I became a Nichiren Buddhist in the mid-1980s when circumstances in pursuit of my career as a telecom executive put me in touch with members of the Irish branch of Soka Gokkai International (SGI). I received my Gohonzon in 1990. In those days the Irish branch was tiny and was very grateful for the support it received from SGI-UK. There was frequent traffic of members and leaders between Ireland and Taplow Court. One visitor from there was the late Dick Causton, who was General Director of SGI-UK and was regarded with great affection by his Irish friends.
In 1993 SGI-UK published a booklet entitled A Democracy of Faith by Richard Causton in which he explained why SGI regarded its organisation as being democratic. I read that document with great interest but found that it did not chime with my idea of democracy in the organisational sense.
As Dick always favoured an open door policy, I travelled, along with Angela, to meet with him at Taplow Court for a friendly dialogue on the meaning of democracy. We discussed the matter at length but could not see eye to eye and eventually agreed amicably to differ,
I continued in the faith until about the turn of the century when I resigned my membership of SGI-Ireland. Behind the eventual reason for my resignation was my view that SGI was unwilling to attempt to resolve the rift between itself and the Nichiren Shoshu High Priest, Nikken Abe. The difference hinged on a conflict of understanding of the relative functions of priests and laity and led in 1991 to the “excommunication” of SGI by the High Temple.
The schism had raised its head publicly on social media in the US and had led to bitter exchanges at community level between grassroots members of SGI and Hokkeko, the organisation of lay followers of Nichiren Shoshu.
Through my work with Glencree Centre for Reconciliation I was committed to peace through dialogue and particularly through Alternative Conflict Resolution (ADR). I resolved to contribute my knowledge in order to attempt to resolve the continuing conflict.
The following transcripts are from exchanges that took place on the internet, newsgroup: alt.religion.buddhism.nichiren (n.r.b.n) in March and April of 1996. I have presented them in dialogue format.
1. Paddy Crean wrote (inter alia):-
As I understand it, it [SGI] is a lay organisation for human happiness and world peace, based on the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin and the concept of personal inner reformation. I understand also that it is seeking to become the sole, authentic, definitive source of interpretation and explanation of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin.
2. Soren Anderson replied:-
Yes. It is, so it must. If the priesthood is corrupt and has deviated from the Daishonin’s teachings then it represents the workings of the Shoten Zenjin in fulfilling their Vow to preserve the Great Pure Law(at Ryojusen) that the Gakkai has arisen at this time and supplants or betters the NS priesthood in carrying out faith. “Just-in-time” has been experienced innumerable times by individual members in their own battle with obstacles in faith. Why should this principle apply only on an individual level and not to Buddhism as an organized religion?
3. Paddy wrote:-
Hi, Craig, [a member of Nichiren Shoshu Hokkeko]
Congratulations on your exemplary determination. [To refrain from personal attack]
Please permit me to exercise some well-intentioned opportunism here. I don’t think this following quote from a contemporary American human relations teacher would be out of place here. I have tried (not always with outstanding success, I’m afraid) to apply it as a guiding philosophy even before I met Buddhism.
“A CREDO FOR MY RELATIONSHIPS. (By Dr. Thomas Gordon)
“You and I are in a relationship which I value and want to keep. Yet each of us is a separate person with unique needs and the right to meet those needs.
“When you are having problems meeting your needs, I will try to listen with genuine acceptance, in order to facilitate your finding your own solutions instead of depending on mine. I, also, will try to respect your right to choose your own beliefs and develop your own values, different though they may be from mine.
“However, when your behaviour interferes with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly and honestly how your behaviour affects me, trusting that that you respect my needs and feelings enough to try to change the behaviour that is unacceptable to me.
“Also, whenever some behaviour of mine is unacceptable to you, I hope you will tell me openly and honestly so I can try to change my behaviour.
“At those times when we find that either of us cannot change to meet the other’s needs, let us acknowledge that we have a conflict and commit ourselves to resolve each such conflict without resorting to the use of power or authority to win at the expense of the other’s losing. I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own. So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us. Your needs will be met and so will mine: neither will lose; both will win.
“In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which we both can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.”
4. Paddy’s Peace Agenda
By their nature newsgroups are unregulated and unstructured. Each participant is trying to operate to his/her own agenda often against the irritation of being sidetracked by intrusive and unwelcome comments. This perhaps explains the lack of civility which is so often displayed and tolerated as a fact of cyberlife. This newsgroup too has many agendas, the positive contribution of which may be measured by the extent to which each individual/group is acting with a sincere
intention of correcting the understanding of others for their own sakes. By and large these agendas are directed at the otherness of the target individual/group.
In my case, I have elected to follow the other type of agenda, of the sort typified by Stuart Clark’s appeal for joint chanting, which addresses the areas where we can make common cause rather than those which divide us.
Nobody has asked me to do this; but that’s the plus side of the unregulated nature of newsgroups! It is my resolve not to be drawn into any doctrinal or political debates that may raise their heads in this thread. I have received a small number of e-mail responses to my posts. While these were not unwelcome per se, the disappointing
feature was that they failed to address MY agenda. I realise now that my posts had been in fact intrusions on other people’s threads and their fate was no more than they deserved. Hence this heading, standing for what it’s worth, in its own right. My objective, indeed my major ichinen, is to create a peace-building forum to sound out whether it is possible, using the internet and any other media, to address in a
healing way the conflict dividing Nichiren’s Buddhists.
