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40 Years Since Stormy April 24, 1979—Part 3

The following article is the third in a five-part series describing the events leading up to April 24, 1979, when Daisaku Ikeda stepped down as third Soka Gakkai president to protect the members from the perverse machinations of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, which sought to wrest control of the lay organization. This incident came to be known as the first priesthood issue. (The second priesthood issue culminated on November 28, 1991, with the Soka Gakkai being formally excommunicated by Nichiren Shoshu.) For more on the events leading up to April 24, 1979, see “Great Mountain,” chapter 1 in volume 30 of The New Human Revolution.

In the previous installments of this series, we learned how, leading up to April 24, 1979, the number of incidents being reported of Nichiren Shoshu priests mistreating Soka Gakkai members were rapidly increasing.

In this installment, we will study how, shortly before April 1979, individuals within the Soka Gakkai colluded with corrupt and ossified Nichiren Shoshu priests in an attempt to oust Daisaku Ikeda from his position as Soka Gakkai president and take control of the Soka Gakkai.

Throughout the history of Buddhism, individuals from within the Buddhist community have attempted to destroy the movement for kosen-rufu. Of this phenomenon, Nichiren Daishonin cites these words of Shakyamuni Buddha:

Only the worms that are born from the body of the lion itself will feed on the lion’s flesh. In the same way, Ananda, the Buddha’s teachings cannot be destroyed by outside forces. But the evil monks who exist within the body of my teachings—they are the ones who will destroy these teachings.” (“The Selection of the Time,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 577)

What does it mean to “destroy these teachings?” About this, Nichiren writes:

But if any of Nichiren’s disciples disrupt the unity of many in body but one in mind, they would be like warriors who destroy their own castle from within. (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” WND-1, 217)

The teachings of Nichiren Buddhism are developed and passed down by the diverse community of people who make up the Soka Gakkai. They hold the shared purpose of achieving kosen-rufu, that is, to make the happiness of all people and respect for the dignity of life the spirit of the age. Therefore, when people seek to warp this purpose and plant seeds of mistrust among fellow members of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist community, they are destroying its very teachings.

Several individuals from within the Soka Gakkai attempted to use the growing tension between the SGI and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood to bring about SGI President Ikeda’s resignation and further their personal ambitions. Namely, Soka Gakkai attorney Masatomo Yamazaki, Soka Gakkai Vice President Genjiro Fukushima and Soka Gakkai Study Department Leader Takashi Harashima joined forces to attempt to destroy the Soka Gakkai. What actions did they take? What was their motivation?

Masatomo Yamazaki—The Soka Gakkai’s Attorney With a Twisted Mind

Masatomo Yamazaki was introduced to the Soka Gakkai while he was at Kyoto University in the late 1950s. Through his faith, he overcame a debilitating illness that had caused him to take a long leave of absence from school. After regaining his health, he graduated from law school, after which he passed Japan’s bar exam in 1961. This made Yamazaki one of the first Soka Gakkai members to be an attorney.

In volume 8 of The New Human Revolution, SGI President Ikeda[1] recalls his first meeting with Yamazaki during a student division lecture on the “One Hundred and Six Comparisons.” Sensing Yamazaki’s true nature, he writes:

As he introduced himself, Yamawaki[2] [Yamazaki] proudly announced his current status as a judicial apprentice. In his pride, however, one could sense an arrogance that was covering for a lack of self-confidence. (p. 121)

Although he could sense this arrogance in Yamazaki, President Ikeda determined to watch over this young man to ensure that he would overcome his negative tendencies and work hard to protect the Soka Gakkai as a lawyer. In the early 1970s, the Soka Gakkai hired Yamazaki as an official legal advisor.

For all people, faith is a struggle between our Buddha nature and the devilish or destructive tendencies that reside within our lives. For that reason, Buddhist practice enables us to polish and develop ourselves to win over these inner negative tendencies. While Yamazaki’s intentions initially appeared sincere, he neglected to make earnest, genuine efforts to strengthen his faith and thus began to view the Soka Gakkai as a place to further his personal ambitions.

During the building of the head temple in Fujinomiya City, for instance, Yamazaki attempted to profit as the middle man during negotiations between city officials and the Soka Gakkai, telling city officials one thing and Soka Gakkai representatives another. He went so far as to establish personal accounts into which he could funnel money from the organization.

