Recently I read a post at Emergent Dharma, described as a “Young Buddhist Blog,” in which the author writes of his visit to a Nichiren Shoshu temple in Ghana. A temple member introduced him to another member, saying the author was new to Nichiren but had been practicing Zen for a while. The second temple member replied, “Zen, huh? That is inferior.”
Anyone who has interacted with folks from the major Nichiren traditions will recognize this as a fairly typical experience. Now, there’s nothing wrong with believing your religion to be best. After all, who wants to practice a second rate religion? However, most of us don’t say to people right off in our first casual encounter that their religion sucks. And there is nothing new about Buddhist elitism. Many of us are aware of how the Mahayana continually criticized the so-called Hinayana for being inferior.
The difference here is that prejudice against other religions and forms of Buddhism is part of the Nichiren doctrine, and when prejudice and elitism are integral to a religion’s canon, it can be a dangerous thing. Eventually, the old Mahayana elitism diffused as it spread throughout Asian and time wore on. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the schools of Nichiren.
Nichiren’s belief in the superiority of the Lotus Sutra is founded on a number of assumptions. The first being the idea that the historical Buddha saved the Lotus Sutra as his highest teaching to be expounded during the final eight years of his life.
But there’s no historical evidence to support this. The Lotus Sutra is part of the Mahayana group of sutras that no reputable scholar in the world today believes the Buddha directly taught, since they were compiled centuries after the Buddha’s passing, a point that is conceded by leaders and scholars in the Nichiren traditions. Yet, among the rank and file, and for the purpose of disseminating their dharma, this inconvenient truth gets shoved aside. This notion is based in part on a doctrine called “Five Periods and Eight Teachings,” a classification of sutras erroneously attributed to T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i. 
So, all other forms of Buddhism before the Lotus are “provisional,” and the Lotus alone is the “essential” teaching. Only chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra works in Mappo, the mythical “Latter Day of the Law,” every other Buddhist practice is impotent. There is a bit more to it than this, but that’s the gist.
When I was a member of the Soka Gakkai, I would hear variations of the same spiel over and over, “The historical Buddha’s practices are impotent; the Dalai Lama just talks about being a Bodhisattva, we actually help people; bad things will happen to you if you quit practicing Nichiren’s Buddhism” and so on. You weren’t allowed to have Buddhist statues or artwork, only Nichiren’s mandala, the Gohonzon. No Buddhist books, except those put out by the Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu.
I knew it was BS, but I put up with it, for reasons too complicated to go into here, until like Popeye the Sailor, “That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands n’more!”
In Japan, hobobarai, or “removal of evil religions,” was an essential concept behind the Soka Gakkai’s aggressive conversion campaigns. Conversion has always been an important part of Gakkai activities. During my day, you were expected to convert people to Nichiren Buddhism, and your “faith” was often judged by the number of individuals you brought into the organization. Outside of Japan, the idea of “removal of evil religions,” was promoted with a soft-sell, but in Japan, especially in the early days of the Gakkai, it was militant.
Conversion is called shakubuku, a tradition Buddhist term that means “to break and subdue.” Gakkai members went to such extreme lengths to pressure people to join that according to Kiyoaki Murata, in Japan’s New Buddhism, “These tactics not only made the press highly critical of Soka Gakkai; they also alarmed the police and . . . the Ministry of Justice.” 
In the U.S., shakubuku turned many people off, with good reason. We would often do “street shakubuku.” Go out on the street and corner strangers. I hated it and tried to get out of doing it as often as I could.
The Gakkai became so large in Japan during the late 1960’s that it was able to drop the aggressive tactics, but it didn’t cut loose from the philosophy behind it. In the United States, however, all through the 1980’s we participated in month-long membership drives twice a year. Every night of the week during February and August members were expected to carry out conversion activities. In 1985, the US branch of the Soka Gakkai, then called NSA, “converted” over 65,000 people. Only a tiny fraction of those remained with the organization for longer than six months.
On the Wikipedia page for Nichiren Buddhism, it reads “most Nichiren Buddhists enjoy a peaceful coexistence with other religious groups in modern times . . .” This is generally true. But there are several caveats. One being the superior attitude mentioned above. Another being that the different Nichiren factions tend to bicker each other – a lot. The most extreme example of this is the war between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai that has been running for twenty years now.
