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THE OGASAWARA INCIDENT

Note:

Since I first cobbled this page together I've found out a lot of background and referents to this story. It figured as a seminal event in both the triumphs of the Japan Sokagakkai and later conflicts with Nichiren Shoshu. It also was an early demonstration of how neither the Sokagakkai nor Nichiren Shoshu have behaved in exactly the same fashion as a Westerner would expect them to behave. Instead they have been influenced by notions such as the "47 Ronin" or ideas of Uchi Ichi (revenge) that don't exactly fit into Judeo-Christian or even mainstream Buddhist thinking. Instead these are ideas that are more at home in a Shakespearian tragedy, Medieval times, or other places where family feuds and clan conflict have undergirded supposedly civilized lands. Indeed they resemble the place that Nichiren talks about in his own times.

Brief:

Jimon Ogasawara was a Nichiren Shoshu priest who wrote several tracts on theoretical Buddhism during and before World War II1. He was part of a tide of Nichiren and other Buddhist priests and lay believers who bent over backwards to spin their religions so that they could support the Japanese effort to create an Empire in East Asia2. And he went further than that. Influenced by the founder of the "Nichiren Shugei" movement, Chigaku Tanaka3, his theories subsumed the role of Nichiren as a teacher and reformer of Nichiren Buddhism to him as an "emmanation of the Sun Goddess4. Those theories thus went even further deviant than those of Tanaka himself. His teachings fueled an ultranationalism that was ugly and contrasted directly with more traditional views of Nichiren such as those developed by the teacher Makiguchi and his Soka Kyoiku Gakkai. He also allegedly was behind a plot to unite all the Nichiren religions into one ultra-nationalist sect. And according to Josei Toda was the man responsible for the jailing of the leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai and the death of Josei Toda's mentor, Makiguchi. During World War II these betrayals led to his defrocking. After world war II he was fully reinstated and he was permitted to visit the head temple. In 1952 while visiting the Head Temple he was confronted by 47 leaders of the Sokagakkai youth movement led by none other than Daisaku Ikeda. They confronted him and forced him to sign a confession, though he was completely unapologetic. They called him names (racoon-dog priest), humiliated him, and paraded him around the head temple grounds during the middle of a ceremony honoring the 700'th anniversary of the first chanting of the Daimoku. As a result of this he later sued both the Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu. These events raised a storm of bad publicity which led Josei Toda to publicly apologize and promise to convert the entire Japanese nation in recompense.

Background

Writers such as Chigaku Tanaka and others equated the Nichiren Goal of "Kosenrufu" with that of Japans conquering the world.5 Tanaka created a movement called the Nichiren Shugei movement, which sent missionaries out of Japan for the first time. One of those missionaries, Nichidatsu Fujii6 would later rebel against this movement and find himself walking alongside Mohandis Gandhi in India, but others were convinced by this to form movements that were more or less nationalistic as well as Nichiren based. Examples of movements inspired by Tanaka include the Rissho Koseikei, the Kenshokai, and the Reiyukai "New Religions". The Kenshokai was also influenced by Ogasawara himself

Into this climate the priest Ogasawara, who was a fuji school scholar, What made Ogasawara's writings particularly eggregious is that they subsumed Nichiren to being an emmanation of the Sun Goddess (and thus subservient to 'her'). He first wrote these theories in 1932 7 His writings thus loaned support to the restrictive religious policies of the Japanese wartime government. By putting forth this notion that Nichiren was an emmanation of the "Sun Goddess" he was able to justify an unwarranted syncretism and try to make Nichirenism a religion that was fully consistant with the Nationalist aspirations of the Japanese People. He probably hoped to literally convert the emperor, but whatever he wanted to do it was a severe distortion of Buddhism.

Nichiren writes about the Emperor as follows in On Debating other Sects written to Sanmibo Nichigyo in 1269:

In your letter you mentioned the great honor you had to give a lecture at the family temple of a court noble. But to me it seems very strange for you to say so. You are a priest who renounced the secular world and, what is more, you embrace the most precious teaching in the world. Even if you should meet a Bodhisattva of the highest rank, why should you think it anything special? Much less should you stand in awe of even Bonten or Taishaku. They are the servants of our father, Shakyamuni Buddha, who have been sent by him to govern his domain and support the priests who embrace the true law. Bishamon and the other heavenly kings rule over the four quarters as guards appointed by Bonten and Taishaku. The rulers of the four continents are all retainers of the four heavenly kings. But the ruler of this little island country of Japan would not even qualify as a retainer of the Wheel Rolling Kings who reign over the four continents. He is nothing but an island chieftain. By calling the retainer of this chieftain "his excellency," exulting over "his gracious invitation" and, what is more, by speaking of the "great honor" you had, are you not in essence expressing your low opinion of me, Nichiren? On the whole it seems that when my disciples go to the capitol city, Kyoto, they first heed my warnings but later become crazed by the devil of the sixth heaven. That is exactly what happened to Sho’ubo. Don’t become like him and incur heaven’s wrath.

