Jisai Watanabe, a member of the Association for the Reformation of Nichiren Shoshu, recently visited Los Angeles along with four other members of the association and ten leaders from the Soka Gakkai in Japan. The following is a compilation of his remarks at small group discussions, question-and-answer sessions and home visits in the Los Angeles area.
My name is Jisai Watanabe, and I am chief priest of Daikyo-ji temple in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. I seceded from Taiseki-ji on October 18, 1992, having made the determination to sever all my ties with Nikken and those who blindly follow him and stand up to protect Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism together with President Ikeda and the SGI members.
I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you to take good care of your health and your families. I'm sure that you are trying to forget about the earthquake as quickly as possible; however, I feel inclined to mention it, as I've heard that this area was particularly hard hit.
Tonight I would like to share with you my parents' experience during the great Kanto earthquake of 1923. Although this experience occurred before I was born, my parents talked about it so often that I can really feel what they went through.
My mother, who was living in Yokohama City in Japan, at the time, used to tell me to make sure to have a broomstick handy in case of an earthquake. From what I recall, she mentioned that there was a vertical jolt, similar to the one you experienced a week ago. When the earthquake hit, she was living with seven people. It occurred as she was sweeping the floor. Because she was holding the broom handle, when the house had collapsed, she sheltered herself from the debris.
Unfortunately, the others who lived in the house were unable to escape and died in the flames that soon engulfed the house. Escaping from the house, my mother ran outside and fell into a newly formed fault. Again, she used the broomstick to catapult herself out. This is the reason why my mother always used to tell me that in case of an earthquake, just grab a broomstick!
At that time, my father, Jikai Watanabe, was a student priest at Josen-ji temple in Tokyo. When the earthquake hit, my father ran to the main Gohonzon room of the temple, tied the wooden Gohonzon on his back and ran out of the temple, pushing a cart of valuables. He had to abandon the cart, however, after it caught fire. My father had no choice but to jump into a nearby river because of the intensity of the fire.
He was forced to stay there for over twenty-four hours, where the temperature kept rising due to the fires. As a result, he later experienced many physical problems.
My father is actually the one who asked President Makiguchi and President Toda to accept the Shinto talisman during World War II. Their refusal led to their imprisonment and eventually President Makiguchi's death in prison.
Before deciding to secede from Taiseki-ji, I was worried about whether or not I would be embraced by SGI members because my father had been responsible for the Gakkai's persecution during World War II. This was one of my concerns.
The next thing I had to worry about was that my wife and I were both born to priests' families and grew up at the temple, so we knew nothing of the outside world. You have to understand that because we grew up apart from general society, for us to secede from Taiseki-ji meant to sever all ties, all relationships. We had to give up our friendships and relationships with our children and our brothers and sisters. It meant that we could not even go to our family graves to pay respects to our ancestors.
Despite the difficulties that faced us, my wife and I discussed everything we knew to be true about President Ikeda and about Nikken. We have no doubt that President Ikeda is leading Nichiren Daishonin's believers on the correct path of practice, while Nikken is diametrically opposed to the Daishonin's teachings and is misguiding believers. Simply put, President Ikeda's actions are based upon faith and Nikken's are grounded in his personal views and emotions.
Nichiren Daishonin states in the Gosho that in order to carry out his practice, one should not fear severing relationships with one's parents or immediate family. After reading about the Daishonin's spirit in the Gosho, we mustered the courage to leave Taiseki-ji. Despite my concerns, President Ikeda and the SGI members totally embraced us.
I have been away from Taiseki-ji for about one-and-a-half years. Since then I have been attending meetings in which we discuss the priesthood issue. Whenever I have an opportunity to meet with Gakkai members, I try to explain the importance of having the spirit and determination to challenge the poison within the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to take up this task for kosen-rufu.