Fortunately on the ‘net, people are limited to a war of words only. However, in all wars, the first casualty is the truth. Although one would wish that one’s own side has a monopoly of the truth and virtue, the reality is that all incoming stories relating to events not directly experienced by oneself are believed only to the extent one is disposed to accord to them. One way or the other, these accounts, true or false, only contributed to the prolongation of the war.
This is known here in Ireland as “what-about-ism”, where each side uses its refusal to forgive the other as the reason for the continuance of the conflict. This leads to the mentality of “an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye — ad nauseum”. Is this to be the
collective karma of the Buddhism of Nichiren?
Any peace proposals out there?
Peace through Kosen-rufu; Kosen-rufu through Democracy; Democracy through Trust; Trust through Friendship.
5. Soren wrote (inter alia) in continuance of earlier dialogue:-
You and I joined the SGI. It is because of the human connections and mystic properties of those connections that we both encountered this Buddhism. We did NOT “join” Nichiren Shoshu “separately” from joining SGI. Buddhism is NOT Catholicism. The lay organization is not theoretically or in actuality somehow cosmically “barred” from being the true inheritors of the spirit of the Buddha. We do not NEED the NS priesthood (or their lay believers) in order to achieve Kosen-rufu. We certainly do not need to (and must not) compromise the principles of Buddhism, humanity, and democracy that must underlie any sort of real progress in the Kosen-rufu process. That is what would be required to “reunite” with the NS at this juncture, and it is inconceivable. If you allow your faith to rest on the hope of this eventuality, I am afraid you will become discouraged.
6. Paddy wrote:-
Is a true follower of Nichiren Daishonin so open to discouragement? Can’t YOU see that the very sentiments you’ve expressed, arising from YOUR OWN INTEGRITY and vision of kosen-rufu, inevitably leads you into conflict with people whose vision of kosen-rufu is otherwise and who are offended when you call in question THEIR INTEGRITY.
7. Soren wrote:-
I can see that, to the extent that those with opposing views HAVE such integrity (and I will say that some seem to) it brings me into conflict with them. The kind of inner-life human issues we are discussing are not easy to resolve even face-to-face, and we are not going to reach a conclusion here on the Internet. Nevertheless, I wonder what kind of ‘vision of Kosen-rufu’ we are talking about here.
Since people can be sincere but misinformed, I may seem to be unjustly harsh in my condemnation of the persons ascribing false teachings to the SGI. I know that in many cases it is a matter of ‘they just don’t get it.’ Nevertheless I continue to imply that there is a moral pollution in their lives————-.
I believe that somewhere along the line, to become so alienated and separated from the forward movement of the SGI; they must have experienced some kind of rift or severing of their connection to the organization. What this break was and how it unfolded has not been put under the light of scrutiny since I have been reading the newsgroup.
I believe that such a rift or break has its origins in something in that person’s actions and attitudes. A breakdown or lapse in seeking spirit causes one to begin to fall behind, and the movement and language of the organization begins to seem strange and uncertain. A seeking spirit which is truly consistent and strong is never easy to maintain. Thus the Daishonin urges [us] to ‘maintain faith like flowing water.’ I believe that ‘faith,’ here, means ‘seeking spirit.’
Some may feel that based on SGI’s traditions and ‘teachings’ I should just feel bad for the Hokkeko members here who have ‘lost their way,’ and not be so sharp in my counter-attacks on their messages. I have a lot of respect for that viewpoint and approach, and there are those on this newsgroup that are carrying out this kind of approach far better than I. Nevertheless I will continue to point out the weaknesses and falsehoods, absurdities and abuses of those who post public messages here for all the world (or that portion of it which is online) to read. “One adopts the customs of the country …” and in this case that ‘country’ is the Internet. I am going to be reviled and criticised a great deal for this kind of aggressive approach.
I am not a ‘good little Buddhist;’ for example, no one in my headquarters or territory has supported me or ‘approved’ my participation in online communications about the SGI and Buddhism. I am from time to time rather a prickly fellow to deal with and have been known to give my leaders a very hard time. I am speaking with my own voice and not acting as a mouthpiece for anyone else.
8. Paddy wrote:-
Dear Prickly Fellow,
I too have been given a similar handle. I was called an “awkward bastard” by Eddie Cahill (an Englishman with an Irish name and a senior leader of SGI-UK) when I raised with him on his visit to Ireland a number of my dissatisfactions with the policies of SGI. Mind you, he did say it was awkward bastards like me that kept the organisation on its toes.
First let me re-iterate my principled stand. It is for the need to redress the massive failure of two seemingly unbending forces, the priesthood and the Soka Gakkai, to display the pluralism of mutual respect and to accommodate “otherness” in what was once a united movement for kosen-rufu.
Calls for Dialogue
9. Soren wrote:-
Paddy, the SGI has called for dialog from the beginning, and continues to offer the Nikken priesthood the opportunity to sit down and discuss the situation. It is Nikken who refuses to meet with the SGI.
