RISSHŌ KŌSEIKAI TIMELINE
1889 (December 25): Naganuma Myōkō was born as Naganuma Masa in Saitama.
1906 (November 15): Niwano Nikkyō was born as Niwano Shikazō in Suganuma, Niigata.
1925: Niwano Nikkyō left his home village for Tokyo. There he met Ishihara Yoshitarō, who introduced him to the study of divination techniques.
1932: Niwano became an apprentice of Tsunaki Umeno, a shamaness devoted to Tengu Fūdō.
1934: Niwano joined Reyūkai.
1938 (March 5): Niwano and Naganuma left Reiyūkai to found Dai Nippon Risshō Kōseikai. They changed their names in Nikkyō and Myōkō.
1938 (March 20): Niwano Nichikō was born as Niwano Kōichi.
1940: The movement was formally registered under the Religious Organisations Law (Shūkyō dantai hō).
1942: The first headquarters in Suginami were completed.
1943: Niwano and Naganuma were arrested by Tokyo Metropolitan Police and interrogated about their proselytization activities.
1947: Risshō Kōseikai founded its first church outside Tokyo metropolitan area, in Ibaraki prefecture.
1949: The movement opened a day care centre, Kōsei Ikujien (Kōsei Nursery).
1951: Risshō Kōseikai was one of the founding members of the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan (Shinshūkyō Dantai Rengōkai, in short Shinshūren). The following year the federation was admitted to the Japanese Association for Religions Organisation (Nisshūren, at present known as JAORO).
1952 (February 4): NHK radio reported the case of the suicide of a housewife from the village of Zōshiki and her son. Risshō Kōseikai was accused of having instigated the woman to commit suicide through divination (Zōshiki jiken).
1952: Kōsei Byōin (Kōsei General Hospital) was founded in Suginami.
1954: The organisation opened a library, Kōsei Toshokan. In the same year, Kōsei Ikujien was expanded with the addition of middle and high education facilities and reconstituted as Kōsei Gakuen (Kōsei School Complex).
1956 (January 26): The Yomiuri shinbun reported the accusation of illegal land purchase against Risshō Kōseikai. It was the beginning of a media campaign against the movement known as the “Yomiuri incident” (Yomiuri jiken).
1956 (April 30): Niwano was summoned to the House of Representatives to respond to accusations that Risshō Kōseikai committed human rights violations through its proselytization activities.
1956 (June): Risshō Kōseikai began the publication of the daily newspaper, Kōsei Shinbun.
1957 (September 10): Naganuma Myōkō died at the age of 67.
1958 (January): In the Kōsei shinbun , Niwano announced the Age of the Manifestation of Truth, inaugurating a phase of doctrinal systematization and organisational consolidation.
1958 (June): Niwano’s first trip to Brazil marked the beginning of Risshō Kōseikai’s missionary activities outside Japan.
1960: Risshō Kōseikai underwent organisational reforms with the implementation of the “national block system” (zenkoku burokku seido) and the introduction of a “system of local units” (shikuchōsō tan’i). The name of the organisation was changed to include the character 佼 from the name of Myōkō. The leadership announced that Niwano’s eldest son, Kōichi, would succeed him as the next president of Kōseikai. He assumed the sacred name of Nichikō in 1970.
1963: Niwano took part in an international mission for nuclear disarmament together with a delegation of eighteen Japanese religious leaders.
1964 (May): The Great Sacred Hall was completed.
1964(November): Niwano visited India at the invitation of the Maha Bodhi Society.
1965 (September): Pope Paul VI invited Niwano to attend the Second Vatican Council.
1966: The organisation founded its publishing company, Kōsei Shuppansha (Kōsei Publishing).
1968: Kōseikai opened a nursing school, Kōsei Kango Senmon Gakkō.
1968: Niwano attended the Conference for Peace organised by the American Unitarian Church.
1969 (April): Risshō Kōseikai launched the Brighter Society Movement.
1969 (July): Kōseikai joined the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF).
1970: A second large-scale ceremonial hall, called the Fumonkan, “Hall of the Open Gate,” was completed in the vicinity of the headquarters and the Daiseidō.
1970 (October): The first World Religion and Peace Conference (WRPC) was held in Kyoto.
1974: The Youth Division initiated the “Donate a Meal Campaign” (Ichijiki sasageru undō), later adopted by the entire organisation.
1974: The Second Conference for Religion and Peace took place in Louvain, Belgium.
1978: Niwano announced the beginning of a new phase labelled “Age of Unlimited Compassion.”
1978: Risshō Kōseikai instituted the Niwano Peace Foundation.
1979: Risshō Kōseikai began its cooperation with Unicef on the occasion of the International Year of the Child.
1984 (December): The movement launched the “Campaign for Sharing Blankets with Africa.”
1991 (November 15): Niwano Nikkyō handed over the presidency to his eldest son Nichikō
1994: Niwano Nichikō appointed his eldest daughter Kōshō as the next president of the organisation.
1995: The World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) was granted the status of consultative NGO by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.
1999: Kōseikai reformed the configuration of its social activities by introducing the position of “the person responsible for social welfare” (shakai fukushi tantōsha) in its local churches.
1999 (October 4): Niwano Nikkyō died at the age of ninety-two.
2009: The Social Contribution Group (Shakai Kōken Gurūpu) within Risshō Kōseikai presented a series of measures in response to the issue of the aging society (Ten Year Plan for social welfare initiatives in a super-aging society).
2011 (March): In the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident that struck north-east Japan on March 11, 2011, Kōseikai launched a series of disaster relief activities via the “United in One Heart Project” (Kokoro wa hitotsu ni purojekuto).
Risshō Kōseikai is a lay Buddhist organisation primarily focused on the Lotus Sutra (Hokekyō). Originally emerging within the tradition of Nichiren Buddhism, in its subsequent development the movement progressively distanced itself from the Nichiren School. It was founded in 1938 by Niwano Nikkyō (1906-1999, [Image at right] born Niwano Shikazō) and Naganuma Myōkō (1889-1957, born Naganuma Masa).The two founders jointly led the organisation until the death of Naganuma in 1957, when Niwano assumed sole leadership of Kōseikai. In 1991, he resigned from his position and handed the presidency to his eldest son, Niwano Nichikō (1938-, born Niwano Kōichi). Niwano Kōshō (1968-) the eldest of Nichikō’s four daughters, has been chosen to succeed her father as the third president of the organisation.
Niwano Nikkyō was born in Suganuma, a small rural village in Niigata prefecture, from a modest family affiliated to Sōtō Zen Buddhism. After working some years on the farm owned by his family, he decided to leave to seek his fortune in Tokyo, where he arrived only a couple of days before the Great Kantō Earthquake on September, 1923. Forced by the circumstances to return to his family, he spent two more years in his home village, also in order to take care of his sick mother. After her death in 1925, he left again for Tokyo where he engaged in several jobs before finding employment in the charcoal trade (Niwano 1978:36-47).
His employer, Ishihara Yoshitarō, was a member of Wagakuni Shintoku-kai, an organisation focused on the study and practice of the Chinese divination techniques known as the rokuryō and shichinin systems (Guthrie 1988:19; Matsuno 1984:439). It was through Ishihara that Niwano originally came in contact with fortune-telling. Although initially sceptical, he gradually became interested in the subject and learnt various techniques (Niwano 1978:48-50).
In 1926, he was conscripted into the Navy. The training period and the three years of service represented a crucial experience for him, according to his autobiography (Niwano 1978:51-63). Although initially embarrassed by his lack of education, he recounts how he succeeded in being acknowledged for his skills, hard work and enthusiasm; and at the end of the training managed to get one of the best rankings of his cohort. In general, the account of Niwano’s military experience portrays the image of a substantially ordinary man, who through his dedication and efforts managed to accomplish outstanding results. This represents a recurrent theme in his narrative as a religious leader, as well as in the ones of other founders of new religious movements (e.g. Agonshū, Sōka Gakkai. See Reader 1988 McLaughlin 2009). A further outcome of the military experience, according to Niwano, was the reinforcement of his philosophy of non-violence, which would become an integral component of his religious leader’s persona.
After being discharged, he returned to his former master, who in the meantime had sold the charcoal business and opened a pickles (tsukemono) shop. Niwano later married a cousin from his home village, and started his own pickles-making business in Nakano, Tokyo. They had a daughter, but shortly after birth she developed a serious ear infection. Niwano was advised to consult Tsunaki Umeno, a shamaness devoted to the worship of Tengu Fudō (a syncretic figure combining the Buddhist guardian figure Fudō with the mountain crow demon tengu from the folk religious tradition), Shugendō practices, elements of the esoteric Buddhist tradition and faith healing. The rapid improvement of his daughter’s health encouraged him to start an apprenticeship under the shamaness until he rose to the position of assistant and began to perform healing rituals himself. The shamaness offered to open a centre for ascetic practices together with Niwano, but he eventually refused. In the meantime, he had begun to study oenomancy, a form of divination based on the interpretation of a person’s name (Niwano 1978:74).