Next, I'd like to say something to you about Operation C, Nikken's scheme to destroy the Soka Gakkai. Because President Ikeda deeply cares about the SGI-USA members, he came to the United States in 1990. Upon returning to Japan, despite his exhaustion after the strenuous trip, he immediately went to the head temple to report to Nikken. But Nikken did not have one iota of appreciation and didn't even say "Welcome back" or "We appreciate your efforts for kosen-rufu." His behavior was completely lacking a sense of gratitude. Because it is only natural for most human beings to have a sense of appreciation, I feel that Nikken is lacking basic human decency.
Nikken thought that if he were to cut President Ikeda off from the SGI members, they would be thrown into confusion and eventually side with Nikken. That's what prompted him to conceive this scheme to disband the SGI. I feel that Nikken's scheme to destroy the SGI is insidious. It is inexcusable for him to try to dominate the precious children of the Buddha, who are fighting for kosen-rufu day and night. Even before launching Operation C, Nikken was trying to target overseas SGI members. He even tried to contact then-NSA General Director Williams through Kido Fukuda, at that time the secretary of the Overseas Bureau at the head temple.
Nikken's scheme to attract the SGI-USA to his side ended in complete failure. However, he did not give up his idea to target overseas members. Why is Nikken targeting SGI-USA members? Because he is aware of how sincerely and honestly they seek to worship the Dai-Gohonzon. Many times overseas members have made great personal sacrifices in order to travel to the head temple. In that sense, overseas members have an even stronger desire to visit the Dai-Gohonzon than Japanese members. So Nikken was trying to take advantage and entice these sincere people with an opportunity to do something they cherish.
Nikken is pretending to be a very compassionate and venerable priest, saying that because of his mercy, he will permit SGI members, in their present status and without leaving the SGI, to attend all Buddhist ceremonies such as funerals, memorial services, weddings and buying memorial tablets, as well as allowing SGI members to come to the head temple. In any case, he is trying desperately to attract the SGI to the temple in any way he can.
Please don't worry about being unable to worship the Dai-Gohonzon at this point. When you pray to the Gohonzon in your home, it is the same as praying to the Dai-Gohonzon. I remember when the previous priest, Nittatsu, visited a temple in Odawara that is close to my temple. On that occasion, he stated that the Gohonzon enshrined in your own home embodies the life Nichiren Daishonin. By chanting to the Gohonzon in your own home, it follows that you are actually praying directly to the Dai-Gohonzon. This can be further explained in a speech given last year by President Ikeda.
He said: "The area surrounding a clear cool pond" -- President Ikeda is comparing the pond to the Dai-Gohonzon -- "has now become a swamp of slander. To reach the pond, one must travel through the swamp. The pond is still every bit as clear as before, but because of the surrounding swamp, one's life will be defiled when one tries to approach it. Even if one does not go directly to the pond, clear water flowing from the pond wells up from the spring that is in our own home. There is no difference whatsoever between the water of the pond and that of the spring." The water of the pond means the Dai-Gohonzon and the spring means the Gohonzon enshrined in our home. President Ikeda is emphasizing that sincerely chanting to the Gohonzon in our homes is the same as chanting to the Dai-Gohonzon.
Next, I would like to comment on the SGI conferring Gohonzon and the tradition of the 'eye-opening' ceremony. When I was an assistant priest at Myoko-ji temple in Shinagawa, Tokyo, from 1952-56, President Toda came to ask the chief priest if he would confer the Gohonzon on the Soka Gakkai members. I had never heard of a 'Gohonzon Conferral Ceremony,' because at that time Gohonzon were rarely conferred, usually in cases when Hokkeko members moved away from their families, establishing a new household or when a substantial donation was made to the temple.
The chief priest decided to comply with Mr. Toda's request. However, there were practical problems to be solved. In those days, the Gohonzon were reproduced using a wood block printing technique. We had just a limited number of unmounted Gohonzon on hand. Soon after Mr. Toda's request, some members arrived to receive the Gohonzon. However, they were not ready, because we had to send the few Gohonzon on hand to be mounted professionally. The first ceremony was held a week later and the recipients were asked to make one pledge, not the three that were familiar during later temple gojukai ceremonies.