10. Paddy replied:-
Perhaps these overtures were received in the context of the Buddhist culture of verbal conflict, the purpose of which seems to be to prove your opponent wrong. This manner of adversarial debate is not conducive to the kind of dialogue required to remedy the current situation. Each side will have to do a lot of sincere work to alleviate the suspicions of the other regarding the motivation behind any proposed dialogue. See how difficult it is for you and me to conduct a meaningful dialogue even in these circumstances where neither of us has ever been caused pain by the other nor has any ostensible reason to distrust the other’s motives.
11. Soren continued:-
Furthermore, you MUST become disabused of the Big Lie about the unity of the priesthood and the SGI prior to 1990.
12. Paddy replied:-
I don’t think I was ever abused of this! But are you suggesting that
there NEVER was mutual respect between the Soka Gakkai and Taiseka-ji?
13. Soren rejoined:-
What was unified was the ichinen of the SGI under Pres. Ikeda to continue forward with Kosen-rufu IN SPITE OF the recurring obstruction and disharmonious posturing of the priesthood. The overseas believers (you and me both) were naively and blithely unaware of a reality that Pres. Ikeda has been confronting for decades.
14. Paddy wrote:-
One of my pet hates (I’m sure it’s a cultural thing) about our brand of Buddhism is its reliance on quotations to justify our points of view. This seems to apply to all the subsets of Nichiren Buddhism. However, purely as a justification of the quote to follow, I acknowledge they have their place.
Senator George Mitchell
George J. Mitchell, former Senator of the United States, headed up the International Body on Arms Decommissioning, as part of the current Irish/ British Peace Process. In paragraphs. 14-16, the report of that body says:
“We were asked to provide an independent assessment of the decommissioning issue. It is a serious issue. It is also a symptom of a larger problem: the absence of trust. Common to many of our meetings were arguments, steeped in history, as to why the other side cannot be trusted. As a consequence, even well-intentioned acts are viewed with suspicion and hostility.
“But a resolution of the decommissioning issue – or any other issue – will not be found if the parties resort to their vast inventories of historical recrimination. Or, as it was put to us several times, what is really needed is the DECOMMISSING OF MINDSETS [my caps] in Northern Ireland.
“We have asked ourselves how those who have suffered during the many years of internal strife can accept the fact that the establishment of lasting peace will call for reconciliation with those they hold responsible for their loss and pain. Surely the continued suffering and bereavement of individuals and of families should never be forgotten.
“But if the focus remains on the past, the past will become the future, and that is something no one can desire.”
Can you see the parallels with the Buddhist issue?
15. Soren wrote:-
Yes and no. It is strange to me that you would react to the dispute as it manifests here on this nwsgrp as if it were ‘internecine’ or had the same kind of nature as conflicts in Northern Ireland or Rwanda.
16. Paddy responded:-
I used the word “internecine” in the sense that it means “mutually destructive”. I don’t think it’s an inappropriate expression to describe a confrontation between adversaries who are, at least, setting about the destruction of each others influence. This kind of confrontation has evoked bitterness not just in this nwsgrp; it has tainted the whole Nichiren movement.
The main parallels I wished to draw your attention to were to do with the “absence of trust”, “even well-intentioned acts are viewed with suspicion and hostility”, “inventories of …..recrimination” and above all that extremely Buddhist concept that “If the focus remains on the past, the past will become the future”.
17. Soren replied:-
The arguments in those cases are not basically about religion. They are political/racial/ethnic although in the case of N Ireland it is cast as the “Catholic / Protestant Conflict” here as a convenient means of labelling the antagonists. It might be better to say the”Republican / Royalist” conflict as I believe the ‘participants’ themselves do?
18. Paddy rejoined:-
That’s true of the Big Picture, but there is a virulent underpinning of RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY motivating many of the grassroots “participants” and the only distinguishing feature for targeting a victim for a sectarian murder is whether he/she lives in a Catholic or Protestant geographic area. The impetus in personal terms for the perpetuation of most of the actual bigotry on the Protestant side comes from a charismatic figure who commands the highest individual political vote not just in Northern Ireland but in the whole of the European Union. He is also the founder and moderator of his own breakaway Free Presbyterian Church. The mass of his supporters operate out of the fear that in a United Ireland “Home Rule means Rome Rule”. Many unbiased observers might concede that these fears were not unfounded
until the recent past. Don’t be misled: religious bias is alive and well and living in Ireland still!
19. Soren replied:-
I give your point of view some consideration. Nevertheless, from my gut I do not see it as the same kind of thing as the above examples (or any others you might care to cite). Paddy, you have not responded to the doctrinal issues I have mentioned in my previous posts (and you have made clear that you do not intend to).
20. Paddy explained:-
I’m afraid my studies have been confined to trying to understand the basic non-controversial aspects of the Buddhist philosophy. The prospect of occupying what remains to me of this lifetime on dogmatic debating of the things that divide us instead of those that unite us doesn’t appeal to me in the least. I feel that it would be a far, far better thing for me to do to try to bring about a situation in which some sort of joint canonical commission arising out of a renewed harmony between a (renascent?) SGI and (a reformed?) Taiseka-ji would present an agreed doctrine for this age and for the benefit of all!