In 1934, Niwano was visited by a missionary from Reiyūkai, who warned him that he would experience some misfortune if he failed to convert to the movement. Reiyūkai is a lay Buddhist organisation founded in 1925 by Kubo Kakutarō and Kotani Kimi, his sister-in-law. The movement is rooted in the Nichiren tradition, and focuses in particular on ancestor veneration, claiming that inadequate performance of memorial rites represents the main root of personal and social problems. Reiyūkai’s main religious innovation was to transform ancestor veneration, traditionally overseen by ordained clerics (usually Buddhist priests), into an individual act carried out by ordinary people. It was especially successful in providing urban migrants, who had lost contact with their local temples, with the means to perform such memorial rites. Ancestor veneration was combined with ascetic practices, elements of faith-healing and spirit mediumship (Hardacre 1984).
Shortly after the visit, Niwano’s second daughter fell ill and he decided to join Reiyūkai. Under the guidance of the district leader Arai Sukenobu, Niwano became a faithful member, and his enthusiasm further grew when both his daughters were healed. In particular, he was enthusiast about Arai’s lectures on the Lotus Sutra. He found that, compared to the divination techniques and ascetic practices he had learnt until that point, the teaching of the Lotus Sutra provided a more coherent system consistent with reason (Matsuno 1985:43). Niwano’s earnest dedication to readings of the sutra and missionary activities caused his pickles business to suffer, until he decided to abandon it in favour of an occupation which would leave him more time to devote to religious practice and that would also put him in contact with as many people as possible (Niwano 1978:81). He opened a milk shop, and made use of his profession to conduct missionary activities, by spreading the teachings of Reiyūkai among his customers. This is also how he came in contact with Naganuma Myōkō.
The life history of Naganuma Myōkō [Image at right] presents several commonalities with the narratives of other female founders of new religious movements (e.g. Tenrikyō, Ōmoto). It reproduces a pattern of suffering and misfortunes (poverty, illnesses, social exclusion) culminating in an experience of divine revelation, which results in a spiritual awakening accompanied by a mission to spread the truth among humankind. Born in an impoverished samurai family, Naganuma lost her mother at the age of six and had to start working to earn a livelihood. She was later adopted by an older sister, who was a zealous follower of Tenrikyō and introduced her to the teachings of the movement. At the age of sixteen, she left for Tokyo and found employment in an ammunition factory. The tough working conditions severely affected her health. Returning to her home village, she married a man who indulged in women and drinking and who mistreated her. They had only one daughter, who died very young. After divorcing her husband, she left on her own for Tokyo, where she remarried and opened an ice and sweet potato shop with her second husband (Inoue 1996:523-524; Kisala 1999:102; Matsuno 1985:439-40).
The years of hardships had left her with serious health problems. By the time she met Niwano she had already sought comfort in various religions, since she could not afford conventional medical treatments, but she had failed to obtain any significant results. Niwano, who in the meantime had been promoted to the position of vice-branch leader of the Arai branch of Reiyūkai, persuaded her to convert to the movement. Although at the beginning Naganuma was not particularly committed, after Niwano had her ancestor registered at the regional headquarters and her health condition improved, she became a fervent member devoted wholeheartedly to religious practice and missionary activities (Niwano 1968:92-94). Within Reiyūkai, she found she possessed spiritual powers and underwent a special training (called hatsuon ) to increase her spiritual ability to fall into trance and to be possessed by spirits. As Naganuma developed her shamanistic abilities, Niwano devoted himself to improving his skills as the interpreter of the revelations received by Myōkō. Within Reiyūkai, thus, the two engaged in a paired activity that combined divine messages and their interpretation, a functional division of roles that would be later reproduced in Risshō Kōseikai (Kisala 1999:102-04; Morioka 1979:245).
In 1938, Niwano and Naganuma decided to abandon Reiyūkai to start their own moment. The decision was caused by the pressure exercised by the leadership of Reiyūkai regarding proselytization activities, together with doctrinal clashes within the organisation. Reiyūkai incorporated two main perspectives: the founder Kubo Kakutarō regarded the Lotus Sutra as the primary doctrinal focus, and argued that its study, recitation and propagation should represent the core of religious practice; the co-founder Kotani Kimi, instead, placed more emphasis on the veneration of ancestors, and believed that memorial rites should have priority over the study of the sutra. Niwano shared with his branch leader Arai a strong belief in the centrality of the Lotus Sutra, and, as the tension within the movements grew (in parallel with Kotani’s hostility towards the teaching of the Lotus Sutra), he decided to leave the movement together with Naganuma and thirty more members.
The new organisation was initially established as Dai Nippon Risshō Kōseikai (Great Japanese Society to Establish Righteousness and Foster Fellowship), a title probably influenced by the increasingly nationalistic atmosphere of the 1930s. On founding the movement Niwano and Naganuma [Image at right] adopted their new names, as a sign of absolute dedication to their religious mission. Initially, the headquarters were established on the first floor of Niwano’s milk shop, and then in 1942 moved to their present location in Suginami, Tokyo.
In its early years, Kōseikai presented a rather eclectic doctrine, a recurrent feature in Japanese new religious movements. The newly founded movement incorporated the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and of Nichiren combined with ancestor veneration, divination techniques, elements of faith-healing, ascetic practices and spirit possession. Both Naganuma and Niwano contributed to enrich this heterogeneous landscape through their past training and experience.
In this first stage, faith-healing and counselling activities played a pivotal role. The majority of those approaching the movement in this phase were people suffering from serious illnesses who could not afford conventional medical treatment. Niwano would later explain the strong reliance on faith-healing and spiritual guidance which characterised the first years of the life of Kōseikai as a “practical approach” dictated by the urgency of the times. In a context marked by war, poverty, and increasingly serious threats to people’s health, they felt the responsibility to respond to the “pressing needs” of the time.” Helping sick people in particular was considered as a divine mission (Niwano 1978:95-99). This concept was used to justify the initial lack of interest in doctrinal development, with Niwano arguing that the harsh time that Japanese people were experiencing did not leave space for “lengthy, careful doctrinal presentations,” but called instead for practical interventions directed at relieving suffering. Only after the condition of immediate need was resolved, would people be ready to receive the Law (Niwano 1978:106-07).
In 1940, the movement was formally registered under the Religious Organisations Law (Shūkyō dantai hō). This period was marked by an increasingly strict surveillance on religious activities. Religious organisations which failed to conform to the orthodoxy fostered by the government faced the risk of state repression. The risk was stronger for new religions, which because of their marginal status were particular targets of state control. By comparison with other religious movements, which suffered severe government persecution (e.g. Ōmoto, see Stalker 2008), Risshō Kōseikai can be said to have not experienced major conflicts with the authorities, apart from a minor incident in 1943, when Niwano and Naganuma were arrested under the Peace Preservation Law (Chian iji hō). They were accused of “confusing people’s minds” with Myōkō’s spiritual guidance (Niwano 1978:116), interrogated and released after two and three weeks respectively.
Although the incident caused a decline in membership, Risshō Kōseikai managed to overcome it relatively unscathed. However, the episode still had some effects on the movement. Firstly, it strengthened the leadership’s perception of Niwano’s family as a hindrance to his development as a religious leader. In 1944, he separated again from his wife and children in order to devote himself exclusively to religious practice and the study of the Lotus Sutra . This time, they remained separated for ten years. Secondly, some of the chapter leaders began to question Naganuma’s proselytization methods and her position within the movement, encouraging Niwano to lower her status to that of ordinary member. He refused, however, defending her role as co-founder and vice-president (Niwano 1978:120).
In this first stage, Risshō Kōseikai was structured around a dual-leadership balance or “dual-sensei system” (Morioka 1994:304), based on a functional division of roles between the founders. Naganuma performed spirit possessions and faith-healing, while Niwano devoted himself to the study of divination techniques and Buddhist teachings, and used them to interpret Naganuma’s visions. However, since the beginning this structure harboured the potential for conflict between the two leaders, in particular due to Niwano’s refusal to convey any revelation that was in contrast with the Lotus (Niwano 1978:134).
Moreover, in time it gradually led to an unbalanced leadership structure, mainly due to Naganuma’s charisma. She came to be revered as a living Buddha (Inoue 1996:525; Niwano 1978:125), and successfully attracted new members through her divine revelations and the performance of faith-healing. A further reason behind Myōkō’s success among Kōseikai members was her tendency to convey the teachings in extremely simple terms. In contrast with Niwano, whose doctrinal explanations abundantly employed complex Buddhist notions, Naganuma delivered down-to-earth talks based on her personal experience as a woman. She had encountered several misfortunes and thus deeply understood the suffering of the movement’s followers, who were mainly housewives belonging to the lower socio-economic strata of the population (Inoue 1996:525; Morioka 1979:250). By virtue of her personal charisma, she gradually emerged as the central figure of Kōseikai, thus assuming a predominant position compared to Niwano. This power imbalance progressively worsened during the 1950s due to the rapid expansion of the movement and the outbreak of a series of controversies with society and the media.