On another occasion, Yamazaki noticed a potential schism in another religious organization. He proposed, in discussion with disgruntled leaders from the group, that they start a new religious organization from which he intended to profit by helping to legally establish this new religious body. It was revealed later that Soka Gakkai Study Department Leader Takashi Harashima, who was under Yamazaki’s influence, helped draft the doctrine of this new religious body. Harashima also later betrayed the Soka Gakkai together with Yamazaki. President Ikeda writes of Yamazaki’s motivations:

In addition to his work for the Soka Gakkai, Yamawaki began to involve himself with the legal matters of Nichiren Shoshu, too, cultivating connections among the priesthood as a result. At the same time, he exploited his position as an attorney for personal financial gain and also started his own company. He stopped participating in Soka Gakkai activities, lost his faith, and became motivated by greed and love of money. (April 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43)

After being informed of such incidents, Soka Gakkai leaders would meet with Yamazaki to reprimand him for his self-serving behavior. While on the surface, he would apologize and seem to self-reflect, in truth, he continued to distance himself from President Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai until he lost faith altogether.

Yamazaki Completely Turns Against the Soka Gakkai

Eventually, Yamazaki stopped attending Soka Gakkai activities and was purely interested in profiting from the organization’s schism with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.

For several years, Yamazaki maneuvered to get close to high priest Nittatsu Hosoi so he could gain his trust and use this connection to his advantage. By the late 1970s, he had convinced the high priest, who had a positive relationship with President Ikeda, that the Soka Gakkai viewed President Ikeda as a living Buddha and that they were planning to separate from the priesthood. Soka Gakkai leaders and President Ikeda himself were forced to have numerous discussions with the high priest, explaining that they believed nothing of the sort, not knowing these rumors were planted by their own legal advisor, Yamazaki.

Yamazaki didn’t stop there. He developed close relationships with tabloid magazine writers who were interested in the feud between Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai. To these writers, Yamazaki fabricated a number of stories about both sides to fuel salacious stories, primarily about President Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai. President Ikeda reflects on what became of Yamazaki:

When he officially became legal advisor to the Soka Gakkai, he curried favor with the high priest of Nichiren Shoshu in a plot to bring the organization under the priesthood’s authority and gain control of the Soka Gakkai himself. When his ambitions were frustrated, he exploited his position as legal advisor to commit the preposterous crime of extortion against the Soka Gakkai. (NHR-8, 122)

By early 1979, relations between Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai were hanging by a thread. Due to Yamazaki’s influence, the priesthood was just waiting for one more excuse to clamp down on the Soka Gakkai by demanding President Ikeda’s resignation.

Evil Is a Choice: Genjiro Fukushima

While the machinations of Masatomo Yamazaki were the driving force behind the first priesthood issue in 1979, several other influential Soka Gakkai leaders fell down the path of betraying the organization. One of them was former Soka Gakkai youth division leader and vice president Genjiro Fukushima.

Fukushima was a member of another Nichiren Shoshu lay organization before joining the Soka Gakkai in 1960. He attended Tokyo University, the most prestigious university in Japan, and several years after graduation, was hired by the Soka Gakkai. At the time, Fukushima strove hard in his Soka Gakkai activities and displayed a high level of capability. Over time, however, he displayed an arrogance that had members questioning his real intentions. President Ikeda writes about Fukushima:

Opinions about Samejima[3] [Fukushima] were divided among the other staff. Some described him as a serious and talented young man of good character, while others were convinced that he was overly ambitious and had left the Hokkeko for the rapidly growing Soka Gakkai because he saw more personal opportunity there. (NHR-8, 122)

President Ikeda was well aware of these tendencies, yet was determined that over time, through sticking with his Buddhist practice and the Soka Gakkai, Fukushima would be able to overcome his arrogance. He said of Fukushima:

If Samejima could continue his faith in earnest for 30 years, then he would gain mastery over himself and show wonderful proof of achieving human revolution. But if he was overtaken instead by ambition and tried to use the Soka Gakkai for his own objectives, in time he would leave the organization. (Ibid.)

Here, President Ikeda observes that people are not necessarily doomed to be evil simply because they have an arrogant or self-serving nature. Regardless of an individual’s shortcomings, if they sincerely continue practicing Buddhism and make efforts for kosen-rufu with the Soka Gakkai, they will be able to do their human revolution and transform their base life condition. Therefore, he is teaching us that no one is destined to be evil. Rather, functioning as good or evil is our choice.