21. Soren continued:-
“Fence-sitting” does not always have a pretty implication; there are situations in life that demand we get off the fence and choose sides, even as we hope that the long course of history will one day allow us to mend our relationship with those whom circumstance has placed in opposition to us.
22. Paddy answered:-
In December 1991, a mini-bus carrying Protestant construction workers home from work, repairing a police precinct, was ripped apart by a deliberately detonated landmine at Teebane Cross, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Seven workers died instantly. Another seven were injured (one of which died later). The following morning, seven members of a small organisation called New Consensus chained
themselves across the entrance of the Dublin (Republic of Ireland) headquarters of the organisation that fronts for the group that claimed responsibility for the atrocity. I would like you to know that I, an Irish Republican by birth and inclination, was one of those demonstrators. A week later, I and my colleagues collected over 500 wreaths and floral tributes from all the political parties represented in the Irish Parliament as well as from ordinary citizens like ourselves and brought them to the site of the murders, where they were received magnanimously by the bereaved relatives.
One month later, we gave a similar response when five Catholics were gunned down in a shop in Ormeau Road, Belfast. Some time later, when two small boys were killed in a bomb blast in Warrington, England, we were on the streets again collecting floral tributes from the people of Ireland. This time, it needed two Air Force planes to transport the mass of flowers to the small Lancashire town.
I mention my involvement in these and many other peace and reconciliation initiatives since then only to indicate that what you may call “fence sitting” need not always have negative connotations. (After all, the name of Mr Ikeda’s book is not “Choose Sides”, but “Choose Peace”.) However, there is a borderline between those, on the
one hand, who believe that the outcome of a disagreement must always end as victory for one and defeat for the other and those, on the other hand, who believe in reconciliation. This is one boundary where I refuse to sit on the fence!
23. Soren continued:-
Indeed, true Buddhism offers the possibility of that ultimate reunion more powerfully than any other belief, since even Devadatta was prophesied to be headed for eventual Buddhahood. [Therefore, since two Buddhas could hardly be imagined to exist in a state of permanent antagonism with each other, Shakyamuni and Devadatta will be ‘friends’ once again].
It cannot be expected, however, based on the above example, that one should put aside all other considerations simply in order to achieve a cessation of ‘hostilities’ between parties to such a conflict. Could Shakyamuni have said to all the people: “Look, Devadatta and I disagree with each other; but we are both influential and charismatic leaders, so you all decide which one of us you want to follow, and we’ll still meet for lunch every Thursday”? I don’t THINK so.
Shakyamuni had to recognize and condemn Devadatta for what he was, a manifestation of the great Negativity inherent in Life; the Fundamental Darkness (Gampon no mumyo). Left unchallenged, Devadatta would have destroyed the Sangha, led countless practitioners astray and blocked the Buddha from achieving his great goal and fulfilling his mission.
24. Paddy responded:-
But then, Shakyamuni did not have the benefit of the advanced mediation methods available to adversaries in this age!
25. Paddy wrote:-
Because of the length and detail of your response, which I greatly appreciate, and in the interest of maturity of debate, I don’t intend to follow the usual format of line by line disputation of each point. Instead, I have taken the liberty of itemising some points on which we might seek agreement. They are as follows:
1. That important differences emerging from many of the ongoing exchanges on a.r.b.n. broadly reflect the underlying conflict dividing the various strands of Nichiren Buddhism.
26. Soren wrote:-
Which strands? I agree to recognize that Nichiren Shu has existed for over 700 years; that does not mean that I accept their teachings as true or that I grant the ‘mantle of legitimacy’ to Bruce Maltz and the Hokke Kai. The members of this new ‘lay organization’ created in America a couple of years ago (relatively speaking) are also a part of the exchanges here; are you referring to them as well? If not, please be precise and say so. They undoubtedly contribute (greatly) to the overall ‘atmosphere’ of confrontation and disrespect on a.r.b.n. If some kind of rapprochement could be achieved between NS/Hokkeko and SGI here, it would still leave the matter of the Maltzians.
I am going to assume for the sake of replying that you do include them, as you seem to be generally willing to let anyone who claims to be a Nichiren Buddhist be regarded as truly being one such. The fact that you do so without addressing the matter of placing the provisional (even if they call him “The Eternal”) Shakyamuni Buddha above N.D. makes this point of view very difficult for me to accept, and I doubt that anyone on NS/Hokkeko will do so either.
27. Paddy responded:-
In so far as organisations exist for the benefit of their members, it is the members who give them their legitimacy: it is anyone’s prerogative to say whom and whom not they will talk to, but by so deciding they neither confer nor withhold a mantle of legitimacy.
28. Soren replied:-
A heresy is still a heresy, no matter how old it gets, and a new suit doesn’t make
it wreak any less.
29. Paddy opined:-
IMO, heresy is not an absolute. One person’s beliefs can be heretical only insofar as they are incompatible with another’s. Heresy, as a concept and as a word, should be left in the middle ages where it belongs.
For my purpose, I am not interested in the petty squabbling that goes on in this nwsgrp. What does concern me is the lack of peace within this Buddhism which has nothing whatsoever to do with doctrinal differences. This turbulence arises from a failure to distinguish between Buddhism itself and the organisations established for its propagation. The solution lies in inducing these organisations to order harmoniously the internal environment in which they operate. It is purely a political (as opposed to a doctrinal) problem and is thus capable of resolution.