The end of World War II was followed by a period of rapid expansion of new religious movements in Japan, especially in urban areas. The socio-economical context can be said to have played a major role in fostering this development: Japan had emerged from the war materially and spiritually devastated, and many of those who experienced a condition of impoverishment, illness, social isolation, or anomie sought comfort in religion. New religious movements proved particularly successful in addressing such issues, providing solutions for everyday problems, solidarity networks and an emotional place of belonging to those who had broken ties with their native community.
A further factor that significantly contributed to the growth of these movements was the reform of religious legislation. Firstly, in 1947 religious freedom was legally recognized by the new constitution, and later the Religious Corporation Law (Shūkyō hōjin hō), promulgated in 1951, defined the rights of religious institutions as juridical persons and granted them tax breaks. Parallel to the development of new organisations, existing ones increased their membership and also widened the scope of their activities. Like many other new religions, Risshō Kōseikai experienced a rapid increase in its membership, and established its first churches outside Tokyo metropolitan area.
The startling expansion of new religions, and especially their active involvement in the social and political life of the country, attracted growing criticism from the media. These movements were criticised for their aggressive methods of proselytization, accused of encouraging superstitions and irrational thought, criminal activities (sex scandals, drug abuse, money laundering), financial exploitation of members, and violations of social norms of behaviour (On new religions and media in postwar Japan see Dorman 2012). Risshō Kōseikai had started to attract media attention since the beginning of the 1950s, due to its significant expansion and to its connection with Reiyūkai (which had already faced various scandals and legal charges), and it eventually became involved in a series of controversies culminating in the “ Yomiuri affair.”
On February 4, 1952, an NHK radio program reported the case of the double suicide of a housewife from the village of Zōshiki and her son. Apparently, shortly before her death the woman had come in contact with a member of Kōseikai, who had divined that her son would die once he reached the age of fourteen. The movement was thus deemed responsible for the double suicide and sued by the husband for violation of human rights. In the following years (1953-1954) Risshō Kōseikai received wide media coverage, and from 1954 was also involved in a legal action initiated by Shiraishi Shigeru, a former reporter of the Yomiuri Shinbun who had recently converted to the group. He accused Risshō Kōseikai of violation of the Religious Corporation Law because of the inaccuracy of its teachings and the financial exploitation of members through fortune telling, and he asked for the legal dissolution of the organisation (Morioka 1994:283-85). In the same period, the movement experienced further legal controversies regarding the purchase of a piece of land in the Suginami area, near the headquarters, which led to investigations by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
The charges of illegal purchase can be said to have triggered the so-called Yomiuri affair (Yomiuri jiken), a critical campaign against Risshō Kōseikai launched by the Yomiuri Shinbun , one of the leading Japanese newspapers, on January 26, 1956, with a long article regarding the land purchase issue. During the following months, the newspaper published a significant number of articles addressing Risshō Kōseikai, which focused on two main criticisms. Firstly, it questioned the financial aspects of Risshō Kōseikai. The group was accused of being a bogus religion (inchiki shūkyō) Tthat made a profit out of its members and resorted to all possible means in order to exhort donations, including threats of “divine punishment” (tenbatsu). Secondly, Kōseikai was accused of violation of human rights on the basis of its religious practice and missionary activities, in particular for the use of divination for proselytization purposes and faith-healing practices.
As the legal proceedings and the media attacks went on, the case increasingly assumed a political dimension, with the launch of several investigations by the Diet concerning Risshō Kōseikai’s missionary activities and religious practices. Niwano, together with some representative members, was summoned by the Ministry of Justice to respond to the accusations in front of the House of Representatives (Morioka 1994:292-93; Murō 1979:241).
The parliamentary investigations went on for several months, but eventually found no material evidence of violations of human rights, and also the legal procedures in the Suginami purchase came to an end. The conflict with Shiraishi Shigeru was also approaching a settlement, reached when Kōseikai agreed to the institution of an advisory board to monitor the movement’s activities and discuss the conformity of its teachings to the contents of the Lotus Sutra. Consequently, media interest in Kōseikai progressively weakened, and the Yomiuri significantly reduced its reports in the latter half of 1956 (For a detailed account of the Yomiuri Affair and the charges of these years see Morioka 1994).
The tensions produced by the many challenges Kōseikai faced in these years greatly affected the movement’s internal dynamics. In particular, the incident further aggravated the power imbalance that had emerged in the formerly egalitarian relationship between the two leaders, resulting in an increasing marginalisation of Niwano. The discontent within the leadership eventually found expression in the so-called renpanjō jiken (joint proposal affair). The chapter leaders issued a joint statement attacking Niwano for the lack of firmness shown in his response to the Yomiuri affair and the Shiraishi suit while praising Myōkō (Morioka 1994:303-05; Niwano 1978:153-55).
The episode is representative of a general trend within Kōseikai leadership, leaning toward the concentration of all religious and administrative authority in the person of Myōkō. Niwano’s administrative authority had already been transferred to the new position of Chairman of the Board, and Myōkō’s nephew, Naganuma Motoyuki, was appointed to that role (Morioka 1979:251). The joint proposal sought to name Myōkō as the founder of Kōseikai, and the originator of its teachings, but Niwano refused on the ground that Shakyamuni Buddha was the true source of the movement’s doctrine. Moreover, since he was the one who guided Myōkō toward the teachings, she was to be considered his “child in the Law” (Niwano 1978:156-57). When the attempt to create a Myōkō-centred structure failed, her supporters began preparations to set up an independent movement. Such a development, though, was prevented by a sudden worsening in Naganuma’s health condition, followed by her death in 1957.
The years 1954-1957 marked a threshold in the history of Risshō Kōseikai. In these years, the movement was faced with a number of challenges, including legal charges, media criticism, decline of membership, the threat of legal dissolution and internal instability. However, these trials eventually proved beneficial, in that they triggered a set of radical transformations that allowed Kōseikai to successfully overcome the delicate phase of institutionalisation and to emerge as a consolidated movement with more coherent teachings and a stable organisational configuration (See Morioka 1979, 1989, 1994).
The first step in this sense was the concentration of religious authority in the hands of Niwano, which after Myōkō’s demise came as a forced choice for Kōseikai leadership, and which resolved the power imbalance that had emerged within the movement in the previous years. The reunification of the power structure under Niwano found its major expression in the Manifestation of Truth, a radical doctrinal reform announced in 1958, which brought about a significant rationalisation and systematisation of Kōseikai’s doctrine. The reform responded to Kōseikai’s need to reaffirm its character as a lay Buddhist movement rooted in the Lotus Sutra, as well as to counter accusations of irrationality made by Shiraishi and the Yomiuri Shinbun.
Niwano explained this transition by citing a fundamental concept of Mahayana Buddhism, the notion of “skilful means” (hōben), which refers to the various expedients or “provisional teachings” that can be used to guide people towards the truth. He justified the use of faith-healing, divine revelations and fortune-telling in the early years of Kōseikai as expedients directed at bringing members closer to the truth. The death of Naganuma, which deprived Risshō Kōseikai of “the medium to hear the voice of gods,” was to be interpreted as a sign that the phase of “skilful means” was over, opening a new age focused on the propagation of the ultimate teachings of the Lotus Sutra (Niwano 1978:160-62). This transition was also marked by the establishment of the Eternal Buddha (honbutsu, embodied by a golden statue placed in the Great Sacred Hall in Tokyo) as the gohonzon (true object of faith), replacing the mandala written by Nichiren. The reorganisation of the teaching was accompanied by the launch of a wide range of doctrinal education initiatives, including training seminars addressing young members and the publication of textbooks (Morioka 1979:253; Niwano 1978:162).
As for organisational reforms, in the latter half of the 1950s Risshō Kōseikai had already started to reorganise its legal structure by incorporating subordinate bodies, and had assumed a more efficient configuration constituted by many local chapters under a central headquarters. As with other new religious movements (see Morioka 1979; Watanabe 2011), its rapid development, both in terms of an increase of membership and geographical expansion, encouraged a transition from a vertical structure centred on proselyzation ties resulting from missionary activities (oyako kankei, lit. “parent-child relationship”), to a more efficient horizontal configuration of local branches based on propinquity. The “national block system” (zenkoku burokku sei) was implemented in 1960, and further organisational reforms followed shortly after, with the introduction of a system of local units (shikuchōsō tan’i). These shifts were accompanied also by radical changes in the proselytization system (Inoue 1996:314; Matsuno 1985:440; Morioka 1979:259-60; Niwano 1978:162). The movement’s reorganisation in geographical units was also related to a progressive broadening of the focus of missionary activities to the local community, the wider society and ultimately the world. This renewed attitude was officialised and explained in doctrinal terms in 1978, when Niwano announced the beginning of the Age of the Unlimited Compassion. In this new phase, Kōseikai members were encouraged to aim for the salvation of all mankind, in compliance with the ideal of the Bodhisattva, whose unlimited compassion translates into a mission to save all sentient being from suffering.
