Rise of the Soka Gakkai

Josei Toda
(1900 - 1958)

by Ryuei
Michael McCormick

Josei Toda would become the second president of the Soka Gakkai. He had been hired as a teacher by Makiguchi in 1920, and showed steadfast loyalty to his mentor until Makiguchi's death in prison in 1944. When Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Shoshu in 1928, so did Toda. Like his mentor, Toda was also going through a difficult period in his life. In 1924 his infant daughter died. His wife died of tuberculosis in 1925. Toda himself contracted tuberculosis and never fully recovered. In 1930, Josei Toda published his mentor's book on value creation under the name Soka Kyoiku Gakkai. When Makiguchi was imprisoned for refusing the enshrine the Ise Shrine talisman, so was Toda. Toda had actually become a very successful businessman, but he willingly gave up his wealth and his freedom in order to stand by Makiguchi and remain faithful to the teachings of Nichiren Shonin as he understood them. In prison, Toda read the Lotus Sutra and chanted Odaimoku. He later testified that upon chanting two million Odaimoku he had a mystical experience in which he felt as though he were present at the Ceremony in the Air.

Toda was released from prison in 1945 and he immediately set to work trying to rebuild his life and also the Soka Gakkai. He dropped Kyoiku, or Education, from the name of the organization because he had decided to shift the focus from education to religion and open it up to a broader membership. When he began a lecture series on the Lotus Sutra at Taisekiji on January 1, 1946 there were only three other members. By May 1 there were enough members to create a board of directors, which named him the chairman. Until 1950, however, Toda directed most of his efforts to various business ventures, but none of them succeeded in the ruins of post-war Japan. In the end, Toda was left bankrupt and he resigned as chairman of the Soka Gakkai in November of 1950. Shuhei Yajima took his place as chairman. After a period of self-reflection, Toda concluded that his business failures were karmic retribution for not making the success of the Soka Gakkai his main priority. Up to that point, the Soka Gakkai had been growing at the relatively slow pace of 95 families per month, causing Toda to remark, "At this rate, we can reach an enormous number in ten thousand years." (Murata, p.94) Toda determined to turn around the slow pace of Soka Gakkai's growth by taking charge personally. On May 3, 1951, he finally agreed to be inaugurated as the second president of the Soka Gakkai and he made the following vow, "I intend to convert 750,000 families before I die. If this is not achieved by the time of my death, don't hold a funeral service for me but throw my ashes into the sea off Shinagawa." (Murata, p.94)