30. Paddy continued:-
2. That we must find means of resolving conflicts and confrontations: that a solution must be found, however difficult.
31. Soren replied:-
Paddy, I’m sorry, but your language just evokes a sense of tired sloganism of the ‘why can’t we all just live together’ variety. You just do not seem to be able to distinguish between the general and the specific case (i.e.; the overall condition of Humanity vs. the very special circumstances of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism at this particular time).
32. Paddy responded:-
SGI President Ikeda, in the work quoted above, states:-
”It is the duty of people of religious faith to strengthen, enrich and deepen humane dispositions; one of which is assuredly the disposition towards peace. We must strive to disseminate by means of personal contact, dialogue and all other means at our disposal those elements of wisdom found in many religious teachings and in humane philosophies that, although not strictly speaking religious, have as a goal the betterment, not the annihilation of humanity.
“As a Buddhist, I find much of this kind of wisdom in the teaching of the Buddha and intend to go on doing my best to introduce it to peoples all over the world”.
What is the difference between my two lines above and Mr Ikeda’s that warrant mine being dismissed as “tired sloganism”?
33. Soren continued:-
The issue of slander of the Law is regarded in Buddhism as the root issue which needs to be addressed before all others; please read (reread) the Rissho Ankoku Ron to get back in touch with the importance of this point.
34. Paddy replied:-
Rissho Ankoku Ron
The arguments in RAR were presented in the context of an era of state religion and were designed to convince the rulers of the heresy of the other Buddhist schools and to bring about their replacement with Nichiren’s own school. Religious totalitarianism was acceptable in that context but even so it is doubtful if it was a very effective course for Nichiren. IMHO it is certainly not appropriate to these times of separation of church and state. In saying this I do not mean to be offensive (indeed heretical!) or to cast any slight on the great teacher. (If I believed in the infallibility of “holy writ”, I would be a Christian still!). There is no requirement in Buddhism that I know of for everyone to subscribe to a fixed dogma; or any dogma, for that matter.
35. Soren continued:-
There is general Slander and there is specific Slander. Buddhism is believed (by the SGI at least) to teach that the Law is identical to Life itself, so any slander of the dignity of Life is slander of the Law also—the General sense. But the converse is also true; Specific slander of the Law, the Buddha’s teaching, as we believe Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to be, is the same as slander of all Life and the Universe. The effects of such slander are profound and difficult to eradicate from one’s Life. Buddhism is not IMO primarily a teaching which is supposed to use Fear to motivate followers, but all the same the strict reality of karmic retribution must not be ignored.
“Buddhism is the body and society is the shadow,” Paddy. This is the teaching of the Gosho. It appears to me that you may have the two confused, whereby society becomes the Body and the state of life of the people—that is, how correct is their understanding of Life — becomes the shadow.
36. Paddy explained:-
Yes, but the organisations disseminating Buddhism are not Buddhism per se in the sense that the Gosho teaches: they are collections of ordinary mortals reflecting the state of the life of the people. If the people and their Buddhist organisations are belligerent, that doesn’t mean to say that Buddhism, in whatever sense you use the term, is also belligerent.
I just hope that you are not telling me that being a votary of the peaceful settlement of disputes is incompatible with being a votary of the Lotus Sutra!
I confess that this is an area of Buddhism that I have a problem with. Buddhism seems to lack the terminology to distinguish between the Law ITSELF and the teachings ABOUT the Law and the practices and organisations arising from them. Let me take an absurd example to illustrate my point. The term “Marketing” is given to that entity or concept by which producers go about manufacturing, packaging, distributing and advertising their products. Suppose I have been for half a lifetime a teacher of business method and, through my comprehensive knowledge of the subject, I have taught my students the very essence of Marketing. Suppose you, then, with superior knowledge of the latest marketing techniques attack my outmoded teaching and methodology, does that mean that you are attacking Marketing also? If, in the accepted terminology, both the subject and my teaching of it are called Marketing, how can you criticize the teaching without seeming to be attacking the subject of the teaching? If I, in defence of my teaching, I say: “Criticize my teaching and you slander Marketing”, I am being patently disingenuous if not totally dishonest.
37. Paddy continued:-
3.That conflicts can be resolved only through a refusal to see religious differences in absolute terms, thereby leading to compromise in the interest of humanity and peace. Whether we know it or not, we are all victims of internecine disputes.
38. Soren replied:-
This is exactly where I believe you are off in your thinking, Paddy. I know and have often addressed in dialog with others the dangers of religious absolutism, but Buddhism DOES DOES DOES teach the existence of the Absolute! What is relative in Buddhism and what is absolute should be the question which each individual summons all her seeking spirit to understand; I have certainly not completed such a process of striving to understand, but I know that I am actively engaged in trying. I feel that some others here have abandoned such efforts in favor of easy parroting of dogmatic assertions put forward by their various ‘mentors’ or ruling cliques. That doesn’t mean that SGI members are immune from such a syndrome; it is true that various leaders in SGI have, over the years, readily lapsed into mindlessly repeating that kind of ‘guidance.’
