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The "Temple Issue".....

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Posted by Glenn on July 20, 2002 03:00:14 UTC

The "temple issue" events and information related to Nichiren Shoshu's attacks on the SGI, and its continued efforts to undermine SGI's movement has become known its name by the Soka Gakkai International (SGI).
The temple issue speaks to the essence of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. To understand the issue challenges each of us to realize that taking full responsibility for our own happiness is the path of correct faith and practice.

Simply put, the temple issue provides a real-world, modern-day opportunity to witness the principles that Nichiren Daishonin spoke about 700 years ago. For this reason, we should avoid viewing the problem as something of the past or of another place, something that is not our personal concern. To do so would mean missing an irreplaceable learning opportunity. We would also do a disservice to those who join the SGI in the future: If we do not understand and transmit the profound implications of these events to future generations, then those to follow may face similar obstacles without the benefit of the example and understanding we could pass on.

In many of his writings, Nichiren Daishonin cautions how futile it is to practice Buddhism without correctly grasping the meaning of faith. If we fail to understand the fundamental principles of our faith, he says, no matter how much time we may put into it, our practice will "become an endless, painful austerity" (MW- 1), and our Buddhist knowledge will "not relieve [us] of mortal sufferings in the least" (MW- 1). He goes so far as to say that without a correct understanding of faith, "it would be useless to embrace the Lotus Sutra-[i.e., the Gohonzon]" (MW- 1).

"Correct faith" in the Daishonin's Buddhism means to view things as Nichiren Daishonin taught, share his convictions, and practice and develop our lives in accord with that understanding. In another Gosho, he writes:

It is a time when ... truth and error stand shoulder to shoulder, and when Mahayana and Hinayana dispute which is superior. At such a time, one must set aside all other affairs and devote one's attention to rebuking slander of the Law. This is the practice of shakubuku. (MW-5)

Erroneous views in Buddhism are often propounded by those well versed in theory yet who fail to grasp the heart or spirit of Buddhism, those who lack a compassionate practice. It is up to those who do understand the heart of Buddhism to shed light on what is true and what is erroneous.

As SGI members, we might ask ourselves whether we could clearly explain this issue to someone else, even to someone outside our organization or someone interested in practicing for the first time. If we are asked: "What is the temple issue about?" or "How can you say that the SGI is correct and Nichiren Shoshu is wrong"? can we give a convincing answer?

When we can answer these questions through our own understanding and conviction, then we have grasped something important for our own faith and lives. We will also gain insight into fundamental issues affecting humanity: the nature of justice, the qualities of a true leader, equality, tolerance, and the purpose of religion. The temple issue gives us an excellent opportunity to learn about the Daishonin's Buddhism, which is, after all, about our own lives and humanity.

It is no secret that the intention of Nichiren Shoshu is to disband the SGI and destroy our movement, denying millions of believers the source of nourishment for their faith and practice and stopping the progress of kosen-rufu.

In a recent speech at the head temple, Nichiren Shoshu General Administrator Nichijun Fujimoto is reported to have said, "Now is the time to crush the Soka Gakkai." Efforts by priests and temple members in the United States to convince members to leave the SGI by creating doubts regarding the Gohonzon or spreading misinformation about the SGI are clearly increasing.

The Daishonin writes, "Simply to chant one - four-phrase verse or the daimoku, and to protect those who do so, is called the essential practice" (MW- 3). The best way to protect ourselves and our fellow members from being misled is to arm ourselves with correct information and understanding. Our study of the temple issue will help us do this.

When the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu began a series of measures against the SGI at the beginning of this decade intended to disband and destroy the organization, it may have been shocking and disturbing, but it was not surprising from the standpoint of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings and of history. Many incidents and events going back to the Soka Gakkai's inception before World War II indicated that within the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood there existed the potential for hatred and jealousy toward lay believers. It was evident in the attitude and behavior of more than a few priests. As the Gakkai's growth and influence increased, so did the number of priests who harbored such an attitude until, eventually, it reached the office of high priest.

Buddhism means growth, progress, improvement - of the individual and of society; it spurs development through a deep inner reformation. This reformation, as it progresses in the life of the individual, sends waves of vitality, humanity and harmony into the family, the workplace, the community and society. This is the process of human revolution as it unfolds into the broader process we call kosen-rufu. The ultimate aim is to secure a world of peace, harmony, fulfillment and happiness.

This most elemental purpose of Buddhism has never been well received by those with a strong stake in the status quo, in the established order - particularly when that order is stagnant and calls for passivity or unquestioning obedience on the part of ordinary people.