Over time, Fukushima revealed his intentions to undermine the Soka Gakkai. In early 1979, Fukushima, who was a Soka Gakkai vice president at the time, began speaking ill of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood despite President Ikeda’s repeated attempts to resolve any misunderstandings with Nichiren Shoshu and forge unity. When questioned about his comments, Fukushima took no personal responsibility and simply claimed that this was what all the Soka Gakkai vice presidents thought of Nichiren Shoshu.

Fukushima’s reckless statements caused the priesthood to demand that President Ikeda step down as Soka Gakkai president. And it was none other than Masatomo Yamazaki who delivered this message. Meeting with the Soka Gakkai general director and youth division leader, Yamazaki said:

Because of Vice President Samejima’s statements, the priesthood is preparing to launch an all-out attack on the Soka Gakkai. To resolve the situation, Mr. Samejima naturally will have to be dealt with, but that won’t be enough. President Yamamoto will most likely have to resign, not only as the head of all Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations but also as Soka Gakkai president. (June 9, 2017, World Tribune, p. 3)

Fukushima was relieved of his position as Soka Gakkai vice president shortly following this incident. Losing his leadership position caused him to harbor a grudge against the organization, and he quickly abandoned his faith. Not only did he leave the organization, he created his own newsletter to spread homespun lies about the Soka Gakkai in collaboration with Yamazaki and tabloid journalists.

The Heart of a Lion King

During this tumultuous time within the Soka Gakkai, President Ikeda was unwavering in his efforts to continue encouraging the members and engaging in dialogues for peace. In fact, in February 1979, President Ikeda traveled to India to meet with scholars and peace activists. He would not allow the petty actions of small-minded priests and traitors to impede his efforts for kosen-rufu and world peace.

President Ikeda writes of his spirit shortly before making the decision to step down as Soka Gakkai President:

He could hear his mentor [second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda] say: “Shin’ichi, I’m counting on you to achieve worldwide kosen-rufu! Have no fear! Boldly pursue the great path of your mission!”

Courage rose in his heart. He felt a surge of strength course through his being.

“I am Mr. Toda’s disciple! I am the heir of this heroic lion king who stood up alone for kosen-rufu! Whatever may happen, I will faithfully transmit Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai spirit! I will fight to protect the members, the noble children of the Buddha!” (May 12, 2017, World Tribune, p. 3)

Regardless of his position in the organization, President Ikeda decided to completely protect the Soka Gakkai and selflessly work for the realization of kosen-rufu and a peaceful society.

What can we learn from the treacherous actions of people like Yamazaki, Harashima and Fukushima, who, driven by personal ambition, tried to destroy the Soka Gakkai? President Ikeda lists four common traits of those who abandon their faith, which we must challenge and defeat within ourselves:

First, they are cowardly. They pretend to be firm of heart, but when actual persecution takes place, they forget their teacher’s instructions and flee in terror.

Second, they are unreasoning, or unheeding. They listen to the important guidance offered by their teacher as if it applies to others but not to themselves, and quickly forget it. This arises because they lack the faith to earnestly seek their teacher’s guidance.

Third, they are greedy. They strongly crave worldly pleasures, power and acclaim. Forgetting the great vow of mentor and disciple for kosen-rufu and focusing solely on their own immediate interests, they stray from the correct path of faith.

Fourth, they are doubting. They doubt their teacher’s instruction and fail to properly understand it.

When all is said and done, the common feature of all who abandon their faith is that they do not center their lives on the Law, which should be their foundation, or the teacher who instructs them in that Law. Instead, they are centered on themselves. They are selfishly arrogant and ungrateful. That is the essence of those who abandon faith in the Mystic Law. (August 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 47)

Through reflecting on this trying time in the Soka Gakkai’s history, we can learn about the importance of winning over our personal weaknesses by focusing on our human revolution and perceiving devilish functions that attempt to stop the flow of kosen-rufu.

In the next installment, we will study the events of April 1979, the month when President Ikeda stepped down as third Soka Gakkai president in order to shield the members from the machinations of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. Through studying this history together, we can learn from President Ikeda’s actions to transform this incident into a powerful impetus to expand the international organization and deepen the faith of each member through personal home visits.


  1. SGI President Ikeda appears in The New Human Revolution as Shin’ichi Yamamoto. ↩︎
  2. Tomomasa Yamawaki is the pseudonym for Masatomo Yamazaki in The New Human Revolution. ↩︎
  3. Genji Samejima is the pseudonym for Genjiro Fukushima in The New Human Revolution. ↩︎

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