Nichiren Shoshu is an official school of Nichiren Buddhism, and until the Soka Gakkai came along it was a relatively minor school. The SG was the lay organization affiliated with NS, but there were always problems between the two groups. Things first came to a head during WW2 when the NS priesthood was willing accept Shinto talismans that the Japanese military government was insisting everyone have to support the war effort. The 1st president of the SG, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, and 2nd President, Josei Toda, balked at this and were thrown in jail, where Makiguchi died in 1944.
One can certainly admire the two men for their unwillingness to compromise their principles, yet those principles came from Nichiren doctrine that it is a grave sin to possess religious items from evil religions, which is any religion other than Nichirenism.
Toda was released from prison in 1945, but he was no Nelson Mandela. He held a grudge against the NS priesthood for causing Makiguchi’s death. In 1952 Toda, and future 3rd President Daisaku Ikeda, led a group of Gakkai members who kidnapped and physically assaulted an elderly Nichiren Shoshu priest, Jimon Ogasawara, whom they believed responsible for the organization’s misfortune during the war. This is a well documented incident, one that to his credit, Ikeda provides a detailed description of in The Human Revolution, his account of Soka Gakkai history.
Fast forward to 1990, when all hell broke loose. After decades of rough relations, Ikeda formally denounced Nichiren Shoshu, and they responded by excommunicating the entire Soka Gakkai. It’s been like the Hatfields and the McCoys ever since. In my opinion both sides are to blame for this unfortunate schism, and neither seems willing to maintain peaceful co-existence. Each is out to destroy the other.
In Japan there have been accusations leveled at both groups regarding acts of violence. In recent years, I have heard accounts of U.S. Gakkai members getting together to pray for the destruction of Nichiren Shoshu, disrupting NS activities, and vandalism against NS temples. I have no doubt that those on the Nichiren Shoshu side have not been perfect angels either.
The Soka Gakkai in the U.S. maintains a website dedicated to setting the record straight on the “evil” Nichiren Shoshu. It’s called Soka Spirit which is described as,
[The] spirit to protect and propagate the correct teaching of Nichiren Daishonin. It is the spirit of the disciples to uphold the truth and justice of their teacher and mentor. It is the spirit to recognize tendencies in human nature to distort the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism for personal gain and to confront those who act upon those tendencies. It is the spirit to defeat the fundamental darkness inherent in all life and manifest the Buddha nature.”
Manifesting Buddha nature sounds good, but “teacher and mentor” is a veiled reference to the near-deification of Ikeda, who are SG members are encouraged to regard as their “eternal mentor in life,” and “distort the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism for personal gain and to confront those who act upon those tendencies” smacks of the familiar paranoia, persecution complex, and aggression.
There are articles on the Soka Spirit website such as “The Characteristics of Devils” (in other words, how to choose friends who are not anti-Gakkai), and “The Role of Rumors as a Function of Fundamental Darkness” (only believe what we tell you). This was the sort of thing that really drove me from SG. Articles that on the surface seem innocent and reasonable enough, but when you read between the lines you recognized a subliminal message that always coincided with whatever the organization was promoting at the time. Even the seemingly noble peace exhibits and seminars, seemed to be designed solely for the purpose of furthering the SG’s aims and lauding the greatness of Mr. Ikeda.
And of course, Soka Spirit has speeches from Mr. Ikeda. In one from Nov. 25, 2003, he told members of the Soka Gakkai,
As comrades, family, brothers and sisters, fellow human beings, we will fight all our lives for kosen-rufu. This is our mission. This is what unites us. We are a fighting force, a fighting fortress.”
Publically, the SGI says that kosen-rufu “has been informally defined as ‘world peace through individual happiness’” and they link it back to a line in the Lotus Sutra. But within the Soka Gakkai, kosen-rufu really means a time when one-third of the world will believe in Nichiren’s Buddhism, one-third may not believe but will support it, and the remaining third oppose it.
There is much more to be said, but blog posts have their limitations. In these last two, I have focused on the troubling aspects of Nichiren Buddhism, because there were things that needed to be said, and no one else has been saying, or writing about them.
Extremists are uncompromising, prone to engage in fanatical behavior, and terrorism often begins when a group views themselves as victims persecuted by outside forces. In an open society, troubling things need to be brought into the light, aired, discussed, or else we remain in ignorance, the great ally of intolerance, extremism, and terror.
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 Peter N. Gregory, “The Place of the Sudden Teaching,” Buddhism. Vol. 8. Buddhism in China, East Asia and Japan, Paul Williams, ed. Taylor & Francis US, 2005, pg. 180
 Kiyoaki Murata, Japan’s New Buddhism, Weatherhill, 1969