This renewed approach to proselytisation undoubtedly encouraged the movement’s subsequent developments. The following decades were marked by a progressive broadening of the scope of Risshō Kōseikai’s activities on a local, national and international scale, which was manifest in a number of different dimensions: political engagement, international interreligious cooperation and peace work, and social services on a local scale.
Interfaith dialogue and peace activities have come to be regarded as constitutive traits of the identity of Risshō Kōseikai, establishing a public image of a “peace” religion at present widespread in the movement’s publications, media representations and in some scholastic portraits of the movement. During recent decades, such a commitment has been retroactively explained in the light of Buddhist concepts and the personal convictions of the founder Niwano Nikkyō in connection with the general widening of Kōseikai’s social and political engagement during the 1960s and 1970s, and especially of its increasing international exposure. However, the launch of peace and interreligious activities was part of a more articulated process whose departing point can be detected in the foundation of the Shinshūren, (abbreviation for Shin Nihon Shūkyō Dantai Rengōkai, the Federation of the New Religious Organisations of Japan), which marked the beginning of Kōseikai’s political engagement.
While several studies have discussed the political activities of Sōka Gakkai and its controversial relationship with Kōmeitō (see Ehrhardt et al 2014), Kōseikai’s political engagement has been substantially ignored by non-Japanese scholarship. Such a lack of interest may be connected with the fact that, compared with Gakkai’s patent involvement in party politics, Kōseikai chose to adopt more subtle forms of participation. Although it never instituted its own political organisation, the movement has been taking actively part in electoral dynamics since 1947 Tokyo Metropolitan Government elections (Nakano 2003:145). However, rather than as an individual movement, it was through trans-sectarian organisations, and especially through Shinshūren, that its political participation was articulated. Kōseikai played a fundamental role in the foundation of the federation, and throughout the following decades remained one of its leading members, playing a key role in shaping its political orientation.
As mentioned above, the changes in religious legislation operated by the Allied Occupation fuelled an impressive expansion of new religious movements, but also facilitated their engagement in secular activities, including politics (On the religious policy of the Allied Occupation and the relation between religion and politics in postwar Japan see Murō 1979; Nakano 2003; Thomas 2014). The Shinshūren was created in October 1951 from the fusion of two previous networks as a federation for new religious movements, and in 1952 became a member of Nisshūren (Nihon Shūkyō Renmei, at present commonly referred to as Japanese Association of Religious Organisations, JAORO). Although its constitution was later justified by the desire to create a platform for ecumenical dialogue directed at the promotion of peace and religious freedom (Niwano 1978:229), in origin it had a distinctive political purpose. Shinshūren was instituted to provide new religious movements with a solid platform for political representation as well as a common front against media criticism (Dorman 2012:204), which, as was subsequently shown by the Yomiuri Affair, was not uncommon in these years.
Other major factors encouraging new religions to seek political influence were experiences of governmental persecution suffered by some of these movements and fears of a possible comeback of State Shinto and prewar restrictions. In fact, the emergence of reactionary tendencies in the political landscape from the closing years of the Allied Occupation can be identified as one of the two fundamental elements shaping the political dynamics of the postwar Japanese religious landscape. The reactionary tendencies originated in a movement for the revival of State Shinto, which from the latter half of the 1960s came to be represented by the debate around state support of the Yasukuni Shrine. This trend also affected the religious landscape, resulting in the emergence of a right-wing current led by Seichō no Ie, which eventually abandoned Shinshūren in 1957. The opposite faction revolved around Risshō Kōseikai, which with the defection of Seichō no Ie (its main rival in terms of size and influence) had consolidated its leadership within the federation.
The rise of Sōka Gakkai can be identified as the second main factor shaping the political orientation of Japanese religious organisations during the 1950s and the 1960s. Following the impressive growth of its membership, Gakkai began to engage in political activities from 1954. Its political success stirred a sense of danger in other religious institutions, encouraging them to constitute an anti-Sōka Gakkai front: while until this moment Shinshūren and other organisations had mainly supported independent candidates in the elections, they began to side with conservative political forces, in particular with the Liberal-Democratic Party (Jiyū Minshūtō, in short Jimintō), in order to create a more solid base of political representation and to contrast with Kōmeitō, which adopted a progressive orientation (Murō 1979:53-56; Nakano 2003:146-54).
In short, from the 1950s onwards, the political scene saw the interaction of three main religious factions: the right-wing current led by Seichō no Ie, close to the more radical wing of political right; a moderate front centred on Risshō Kōseikai and Shinshūren, mainly supporting moderate conservative candidates from Jimintō; and finally Sōka Gakkai, which in allegiance with Kōmeitō formed a faction on its own. In the following decades, Risshō Kōseikai has carried on its political engagement along the same lines, prominently through electoral support for candidates from the moderate conservative area and acting in its capacity as the leading member of Shinshūren.
It was under the aegis of the federation that Kōseikai began its involvement in interreligious cooperation and peace efforts on an international level. The 1963 anti-nuclear campaign organised by Shinshūren can be regarded as the departing point of Kōseikai’s international engagement. Niwano, together with a delegation of eighteen Japanese religious representatives, travelled in Europe and the United States to circulate a petition against nuclear armaments, meeting several religious leaders and politicians (Niwano 1978:191). The following year, he was invited to India by the Maha Bodhi Society, an Indian Buddhist organisation, which also presented him with relics of the Buddha. The experience held great symbolic relevance for Niwano, who saw pilgrimage to the places were Shakyamuni was believed to have preached and attained enlightenment as an opportunity to reconnect with the roots of Buddhism, and who was filled with a strong sense of Kōseikai’s mission to protect and spread the Dharma (Niwano 1979:209-218). Alongside the interpretation offered by Niwano, it can be argued that the visit to India, and in particular the donation of Buddha’s relics, provided an important source of legitimation for Risshō Kōseikai’s Buddhist identity in the eyes of the Buddhist world community. Kōseikai’s need to secure recognition as a legitimate Buddhist organisation might be also related to the progressive worsening of its relationship with other Nichiren-oriented movements, and especially with Nichirenshū, the major clerical organisation of Nichiren Buddhism. This deterioration is shown, for example, by the failure of Niwano’s attempt to initiate an ecumenical discourse with other Nichiren-oriented organisations due to doctrinal divergences (Niwano 1978:228-29).
In 1965, Niwano was invited by Pope Paul VI to attend the Second Vatican Council in Rome (Niwano 1978:219). [Image at right] In the following years, Risshō Kōseikai established contact with the American Unitarian Universalists, became a member of the Buddhist Council for World Federation, and joined the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). The movement’s increasing engagement in interreligious dialogue culminated with the organisation of the first World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), in which Niwano, at the time chairman of Shinshūren, played a major role. The conference, held in Kyoto in 1970, reunited world religious leaders with the purpose of discussing the role of religion in the promotion of peace. [Image at right] A second conference took place in Louvain in Belgium in 1974, and the WCRP continues to meet still today every four of five years. Local versions have developed, such as the Asian Conference on Religion and Peace (ACRP), which resulted from an initiative of Risshō Kōseikai (Inoue 1996:314; Kisala 1999:106-07; Matsuno 1985:445. For a comprehensive outline of Risshō Kōseikai’s initiatives for interreligious cooperation see the Risshō Kōseikai website).
From the 1970s, Risshō Kōseikai has been increasingly active also in the areas of international aid and peace work. Among the initiatives sponsored by the movement, we can mention the opening of a course for the training of volunteers to work in local social welfare institutions in 1971, and the organization, since 1973, of boat trips for its Youth Association visiting Hong Kong, Manila, and Okinawa to pray for the war dead of all the countries in Asia and to foster cultural exchange and personal interaction. In 1974, Risshō Kōseikai’s Youth Division initiated the “Donate A Meal Campaign,” which consists in skipping a meal twice a month and donating the price of the food to the Fund for Peace. Donations collected through the campaign are invested in projects for disarmament, human rights, refugee aid, human resource development, preventive diplomacy, emergency relief in Japan and abroad. The projects sponsored by the movement include relief activities for Vietnamese refugees (1977) and the Campaign for Sharing Blankets with Africa started in 1981, a reforestation project in Ethiopia, and a program for the preservation of Buddhist cultural heritage in Cambodia. In 1978, Kōseikai instituted the Niwano Peace Foundation, which the following year created the Niwano Peace Prize (awarded annually from 1983). [Image at right] Apart from its own initiatives, in the same years, the movement has also been involved in collaborations with a number of national and international organisations, including the UN. For example, it had been supporting UNICEF activities since the International Year of the Child in 1979. It also cooperated with many NGOs and became a member of JEN (Japan Emergency NGOs) a group of Japanese NGOs working in emergency aid, mainly helping refugees and victims of disasters and conflicts all over the world. In 1996, the movement took part in the creation of the “72 hours network,” a national version of JEN, together with Shinnyo-en and non-religious organizations, whose aim was to create a disaster relief network able to intervene within seventy-two hours from the outbreak of a disaster (Inoue 1996:314-15; Kisala 1999:106; Stone 2003:73; Watanabe 2011:83).
