On November 14, 2010 Rev. Yuzui Murata, Chief Priest of the Myosenji Nichiren Shoshu Temple, gave a sermon containing 21 serious errors about Buddhism. Some of his statements are all too familiar outrageous claims: his members are only the followers of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the heritage of the Law travels as a “Living Essence” from high priest to high priest, the deification of Nichiren and the Dai-Gohonzon, and his claim that one of the Three Treasures of Buddhism is the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood.
However he now makes several new and quite disturbing assertions:
- In introduces a new term, “Fuzoku,” which means the passing of the teachings from the “True Master” to the disciples.
- He claims that the “Living Essence” flows within the lives of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood itself.
He claims that the benefits of faith are dependent on his congregants’ relationship with him as the chief priest. Further, he starts to construct an argument that places the priesthood to Nichiren on the same level: “To apply the guidance and instruction we receive from the True Buddha Nichiren Daishonin and from the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu…”
Detailed Responses to Yuzui Murata’s 21 Errors
1- “Realize your mission as a stalwart follower of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.” Mr. Murata continues to address his congregants as “followers of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.” The consistency of his message leaves no doubt that he delegates his congregants to the status of “followers” of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth rather than the actual Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
This contention flies in the face of Nichiren’s assertion: “Were they not Bodhisattvas of the Earth, they could not chant the daimoku’” (WND-1, 385). In contrast, the three presidents of the SGI steadfastly encourage us to wake up to our mission as the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. One facet of President Toda’s awakening in prison was his deeply personal realization that he was a Bodhisattva of the Earth. President Ikeda has stated: “We have now entered an age when our gathering of Bodhisattvas of the Earth is attracting praise far and wide. The time has come when people everywhere are earnestly seeking the egalitarian and humanistic ‘Buddhism of the people’ of Nichiren Daishonin. Based on the mentor-disciple spirit of Soka, let us now show the world the real ‘power of the people’ that is the hallmark of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth” [Lecture on the Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life, p. 108].
2- “The Living Essence.” Mr. Murata continues to claim that there is a “Living Essence” which is transmitted from high priest to high priest. This form of mystical transmission has absolutely no basis in Nichiren’s writings. Nichiren states clearly: “Be resolved to summon forth the great power of faith . . . Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate Law” (WND-1, p. 218). In another writing he explicitly describes Nam-myoho-renge-kyo “the heart and core” of the Lotus Sutra (WND, p. 541), the only essence of faith.
3- Mr. Murata identifies kosen-rufu as “the worldwide spread of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.” Nichiren Shoshu priests have neither the skills nor compassion to lead a worldwide movement of Buddhism. President Ikeda stresses that kosen-rufu is ultimately a movement of peace, culture, education, and dialogue. Clearly a group of approximately 1000 men with cloistered and medieval perspectives, a singular cultural focus, and a besotted history have no capacity to appeal to people of integrity, leading thinkers, women, artists, and the rich brocade of the world’s multicultural fabric.
4- Mr. Murata speaks about “High Priests who have strictly maintained the correctness of the Daishonin’s teachings.” In quite shocking detail The Untold History of the Fuji School (www.sokaspirit.org/resource/downloads) documents otherwise. Each century in the 700-year history of the Nichiren Shoshu sect has witnessed numerous transgressions and inconsistencies committed by high priests:
- 14th century: land disputes and questionable successions led to a decline in the Fuji School (the historical name of the Nichiren Shoshu sect) which was only resolved by the appointment of 9th high priest Nichiu. He was labeled as a restorer of the Fuji School in recognition of his success in resolving these issues and staunching the school’s decline.
- 15th, 16th centuries: the appointment of children high priests and the introduction of the mistaken notion of the infallibility of high priests.
- 17th century: the appointment of high priests from heretical Nichiren sects, the enshrinement of statues of Shakyamuni as objects of worship, collusion with the government’s parish system, and the recitation of all 28 chapters of the Lotus Sutra in gongyo. Nichikan, the 26th high priest, is also known as a restorer of Nichiren Buddhism because of his determined efforts to re-establish the orthodox teachings of Nichiren.
- 18th century: the failure of high priests to protect lay members who faced governmental persecution as a result of their propagation activities.
- 19th century: the failure of high priests to protect lay members who conducted propagation activities and the priesthood’s renounciation of clerical celibacy.
- 20th century: the association with heretical Nichiren schools, the impeachment of a high priest, questionable successions, sexual misconduct (67th high priest Nikken was the illegitimate child of 60th high priest Nichikai), the support for the Japanese war efforts in World War II, the enshrinement of Shinto talisman at head temple, the slander of the disrupting of unity of believers with the excommunication of the SGI, the destruction of the Sho-Hondo, and the introduction of ideology antithetical to Nichiren’s teachings.
