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Buddhist Study

Refuting the False Doctrine of the Absolute Authority of the High Priest


The founder of Nichiren Buddhism, Nichiren Daishonin, centered his beliefs on the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people possess the potential for enlightenment and the compassionate ideal of respect for the dignity and equality of all human beings.

Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the greatest means for us to align our lives with the ultimate Law of the universe and reveal our limitless potential. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can instantly awaken the life state of enlightenment inherent in our lives. Nichiren taught that we are all equally endowed with this state of life, which is also called the Buddha nature or Buddhahood.

The Equality and Dignity of All People

In his many writings, Nichiren expounds that whether priests or laity, we all have equal access to this life state regardless of how long we have practiced Buddhism, how much knowledge we have amassed or our position in the religious order. For instance, he states:

Anyone who teaches others even a single phrase of the Lotus Sutra is the envoy of the Thus Come One [the Buddha], whether that person be priest or layman, nun or laywoman. (“A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 33)

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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)

Mentor and Disciple: Bonds of Mutual Respect and Shared Responsibility

Since its founding 90 years ago, the Soka Gakkai has striven to convey the equality of all people, a fundamental tenet of Nichiren Buddhism, while upholding the correct relationship between a teacher and disciple, expressed as “the oneness of mentor and disciple.”

Just as described in the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren’s writings, a genuine teacher relentlessly challenges all persecutions and obstacles, even at the risk of their own life, while endeavoring to awaken ordinary people to Buddhahood. Such teachers share with their disciples bonds of mutual respect and the mission and responsibility to advance kosen-rufu.

While the Soka Gakkai organization is highly organized, with various levels of leadership, the sole purpose of its structure is to offer utmost care and support of its members so that we can continue advancing in our Buddhist practice and expand the Soka network, based on the shared commitment to establish happiness and peace throughout the world.

A Priesthood Focused on Status and Position

In stark contrast to the ideal of the oneness of mentor and disciple, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood views a teacher of Buddhism as being qualified simply by office and rank. The high priest is venerated even without selflessly working to teach others about Buddhism. At the same time, rather than viewing laity with respect and a sense of shared commitment to spread Buddhism, the high priest views laity as unworthy of knowing “secrets” that he supposedly possesses.

One of the doctrines central to the priesthood is the veneration of the high priest as being an infallible person with absolute authority, akin to “high priest worship.” The priesthood goes so far as to claim that the high priest is inseparable from Nichiren Daishonin and the Gohonzon installed at the head temple, which they claim to be the source of power for all other Gohonzon.

For example, in one of their publications, they state, “The very establishment of the object of worship according to the High Priest, who is the only person to be bequeathed the Daishonin’s Buddhism, is what makes the attainment of Buddhahood possible” (An Introduction to Buddhism, second edition, p. 104).

In other words, the priesthood propounds that the only way to attain Buddhahood is through the authority of the high priest.

Nichiren’s direct successor, Nikko Shonin, clearly admonishes against such distortions in his “Twenty-six Admonitions,” stating, “Do not follow even the high priest if he goes against the Buddha’s Law and propounds his own views” (Gosho zenshu, p. 1618).

As disciples of the Daishonin, Soka Gakkai members strive to protect the integrity and essential spirit of Nichiren’s teachings. We must not hesitate to engage in dialogue with those who intentionally create misunderstandings or alter the teachings of the Lotus Sutra for their own power or authority.

In striving to practice Buddhism correctly, it is vital for us to maintain steadfast faith while waging a continuous battle against those who try to obstruct the advancement of kosen-rufu. If we do nothing to combat those who try to delude people’s minds and lead them astray from the correct teaching, they will continue to sow negative causes in their lives and the lives of others, perpetuating misfortune and unhappiness.

With this in mind, Soka Gakkai members have continued to clearly refute the false claims and destructive actions of the priesthood, which perpetuates its clerical authority under the guise of Nichiren Buddhism.

Meanwhile, based on the earnest efforts of SGI members around the world to correctly practice Nichiren Buddhism and spread its message of hope, equality and respect, the Soka network continues to expand and is officially recognized today in 192 countries and territories, as we open the way further still to spread worldwide kosen-rufu.

The Power of Our Inspiring Soka Movement

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