few things that could be interpreted by pinheads as inflammatory, but this was in the context of a very violent and evil time. His few inflammatory statements, were under the threat of his own possible beheading, or those of his followers and were figurative, as in “cutting off the head” of a corrupt and perverted period of buddhist history.

    Your article is off base and basically nutty.

    • Thanks for leaving such an erudite response. If you knew anything about the life of Nichiren then you would know that if he hadn’t made those inflammatory statements, he would not have been under threat of beheading. What’s basically nutty is the suggestion that living in a violent and evil time is an excuse for advocating violent acts. And just what is it about Nichiren’s time that made it any more violent or evil than our own time? Or any other time? Some of you people live in a real fantasyland when it comes to this subject and evidently have no understanding of history or Buddhist doctrine.

    • a corrupt and perverted period of buddhist history.

      And who is authorized to decide what is – and isn’t – “corrupt and perverted” within the context of Buddhism?

      There’s no central “Pope” of Buddhism who decides orthodoxy for all the Buddhisms in the world, after all. And didn’t the Buddha supposedly teach “80,000” different teachings, out of the awareness that so many different people obviously need so many different “skillful means” to assist them in awakening?

      Sure, YOU may like Nichiren’s flavor of Buddhism, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to (Nichiren’s opinion on the topic notwithstanding). There are more Nembutsu (aka “Shin” aka “Amida”) followers in the world than any other flavor of Buddhism, so clearly it has its appeal and its charms, however Nichiren was unable to appreciate this. And frankly, Nichiren’s magic chant and the Nembutsu magic chant are basically identical, and come from the same rationale – people are too ignorant and limited to do a REAL Buddhist practice, so just repeat this phrase and by doing so, you’ll accumulate all the benefit of lifetimes of practicing paramitas AND MORE!!

      What’s most notably lacking in Nichiren’s work is the live-and-let-live spirit of Buddhism that respects each individual’s right and responsibility to choose his own path in life, with Buddhism there as a guide as needed. Many of us who are repelled by Christianity’s inherent intolerance see the same thing in Nichiren Buddhism, just draped in different colored robes. For a great many people, intolerance is simply incompatible with Buddhism qua Buddhism, and any flavor of Buddhism that displays such clear egotism of declaring itself the “only one” (= delusion + attachment) will be rejected by them as not being a legitimate form of Buddhism. But those aren’t the people the Nichiren schools have any hope of attracting in the first place.

  14. “understanding of history”

    I think that is the key. An informed evaluation of Nichiren Shonin’s life probably requires at least a general understanding of late Heian and Kamakura Era Japan. As of now, we can not agree on basic facts like the status or affiliation of Seichoji at Mt. Kiyosumi..Or the quality and details of Nichiren’s subsequent education. I’d need to do some substantial, time consuming reviewing just to have a halfway intelligent discussion. .

    “I hope I usually have my facts straight,”

    I think I have my facts straight as well, to the extent facts exist and are accessible.

    “Nichiren is not one of my main Buddhist interests these days.”

    Evidently neither of us wish to invest the time and energy needed to argue the nuances of the issues you raise here. Nichiren Shonin obviously had a huge impact on Buddhism in Japan, despite his absence of the pages of third party histories of his own time. Also, the surviving Nichiren lineages have rather diverse interpretations of Nichiren’s extant writings and oral teachings.

    “And from the few objective accounts of his life that are available in English, there is enough information to raise questions about violent acts his immediate supporters may have perpetrated”

    Now this might be worth pursuing. if someone had sufficient time, resources, and interest.

    “his exclusivism he made a radical departure.”

    au contraire mon ami! Exclusive practice was the popular trend of that time and place; possibly a reaction against the complex syncretism of Tendai?

    “seems rather emotional”

    I see Nichiren as having often been dry and objective to the point of cold-ness; though he apparently had a warm, affectionate side as well.

    • I agree with most everything you wrote here. However, I would say that Tendai, and most of the other schools at the time, was eclectic and open to various teaching, despite the focus on single practices. The kind of exclusivism Nichiren advocated was very radical for it proclaimed one teaching as supreme and all others not only inferior but heretical. Sure, he got that from the T’ien-t’ai school, but for them it was more in theory, than actual practice.

    • Robby, I don’t mean to shut you down on having a discussion about this. It’s just that currently I don’t have the time or inclination to do so. Besides, you and I have had similar discussions on other forums in the past. You are more open, and better informed about other forms of Buddhism, knowledgeable about the Pali canon, etc., and I certainly appreciate your reasonable and friendly tone here.

