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Buddhist Study

The Third of the Three Powerful Enemies


Buddhism teaches that as the forces of the Buddha increase to awaken more people to lasting happiness, powerful enemies will try to disrupt this noble effort. Rather than incite fear, this teaches that when we face opposition while spreading Buddhism, we can be confident that we are on the right path.

The Lotus Sutra teaches that those who uphold its teachings will endure persecution, the greatest of which will be brought about by the “three powerful enemies,” described as: 1) arrogant lay people; 2) arrogant priests; and 3) arrogant false sages.

Based on this, Nichiren Daishonin identified himself as a true practitioner of the Lotus Sutra, declaring: “At such a time, if the three powerful enemies predicted in the Lotus Sutra did not appear, then who would believe in the words of the Buddha? If it were not for Nichiren, who could fulfill the Buddha’s prophecies concerning the votary of the Lotus Sutra?” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 243).

Regarding “arrogant false sages,” the most troubling of the three powerful enemies, Nichiren writes: “First, though by reputation he is an observer of the precepts, in fact he is wanton in conduct. Second, he is greedy and stingy. Third, he is jealous. Fourth, he holds erroneous views. Fifth, he is lewd and disorderly” (“Letter to Shimoyama,” WND-2, 693–94).

Such arrogant false sages are said to be the most difficult to identify, because they seem to be infallible holy figures, yet inwardly are driven by selfish desires. They collude with those in power and spread erroneous teachings to justify their religious authority.

In our modern kosen-rufu movement, Nikken Abe, the 67th high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, is just such an arrogant false sage. His reprehensible actions against the Soka Gakkai and its members clearly proved that we are practicing the Lotus Sutra just as Nichiren taught.

Nikken’s Distortion of Nichiren Buddhism

Since its beginnings in 1930 through the 1980s, the Soka Gakkai carried out its efforts for kosen-rufu together with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. As the organization grew, so too did the priesthood.

As high priest, Nikken promoted the false doctrines of the infallibility and absolute authority of the high priest, clearly rejecting Nichiren’s teaching of the fundamental equality of all people, perpetuating the idea that enlightenment can be attained only through the high priest.

In November 1991, Nikken excommunicated the more than 10 million SGI members around the world, erroneously claiming that simply because the Soka Gakkai did not obey the priesthood, it must not be practicing in accord with the Daishonin.
Revealing the greed that had driven him to take this action, he said that after the excommunication, the priests only needed to retain 200,000 SGI members to ensure their strong financial base.

Nikken Usurps the Position of High Priest

The Daishonin states, “Nichiren has been trying to awaken all the people of Japan to faith in the Lotus Sutra so that they too can share the heritage and attain Buddhahood” (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” WND-1, 217). Nichiren repeatedly stressed that the Mystic Law is inherited through faith in the Gohonzon and in actions to advance kosen-rufu.

The priesthood, however, propounds that the heritage is only entrusted to a single person, the high priest. Traditionally, priests hold a ceremony in which the high priest declares his successor. Before Nittatsu Hosoi, the 66th high priest, was able to conduct this ceremony, he suddenly died in July 1979.

On the morning of Nittatsu’s death, Nikken asked the grieving family if a successor had been named. When they said that they hadn’t heard anything, he seized the opportunity, announcing that Nittatsu had privately transferred the lineage of high priest to him in April 1978.

Nikken claimed that he recorded the discussion in his personal diary but no one has seen any evidence of this. Still, he became the 67th high priest in 1979.

Nikken’s Indulgent Behavior

According to Nichiren Shoshu, laity are expected to offer absolute devotion to the high priest, yet the priesthood repeatedly turned a blind eye to the errant behavior of its own priests.

During the 1980s, while Soka Gakkai members diligently and widely expanded the kosen-rufu movement throughout the world, Nikken was focused on his own self-interests. For instance, he spent $34 million on two luxury homes in ritzy neighborhoods in Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya.

In fact, not only as high priest but throughout his tenure as a high-ranking Nichiren Shoshu official he indulged in intolerable behavior, carelessly spending the sincere donations of lay believers.

An early example of this took place in March 1963. As the study department leader of Nichiren Shoshu, he visited Seattle to confer the Gohonzon to new members. During his stay, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. Later known as the Seattle Incident, his guilt was affirmed by Japan’s Supreme Court.

Nikken Abe perfectly manifested the qualities of the third powerful enemy, just as Nichiren described in the passage above, and he manipulated the tenets of Nichiren Buddhism for his personal gain.

In 2005, he retired and turned over the reins to his successor, Nichinyo Hayase, the current high priest. Nikken died in September 2019, never once taking responsibility for his actions. On the surface, he may have excommunicated the SGI from Nichiren Shoshu, but what he actually did was excommunicate himself and the priesthood from the kosen-rufu movement and the correct practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, which teaches that each person equally possesses the ability to attain Buddhahood. WT

For more on this, please see the series “335 Days That Changed Buddhism Forever” published in the July–November 2016 issues of Living Buddhism.

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