Dialogue in Buddhism
The following is study material for the weekly Soka Spirit chanting sessions being held at SGI-USA Buddhist centers across the country.
Q: Prior to Nichiren Shoshu’s excommunication of the Soka Gakkai on Nov. 28, 1991, did the Soka Gakkai make efforts to resolve the issues with the priesthood?
A: Yes, in December 1990, when the Soka Gakkai suddenly received a letter of inquiry containing a number of unfounded accusations from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, its leaders, wanting to understand what prompted the letter, made repeated efforts to meet with representatives of the priesthood. However, the priesthood rejected every request for dialogue.
In March 1990, several months prior to the letter of inquiry, without any forewarning or discussion with Soka Gakkai leaders, the priesthood had arbitrarily increased its fees for various religious services. For instance, they increased the offering required for receiving the Gohonzon by 50 percent.
At the close of 1990, on Dec. 27, at a special administrative meeting, Nichiren Shoshu revised its rules and dismissed SGI President Ikeda as head of laity. And in January 1991, Nikken, the then-high priest, refused to receive two top Soka Gakkai leaders for customary New Year’s greetings. He refused further meetings with them, stating that they were “unworthy of an audience” with him (see November 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 14).
During its 60 years of practicing Buddhism with Nichiren Shoshu, the Soka Gakkai had made many efforts to support and harmoniously practice with the priesthood. For example, they had donated a total of 356 temples to Nichiren Shoshu, and greatly expanded and enhanced the facilities at the head temple. Despite this generous support, the actions by the priesthood to refuse any meeting with SGI leaders exhibited its complete disregard for decent conduct and its disdain toward the Soka Gakkai, whose members had been striving sincerely to advance kosen-rufu.
Q: What did the Soka Gakkai do after its numerous attempts to dialogue with the priesthood?
A: Because the priesthood refused to discuss the December 1990 letter of inquiry, the Soka Gakkai sent a written response, refuting each unfounded accusation and inaccuracy. In the end, Nichiren Shoshu had no choice but to acknowledge its errors and retract its questions.
Since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, dialogue and action have been at the core of Buddhism.
Rather than issue an apology, however, the priesthood persisted in trying to intimidate, confuse and wield its assumed power over SGI members. Their actions, rooted in greed, jealously and authoritarianism were a far cry from the original spirit of Nichiren Daishonin and Shakyamuni Buddha.
In contrast, the SGI members, together with President Ikeda, diligently continued in their noble efforts to widen their circles of friendship, warmly embrace and help those around them overcome suffering, and unite people’s hearts. In the end, despite all the schemes hatched by Nichiren Shoshu to destroy the Soka Gakkai, when the notice of excommunication was delivered on Nov. 28, 1991, SGI members joyfully celebrated this as a day of spiritual independence from a corrupt priesthood (see President Ikeda’s Nov. 30, 1991, speech in this issue).
Q: Why is dialogue valued so highly in Nichiren Buddhism?
A: Since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, dialogue and action have been at the core of Buddhism.
In Indian mythology, wheel-turning sage kings were considered ideal rulers. Such kings wielded a weapon called the “treasure wheel,” which they would turn to destroy evil and govern the world. Similar to these kings, the Buddha’s teaching is often referred to in Buddhist scriptures as the “wheel of the Law,” and the preaching of the Buddha is often expressed as “turning the wheel of the Law.”
Nichiren Daishonin says that in Buddhism, the “treasure wheel” refers to the “words and sounds that we ourselves utter” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 76).
SGI President Ikeda explains:
Just as the king turns the treasure wheel, the Buddha turns the wheel of the Law. If the king’s treasure wheel may be likened to hard power, we can say that the Buddha’s wheel of the Law is soft power effected through discussion and dialogue . . .
Buddhism is fundamentally a religion of vigorous and free dialogue. We have to “fight” for peace with the “weapons” of dialogue and discussion.
Nichiren Daishonin says, “The wheel-turning king can travel throughout the entirety of the four continents in an instant” (“Letter to Horen,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 507). Time and again the Buddha turns the wheel of the Law from one friend to another, from here to there, from one country to the next. At the same time he bravely ghts to refute evil. This is the Buddha’s struggle.” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, pp. 187–88)
Although many imagine Buddhism to be passive and inwardly focused, the symbolism of the “wheel of the Law” reflects the wonderful dynamism of Buddhism. The founder of peace and con ict studies, Dr. Johan Galtung, has observed that Buddhism has always been an open religion. Comparing it to a wheel that continues advancing forward, he says that throughout its history, Buddhism has generated new insights and wisdom, and addressed the current problems in society (see The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 188).
Q: In today’s society, what is most important to keep in mind in carrying out effective dialogue about Buddhism?
A: In contrast to the narrow dogmatism and scope of the priesthood, SGI members are striving to spread understanding of Buddhism with all those whom they encounter.
In discussing how to maintain a youthful spirit in this Year of Developing Youth in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu, President Ikeda in his New Year’s message stresses the importance of “the spirit of open dialogue.” He writes: “However others may appear on the surface or whatever their outward reaction, when we speak to them from our Buddha nature, the Buddha nature in the depths of their own lives will respond in turn. That’s why it’s important to believe in the inherent potential of others when we speak to them, and to continue praying for their happiness. By doing so, we will definitely be able to connect them to the Mystic Law and forge strong bonds of trust and friendship. This is the spirit of the Lotus Sutra and the essence of our Buddhist practice” (Jan. 1, 2017, World Tribune, p. 3).
In exact accord with the heart and practice of Shakyamuni and Nichiren, SGI members day in and day out proudly challenge themselves in “turning the wheel of the Mystic Law” and talking with one friend after another about Buddhism. President Ikeda praises this noble effort, saying, “This is the action of wheel-turning sage kings of kosen-rufu who are ‘turning’ and expanding the flow of the Mystic Law throughout the world” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, pp. 188–89).