      These days I am wary of getting into discussions with Nichiren followers, and because of that very nearly closed this post to comments. I find such discussions unproductive and frustrating usually. It is difficult to deal with the narrow mindedness, the same old argument about ignorance of Nichiren’s teachings, and the invariable transition to attack mode. You just can’t have reasonable discussions with zealots. Again, I appreciate that you are an exception, and no doubt I will post something about Nichiren in the future and perhaps we can have a discussion then.

  15. Great article, David. I was participating in a few discussions of Nichiren Buddhism on Reddit last month; a member of the cult that is the Nichiren sect in the USA, SGI-USA, used his reddit mod status to get me shadowbanned. Everything I posted about my 20+ years of experience in the SGI-USA, he countered with “Lies. Smear campaign.” etc. So when I posted excerpts from the SGI-USA’s own publications demonstrating that what I had recounted was the truth, he got me shadowbanned so that no one could see the evidence for themselves. Meanwhile, he posts glowing statements about how wonderfully open, democratic, and egalitarian the cult is – all patently false. While I understand his wishful thinking, as he is, to whatever degree, driven to identify with a repellent cult and thus wants to whitewash it as something lofty and high-minded, it’s still dishonest and devious, as his misrepresentations are, again to whatever degree, formulated to trick more people into joining.

    This is textbook cult behavior and demonstrates that there is something very rotten within Nichiren Buddism as it has been spread in the USA. The way the SGI, in the wake of its excommunication by parent Nichiren Shoshu in 1991, has promoted Daisaku Ikeda as the premier focus for all people is, frankly, disgusting and an obvious violation of “Follow the Law, not the Person”, though the SGI does pay lip service to that concept. The fact that Nichiren himself was so despicable means that any religion based on his teachings will be, at best, of questionable worth. Just as Christians try to tell you that the despicable things about Jesus in their scriptures are all really just “analogies” or “metaphors” that we are to understand as meaning the opposite, so the cult members declare that what Nichiren wrote so very clearly and repeated over and over was nothing more than “strong language”, rhetoric, if you will, in the style of the day, perhaps, and by that, he was simply…I dunno. Make up your own nice-sounding ending.

    I very much appreciate your presenting the actual issues as they stand. Of course the cult members won’t be able to tolerate it and will attack you instead – so much for their interest in the truth. Cult is as cult does, after all.

    • I was a part of that discussion.

      • Good times, good times. At present, I am trying to find the specifics on how the Soka Gakkai had to change its doctrines and tenets in the wake of the excommunication by Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Shoshu, the priesthood, had long had official legal status as a religion in Japan; the Soka Gakkai was able to originally claim religious status for itself as a lay organization officially recognized by Nichiren Shoshu. Riding on Nichiren Shoshu’s coattails, in other words.

        When Nichiren Shoshu officially excommunicated the Soka Gakkai, the priests effectively yanked the rug of legal religion status out from under the Soka Gakkai. This was a serious crisis! As Nichiren Shoshu’s legal lay organization, the Soka Gakkai had been dependent upon Nichiren Shoshu’s legal acknowledgment of this relationship to have all the perks and benefits of a legal religious entity. Under Japanese law, the Soka Gakkai could no longer claim to be affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu after the excommunication, nor could it continue to claim that its basis for religious incorporation was that it practiced the Buddhism of Nichiren Shoshu! Nichiren Shoshu controlled all access to Nichiren Shoshu, in other words, and once they said the Soka Gakkai was out, the Soka Gakkai was legally out!

        You see the quandary.

        So the Soka Gakkai had to *change* their doctrines and tenets in order to present themselves as an independent religion. The changes I can see right off are the increased focus (to the point of obsession) on the “master and disciple/mentor and disciple” concept. Also, the focus is as much on Daisaku Ikeda himself as the Moonies focus on their cult leader Sun Myung Moon. But I’m sure there are other details that were changed in order to reclaim legal religious incorporation status – I’ll be looking them up and sharing them when I find them.

        Say, I ran across this little tidbit about Japanese culture:

        “Many Japanese consider Soka Gakkai to be one of the shinko shukyo (new religions) of Japan. This term is generally used to refer to those religions which have grown rapidly among the masses of modern Japan since about 1905 and whose doctrines are independent of, or at best only remotely related to, any of the three established religions of Japan, namely Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity. Furthermore, the founder of a “new religion” usually claims to be a savior, healer, or prophet, and to be the sole source of religious authority for his or her organization.” – from http://www.payer.de/neobuddhismus/neobud04043.htm , a site whose author goes on to insist that the Soka Gakkai is very clearly and obviously, beyond the shadow of a doubt, NOT one of these ‘new religions’ (despite the very clear, obvious, and beyond the shadow of a doubt similarities)!