This increasing engagement in interreligious dialogue and peace work can be seen as representative of a broader attitude of “internationalisation” of the movement, expressed in other areas as well. In terms of media production, it should be mentioned that between the late 1960s and the 1970s Kōseikai published the first English translations of Niwano’s works (Niwano 1968, 1969b, 1976, 1978) and launched its first English-language magazine (Dharma World). Moreover, the organisation also intensified its proselytization activities outside Japan, with the opening of branches in Brazil and the United States (On Risshō Kōseikai’s propagation outside Japan see also Watanabe 2008).
In parallel with this increasing engagement in international cooperation and peace work, the same years saw also a progressive expansion of Risshō Kōseikai’s social commitment on a local scale. The organisational and proselytization system changes brought about by the Manifestation of Truth reforms played a significant role in encouraging both developments. On a local scale, the shift of the focus of missionary activities translated into renewed efforts by local churches to establish channels of interaction and cooperation with their surrounding communities. The major expression of this attitude may be found in the launch of the Movement for a Brighter Society (Akarui Shakai-zukuri Undō), a volunteering initiative aimed at benefitting local communities, in 1969 (Matsuno 1985:445; Mukhopadhyāya 2005:193-94, 202-05).
Even though the 1960s and the 1970s saw a significant expansion of Kōseikai’s engagement in social activities at local levels, it should be noted that the first steps in this sense can be traced back to the end of the Pacific War. Since its early years, the movement had expressed concern for the pressing social issues of the time, and attempted to offer solutions to everyday problems, as shown by its focus on faith-healing and counselling, labelled by Niwano as a “practical approach” (Niwano 1978:99-100). In the postwar years, Kōseikai’s concern for the practical problems of everyday life translated into the institution of a series of social welfare facilities, most of which are still operating today. This new trend was inaugurated by the foundation of Kōsei Ikujien (Kōsei Childcare Centre) in 1949. In 1953, it was expanded with the inclusion of junior and senior high school education facilities and reconstituted as Kōsei Gakuen (Kōsei School Complex). Kōsei General Hospital (Kōsei Byōin) was instituted in 1952, followed some years later by a nursing school (Kōsei Kango Senmon Gakkō). In 1958, Kōsei founded an elderly care facility, originally called Yōrōen. The institute recently underwent a substantial renovation and was reopened in 2007 as “Saitama Myōkōen,” in memory of the co-foundress of the movement (Inoue 1996:314; Matsuno 1985:446-47; Niwano 1968:122).
The institutions founded during the 1950s still reflected a concern for the practical social issues of the time, and in this phase the services provided were primarily directed at Kōseikai members. However, the changes that occurred in the 1960s encouraged a shift from a concern for the wellbeing of the people within the organisation to a more generalised commitment to the improvement of the surrounding society. This transition firstly manifested in the activities of the Youth Division, which from the 1960s started to embark on various projects aimed at reaching out to people outside the movement, including social services for local communities and interreligious cooperation activities, and shortly after resulted in the foundation of the Brighter Society Movement.
The Brighter Society Movement (Akarui Shakai-zukuri Undō, known in short as Meisha) [Image at right] started in 1969 as a cooperation initiative between Kōseikai’s churches, social welfare facilities, civic movements and local administrations with the common aim of building a “brighter” society, on the basis of the maxim “brighten your corner” (ichigu wo terasu) contained in the writings of Saichō (the eighth century founder of Tendai Buddhism in Japan). The initiative was directly related to Risshō Kōseikai’s international undertakings not only in that it manifested the same intent of broadening the confines of the organisation’s engagement, but also in a more practical sense. As declared by Niwano in his inaugural speeches and writings, one of the key purposes of Meisha was to select and train people that could adequately represent Japan in the first WRPC to be held in Kyoto the following year (Mukhopadhyāya 2005; Niwano 1978; Risshō Kōseikai 1983).
Started as a loose network of different actors getting together in order to carry out various kinds of activities on a local scale, during the following years Meisha developed a more stable organisational structure and eventually acquired the status of NPO in 2001. On a national level, the organisation carries out mainly activities of support, information exchange, coordination, research on social welfare, publications and media production, and especially training courses to develop social workers, volunteers and counsellors. However, it is on the local scale that the vast majority of Meisha’s activities are actually planned and implemented. Local branches present a high degree of heterogeneity in terms of size, degree of formalisation and content of the activities (which can include donation campaigns, community volunteering, environmental activities, blood donation campaigns, social welfare activities, cultural activities, international aid and peace work). The activities are devised and planned in relation to community needs and available resources, and are often carried out in cooperation with other local realities such as volunteer associations, welfare facilities, and city councils, NPOs and NGOs involved in civic activities and social contributions.
Regarding the relationship between Risshō Kōseikai and Meisha, the two organisations are nominally independent. Representatives and members of both tend to stress how, although the movement undoubtedly started as an initiative of Niwano, and still today Kōseikai remains one of its leading sponsors, they should be regarded as two distinct organisations. In particular, there is a tendency to emphasise the “non-religious” character of Meisha, in which Kōseikai members are said to take part not specifically because they are members of a religious organisation, but rather as ordinary Japanese citizens. The relationship between the two was articulated in the same terms by Niwano, who defined Meisha as a strictly civic undertaking, with Kōseikai as only one its several supporters (Niwano 1978:252-53).
Nevertheless, the strict connection between the two realities cannot be denied: Kōseikai members account for the vast majority of the volunteers involved in Meisha’s activities, and the movement makes use of the facilities of the religious organisation (Kisala 1999:106; Mukhopadhyāya 2005:206-07), while the basic principles on which the movement articulates its social commitment reproduce some of the fundamental teachings of Risshō Kōseikai, as the idea of “Bodhisattva way” and “One vehicle” (On Meisha and the social ethics of Kōseikai see Kisala 1992, 1994; Mukhopadhyāya 2005; Dharma World 2007 34:1, 2015 42:2).
In parallel with the expansion of social activities through the development of Meisha on a national scale, Risshō Kōseikai also embarked on a series of training initiatives in the areas of social welfare and counselling, primarily directed at leaders and administrative personnel (kanbu). The most representative example is probably the Course for Social Welfare (shakai fukushi kōza), inaugurated in 1972.
In 1990, Niwano Nikkyō ceded the chair of President to his eldest son Nichikō, [Image at right] a few years before his death in 1998. In 1994, Niwano Nichikō appointed the eldest of his four daughters, Kōshō, as the next president of the organisation.
As the new leader of the organisation, Nichikō has carried on his father’s commitment to interreligious dialogue and international aid and peace activities. The movement continues to sponsor most of the campaigns and collaborations initiated under Niwano Nikkyō.
The World Conference on Religion and Peace remains one of the most privileged venues for interreligious dialogue. The Conference, which in 1995 obtained the status of consultative NGO with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, has assumed a more institutionalised form under the name of Religions for Peace, an interfaith network involved in several projects in cooperation with the UN and other international organisations. The initiatives sponsored by the organisation cover different areas, including conflict resolution, poverty relief, climate change and environmental crisis. Regarding the latter, we could mention the campaign “Faiths for Earth,” a petition advanced by global religious leaders aiming at realising 100 percent of renewable energies. In recent years, environmental issues have come to occupy a central place in Risshō Kōseikai’s agenda, [Image at right] also in terms of political engagement and social activities. Environmental activities constitute a substantial part of the undertakings of local branches of Meisha, many of which carry out cleaning of beaches and forests, reforestation projects and other activities related to environment protection. On the level of national politics, the issue has been tackled in relation to the debate on energy policies aroused by the incident at Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant in 2011.
In terms of more general issues of political participation, Kōseikai’s involvement continues nearly along the same lines as before, predominantly under the aegis of Shinshūren. In addition, Kōseikai actively takes part in public debates regarding controversial political issues. Besides the above-mentioned environmentalism, the debates on state patronage of the Yasukuni shrine and the principle of separation between state and religion remain core issues of Kōseikai’s political agenda. In addition, the movement has taken a position in several other areas, such as, for example, nuclear disarmament, bioethics, and peace. The movement has recently taken a stance against the revision of the Security Law (Anzen hoshō hō, in short Anpō) and the possibility of a revision of Article 9 of the Constitution.