The Soka Gakkai since its inception has been based on the purest intent of Buddhism, aiming at a fundamental reordering of the lives of the people who embrace its practice and philosophy. Because of this, the movement and its leaders have been maligned, hated and looked upon with contempt by those who feel threatened by its energy and the changes it promises to bring. There is no question that the passage in the Lotus Sutra, "And since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even when the Thus Come One is in the world, how much more will this be so after his passing?" (LS,10), applies precisely to the Soka Gakkai's situation, as it did to Nichiren Daishonin.

The human revolution and social renaissance of the SGI are particularly distasteful to those whose authority and power are rooted in a weak and dependent people. The practice of Buddhism produces a happier and more aware populace; a socially responsible and politically involved citizenry; a people who know what true leadership means, whether religious or secular, and who are perceptive and courageous enough to unmask self-serving authority.

History abounds with examples of oppression by religious or secular authority over those who advocated a new way of thinking or tried to empower ordinary people. Many new traditions sprang from the courage of these ordinary individuals who overcame such oppression. The world's major religions have all experienced such opposition during their early history.

Examples of opposition to those who spread Buddhism in its true spirit are many in Buddhist scripture, particularly in the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Daishonin chronicles in detail the persecutions, by cunning and self-serving priests and political leaders, that he and his supporters underwent in thirteenth-century Japan.

Buddhism characterizes opposition by authority as devilish functions, as obstacles, as influence by "bad friends" or ultimately, as opposition by the third of the "three powerful enemies," and also addresses the internal ramifications of these in the life and faith of the believer. But in its harshest form, the formula of oppression in the history of Buddhism is always the same: A religious authority perceives the teachings or movement promoted by a genuine Buddhist leader as a threat, and then, colluding with secular authorities, attempts to use whatever means are at his disposal to suppress, disband or do away with that leader or movement. Because that leader is innocent of any secular wrongdoing or religious error, crimes and misdeeds are invented and rumored, with the ultimate aim to quash the influence and respect afforded to those committed to Buddhism.

Another vital point to keep in mind is this: Meeting opposition to our efforts to spread the Daishonin's Buddhism does not mean that the SGI has done something wrong and is therefore experiencing retribution. On the contrary, as we know from the Daishonin's own history, he himself experienced many persecutions from the government and harassment from the religious authorities of his day. Such obstacles, the Daishonin explains, are not only a natural consequence of one's efforts to spread Buddhism but also an indication of the correctness of the teaching that he or she practices:

If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. Were it not for these, there would be no way of knowing that this is the true teaching. One passage from the same volume reads, "As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge, vying with one another to interfere.... You should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If you fall under their influence, you will be lead into the paths of evil. If you are frightened by them, you will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism." This quotation not only applies to Nichiren but also is the guide for his disciples. Reverently make this a teaching of your own and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations. (MW-1) And: When I examine these passages, I know that if I do not call forth these three enemies of the Lotus Sutra, then I will not be a true votary of the Lotus Sutra. Only by making them appear can I be a true votary. (MW-4)

When the Lotus Sutra states, "hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound," it puts no limits on who might become susceptible to such base impulses. Any of us is prone to selfish or spiteful emotions. It is only through a life devoted to developing the "greater self," to ceaseless efforts to improve ourselves and take responsibility for the happiness of others, that we can guard against succumbing to such tendencies. Position, status or role in the realm of Buddhism or society do not guarantee the nobility of one's deeds.

The Daishonin admonishes: "Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken even a bit, demons will take advantage" (MW-1), so that we may win over our weaknesses and never fall victim to our own "demons" of greed, anger and foolishness.

To criticize anti-Buddhist attitude and behavior or to refuse to follow those who maintain such an attitude and behavior in no way contradicts Buddhism. It is in fact the only correct action to take if one regards the Daishonin's teachings on such matters seriously. This has been the stance of the Gakkai toward the "Nikken sect," the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood in its corrupt state under the leadership of Nikken Abe.

Ultimately, all the difficulties that the Soka Gakkai and SGI have undergone in regards to the temple issue herald the arrival of a glorious time - a time when Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism will be spread widely by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth to serve as the philosophical basis of world peace and humanity's happiness in the centuries to come. This is called the Soka Renaissance.

Therefore, we can confidently say that by being excommunicated by Nikken, the Soka Gakkai has actually liberated itself from the shackles of the priesthood and its authoritarianism. This also means that the Daishonin's Buddhism has been given the grand opportunity in this time period to be taught exactly as it was by Nichiren Daishonin.

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