        • Sorry, I don’t know what your point is here. The SG has been called a “new religion” since the 50’s. Nothing new there. As far as their legal status as a religious corporation in Japan goes, it seems they managed to work that out. There was always a intense focus on Ikeda, it’s just that since the split, it was put into overdrive.

  16. I’m sorry – do you prefer that the comments on this thread be restricted to Nichiren? I can certainly do so. For me, having been an NSA/SGI-USA member, Nichiren and the modern groups based upon Nichiren kind of run together – my problem, not yours. Feel free to ignore the off-topic posts I made, or bounce them back to me so that I can pare them down to the Nichiren-specific content. Thanks!

    • I’m very happy to receive comments of any kind as long as they are polite and not mean-spirited. However, I noticed that one of your comments (which I have not yet approved) was addressed to Rob – probably Robby who I know from other forums – and you basically just cover the same ground as I did in this post. So, while I encourage you to comment if you have something pertinent to say, I would prefer you not post stuff you’ve posted to others elsewhere. It sort gives some credence to GaryP’s complaint on Redditt.

      You might want to hold off a day or so anyway. Monday’s post will contain some reflections that will speak more to your concerns.

  17. What many do not grasp, is the real history and reality of Buddhism in Japan during Nichiren’s day. The truth is hidden. At that time the various sects and the gvernment, had perverted Buddhism into sex rituals, where the acolytes were forced to take a role of fictitious buddhist goddess and be sodomized and give oral sex to the master. The semen of the master was the secret initiation into these esoteric fantasies that arose from sexual tantricism. See Prof Bernard Faure, of Standford for more on Buddhist sex practices. Even today some of these practices exist and are still hidden from view.

    This kind of thing was widespread and practised among the elite. It had permeated all the sects Nichiren mentioned. It was “pop” buddhism of the day.

    Nichiren could be accused of using overly inflammatory language in a handful of passages from his writings, but in all these cases he WAS speaking figuratively, while at the same time indicating an enlightened anger at the perversions being practiced as mainstream in Japanese Buddhism.

    Those who are compelled to criticize Nichiren or the Lotus Sutra have been misled by a very shallow grasp of experiential Buddhism or the true depth of buddhism and do not know about what they speak.

    • “The truth is hidden. At that time the various sects and the gvernment (sic), had perverted Buddhism into sex rituals . . . Even today some of these practices exist and are still hidden from view.”

      No, it’s not really hidden. It is well-known by now. Faure’s book The Red Thread was published almost 20 years ago. What is questionable is how widespread it was and/or remains.

      “Those who are compelled to criticize Nichiren or the Lotus Sutra have been misled by a very shallow grasp of experiential Buddhism or the true depth of buddhism and do not know about what they speak.”

      Of course we don’t know what we are talking about. Only you people who believe in Nichiren’s magical mumbo-jumbo know what’s what, right? As I think I have mentioned a couple of times in the comments section of this post, your response is just typical. If you guys are so goddamn smart why don’t you come up with a different argument. You don’t know what you are talking about because you don’t understand is really getting old.