39. Paddy responded:-
The case for peaceful co-existence of religious movements has been well made by SGI President Ikeda’s friend, Dr Bryan Wilson:-
“Although members of each religious movement may feel, and feel strongly, that they alone have the truth, their only guarantee of being able to operate without interference is for each group to recognise that other groups take exactly the same position. IF THEY ANATHEMIZE EACH OTHER, THEY MAY DESTROY THE FRAMEWORK OF ORDER AND TOLERANCE WITHOUT WHICH NONE OF THEM COULD SURVIVE. No religious movement can be asked to derogate its own position or claim for itself less than total allegiance from its votaries. On the other hand, no religious movement can afford to so disparage others that it induces a climate of hostility.” (Human Values in a Changing World: Daisaku Ikeda and Bryan Wilson).
40. Paddy continued:-
4.That the treasure of the priesthood should not be denied to those followers of Nichiren who have a need for priestly services.
41. Soren replied:-
And should heroin be ‘denied’ to those who have created the ‘need’ or craving for it through their karmic actions?
42. Paddy retorted:-
Well didn’t Karl Marx teach that ALL “religion is the opium of the people”!
43. Soren continued:-
My analogy is not perfect; but I ask you, once again, to try to discuss in a rigorous way exactly why ‘followers of Nichiren’ must be provided with ‘priestly services,’ and just what are those services supposed to be? Oko Lectures? , Gojukai Ceremonies?, Funerals? Just what is it that the SGI ‘lacks,’ that must be and can only be provided by the priesthood?
44. Paddy enquired:-
Would it be truly compassionate to deprive elderly believers of these comforts in their old age? If there is something harmful or unacceptable in the application of these practices, would it not suffice to regulate them for the benefit of those who want them?
45. Paddy continued:-
5.That neither the SGI, Nichiren Shoshu nor any other legitimate group is the only vehicle for attainment of kosen-rufu and that an accommodation must be sought between vehicles that are amenable to such accommodation.
46. Soren replied:-
The question of what kind of organization can achieve Kosen-rufu, and what in fact Kosen-rufu is supposed to be, is one which also requires serious thought and intense inward searching. One thing’s for sure: there have been those who tried (over and over again) in the past to achieve Kosen-rufu and their efforts have failed. I am referring to the prevalence of religious groups like the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Shakers, or the Amish in this country’s history. Each of those groups envisioned the creation of a just, peaceful and righteous society through the spread (or universal adoption by all members of the society) of some specially-revealed teachings. If Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is not going to fall prey to the same outcome as these movements, it better avoid some of the errors and misunderstandings that they manifested.
For one, each such movement envisioned a closed society in isolation from the Outside and the Unbelievers. That the flow of history and the development of technology, the pressure of populations of humans needing to move to fill the available space, undid the grand designs of these visionaries is a matter of historical record. Of course they also self-destructed in various ways as well (well, the Mormons and a few Amish are still around :).
Yet this is just the kind of Kosen-rufu that seems to be embodied in the Nikken Sect’s way. The closed little world of Taiseki-ji never opened up much to the world until the Soka Gakkai starting bringing thousands of new followers up the mountain. The current ‘guardians’ of Taiseki-ji accuse Pres. Ikeda of slander and scheming in view of his numerous attempts to hold dialogs with non-Nichiren-Shoshu persons from widely diverse backgrounds. This, however, is exactly the kind of effort to broaden understanding and create a ‘wave’ that ripples through the ENTIRE society, repeatedly, that must be undertaken in order to truly advance Kosen-rufu. The vision of the priesthood is too limited to understand—this is exactly why they are not the group which can achieve Kosen-rufu.
47. Paddy quizzed:-
Are you saying that this is an “either/ or” situation? Surely kosen-rufu can use all the help it can get!
48. Paddy wrote:-
Please allow me one BTW. Your understanding that I was saying that the Irish people must have a clergy is incorrect. Indeed the people’s disenchantment with the hierarchy is the best opening we ever had for attracting new members. For myself, I wouldn’t shed any tears if all priestly castes dissolved themselves forever. However, if others need priests, I say “Let them have them”.
Appeal for Co-operation
Finally, dear Soren, are you willing to make a commitment to work with me and others on a.r.b.n. to find ideas for the solution to this conflict and to take any useful conclusions beyond the bounds of the internet?
49. Soren replied:-
I certainly am willing to continue seeking to more deeply understand everything. I am not sure what working with you and others on a.r.b.n. would comprise; and I very much question what kind of actions you have in mind that would see useful conclusions taken beyond the bounds of the Internet. It seems to me that your statement, while very ambitious and noble-sounding, is somewhat out of touch with reality.
Exactly how do you propose to exert influence on the various organizations involved?
50. Paddy pleaded:-
I’m not sure. This is why I’m asking for suggestions and co-operation from people of goodwill on this newsgroup. I’m not trying to do it all on my own, y’know.
51. Soren continued:-
I imagine that you have in mind, somehow, again, something like the peace movement (spearheaded by women) which has arisen in N. Ireland in response to the unending bloodshed of the Troubles. Paddy … you are welcome to try to go to Taiseki-ji and gain an audience with Nikken if you like, to discuss your proposal with him, as far as I’m concerned. Good luck.