Risshō Kōseikai’s system of social welfare activities on a local scale, underwent significant changes at the end of the 1990s, mostly in terms of a decentralisation of human resources development and activities. Until then training events and courses had been managed on a national level and directed primarily at leaders and administrative personnel, but from 1999 it was decided that formation was to be carried on locally. New courses were introduced to be conducted at regional levels, often in conjunction with training activities within branches of Meisha. In similar fashion, the responsibility for planning and implementation of social activities was formally attributed to local churches with the institution of the position of “responsible of social welfare” (shakai fukushi senmon tantōsha) in order to make the system more responsive to the specific social needs of the local community.
The doctrine of Risshō Kōseikai is primarily based on the Lotus Sutra, and in particular on the teaching of the One Vehicle (ichijō), the core of Mahayana Buddhism. Compared to other Nichiren-oriented Buddhist movements such as Sōka Gakkai, Kōseikai has lowered the position of Nichiren in favour of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, an attitude expressed by the decision to replace, as its main object of worship (gohonzon), the calligraphy of the daimoku (title of Lotus Sutra) inscribed by Nichiren with a golden statue of the Eternal Buddha [Image at right] enshrined in the Great Sacred Hall (Daiseidō) in Suginami. Risshō Kōseikai conceives itself as representing the true message of the Buddha in succession to Nichiren. Similarly to Nichiren, who is seen as having revitalised the teachings of the historical Buddha after that they had become corrupted with the passing of centuries, Niwano is regarded as the one who embarked in the same task in the modern era, giving life to the true form of contemporary Buddhism, which is a lay Buddhism (zaike bukkyō) as demanded by Shakyamuni (Niwano 1978:133; Dehn 2011:229).
The Lotus Sutra is regarded in Risshō Kōseikai as Buddha’s ultimate teaching, containing the highest truth of the universe, which consists in the interconnectedness of all existence and in the nature of the eternal Buddha as the universal life force (uchū daiseimei) animating the cosmos. All living beings exist as part of this life force, which represents their true essence (hontai). Therefore, the innate nature of all beings is oneness with the Buddha (or Buddha-nature, busshō) (Shimazono 2011:48-49). Niwano (1978:79) referred to his encounter with the Lotus Sutra as “two openings” where he came in contact with two fundamental teachings: the notion of unlimited compassion embedded in the “way of the Bodhisattva,” understood as a mission to relieve the suffering of all human beings, and the ability of lay believers to attain salvation and to guide others towards it. The figure of the Bodhisattva in particular is assumed as a fundamental behavioural model for Kōseikai members. They are exhorted to “follow the Bodhisattva Way” (bosatsugyō), which is intended as a twofold path comprising doctrine and practice (gyōgaku nidō, Matsuno 1985:441) that aims at the goals of self-perfection and the salvation of all sentient beings.
With the doctrinal systematisation and rationalisation that occurred after the Yomiuri jiken, the movement’s doctrine was purged of its earlier focus on shamanic elements and spirit possession, and firmly repositioned within a Buddhist framework. The teachings of the Lotus Sutra were incorporated along with elements of “Fundamental Buddhism” (konpon bukkyō), such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Law of the Twelve Causes and the Six Perfections (Guthrie 1988:22-23; Matsuno 1985:441; Niwano 1966).
As a group originally developed from Reiyūkai, ancestor veneration has always been a core element in Risshō Kōseikai’s teaching and practices, and it continues to hold a relevant place today. Ancestor beliefs in Kōseikai are interpreted in relation to the idea of interconnectedness of all existence. Spirits of the dead are believed to be part of the same life stream as all other living beings, ultimately originating from the Eternal Buddha. This idea is explained though the image of an “eternal stream of life” (eien naru inochi no nagare): life flows from ancestors to those who are living in the present day, and who will eventually pass this life to their descendants and join their ancestors and ultimately the original Buddha.
Within Risshō Kōseikai, the definition of ancestors is no longer limited to the biological family, but encompasses all the movement’s ancestors, as in a “corporate family” (Dehn 2011:228). When joining the organization, every member has his ancestors registered in the “records of the past” (kakochō). They will receive an individual posthumous name (kaimyō), but also become part of a collective entity embraced by a general posthumous name (sōkaimyō). Both names, inscribed on wooden tablets, are to be enshrined in the hōzen, a family altar for the veneration of ancestors that every member’s household should have. The hōzen closely resembles the traditional butsudan (traditional Buddhist altar) and, along with the kaimyō, it contains the kaikochō, a reproduction of the gohonzon and offerings for the dead (See also Guthrie 1988:120-23). The altar allows the members to pray for the deceased at home as an alternative to attending memorial rites celebrated in temples, and it also embodies the connection with the sangha, the Buddhist community. Ancestor veneration in Risshō Kōseikai is also understood as a way to access the Dharma. Niwano has explained how memorial rites can be regarded as hōben or skilful means in that they allow the practitioner to experience the interconnectedness of all existence, and thus to awaken to the fundamental truth that all life is one and that it originates from the Eternal Buddha (Niwano 1976:31; Shinozaki 2007).
The significance accorded to memorial rites for the ancestors, however, does not imply that Kōseikai holds a substantial interest in life after death. Indeed, like many other new religious movements, Risshō Kōseikai conceives salvation in primarily this-worldly terms (see Tsushima et al. 1979; Shimazono 1992). Salvation is understood as a state of happiness, fullness and extinction of suffering which can be attained in this life through religious practice. The saved state is achieved through the realization of the true nature of all human beings as the Eternal Buddha. When realizing the fundamental truth that all living beings are inextricably interconnected and all part of one, universal life-force, the individual will spontaneously abandon his/her ego and be freed from all illusions and suffering. Suffering is understood in a pragmatic sense, and linked to everyday life problems and misfortunes (Niwano 1976:205; Shimazono 2011:48-52).
This vitalistic cosmology also influences Kōseikai’s understanding of karmic beliefs, which are reinterpreted in relation to ideas of mutual origin and interconnectedness. Since all phenomena are interrelated, each personal action produces some effect on the overall reality, resulting in a collective karmic responsibility (Kisala, 1994). The idea that we all share both the responsibility and the effects of the same karma is mentioned as one of the reasons why in Risshō Kōseikai ancestor veneration is not circumscribed to one’s direct ancestors but also extends to the unrelated dead (Shinozaki 2007). Although our life is influenced by the actions of all living beings, this influence is believed to be particularly strong in the case of one’s ancestors. Bad karma inherited from ancestors may manifest itself as suffering or misfortunes, and can be eradicated by performing memorial rites, which will transfer positive karma to the ancestor and ultimately allow him/her to attain Buddhahood, and also through the performance of good deeds and adherence to Kōseikai’s “everyday ethics” (seikatsu rinri) (Niwano 1976:104, 188, 204-06; Kisala 1994). In general, karma is interpreted in a relatively positive light in Kōseikai teachings: Niwano stressed how it was to be intended as something to encourage us to actively work for our self-improvement and for the construction of a brighter future for humanity. Misfortune and illness are commonly understood as an expression of Buddha’s compassion, in that through trials (otameshi) we are able to become aware of our shortcomings, improve ourselves and understand the Truth. Suffering itself can be seen as part of one’s religious training, and therefore something to be grateful for (Matsuno 1985:442-44). Similarly, the concept of the impermanence of all things assumes a positive connotation, in that it allows us to realize the preciousness of the gift of life, and to nurture a sentiment of thankfulness towards those from whom we derived life: parents, ancestors and ultimately the Eternal Buddha (Shinozaki 2007).
The idea of the interconnectedness of all existence is also derived from a common worldview that Risshō Kōseikai shares with many other new religious movements, and which emerged from the popularization of Neo-Confucian principles in the eighteenth century (See Bellah 1985). Reality is seen as an interconnected whole where activity on one level will result in transformations on all other levels. Consequently, changes on the level of the self, as for example self-repentance or the performance of virtue, are believed to bring about transformation on all other interrelated dimensions of family, surrounding society, and ultimately cosmos (Hardacre 1986:11-14; Kisala 1999:3-4). Since inner spiritual activity is identified as a powerful source of change, such a worldview in many new religions translates into emphasis on moral self-cultivation, as expressed by Kōseikai’s notion of “perfection of the character” (jinkaku kansei or kokoro no kaizō) discussed in the next section.
Daily sutra recitation (gokuyō) and group counselling sessions (hōza, Dharma meetings) can be regarded as the two core forms of practice. Both can be practised at home as well as at Kōseikai centres, in which case the two are ritually combined. Gokuyō can be also referred to as tsutome (service) and primarily consists in a ritual to be performed twice a day in front of the altar (hōzen) including repeated chanting of the daimoku, recitation of Kōseikai creed, and readings from Kyōten, a collection of extracts of the Lotus Sutra for ceremonial purposes firstly compiled in conjunction with the doctrinal and organisational reforms of the Manifestation of Truth, and which represents an essential component of Kōseikai’s canon together with the works of the founder Niwano.