  18. Very interesting string here. I came upon this while looking for a reply to Christina Naylor’s 1991 article, “Nichiren, Imperialism, and the Peace Movement” in which she posits that the Soka Gakkai is not exactly accurate to claim that their “world peace/anti-nuclear” position derives from Nichiren’s teachings. As someone who was street-shakabukued in the ’70s (and departed the NSA/Gakkai umbrella in the late 80s), I am familiar with most of the Gosho and enjoy reading Nichiren’s radical statements aimed at the government, because they show the depth of his conviction and they are counter-balanced by his poignant care for his followers, encouraging them in their darkest hours. Was he a terrorist? I agree that when one says others are heretical and should be beheaded, this is the same intolerance we experienced in Catholicism over the centuries, that can be found in the Old Testament, and that still dominates the ultra-jihadists in Islam today, and it is not acceptable. In the 13th century, was Nichiren a terrorist for making these statements, when he had no means nor intent to see them carried out? Probably not. Was it hyperbole when one considers that he was supposed to be beheaded for his own beliefs and criticisms? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it was just a statement that boils down to,”If anyone should be beheaded, it’s those guys not me”. If beheading was S.O.P. back in those days, so be it. The real question we should be addressing is not whether Nichiren was a terrorist, but whether he was correct or not correct to advocate that the Lotus Sutra was closer to the holy grail in Buddhism than some other indecipherable sutra. What kept me engaged in practicing this “philosophy” or whatever it is, for so long, is the simple fact that Nichiren had a strong belief, a deep conviction, that simply by chanting the title of this sutra in an assiduous manner, one could make it across that infamous sea of suffering and reach the other shore. I have experienced this to be true in the real world, right here in the 21st century, irrespective of whether Nichiren was a “true buddha”, or just a radical nut-case who got himself banished to Sado Island. Do I have to believe all the mumbo jumbo in the 80,000 sutras to be a Buddhist? According to Nichiren, I do not, I just have to persevere and harmonize my life with a strong belief in the simultaneity of cause and effect. This could probably be explained in non-buddhist terms as the power of positive thinking or any number of new age,”secret”, ideas, one doesn’t need to be a Nichiren Buddhist to work out all the difficulties of life, but it’s a good way to meditate and achieve the kind of results that make life a happier experience. And one could say Nichiren sure wasn’t happy on Sado Island, but one could also say Christ sure wasn’t happy up on the cross, nor was Moses happy to have to flee the Egyptians, etc, etc. Nichiren seemed genuinely interested in pursuing the Buddhist teachings to their logical conclusion, so I think he actually was happy with what he achieved. I’m pretty sure he was happy to have avoided the beheading, so that he could continue to press his point.
    As for the Soka Gakkai, there is at least one article that studies Makiguchi’s teachings and reveals that he was not a peacenik, he was in fact a supporter of Japanese militirism/imperialism, a believer in Japanese superiority over other Asian cultures that would supposedly benefit from being conquered. Where he got in trouble, according to this thesis, was his refusal to yield to renounce Buddhism and accept the Shinto beliefs required by the government officials. So yes, one can argue that the present-day Soka Gakkai is spouting propaganda that is less than candid about its ancestry, but one can also argue that WW2 gave rise to new insights and beliefs that caused Ikeda and his contemporaries to become more strenuous than their predecessors were in advocating the need for peace. I see no hypocrisy, there, just an unreal manner of preaching. I don’t know if they still preach that their brand of Buddhism is the “only way”, but that was my departure point and that type of brainwashing remains the root cause of strife and warfare and violence caused by all true religions. I think your blog would be more informative if you elaborated on what you alluded to when you said:” [M]y own experience as member of a Nichiren tradition for 12 years, the experiences of many others I’ve known and spoken with, as well as numerous published anecdotes and documented episodes, all tell a different story.” That’s the story that needs to be told.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful and reasonable comment. Just a few points:

      1. “In the 13th century, was Nichiren a terrorist for making these statements, when he had no means nor intent to see them carried out?” We don’t know if he had the means, it’s quite possible he did – the SGI history of Nichiren denies he had a small army of warriors around him (as did most of the temples and teachers in his day) but other more objective accounts suggest he very well might have. So the means is possible. As for the intent? Again, I cannot accept that he didn’t mean what he said, for no other reason than that he betrays his personality, a man of such strong conviction, as you point out, who tends to be literal to the extreme, makes statements he really doesn’t mean? I can’t buy it. I don’t think he necessarily wanted to behead folks himself, but he wanted the state to do it.

      2. Nichiren was not the only Buddhist teacher in history to have strong conviction, nor the only one to suggest that you didn’t have to believe the so-called mumbo jumbo of the 80,000 sutras. There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo in his take on things and you certainly find more rational teachers even from the same era, like Dogen for instance.

      3. Re: SGI & WWII – I personally find it difficult to believe any account of what happened during that period. We have no objective, third part accounts at hand, at least not in English. If you are talking about Brian Victoria’s work, he could be right, perhaps Makaguchi did support his country’s imperialist aims, but Victoria has gotten too much wrong and his methods of scholarship are too problematic for him to be relied on. As for the SGI & Nichiren Shoshu, both sides have demonstrated they have no problem revising history. So, it’s a quandary . . .

  19. Research of Nicherin’s writings show that he truly believed that World Peace, Kosen Rufu, would only be achieved when all the world accepted his propagation of Buddhism. This is the hallmark of terrorism, similar to what Bin Laden believed about all the world accepting his brand of Islam, and what Hitler believed about all the world accepting his brand of white supremacy.

    Buddhism is about waking up to the reality that is, not about shaping it into the reality that could be. I continue to seek out the truest form of Awakening.

    • Kosen rufu does not actually mean world peace. It means the world wide propagation of Nichiren Buddhism, so naturally Nichiren believed it “would only be achieved when all the world accepted his propagation of Buddhism” . . . see this post

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