52. Paddy replied:-
Well, thanks for one good suggestion.
53. Soren continued:-
I supposed it might seem very ungenerous of me not to eagerly sign off on your noble-sounding proposal, but I cannot in good conscience do so at this time.
54. Paddy exclaimed:
Only “noble-SOUNDING”! Mind you, that could be read as questioning my sincerity.
But sure wasn’t Nichiren himself “very ambitious and noble-sounding and somewhat out of touch with reality” when he touted the idea of kosen-rufu. But hadn’t HE some crazy notion that first it would start with one, then another and then———-?
55. Soren continued:-
What the fundamental difference between you and I seems to be is that you do not seem to believe in (the existence of) the Devil, so to speak, while I do. Every time I see a terrorist planting a bomb in a bus, I see the Devil at work. Every time I see a Chinese soldier beating a Tibetan prisoner, I see the Devil. Whenever I see someone lie to save their own ass, letting someone else take the blame for their own misdeeds, I see the Devil. I see the Devil in Cromwell and his brutal oppression of the Irish people. I see the Devil in such events whether it is in the actions of a NS priest or a Soka Gakkai leader. While it is true that Cromwell (and you and I) had the Buddha nature, what we see in such actions is not a Buddha but a Devil.
56. Paddy declared:-
I don’t see any point in blaming some fantasy character called the Devil for the misdeeds of my fellow humans. These deeds are wrong, not because they are the work of this other-world Devil, but because they cause unnecessary suffering to people. The real culprits are the misguided “idealists” who can see only their own point of view and incite the weak and thoughtless to carry out activities calculated to enforce that view.
57. Soren declared:-
A person may be under the influence of a Devil and later emerge from that influence, manifesting a different potential. That person’s Life is therefore said by Buddhism to be respect-worthy, but Buddhism does not say that we should not resist with all our might the workings of the devil that motivates such evil deeds. This resistance is not a simulation or an abstract exercise but real actions in the real world. I know that you do not see this point, and are not likely to anytime soon; and you might well doubt in any case whether it has anything to do with my actions on this nwsgrp. Nevertheless, since you have taken the time to write and respond to my messages, I have tried to point out the basic viewpoint I have on these matters and where it seems to differ from yours.
58. Elizabeth Clark commented:-
Soren A. wrote a comprehensive explanation to Paddy Crean concerning his, Paddy’s, personal problems with the SGI/NST split. Soren covered all Paddy’s concerns completely! It is one of the few articles on here that I printed for future reference. Thanks Soren for taking the time and putting forth such effort to help Paddy understand!
59. Paddy replied:-
I am glad to note that soren a’s views dealing with his perception of my problems with the SGI/NS split have been of value to you. However, the matters which he addressed (and which you apparently perceive as being “personal” to me) were only peripheral to the substantive problem that I raised. This, IMO, should be a matter of concern to all Nichiren Buddhists in this, to quote Mr Ikeda, “age of reconciliation”. The challenge facing us is the search for enlightened and humane means for resolving conflicts and confrontations arising out of religious differences and out of disagreements about how best to propagate Buddhism. My impression is that our friend soren a’s answer was “NO WAY. The war must go on.” Is this what you regard as the “complete” answer? I’m sorry, but he did not help my understanding of this issue at all!
Yours in friendship
Peace through Kosen-rufu; Kosen-rufu through Democracy; Democracy through Trust; Trust through Friendship.
60. Paddy concluded:-
What I have been trying to do is to use this Information Highway to advise participants of the need to take some action to heal the rift in this Buddhism and to arouse some enthusiasm for the idea.
To my great disappointment the response has been completely underwhelming. My next move is to take Nichiren Daishonin’s guidance when he said: “If after three attempts your advice is still unheeded, leave that country”. I shall have to tout my strange ideas somewhere else.
Happy orchid-growing, dear Soren.
Yours in friendship
Peace through Kosen-rufu; Kosen-rufu through Democracy; Democracy through Trust; Trust through Friendship.
End of Dialogue
Following these exchanges I continued my practice with a heavy heart and began questioning in my own mind the whole basis of the SGI’s existence, embroiled as it was in endless bitterness and recrimination between it and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.
On the 28th of April 1996 I wrote to SGI President Ikeda as follows:-
“The purpose of my writing to you is that I am concerned that the lack of peace among the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who were formerly united under Nichiren Shoshu and who are now divided into two camps, namely SGI and Nichiren Shoshu, will seriously retard the achievement of Kosen-rufu. Because of this concern and my mission of involvement in the promotion of peace in conflict situations, I have applied the Strategy of the Lotus Sutra for some time in an effort to see how some amicable resolution of this particular conflict may be brought about.
“I have been told that Soka Gakkai has been unsuccessful in seeking dialogue with Nichiren Shoshu, because of the unwillingness of the priesthood. In this case, I am wondering if the time has now come for new strategies to be applied towards this end. In cases where dialogue is refused it can be for many reasons. These may include (1) fear
that one’s position is not correctly understood by the other side, (2) fear of direct confrontation and defeat, (3) a distorted view of or an unwillingness to accept the truth of the situation and (4) fear of the consequences of facing the truth.
