Why Do We Admonish the Priesthood?
Standing for equality.
Given that we often talk about tolerance and compassion in the SGI, some people wonder why we are so adamant about pointing out the errors of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. Some even cite the Preamble to the SGI Charter, which in part states, “The SGI shall, based on the Buddhist spirit of tolerance, respect other religions, engage in dialogue and work together with them toward the resolution of fundamental issues concerning humanity.”
In the case of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, it differs from other religions in that it is the only religious group in the world that has attempted and is still intent on systematically destroying the SGI, which equates to stopping the flow of kosen-rufu—the widespread propagation of Nichiren Buddhism.
And though the SGI once practiced together with Nichiren Shoshu, in the 26 years since the SGI achieved its spiritual independence in 1991, it has become increasingly clear that the priesthood’s practice of Nichiren Buddhism does not accord with Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.
SGI President Ikeda states: “The indifference and apathy that are so prevalent in modern societies could be cited as an example of passive tolerance . . . In contrast, active tolerance is inseparable from the courage to resolutely oppose and resist all forms of violence and injustice that threaten human dignity” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 408).
Nichiren exemplified “the Buddhist spirit of tolerance.” Because of his compassion to help people establish absolute happiness in their lives, he spoke out against erroneous interpretations of Buddhist teachings that lead to suffering and misery.
In several of his writings, he cites this passage, which aptly explains his actions: “One who destroys or brings confusion to the Buddha’s teachings is betraying them. If one befriends another person but lacks the mercy to correct him, one is in fact his enemy . . . One who rids the offender of evil is acting as his parent. Those who reproach offenders are disciples of the Buddha” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 286).
He diligently persevered to establish the philosophy of respect for the equality and dignity of all people, and correctly convey the teachings of Buddhism, encountering all manner of persecution in the process.
Based on Nichiren’s example, the SGI has always striven to uphold and spread his teaching of Buddhist humanism. SGI President Ikeda writes: “As disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, it is natural that we take a strict stance in clarifying what is true and what is erroneous in terms of the [Mystic] Law. At the same time, however, our interactions with others must be based on a spirit of tolerance and generosity. This is the true way of life for a Buddhist” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, p. 197).
When it comes to Nichiren Shoshu, because its basic practice closely resembles that of the SGI—chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon and reciting the Lotus Sutra—the two could be interpreted as the same.
This is similar to the example of counterfeit money. The more a counterfeit looks like real money, the harder it is for people to distinguish between them. How do we protect ourselves from being deceived by counterfeit or erroneous teachings that resemble the correct teaching? By striving to understand the essential nature of the genuine teaching. When people are deeply familiar with the real thing, they are not easily fooled by counterfeits.
Nichiren teaches that the critical element in the practice of Nichiren Buddhism is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the conviction that each person is equally endowed with Buddhahood. It is through our Buddhist practice that we develop this conviction. He writes, for example: “Whether or not your prayer is answered will depend on your faith; [if it is not] I will in no way be to blame” (“Reply to the Lay Nun Nichigon,” WND-1, 1079).
Nichiren Shoshu, however, promotes faith that relies on priests to act as intermediaries between practitioners and one’s enlightenment. They have stated, for example: “ ‘Absolute faith in and strict obedience to’ the high priest is the only way one can attain Buddhahood” (“The Correct Way of Faith in Nichiren Shoshu,” Dai-Nichiren, special edition, p. 13).
And they promote a distinction between priests and laity in statements such as: “It is only natural that there is an original distinction between priesthood and laity in accord with the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism . . . If lay believers speak as if they are equal to priests, they lack courtesy and propriety and will destroy the order between priesthood and laity” (Nichijun Fujimoto, General Administrator of Nichiren Shoshu, in a letter to the SGI, Jan. 12, 1991).
As practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, we must actively admonish the priesthood for their erroneous interpretations. Not out of spite, but based on our deep compassion and commitment to clarify the correct practice of Nichiren Buddhism—which enables all people to become Buddhas—and to help the priesthood awaken to their errors. Because the SGI upholds and promotes the Buddhist humanism of Nichiren Daishonin, the priesthood’s aims to disrupt and destroy our movement equate to destroying the spread of Buddhist humanism.
It is vital, therefore, that we continue carrying out the same active tolerance that Nichiren demonstrated by protecting the correct teachings of Nichiren Buddhism while challenging ourselves to bring forth the generous spirit of humanism. When we continue to develop our abilities to transcend differences, genuinely care for our fellow human beings and create deep bonds of friendship with many people, we, ourselves, become testaments to the depth and breadth of correct Buddhist practice.