As the membership began to grow, other temples in the area began conferring Gohonzon on the Soka Gakkai members. However, all of the Gohonzon in the various temples were not transcribed by the same high priest. For example, Myoko-ji temple, where I was assigned, reproduced and issued a Gohonzon transcribed by Nippu Shonin, the fifty-fifth high priest. Another temple in Tokyo, Jozai-ji, issued a Gohonzon transcribed by Nissho Shonin, the fifty-seventh high priest. And Hodo-in temple issued a Gohonzon transcribed by Nichio Shonin, the fifty-sixth high priest.
The chief priests of the temple issued those Gohonzon without ever sending them to the head temple to ask the high priest to perform any ceremonies, such as the 'eye-opening ceremony.'
We priests in the temples around Tokyo often encountered the problem that our supply of Gohonzon would be depleted. This being the case, as the assistant priest, I would be sent to another temple to ask if we could have some of their Gohonzon. Whenever possible, the chief priests cooperated with each other in order to provide Gohonzon to the new Soka Gakkai members. So as you can see, the members in those days had Gohonzon that were inscribed by different high priests.
In light of this, I would like to say that it seems perfectly natural to me that, just as President Toda accepted the offer of Gohonzon transcribed by former high priests of his day, President Ikeda would follow suit and accept the offer of Chief Priest Sendo Narita of Joen-ji temple, Tochigi Prefecture, to make it possible for Soka Gakkai members to receive okatagi Gohonzon based on Nichikan Shonin's Gohonzon [originally inscribed in 1720].
As for the 'eye-opening ceremony,' which I understand Nichiren Shoshu claims must be performed on all Gohonzon, I consider this a distorted application of the tradition that I have only rarely observed at the head temple. This Nichiren Shoshu tradition of the 'eye-opening ceremony' was actually performed -- not on Gohonzon -- but on statues and painted images of the Daishonin that were sometimes kept in temples.
When I served as an attendant to retired fifty-ninth high priest Nichiko, from 1956-57, a Hokkeko member visited the retired high priest to request that he transcribe a Gohonzon for him, making a generous monetary offer. The former high priest declined this man's request, saying that he was too busy working on his project compiling the Essential Writings of the Fuji School.
Later, however, the retired high priest commented to me that the reason he declined this Hokkeko member's request was that he would transcribe Gohonzon only for those doing shakubuku and promoting kosen-rufu.
If this 'eye-opening ceremony' were essential, the retired high priest would have had to send a Gohonzon to Taiseki-ji to have this ceremony performed before conferring it on the members. He never mentioned to me during my service to him, an 'eye-opening ceremony' or the necessity of sending transcribed Gohonzon to Taiseki-ji to have this ceremony performed.
After severing my relationship with Nikken, I did not expect the opportunity to contribute to kosen-rufu in overseas countries to arrive so soon. To tell the truth, I hate flying in airplanes. Despite that, I'm so happy to be here in the United States to encourage the SGI members to summon forth the determination to reveal Nikken's duplicity, protect the SGI movement and promote worldwide kosen-rufu. Because of President Ikeda's wonderful encouragement, my wife and I are very energized.
My wife has started to attend Soka Gakkai discussion meetings and Nichiren Shoshu priesthood issue seminar meetings. She's been encouraging other Gakkai members to oppose Nikken and his followers. Remember, she was born into a priest's family, so she never went to Gakkai activities before. By the way, because of my wife's vigorous activities, I have often had to fix my own dinner!
Please understand the President Ikeda's heart right now is to take the most important action for kosen-rufu which is to refute Nikken's distorted views. Please have the determination and confidence that no matter what you may face, you will march on victoriously.
I'd like to ask you to courageously work for the further development of the SGI, together with me and all the SGI members throughout the world.
To conclude my speech, I really pray from the bottom of my heart for your long life and excellent health. With that I would like to conclude my presentation. Thank you very much.
(Seikyo Times, March 1994, No.392, p.20-25) © 1994 by World Tribune Press, Soka Gakkai International - USA