5- Mr. Murata introduces the term “Fuzoku” which incorrectly ascribes the heritage of the Law to some form of ritualistic transfer between high priests and ignores the very core of the Lotus Sutra: the entrustment of the spread of Buddhism to Bodhisattva Superior Practices and the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. The Gosho “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life” is very clearly teaches the essential spirit of the transmission of the heritage of the Law of life:
- “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” (WND-1, 216).
- “The heritage of the Lotus Sutra flows within the lives of those who never forsake it in any lifetime whatsoever” (WND-1, 217).
- “All disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the spirit of many in body but one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate Law of life and death. Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren’s propagation” [WND-1, p. 217].
6- Mr. Murata grossly misapplies and misinterprets the Gosho quote, “Nikko hereby entrusts the Dai-Gohonzon…to Nikko” (Provisions Bequeathed by Nikko Shonin, Gosho, p. 1883). Nichiren does not imply any secret transmission or “Golden Utterance” in this passage. He solely directs Nikko Shonin to assume administrative responsibilities for Taisekiji. This certainly requires a high level of responsibility and faith; as illustrated in Point 4, some priests entrusted with this role were worthy of the responsibility and others were negligent.
It appears that Nichiren Shoshu rests its entire legitimacy on this single passage of Nichiren. If the future of the entire school depended on this writing, why didn’t Nikko Shonin include it in his list of the ten most important writings of Nichiren?
- Mr. Murata states: “It is only because of Fuzoku that we are able to meet the True Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo during this present lifetime…. it is also the reason we are now able to receive the full merit of the Dai-Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws by establishing and then maintaining a strong connection to Its Living Essence, which has been purely inherited by the successive High Priests of Nichiren Shoshu.” This trivializes the profound ties of mentor and disciple which correctly explain why we have now appeared to practice Buddhism as described in The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life:
- “My followers are now able to accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra because of the strong ties they formed with it in their past existence. They are certain to obtain the fruit of Buddhahood in the future” (WND-1, 217).
- “It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined you to become my disciple at a time like this. Shakyamuni and Many Treasures certainly realized this truth. The sutra’s statement, ‘Those persons who had heard the Law / dwelled here and there in various Buddha land, / constantly reborn in company with their teachers’ (LS, 140), cannot be false in any way” (WND-1, 217).
8- Mr. Murata continues to mystify Buddhism. For example, he consistently attempts to deify Nichiren and the Dai-Gohonzon by capitalizing pronouns that refer to them. For example, he uses “Its” to refer to the Dai-Gohonzon and the “True Intention” when describing Nichiren’s intent. In the same manner, he capitalizes high priests (“the successive High Priests”) and himself (“the Chief Priest”). This explicit attempt at deification runs counter to Nichiren’s statement:
“In the Latter Day of the Law, no treasure tower exists other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra. It follows, therefore, that whether eminent or humble, high or low, those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are themselves the treasure tower, and, likewise, are themselves the Thus Come One Many Treasures. No treasure tower exists other than Myoho-renge-kyo. The daimoku of the Lotus Sutra is the treasure tower, and the treasure tower is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (WND-1, 299).
9- Mr. Murata shockingly endows the priesthood with an exalted status and connection to the Mystic Law (“Living Essence…which is flowing within the lives of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood”). How can an entity such as a priesthood have such a special standing? This is a truly egregious statement that runs counter to the humanistic fiber of Nichiren Buddhism as well as the democratic impulse described by great heroes of history:
- Walt Whitman: “The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people.”
- Mohandas Gandhi: “Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi. It is enough that I should be my own follower. I know what an inadequate follower I am of myself, for I cannot live up to the convictions I stand for. You are no followers but fellow students, fellow pilgrims, fellow seekers, fellow workers.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”
10- Mr. Murata’s descriptions of the professional lives of lay people, “Selling vacuum cleaners or running an automobile dealership,” rings of condescension and contempt.
11-“To respond to this type of sentiment is one of the reasons I have been examining a sentence from the Gosho… ‘You must immediately renounce your erroneous belief and take faith in the supreme teaching of the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra.’” Here Mr. Murata is utilizing the Rissho Ankoku Ron to address a hypothetical member who questions the relevance of the Chief Priest’s comments. Nichiren wrote this Gosho with the absolute intent of identifying and destroying the roots of fundamental darkness that imprison society and destroy the land. To invoke the Rissho Ankoku Ron at a person who questions Mr. Murata’s ability to relate to the daily lives of lay people is an act of unforgivable priestly authoritarianism and a form of spiritual terrorism.