The expression kuyō is commonly used to refer to memorial rites for the ancestors, and in Risshō Kōseikai’s practice the daily service also incorporates functions of ancestor devotion (senzo kuyō). The dead are memorialised as a collective entity (comprising all the ancestors within Risshō Kōseikai) within the daily ritual service, but are also an object of individual veneration rites on the anniversary of their death. This memorialisation practice is known as meichi kuyō , where meichi (written as “life” 命 and “day” 日) indicates the anniversary of the ancestor’s death, but also the day when believers have the opportunity to bring into their life the legacy of that person, his/her teachings and good deeds. Furthermore, meichi also refers to some set days of observance established by local churches and by the organisation as a whole. There are four main recurrences celebrated monthly by Risshō Kōseikai: the first day of the month (tsuitachi mairi, a day of practice devoted to “cleansing the defiled mind” according to the Buddhist notion uposadha, in Japanese fusatsu), the fourth day (commemoration of Niwano Nikkyō), the tenth (commemoration of Naganuma Myōkō), and the fifteenth (commemoration of Shakyamuni Buddha).
In addition to gokuyō as memorialisation of the dead and reverence for the Buddha and the founders, the expression can be used also to refer to a more general act of prayer (kigan kuyō). The notion of gokuyō , however, is not restricted to daily sutra recitation, prayers and memorial rites for the dead, but encompasses also other kinds of religious practices. Specifically, gokuyō is intended as a threefold practice comprising the daily service (keikuyō, related to the expression of respect and gratitude to the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), the act of giving (rikuyō, indicating offerings to the altar, donations to churches or contributions to organisations devoted to the diffusion of Buddhist teachings or the improvement of society), and religious discipline (gyōkuyō, including all forms of religious training, service or ascetic practice directed at the diffusion of Buddhist teachings, the development of Sangha or the perfection of one’s character).
As mentioned above, the second pillar of Kōseikai practice is represented by hōza. Hōza (Dharma meetings) are counselling sessions usually held weekly, with participants ranging from twelve to twenty in number. The meeting is led by a shūnin or hōzashu, who listens to the members’ accounts of daily life problems, helps them interpret their experiences in the light of the teachings, so as to detect the root of their troubles, and gives them advice to overcome them. This practice of guidance is referred to as musubi, and can be carried on by anyone who has undergone an appropriate doctrinal training (Risshō Kōseikai 1966:114).
Core concepts employed in the counselling sessions are the principle of the interconnectedness of all things, and the Four Noble Truths taught by the historical Buddha. Other participants are free to intervene in the discussions, offering suggestions or sharing their own experiences. It is common for members who have faced suffering and trials and managed to overcome them through the movement’s doctrine and practice to recount their personal narratives ( taikendan, testimonials) in order to help fellow members solve their own problems. By framing their individual experience in the context of doctrine, they present other members with possible conversion models or behavioural paths to address everyday problems in accordance with the teachings (Shimazono 2011:42-44; Watanabe 2011:77-78. See also Hardacre 1986 ). Particularly significant testimonials that have emerged from hōza might later be reported in larger meetings and even published in one of the movement’s magazines, such as Dharma World .
Hōza is also intended as a place for repentance, zange (Matsuno 1985:443). By recounting their experiences and being guided by the hōza leader through the interpretation of those experiences in the light of the teachings, people are meant to realize the fault within their actions and to repent. As expressed by the formula zange wa zenbu jibun, a central idea is that the responsibility for suffering primarily lies within oneself, even when others seem to be at fault. This approach reflects the idea that “others are mirrors,” indicating that one’s attitude is directly reflected in the actions of others (Hardacre 1986:21-22). In fact, a central message in many Kōseikai testimonials is that every change originates from the individual (Kisala 1999:138).
The attitude of self-reflection and repentance emerging from hōza is representative of another key aspect of Kōseikai’s practice, namely moral cultivation through the practice of virtue, which is referred to as jinkaku kansei (perfection of the character), kokoro no kaizō (renewal of the heart), or hito zukuri (creating the person). Perfection of character is understood as another aspect of the Bodhisattva Way, and is carried out through constant reflection on one’s attitude and behaviour, which can be often found in hōza, and adherence to a set of ethical values defined by the movement as “daily ethics” (seikatsu rinri), including virtues such as gratitude, sincerity and harmony (Kisala, 1999:135).
Religious practice in Kōseikai encompasses also “guidance” (tedori or michibiki), which embraces all the activities directed at spreading or deepening knowledge of the teachings, thus comprising both missionary activities directed at non-believers and religious training for members directed at strengthening their faith (Watanabe 2011:80). Apart from hōza, which might be regarded as the primary place for guidance, church and chapter leaders might also offer guidance through home visits to members (e.g. for those unable to visit the centre because of sickness or disability), or through large-scale proselytization events such as preaching meetings (seppōkai) and doctrinal training events (kyōgaku kenshū kai), held periodically across Japan (Matsuno 1985:441).
Finally, although aspects of folk religiosity that characterised Kōseikai’s early doctrine were expurgated as part of the process of systematisation and rationalisation of doctrine implemented with the Manifestation of Truth, some of these elements continue to be informally practiced, in particular fortune telling, divination practices and some forms of ascetic training.
Risshō Kōseikai claims a membership of about 1,200,000 households, which would make it the second largest Japanese new religious movement after Sōka Gakkai, and one of the most significant organisations within the Japanese contemporary religious landscape. However, it should be specified that it is problematic to formulate reliable estimates of new religions’ membership, since government surveys rely on self-declared figures (and most new religions tend to overestimate their following), and most scholarly estimates appear quite dated (e.g. Inoue 1996:313, reporting approximately 6,000,000 followers for Kōseikai).
The headquarters of the organisations are located in Suginami, Tokyo, close to the Great Sacred Hall (daiseidō), the centre of Risshō Kōseikai’s religious practice. [Image at right] The Daiseidō, consecrated in 1964, harbours the golden statue of the Buddha Shakyamuni (gohonzon), which contains a copy of the Lotus Sutra handwritten by Niwano Nikkyō. The building was devised as an architectural manifestation of Kōseikai’s teachings. In particular, its circular shape serves to represent the perfection of the Lotus (Niwano, 1978:200). Although the Daiseidō represents the most important place of devotion for Kōseikai members, who are expected to visit it at least once in their lifetime, it was not conceived as exclusively for members, but rather as a place of global significance, a “sanctuary for the salvation of mankind”, where everybody can attain enlightenment (Niwano 1978:204). The headquarters’ complex includes several other buildings, as the Fumonkan (Hall of the Open Gate), a second large-scale ceremonial hall with a capacity of around 5000 people; the Niwano Memorial Museum; the headquarters of Kōsei publishing company (Kōsei Shuppansha); Kōsei Cemetery, offices, and accommodation for visitors.
The organization is structured as a network of local units under a central administration. Such a configuration emerged from the reforms implemented since the end of the 1950s, which produced a shift in the basic organisational principle from proselytisation ties (oyako kankei) to geographical proximity, resulting in a more horizontal configuration. Nevertheless, the overall organisational structure remains quite centralised. The local branches throughout Japan are subordinated to the control of central headquarters. The president is ultimately responsible for both doctrinal guidance and organisational leadership of the organization; he is responsible for the appointment of his successor and for most of the leading managerial roles. Most decisional and administrative functions are fulfilled by the president together with a board of directors and a limited amount of functionaries (Matsuno 1985:446; Murō 1979:244-45). Churches (kyōkai) are further subdivided into branches (shibu) and districts (chiku). Branches outside Japan are organised in a similar fashion, under the administration of a few major regional centres. Local branches have their own place dedicated to religious practice ( dōjō ), usually one large room containing an altar and a copy of the gohonzon, used for sūtra recitation, hōza sessions, and other ceremonies.
Risshō Kōseikai manages several related institutions, including educational and social welfare facilities, healthcare facilities, research centres, business ventures, cultural associations, foundations, as listed below:
Kōsei Ikujien (Kōsei Daycare Centre)
Kōsei Gakuen (Kōsei School District, including primary, middle, high school)
Hōju Josei Gakuin Jōhō Kokusai Senmon Gakkō (Women International Vocational School)
Kōsei Toshokan (Kōsei Library)
Chuō Gakujutsu Kenkyūjo (Chuō Academic Research Institute)
Kōsei Kaunseringu Kenkyūjo (Research Institute on Counselling)
Kyōikusha Kyōiku Kenkyūjo (Research Institite on Educators Training)
Niwano Kyōiku Kenkyūjo (Niwano Research Institute on Education)
Fuchū Kōsei Yōchien (Fuchū Kōsei Kindergarden)
Fukui Kōsei Yōchien (Fukui Kōsei Kindergarden)
Aikyōen (Social care facility for elderly and disabled)
Gakurin (Kōsei Seminar)
Kōsei General Hospital (Kōsei Byōin)
Kōsei Kango Senmon Gakkō (Kōsei Nursing School)
Niwano Heiwa Zaidan (Niwano Peace Foundation)
Kōsei Bunka Kyōkai (Kōsei Cultural Association)
Kōsei Lifeplan (which includes the elderly care facility Saitama Myōkōen)
Kōsei Shuppansha (Kōsei Publishing)
Kōsei Shuppansha, the publishing company of the movement, publishes a significant range of magazines and books. A prominent role in the company portfolio is occupied by publications authored by the founder Niwano Nikkyō and the current president Niwano Nichikō, most of which are also available in English translation. The magazines include generic publications such as the monthly magazine Kōsei (firstly published in 1950) and the newspaper Kōsei Shinbun (since 1956) and the English-language quarterly Dharma World, as well as editorial products directed at specific sections of the movement, such as Yakushin, which was created in 1963 and primarily addresses the Youth Division, and Mamīru, a monthly women’s magazine (Matsuno 1985:445-46). In terms of media production, Rishō Kōseikai shows also a rather established online presence based on a double web site (Japanese and international version), dedicated websites for the main initiatives and related institutions (such as Meisha, Donate a Meal Movement, and Religions for Peace), social media profiles and a Youtube channel.