On May 20, 1951, Nissho, the sixty-fourth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, transcribed and conferred a gohonzon to the Soka Gakkai at the request of Toda. The gohonzon was inscribed with the dedication: "For the achievement of the wide spread of the Great Dharma through compassionate propagation." (SGI-USA, p.126) At that time the Soka Gakkai had an agreement with the Nichiren Shoshu that it would 1) ensure that all members were registered with a local Nichiren Shoshu temple, 2) strictly observe the doctrines of Nichiren Shoshu, and 3) protect the Three Treasures as defined by the Nichiren Shoshu. From that point on, the Soka Gakkai began its shakubuku campaign. Shakubuku was a Buddhist term that literally means "to break and subdue." It originally referred to the breaking and subduing of false views by a teacher of the Dharma. Now it meant aggressive proselytization. Kosen rufu was taught to be the ultimate goal of shakubuku. Kosen rufu is a phrase from the Lotus Sutra which means "to widely declare and spread [the Dharma]." For Toda, kosen rufu meant the conversion of the Japanese nation and the establishment of a national Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching (Jap. honmon no kaidan). The Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching was the third of Nichiren's Three Great Secret Dharmas. In the view of Toda and the Nichiren Shoshu, the Precept Platform of the Essential Teaching was meant to be an actual place sponsored by the government just as the previous precept platforms of the Nara schools and Mt. Hiei had been. This precept platform, however, would not represent the upholding of the monastic precepts of the Hinayana or Mahayana - it would represent Japan's acceptance of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism as the new state religion. In his inaugural address as the new president of the Soka Gakkai, Toda declared:
There are some who think that kosen rufu would be achieved if we had the emperor accept a gohonzon and had him issue a rescript. This is an utterly foolish notion. Kosen rufu of today can be attained only when all of you take on evil religions and convert everyone in the country and let him accept a gohonzon. This is the only way we can establish the honmon no kaidan. (Murata, p.104)
This speech shows that Toda no longer believed that religion would be imposed from the top down, as in Japan's past. Toda believed that Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism would become the national religion through a democratic process - after the mass conversion of Japan through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai. This convergence of politics and Buddhism was termed obutsu myogo. Obtusu myogo would be the practical political outcome of kosen rufu in Japan. In a speech on March 27, 1955, Toda made this very clear:
When kosen rufu is completed or in the process of being carried out, everyone, be he in business, journalism, the film world, or government - whether he is a business executive or a janitor - everyone realizes the worth of gohonzon. There will be Diet members from among these people, and there will be a petition for building the honmon no kaidan, and it will be approved by the Diet, and then the emperor will realize the great divine benefit of the gohonzon. Then kosen rufu will have been achieved. (Murata, p.113)
Toda organized his Young Men and Young Women's Divisions like military units and sent them out to convert others and to debate with the leaders of other religions - even to the point of demanding written apologies from the losers of such debates. On October 31, 1954, a massive demonstration of thousands of young Soka Gakkai members gathered at Taisekiji. Like a commanding general, Toda reviewed his "troops" from horseback and made the following address:
In our attempt at kosen rufu, we are without an ally. We must consider all religions our enemies, and we must destroy them. Ladies and gentlemen, it is obvious that the road ahead is full of obstacles. Therefore, you must worship the gohonzon, take the Soka Gakkai spirit to your heart, and cultivate the strength of youth. I expect you to rise to the occasion to meet the many challenges that lie ahead. (Murata, p. 100)
The militancy of Soka Gakkai's shakubuku campaign during Toda's presidency was intense, unrelenting, and sometimes overzealous. In his book The Soka Gakkai and Mass Society, James W. White describes how shakubuku was conducted in those years:
Until the early 1960's the literal translation of shakubuku, "to break and flatten," was a reasonably accurate description of the proselyting process. On occasion Gakkai members would surround a home and make noise until one family member agreed to join. Or they would belabor a mark with argument and exhortation for hours on end. Sometimes threats of divine punishment were used: dire injuries and calamities might be predicted as the cost of resistance to the True Religion; a child's illness or death might be traced to the parents' heretical beliefs. In such instances the "fear of punishment [instilled] in a mind weakened and made receptive by hours of pressure" could lead to the collapse of the subject's critical faculties and intellectual defenses, and to his acquiescing in the demands of the proselyters. (White, p.82)
Once someone joined the Soka Gakkai, they would then have to get rid of any items in their homes related to other religions. This often included the family ancestral tablets which would infuriate those members of the family who were not themselves converts. At times, overzealous Soka Gakkai members would even remove these items against the wishes of the new convert and their families. Finally, Toda gave new instructions that new members must be given time to make the decision to remove objects related to other religions on their own before they can receive a gohonzon. Still, the practice of removing all items of other religions even against the wishes of family members who had not converted contributed to the bad reputation of the Soka Gakkai among many Japanese.

Though a formal political party would not be created until the next decade, the Soka Gakkai did begin to run candidates for elections at different levels of government starting in the mid-50's. They began with the successful campaigns of 55 Soka Gakkai members for ward assemblymen and city council positions in and around Tokyo in 1955. In 1956, they entered the national stage by winning three seats in the House of Councilors. They would win even more seats in 1958 on both the local and national levels of government. In light of Toda's stated goal of converting Japan to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and establishing a national kaidan, the Soka Gakkai's political victories were viewed as alarming by many Japanese.

Conflicts with the Nichiren Shoshu, however, began almost from the very start with the Ogasawara Incident. In April 1952, the Nichiren Shoshu held a four day celebration at Taisekiji to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Nichiren Shonin's proclamation of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The first two days of the celebration were managed by the Hokkeko, the traditional lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu. The last two days of the celebration were managed by the Soka Gakkai. At the celebration, there were 4,000 members of the Soka Gakkai present, as compared to the 2,500 members of the Hokkeko. During the celebration, Toda learned that a priest named Jimon Ogasawara was present. During the war years, Ogasawara had been instrumental in pushing the Nichiren Shoshu into its compromises with the Imperialist government. Outraged, Toda sent 47 members of the Youth Division (perhaps a deliberate reference to the story of the 47 Ronin?), including Daisaku Ikeda, to track Ogasawara down so that he could confront him. The Youth Division members succeeded and found him at a priest's lodging house drinking with friends. Toda confronted him and demanded an apology for his actions during the war. Actions which Toda felt had resulted in the death of Makiguchi. Toda apparently admitted in an interview with Kiyoaki Murata that he had even struck Ogasawara during the confrontation. Since Ogaswara refused to apologize or admit to any wrongdoing he was stripped to his underwear by the Youth Division and carried to the grave of Makiguchi where he was forced to sign an apology. In the months that followed, Toda realized that his actions and the actions of the Youth Division had jeopardized the relationship between the Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai. Eventually Toda relented and apologized to the High Priest. Ogasawara tried to file lawsuits against both Toda and even the High Priest who had demanded that he withdraw his suit against Toda who had apologized. Public opinion then swung against Ogasawara, and he ultimately dropped his lawsuits and also apologized to the High Priest.