12-Mr. Murata states, “The true mission of a Nichiren Shoshu priest is to receive and thoroughly understand the True Intention of Nichiren Daishonin by undergoing rigorous and diligent training as a direct disciple of the High Priest.” It runs counter to the teachings of Buddhism to claim that there is a secret path to the purpose of Nichiren’s advent. Shakyamuni’s vow in the Lotus Sutra is “At the start I took a vow, / hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (LS, 36). There is no mystery—Nichiren summarizes his purpose quite clearly:
- “I vowed to summon up a powerful and unconquerable desire for the salvation of all beings and never to falter in my efforts” (WND-1, 240).
- “I will be the pillar of Japan. I will be the eyes of Japan. I will be the great ship of Japan. This is my vow, and I will never forsake it!” (WND-1, 280-81).
- Towards his disciples his true intention was solely for their great happiness and victory: “Be resolved to summon forth the great power of faith, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of death. Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death, and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment, and that the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. Even embracing the Lotus Sutra would be useless without the heritage of faith” (WND-1, 218).
13- Mr. Murata’s statement, “To apply the guidance and instruction we receive from the True Buddha Nichiren Daishonin and from the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu,” equates the words and spirit of Nichiren to those of the priesthood. This is a self-serving assertion of the greatest imaginable arrogance and delusion.
14- [Question from a hypothetical member]: “I’ve been practicing this Buddhism for over 30 years. It’s actually been longer than many priests. What can I learn from them?” [Mr. Murata’s response]: Absolutely none of [such] members have been direct disciples of the Honorable Retired High Priest Nikken Shonin or 68th High Priest Nichinyo Shonin, thus receiving the Living Essence of the Dai-Gohonzon from our True Master.” Mr. Murata’s claims he has a special and higher relationship to the Dai-Gohonzon because he has studied with one or two high priests defies the spirit and instructions of Nichiren.
In reality, a person earns the status of teacher not because of a role or position, but because of his/her accomplishments in validating the Law by opening a path for people to overcome the sufferings of birth and death. This encapsulates the difference between Mr. Murata’s “True Master” who claims the authority of teacher solely because of his robe and a mentor who overcomes persecution and emerges victorious in order to teach disciples how to do the same.
A snapshot of this mentor and disciple relationship can be seen in this interchange between Nichiren and his disciple Sairenbo: “You have followed Nichiren, however, and met with suffering as a result. It pains me deeply to think of your anguish. Gold can be neither burned by fire nor corroded or swept away by water, but iron is vulnerable to both. A worthy person is like gold, a fool like iron. You are like pure gold because you embrace the ‘gold’ of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 217). Nichiren, on the basis of his victory, encourages his disciple to emerge victorious.
This type of mentor-disciple relationship, lying at the very core of Buddhism, was restored by the SGI’s three mentors. President Ikeda states, “It is the first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai who have revived in the present age an active and engaged mentor-disciple spirit—the essence of Nichiren Buddhism. It would be no exaggeration to say that were it not for the appearance of the Soka Gakkai, the spirit of mentor and disciple of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Buddhism would have all but disappeared” (Lecture, 90).
15-Mr. Murata states, “By coming to chant to the Temple Gohonzon…” which insinuates that one Gohonzon has more power than another. Second SGI President Josei Toda stated, “Our existence as ordinary common mortals is the secret and mystic expedient; the truth is that we are Buddhas. The Gohonzon is also enshrined in our hearts. In other words, the core of Nichiren Buddhism lies in the conviction that the Gohonzon enshrined in our Buddhist altar is identical to our own lives.” All Gohonzon have this significance; there is no distinction on the basis of size or location.
16- “Three Treasures of Nichiren Shoshu—the Buddha, the Law and the priesthood” is Mr. Murata’s tool to convince his congregants that the priesthood has a category of prominence equivalent to Nichiren and the Law, thereby elevating himself and other priests to the status of a religious object of veneration, and excluding believers who are not professional clergy from this sanctified plane.
In Buddhism in general, the three treasures (often referred to as “The Three Jewels”) are defined as the Buddha, the Dharma (the Law or teachings the Buddha expounds), and the Sangha (the Buddhist Order or community believers, i.e., those who spread the Buddha’s teachings). Traditionally the three treasures of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism have been defined as follows:
(1) the treasure of the Buddha is Nichiren Daishonin;
(2) the treasure of the Dharma, or the Law, is the Dai-Gohonzon bestowed upon all humanity; and
(3) the treasure of Sangha, or community of believers, is Nikko Shonin because he correctly preserved, propagated, and transmitted the Daishonin’s Buddhism.
This interpretation was affirmed by Nichikan, the 26th high priest, in his work titled On the Observances of this School: “The treasure of the Buddha of time without beginning is none other than the founder, the Daishonin. The treasure of the Law of time without beginning accords with the great object of devotion of the essential teaching, and the treasure of the priest of time without beginning, accords with the founder of this temple, [Nikko Shonin]” (Six Volume Writings of Nichikan, p. 225).