At present second generation (or even third/fourth generation) members account for a substantial share of the membership of Risshō Kōseikai, a problem common to other new religions, as for example Sōka Gakkai (See McLaughlin 2009 and his profile of Sōka Gakkai on this website ). In the near future, the organisation might be faced with the need to devise new strategies to attract new members as well as to keep alive the commitment of those already in the movement. In this respect, social commitment and international activism might be effective factors of attraction and promotion both inside and outside the movement.
Regarding religious authority, the succession of Niwano Kōshō, eldest daughter of Niwano Nichikō, as the third president of the organisation might represent a relevant challenge. Considering that in the case of Myōkō leadership was shared with Niwano, it will be the first time for the organisation to have a female president as the sole leader. It might be interesting to see whether this shift will produce any substantial change within the organisation, for example in its attitude toward gender roles and social norms of behaviour. (On the issue of gender in religious leadership see also the profile on this website of God Light Association (GLA) by Christal Whelan, who discussed the difficulties faced by the daughter of the founder when she succeeded her father as new spiritual leader of the organisation).
In terms of social activism, in the last years the movement has shown an increasing concern for the issues of aging and elderly care, as shown by a document presented in 2009 by the Social Contribute Group (Shakai Kōken Gurūpu) within Risshō Kōseikai (“Ten Year Plan for social welfare initiatives in a super-aging society,” See also Dharma World 2014 Vol 41:1). It might be interesting to see what kind of response the movement is offering to one of the most pressing social problems of Japan.
In the aftermath of the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, Risshō Kōseikai, like many other new religious institutions, actively took part in the relief efforts, under the slogan “United in One Heart” (Kokoro wa hitotsu ni purojekutto). Besides the relief activities directed at tackling the emergency, the organisation promoted also long-term projects aimed at the rebuilding of local communities and providing emotional and spiritual support to the victims of the disaster (e.g. Kokoro no sōdanshitsu, “Counselling Room of the Heart”). The future developments of these projects, as well as their effects on the disaster areas and on the movement itself (in terms of social and religious commitment, public image), are undoubtedly something worth looking at.
Image #1: Photograph of Niwano Nikkyō, founder of Risshō Kōseikai .
Image #2: Photograph of Naganuma Myōkō, partner with Niwano Nikkyō in the development of Risshō Kōseikai.
Image #3: Photograph of Niwano and Naganuma on the occasion of the foundation Dai Nippon Risshōkōseikai.
Image #4: Photograph of Niwano meeting Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council in Rome.
Image #5: Photograph of Niwano delivering a speech at the UN as representative of the WRPC.
Image #6: Photograph of the awarding of the Niwano Peace Prize.
Image #7: Logo of the Akarui Shakai-zukuri Undō (Brighter Society Movement).
Image #8: Photograph of Niwano Nikkyō handing the presidency to Nichikō.
Image #9: Photograph of Niwano Nichikō’s speech at Religions for Peace.
Image #10: Statue of the Eternal Buddha (gohonzon) enshrined in the Daiseidō.
Image #10: Photograph of Daiseidō (Great Sacred Hall).
Note: In addition to the references listed below, this entry is partly based on information gathered through interviews of members by the author and material produced by the movement.
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Dehn, Ulrich 2011. “Risshō Kōseikai.” Pp. 221-38 in Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan, edited by Birgit Staemmler and Ulrich Dehn. Berlin: LIT.
Dorman, Benjamin. 2012. Celebrity Gods: New Religions, Media and Authority in Occupied Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Ehrhardt, George, Levi McLaughlin and Steven Reed. 2014. Kōmeitō: Politics and Religion in Japan. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California
Guthrie, Stewart. 1988. A Japanese New Religion: Risshō Kōsei-kai in a Mountain Hamlet. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan.
Hardacre, Helen. 1984. Lay Buddhism in Contemporary Japan: Reiyūkai Kyōdan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hardacre, Helen. 1986. Kurozumikyō and the New Religions of Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Inoue Nobutaka et al., eds. 1996. Shinshūkyō kyōdan, jinbutsu jiten. Tokyo: Kōbundō.
Kisala, Robert. 1999. Prophets of Peace: Pacifism and Cultural Identity in Japan’s New Religions. Honolulu: Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Kisala, Robert. 1994. “Contemporary Karma: Interpretations of Karma in Tenrikyō and Risshō Kōseikai.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21:73-91.
Kisala, Robert. 1992. Gendai shūkyō to shakai rinri: Tenrikyō to Risshō Kōseikai no fukushi katsudō wo chūshin ni. Tōkyō: Seikyūsha.
Matsuno Junkō. 1985. Shinshūkyō jiten. Tokyo: Tōkyōdō.
McLaughlin, Levi. 2009. Sōka Gakkai in Japan. PhD Dissertation. Department of Religion, Princeton University.
Morioka, Kiyomi. 1994. “Attacks on the New Religions: Risshō Kōseikai and the ‘Yomiuri Affair’.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21:281-310.
Morioka Kiyomi. 1989. Shinshūkyō undō no tenkai katei: Kyōdan raifu saikuru no shiten kara. Tokyo: Sōbunsha.
Morioka, Kiyomi. 1979. “The Institutionalization of a New Religious Movement.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6:239-80.
Mukhopadhyāya, Ranjana. 2005. Nihon no shakai sanka Bukkyō: Hōonji to Risshō Kōseikai no shakai katsudō to shakai rinri. Tōkyō: Tōshindō.
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Niwano, Nikkyō. 1978. Lifetime Beginner. Tokyo: Kōsei Publishing.
Niwano, Nikkyō. 1976. Buddhism for Today: A Modern Interpretation of the Threefold Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Kōsei Publishing.
Nikkyō, Nikkyō. 1969a. Bukkyō no inochi no hokekyō. Tokyo: Kōsei Publishing.
Nikkyō, Nikkyō. 1969b. Honzon, the Object of Worship of Rissō Kōseikai. Tokyo: Kōsei Publishing.
Niwano, Nikkyō. 1968. Travel to Infinity. Tokyo: Kōsei Publishing.
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Oshima Hiroyuki. 1975. “Risshō Kōsei-kai ron: Hōza, Akarui Shakai-zukuri Undō, Sekai Shūkyōsha Heiwa Kaigi wo chūshin toshite.” Gendai Shukyo 2:231-32.
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Shimazono, Susumu. 2011. “New Religions – The Concept of Salvation.” Pp. 41-67 in Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan, edited by Birgit Staemmler and Ulrich Dehn. Berlin: LIT.
Shimazono Susumu. 1992. Gendai kyūsai shūkyōron. Tokyo: Seikyūsha.
Shinozaki, Michio. 2007. “A Theological Interpretation of the Veneration of Ancestors in Rissho Koseikai.” Dharma World . Accessed from http://www.rkworld.org/dharmaworld/dw_2007jstheological.aspx on 20 July 2016.
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Stone, Jacqueline. 2003. “Nichiren’s Activist Heirs.” Pp. 63-94 in Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism, edited by Christopher Queen, Damien Keown and Charles Prebish. London: Routledge Curzon.
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Tsushima, Michihito, Nishiyama Shigeru, Shimazono Susumu and Shiramizu Hiroko. 1979. “The Vitalistic Concept of Salvation in Japanese New Religions.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6: 139-61.
Watanabe, Masako. 2011. “New Religions – A Sociological Approach.” Pp. 69-88 in Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan, edited by Birgit Staemmler and Ulrich Dehn. Berlin: LIT.
Watanabe, Masako. 2008. “The Development of Japanese New Religions in Brazil and Their Propagation in a Foreign Culture.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35:115-44.
Aura Di Febo
20 July 2016
#10 Niwano Nichikō
# 11 Niwano Kōshō
#13 Delegation of religious leaders meet the French president Holland for the initiative “Faiths for Earth”