Creating a New Wave of Religious Revolution
Nichiren Buddhism is based on the conviction that the source of justice, happiness and ultimate good lies equally within the life of every human being.
The following is study material for the weekly Soka Spirit chanting sessions being held at SGI-USA Buddhist centers across the country.
What is the purpose of religion?
Religion came into being to lead people out of misery to lasting happiness. Yet in many cases throughout history, religion has disregarded the suffering of ordinary people. Many have taught devotion to a clergy, church or institution as the gateway to a supreme truth that can only be enjoyed after death. And people are often viewed as incapable of changing their own destiny: They must submit to religious authorities who claim special empowerment and an exclusive channel to the ultimate.
Nichiren Buddhism is based on the conviction that the source of justice, happiness and ultimate good lies equally within the life of every human being. It aims to awaken all people without exception to the inherent life state of Buddhahood, and empower them to live with absolute freedom and dignity. The SGI’s movement to spread Nichiren Buddhism aims to inspire people to think and discern for themselves and reject authoritarianism, which hinders people’s growth.
The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, however, veered far from the path of the original purpose and intent of Nichiren Daishonin, because, contrary to his teachings and example, it lapsed into old-style religious authoritarianism. Obsessed with being regarded as a class superior by definition to lay believers, and in fact to the rest of humanity, they forgot the true mission of Buddhism—to awaken people to the power and dignity that all equally possess. In addition, they lost any compassion or appreciation for those dedicating themselves to carrying out this mission, instead nursing growing resentment and animosity toward them.
SGI President Ikeda says:
Real Buddhism is not centered solely around priests of temples. It’s not priests sitting in fancy temples preaching one-sidedly to their prostrated followers. Nichiren Buddhism is the Buddhism of the people. It’s centered around lay people active in society. In fact, you are all active as members of your society, striving in a sensible, practical way to share this Buddhism with others, offering guidance and advancing kosen-rufu, while winning the respect and trust of the public. You’re working hard to communicate to the wider world the philosophy of respect for life, the teaching that all people possess the most noble life state of the Buddha within. Please understand that our movement is unprecedented in the history of Buddhism, and that the Soka Gakkai’s activities for kosen-rufu represent a new wave of religious revolution and the start of a new Buddhism for the people that is truly humanistic. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 22, p. 370)
The SGI’s struggle against authoritarianism is opening a new path in the history of religion.
An essential tenet that SGI members have confirmed through their great struggle against the priesthood’s attacks is that all people equally and inherently possess the Buddha nature. This fundamental teaching of the Lotus Sutra is clearly reflected in Shakyamuni’s statement: “At the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 70). This conveys the Buddha’s determination to elevate all people to the same state he has revealed in his own life. This is the foundational purpose of Buddhism: with no discrimination or favoritism, to awaken all people to this reality and help them reveal the state of Buddhahood.
In contrast to this basic Buddhist tenet of equality, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood teaches that priests are inherently superior to lay members. And based on this mistaken belief, the view of many priests is that the laity should obey and serve them; that lay members exist to exalt, serve and sustain the livelihood of priests, regardless of the latter’s behavior.
Throughout its history, the SGI has continuously battled against such religious authoritarianism that denies equality and aims to keep people in ignorance and darkness.
President Ikeda states: “In this day and age, religions or ecclesiastics who oppress the people and expect unconditional obedience to authority from them are anachronistic; they will eventually bring about their own downfall. How much graver then would be the offense of anyone behaving in this manner while professing to uphold the Mystic Law, for they would be turning their backs on and going against the Daishonin’s spirit of compassion and equality” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 118).
With this conviction, SGI members are revolutionizing the framework of religion, as it has existed throughout human history.
Regarding this movement, renowned social anthropologist and Harvard professor Nur Yalman has described the Soka Gakkai’s religious reformation as having historic significance, representing a new trend in the history of religion (see November 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 17).
Only by challenging devilish functions can we know that “this is the correct teaching.”
The SGI and its members benefited greatly by freeing themselves from a corrupt priesthood and its self-serving dogma, divorced from Nichiren’s teachings. Since its spiritual liberation from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood on Nov. 28, 1991, the SGI has expanded to 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide.
Buddhism teaches that only by challenging those internal and external devilish forces that attempt to divert its practitioners from the correct path of faith can they fully reveal their enlightened nature. Nichiren Daishonin states: “If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching” (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 501).
Buddhism identifies division, discrimination and assertions of superiority as most fundamental among all devilish functions.
Nichiren also writes: “Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment countless kalpas ago, the Lotus Sutra that leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from one another. To chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death” (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” WND-1, 216). Clearly, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood’s assertion of superiority is a grave error. Their persecution of the SGI on that account is a devilish function that serves to prove the correctness of the SGI’s dedication to human equality and dignity.
The SGI’s continuous struggle to challenge the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood’s distortion of Buddhism has given its members prime opportunities to deepen their faith, accumulate good fortune and experience ever more profoundly the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism.
With pride in their diligent and noble efforts, SGI members are resolutely expanding the influence of the Buddhism of the people, striving to actualize Nichiren Daishonin’s mandate of worldwide kosen-rufu.