The Japanese term for the third treasure (“so”) refers to the gathering of people who, regardless of their position as clergy or laity, practice Buddhism in accord with the Law by transmitting and spreading it to all people. Nichiren Shoshu insists on the most narrow of all its possible translations, “the priesthood,” without any consideration of the term’s broader roots and implications.
17- “There is no ‘easy way’ to eradicate our negative karma, there is no ‘easy way’ to purify or cleanse our lives of the negative influences from the fundamental darkness which we brought into this current lifetime.” In the Gosho On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime, Nichiren stresses that “unless one perceives the nature of one’s life, one’s practice will become an endless, painful austerity” (WND-1, 4). Mr. Murata implies that the process of changing karma is just such an endless, painful, austerity.
Nichiren’s Buddhism is a hope-filled teaching, however. Mr. Murata’s theories contradict Nichiren’s writings which embrace the simultaneous nature of cause and effect and the presence of Buddhahood in all conditions of life:
- “The seven disasters will instantly vanish, and the seven blessings will instantly appear” (On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land, WND-1, 6).
- “He attained enlightenment at the age of thirty and, at that time, instantly banished the three categories of illusion and brought to an end the vast night of ignorance” (Conversation between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man, WND-1, 107).
- “The dragon king’s daughter, though as a woman subject to the five obstacles and thought to be incapable of attaining Buddhahood, was able instantly to achieve the Buddha way” (Conversation between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man, WND-1, 108).
- “If one experiences extreme hardship in this life [because of the Lotus Sutra], the sufferings of hell will vanish instantly” (Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution, WND-1, 199).
- “The precept refers here to the rule of conduct that one should observe to attain Buddhahood instantly. It means, simply, to embrace the Mystic Law” (Reply to Sairen-bo, WND-1, 314).
- “Bound as we common mortals are by earthly desires, we can instantly attain the same virtues as Shakyamuni Buddha, for we receive all the benefits that he accumulated…. so can an ordinary person become a Buddha instantly” (Letter to the Sage Nichimyo, WND-1, 323-24).
- “Then, if we chant until the very moment of death, Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the Buddhas of the ten directions will come to us instantly, exactly as they promised during the ceremony at Eagle Peak” (On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings, WND-1, 395).
- “Those who visit this place can instantly expiate the offenses they have accumulated since the infinite past and transform their evils deriving from the three types of action into the three virtues” (The Person and the Law, WND-1, 1097).
Although problems do not change instantaneously, through faith we can immediately “change karma into mission” and fully savor the struggles of life and death.
18- “Follow the guidance of your current Chief Priest…to receive the full merit of your faith and practice. This is an extremely important point.” Obviously, nothing in Nichiren Daishonin’s writings alludes to seeking the guidance of a chief priest as a means to gain the merit of faith and practice.
19-“The place where that person dwells shall be the land of eternally tranquil light.” Finally, Mr. Murata associates a passage from Nichiren’s writings with its correct meaning; however, in so doing he contradicts all his prior points. As indicated in this passage, the place where a person dwells becomes the land of eternally tranquil light based on the power of that person’s faith and practice. Neither the intercession of priests nor priestly rituals are needed.
20- “The true purpose of our faith and practice of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism is to transform the Tree Paths of earthly desires, negative karma and suffering into the Three Virtues.” Unfortunately, Mr. Murata gives no clues in his sermon as to how this is accomplished. This leaves listeners to think that some mystical process is at work.
No mysticism is involved, however; problems motivate us to practice and from courageous faith we emerge victorious. In “What It Means to Hear the Buddha Vehicle for the First Time” (WND-2, 743) Nichiren describes the theory of changing poison into medicine. Commenting on this writing, President Ikeda points out that this view of causality opens the possibility of good coming out of evil, “When we believe from the depths of our hearts that earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana, birth and death are no longer a source of suffering. We are then able to truly ‘hear the Lotus Sutra’” (Lecture, p. 135):
“It is precisely because we have sufferings that we can earnestly chant to the Gohonzon. The determination to seriously confront our sufferings causes the fundamental power inherent in our lives to emerge that more strongly. At the moment we chant, our sufferings—our earthly desires—have already become causes for enlightenment…It is the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—the Mystic Law of the simultaneity of cause and effect—that makes this possible” (p. 133).
21- “Because negative influences have been implanted in our lives due to our past association with erroneous belief systems, it is crucial that we take the time to reflect on the true state of our faith and practice of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism” is a call from Mr. Murata that invokes fear, guilt, and dependency. It is also, quite frankly, a wimpy interpretation of Buddhism.
This approach is not Nichiren’s spirit! “I, Nichiren, am alone, without a single ally” (WND-1, 81). Nichiren stood proudly alone with no trace of self-doubt. Instead of invoking fear, Mr. Murata should ask his congregants to practice with the same lion’s roar as Nichiren in Sado:
“Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when the crucial moment comes” (WND-1, 283).