The following is study material for the weekly Soka Spirit chanting sessions being held at SGI-USA Buddhist centers across the country.
What happened 25 years ago?
On Nov. 28, 1991, the SGI and its roughly 10 million members were excommunicated by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. With the excommunication, the priesthood had aimed to create fear and confusion among SGI members, hoping many of them would flock to Nichiren Shoshu. Instead, since then, SGI members have joyfully celebrated this day to mark spiritual independence from a corrupt priesthood.
With time, the deceitful, self-serving nature of the priesthood has become all the more clear. The groundless act of excommunicating millions of SGI members, directed by then high priest Nikken, revealed the plot to discredit SGI President Ikeda, to do away with the SGI and oppress, dominate and control its members, and to thereby destroy the great momentum of the kosen-rufu movement.
The priesthood acted completely counter to Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching that all people equally possess Buddhahood within their lives. Instead of praising members’ noble efforts to awaken all people to this truth, they sought to dominate and constrain them. In addition, to this day, they continue to misuse priestly ceremonies and services to promote a dogma that asserts the absolute superiority of priests over the laity, and defines faith as unquestioning veneration of and obedience to themselves.
Today, the SGI has an ever-growing network of members throughout the world, with 12 million in more than 192 countries and territories. Despite a history of enduring ridicule, criticism, abuse and manipulation by priests—25 years after its spiritual liberation from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood—Soka Gakkai members have remained steadfastly dedicated to spreading the humanism, philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism in order to move humanity toward peace, security and absolute happiness.
Was there any historical precedent?
We have a great model in Nichiren Daishonin of how to face persecutions and obstacles in the course of spreading Buddhism. He was a true revolutionary and reformer in 13th-century Japan, when the military government—a very small percentage of the population— controlled the masses.
In 1279, Nichiren’s disciples in the village of Atsuhara faced the height of persecutions that had been intensifying for several years. These farmers, without social status, carried on the same dauntless spirit Nichiren displayed, staunchly defending their faith even at the threat of losing their lives. In the end, three disciples were executed and 17 were banished from their village.
It turns out that raising such ordinary spiritually liberated disciples was the Daishonin’s ultimate purpose. As President Ikeda says: “Those who tap the depths of their wisdom and persevere in their efforts to lead even one person to happiness can break through the binding chains of all kinds of preconceived ideas and prejudices, and defeat the alienating ignorance of disbelief and disrespect. Those who battle negativity and delusions can cleanse and polish their lives with a purifying stream that washes away spiritual decay; they can develop an infinitely vast and expansive state of life that desires the happiness of all humanity” (March–April 2006 Living Buddhism, pp. 91–92).
What is a spiritually liberated person?
The Atsuhara martyrs stood up against abuse by those in power, and the events of 1991 required the members of the SGI to stand up on their own against the religious authoritarianism and arrogant behavior of the priesthood. A month after the notice of excommunication was issued, the Soka Gakkai sent a petition on Dec. 27 signed by 16.25 million people demanding Nikken’s resignation as high priest. President Ikeda states, “It was Nikken, on the contrary, who had been ‘excommunicated’ by a global alliance of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, 16.25 million strong” (November 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 17).
The SGI’s spiritual independence from the priesthood in 1991 was the start of a religious reformation. While religions generally place an absolute being as “above” and human beings “below,” Nichiren teaches that religion exists for human beings. His teachings clarify that the ultimate reality and power in the universe is equally part and parcel of every human life.
Since its separation from the priesthood, the SGI has been able to fully express and develop this fundamental tenet of Nichiren Buddhism.
Just as Nichiren and his disciples have demonstrated, faith in Nichiren Buddhism and access to our Buddhahood is not gained through any intermediary, nor is it granted to us by priests or anyone else. It is realized through our own efforts to elevate our state of life and to continuously cultivate the world of Buddhahood within.
In one sense, the idea of inner transformation in Nichiren Buddhism, or human revolution, can be described as transitioning from those who want to be saved to those who save themselves through striving to alleviate people’s suffering and lead them to happiness.
Why are SGI members so happy about having been excommunicated by the priesthood?
The SGI is founded on Nichiren’s writings and the spirit and resolute actions of the three eternal mentors of the Soka Gakkai—Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda. Based on this, SGI members throughout the world were able to endure decades of persecutions and machinations by the priesthood. And they have engraved in their lives how to battle evil tendencies, both internal and external, winning over every challenge for the sake of kosen-rufu and thereby establishing a towering state of life.
President Ikeda explains: “For the Soka Gakkai members, who had long campaigned against and denounced such abuses of the priesthood, the excommunication was a glorious day of liberation. It was the dawn of a new age in which Buddhist humanism would nourish and enrich the world” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 16, p. 288).
It is for this reason that so many SGI members joyfully celebrate Nov. 28, 1991, as a day of spiritual liberation.
In his 2005 peace proposal presented to the United Nations, President Ikeda writes: “In the years since this issue first surfaced, through our struggles against corrupt religious authority, members of the SGI have, both as individuals and as an organization, outgrown the restraints of our past selves, strengthening and tempering the hearts of the courageous. It is something of which I believe we can be justly proud. This pride stems from the confidence that our struggle ties into the larger challenge—inherent in the nature of civilization itself—of constructing a genuine and robust humanism” (www.daisakuikeda.org).