The breach between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood seemed to be healed. The Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu then enjoyed a period of mutual support and cooperation beginning with the publishing of a collection of Nichiren's writings entitled the Gosho Zenshu in 1952 under the auspices of Nichiko Hori, the retired fifty-ninth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu. By the end of the decade, the Soka Gakkai had even raised enough money to fund the renovation of Taisekiji including the construction of the Grand Lecture Hall in 1958. Toda, however, was still wary of the priesthood, as evidenced in the following excerpt from a 1954 speech at a temple dedication:
It is our obligation to conduct shakubuku and serve the temple. Now that we have a new temple here, I want you to take good care of it. You see to it that the priest here doesn't starve... But you must not allow the priest to swagger. [Priests] have always had a bad habit. They have the bad habit of making use of parishioners as though the lay people were their retainers or servants. You must never allow this to happen in Takasaki. If the priests are officers, we are the soldiers. In the big war of shakubuku, the soldiers can't sit and watch when the officers don't move. They must move past the officers to fight... (Murata, p.95)
The Ogasawara scandal, the aggressive proselytization tactics, military style organization, political ambitions, and the Soka Gakkai's intolerance towards all other religions tarnished its reputation in the eyes of the Japanese media and many in the general public. Nevertheless, Toda's dream of the conversion of 750,000 families was reported to have been met in 1957. One reason for the Soka Gakkai's success may have been the promise of material benefits through the simple practice of chanting daimoku to the gohonzon. Toda described the Daigohonzon as a kind of "happiness machine":
Suppose a machine which never fails to make everyone happy were built by the power of science or by medicine...Such a machine, I think, could be sold at a very high price. Don't you agree? If you used it wisely, you could be sure to become happy and build up a terrific company. You could make a lot of money. You could sell such machines for ¥100,000 apiece.

But Western science has not yet produced such a machine. It cannot be made. Still, such a machine has been in existence in this country, Japan, since seven hundred years ago. This is the Daigohonzon. [Nichiren] Daishonin made this machine for us and gave it to us common people. He told us: "Use [the machine] freely. It won't cost you any money." And yet, people of today don't want to use it because they don't understand the explanation that the Daigohonzon is such a splendid machine. (Murata, p. 107)
Toda was also not speaking metaphorically about material benefits. For Toda, true faith should bring rewards in terms of health and wealth, as is made clear in another talk:
When I meet you, I don't ask: "Are you keeping faith?" The reason is that I take your shakubuku for granted. What I really want to ask you is how your business is, whether you are making money, and if you are healthy. Only when all of you receive divine benefits do I feel happy. A person who says "I keep faith; I conduct shakubuku" when he is poor - I don't consider him my pupil. Your faith has only one purpose: to improve your business and family life. Those who talk about "faith" and do not attend to their business are sacrilegious. Business is a service to the community. I will expel those of you who do nothing but shakubuku without engaging in business. (Murata, pp.107-8)
Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Shonin would probably have been startled to hear that the sole purpose of faith is to improve business and family life. In fact, both of them taught that faith in the Wonderful Dharma should transcend worldly considerations. Nevertheless, Toda taught a version of Buddhism that emphasized worldly success above all. He even defines worldly success solely in terms of health and wealth. In yet another talk, Toda again discusses this in terms of the gohonzon as a happiness machine as well as bringing in his idea of having a powerful life force. Needless to say, neither Shakyamuni Buddha, nor Nichiren Shonin ever spoke in terms of "happiness machines" or life force for material gain and comfort.
How can we live happily in this world and enjoy life? If anyone says he enjoys life without being rich and even when he is sick - he is a liar. We've got to have money and physical vigor, and underneath all we need is life force. This we cannot get by theorizing or mere efforts as such. You can't get it unless you worship a gohonzon...It may be irreverent to use this figure of speech, but a gohonzon is a machine that makes you happy. How to use this machine? You conduct five sittings of prayer in the morning and three sittings in the evening and shakubuku ten people. Let's make money and build health and enjoy life to our hearts' content before we die! (Murata, p.108)
Toda, however, seemed to have been sincerely convinced that he was providing the answer to the suffering of the Japanese people. In fact, he had himself laid his life on the line for his convictions during the war. In his talks, he would even offer to let people beat him up if he turned out to be wrong.
If you do as I tell you, and if things don't work out as you want by the time I come to Niigata next time, then you may come up here and beat me and kick me as much as you want. With this promise, I conclude my talk for tonight. (Murata, p.110)
Toda's salesmanship and fiery rhetoric seemed to work. When he died in 1958, the Soka Gakkai had surpassed the membership goal that he had set for it and was reported to be 1,050,000 families.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2001.

More articles by Ryuei:
Life of Nikko
Life of Nichiren
The Fuji Lineage

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