“In any of these circumstances, the prospect of achieving direct dialogue or open public debate is extremely doubtful. It is when such a road-block to conflict-resolution is encountered that the services of a mediator or a facilitator are required. However, before such services can be called into being each party must have the wish to see the conflict resolved, if not to their total satisfaction at least to a degree that is acceptable for honourable co-existence. The level of satisfaction that can be achieved can only be known by engaging in the process of peace-building. This involves a painstaking and honest joint identification and investigation of the issues involved.
“My mission in this case is to encourage both SGI and Nichiren Shoshu to consider the possibility of advancing towards a willingness to engage in such a process. When a willingness is found the next step could be for each side to nominate non-negotiating representatives. The role of these representatives would be to exchange observations, through a mediator, with a view to designing a peace process which would be submitted for the mutual agreement of the two sides.
“Fortunately we in Ireland have remained loyal to SGI and have thus been spared the pain of separation among our small membership, there being no danto movement here. I feel therefore that there is no great impediment to my addressing both sides in a spirit of mediation. In pursuit of my chosen mission I am writing a letter of similar character to this one to High Priest Nikken.
“Please let me know if this intervention is in any way helpful”
I received no acknowledgement of receipt of either this letter or the one in similar vein I sent to High Priest Nikken. Rightly or wrongly I concluded that they had never got past the “gatekeepers” who filter all correspondence to their principals and were filed away without notice.
I let the matter rest and continued my practice as a Bodhisatva of the Earth even though I and all other members of SGI were “excommunicated” by the priesthood. Meanwhile the dispute raged on at top level about gohonzon powers and other disagreements. Fortunately most SGI members practised assiduously unaware of the crisis within Nichiren Buddhism.
I became engrossed in my voluntary work at Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. In 1997 Angela and I entertained as a guest in our home Professor Johan Galtung, the principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies and friend of SGI President Ikeda.
The book referred to above, Choose Peace, is collaboration between SGI President Ikeda and Johan Galtung and is an account of a dialogue between them.
I met Prof. Galtung again at the Conflict and Peace Journalism Summer School which took place at Taplow Court in Buckinghamshire, UK, over the week of August 25-29 1997. Participants comprised journalists, media academics and students from Europe, Africa, Asia and the U.S. who divided their time between lectures, workshops and debate.
Perhaps exceptionally, I was acutely concerned about the disconnect between SGI’s championing of peace studies and the absence of peace in our own Buddhist environment. I felt I would be living a lie if I remained a member of SGI while continuing as a member of Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. And so I resigned from SGI and stopped my practice.
Humanist Association of Ireland
I joined the Humanist Association of Ireland in the hope that I could pursue my interest in humanistic endeavours in the secular world. I found reasonable satisfaction in that organisation even though there were times that I thought there was too much criticism of religion in justification of its rejection.
Return to SGI
After an absence of about fifteen years I have reconnected with SGI-Ireland and have resumed my practice to the Gohonzon. Why now?
I got a notion to Google “faith” and found the following:-
“Faith and spirituality provide a sense of purpose, allow people to connect to something greater than themselves, and enable us to release control. These abstract gains then translate into concrete ones: an expansion of social networks and improved health. All of these points are essential to stress reduction.”
“Through faith, an individual can discover what is most important to them. Being able to recognize what matters most allows people to focus their energy and attention on those issues, and not waste time on less important concerns. By establishing what matters most, people often discover their sense of purpose: a goal to work towards or their reason for existing.
“Once people have discovered their sense of purpose, they often learn that there are others who share these same goals or reasons for existing. They learn that what matters to them also matters to others, and this establishes a sense of connection. For some this sense of connection can lead to greater interaction with others, for example through prayer groups or charity drives. For others, just knowing they are not alone provides a great sense of comfort, inner peace and ultimately, relief from stress.
“A feeling of interconnectedness also allows people to release control. Often, a feeling of responsibility for everything that happens in life is a great burden. Being connected to others and to something greater lets people share the responsibility, and the burden. We realize that we don’t control or bear responsibility for everything, and this can be a great relief. For those of us in high pressure jobs, like pilots, caregivers or police officers, this enables us to share the burden.
“Feeling interconnected leads people to expand their social networks. A shared faith is a building block for relationships. It has been proven that the more close and supportive relationships a person has, the happier they will be. Relationships built on faith are often close and supportive. Faith often brings people together with a common purpose and goal: a desire to adhere to the tenets of a religion. Interestingly, a cycle is created. Not only does faith enable relationships, but those relationships then serve to reinforce and deepen faith.
“Another result of faith is improved health. This includes tangible physical and mental results. With an expanded social network come more opportunities to take part in activities that can improve one’s physical health.”
Paddy is back!
Hey! I thought, “This is what I’ve been missing since I gave up my faith in the Gohonzon. Why not give it another go.”
But how about the difficulty I had about the contradiction between preaching dialogue and being a devotee of a philosophy that seemed to have given up on resolving conflict within its own movement? Had I not thrown the baby out with the bathwater; or to put it another way, the lotus with the muddy pond water?
The answer is yes; but the strategy of the Lotus Sutra is secure enough to survive!
Perhaps I was expecting too much, too soon. After all it took 800 years before there was healing and reconciliation between Ireland and England and 400 years before the World Council of [Christian] Churches was formed!