Ogasawara, by toadying to the Government, was along with most of the Nichiren establishment of the time, acting in exactly this same "provincial" spirit that Nichiren was warning Sanmibo about in his letter. For people like Sanmibo, or Ogasawara, or others who claim to support Nichiren's teachings, Japan is first in their thinking. They would rather be a big fish on a little Island than see the affairs of Buddhism in a realistic light and also see the purpose of Nichiren's critiques for what they are. (See my page at literal.html for more on these issues).

Thus, Like most such people, he pushed these doctrines at least partly for his own benefit and partly because his own "insular" or "village" perspective prevented him from seeing the bigger picture or how his views would impact people outside of Japan. Because he was an intellectual, and a Nichiren Shoshu priest he was tolerated and even encouraged by the other priests of Nichiren Shoshu either as his behavior helped keep the Government off of their back, or because they were convinced by his arguments. Indeed, it turns out that all the various Buddhist schools were bending over backwards to support Militaristic State Shinto and the Government during that time. This was true from A to Zen.

Pre-War Efforts

For instance this quote describes his theories:

"Rev. Jimon Ogasawara asserted his theory that the Buddha should be situated under the Imperial God(Sun Goddess)

While his theories were extreme. he was still an ordained Nichiren Shoshu priest. The Untold History of the Fuji School recounts that he was intimately involved in the electioneering that occured within Nichiren Shoshu in the 1920's. According to that account he supported Nikken Shonin's father, Nichikai, for the position of High Priest in 1926 agains the previous holder of the position, Nitchu, this resulted in the election of Nichiko Hori, whose own theories were diametrically opposite of Ogasawara's. In 1928, Ogasawara succeeded in deposing Nichiko Hori, but failed to have his own candidate become high priest, Koga Arimota, and instead Nichikai was elected to the office became the high priest that year. Ogasawara, having stabbed Nichikai in the back resorted to the usual ploy of using religious dogma to gain power.

The untold history recounts:

Jimon Ogasawara, then a director of propagation, strongly requested that the priesthood adopt the doctrine that the Buddha is subordinate to the Shinto deity. Also, regarding the silent prayers, Ogasawara sharply criticized the head temple administration. In the magazine Sekai no Nichiren (Nichiren of the World), he writes: “To place the Sun Goddess after Brahma, Indra and the king devil of the sixth heaven is a great blasphemy. Heavenly deities worshiped in India such as Brahma and Indra must be deleted at once.” His criticism was heard, and the Indian deities were promptly deleted from the silent prayers while the Shinto deity and the emperor were given a more prominent place."

He was in good company, the entire Japanese Nation was supporting Shinto and the Imperium. World War II was coming, and the entire country was delusional.

"In 1929, Nikkai attended the New Year's celebration with the Emperor at the Imperial residence and wrote his uplifted feelings in 'Dai-Nichiren.'"8

(Quote originally came from a Japanese controlled website:http://www.nichiren.com/war.htm

It now is also here:http://www.sokaspirit.com/war.htm)

As the War began

The untold history of the Fuji school recounts:

By advocating a doctrine that subordinated Buddhism to Shinto, Ogasawara attempted to regain his influence. Through his close associations with military officials, Ogasawara caused the government to apply pressure on Taiseki-ji. He also sent a letter to High Priest Nikkyo, asking him to clarify his stance regarding the relative merits of the Buddha and the Shinto deity. Ogasawara attempted to lure Nikkyo into making a statement offensive to the military regime, thus placing the high priest in a vulnerable position. Ogasawara’s scheme, however, was not successful. He underestimated the priesthood’s willingness to compromise its doctrinal integrity to protect itself. On September 14, 1942, the priesthood expelled Ogasawara, charging him with minor violations of the priesthood’s rules and regulations such as failing to pay administrative dues. The decision, however, was political, not doctrinal.The fact that the priesthood continued to support the military regime’s nationalistic propaganda based on state Shinto after Ogasawara’s expulsion indicates that the head temple administration’s decision was motivated by its desire to remove an element hostile to the controlling faction, not by its intent to punish Ogasawara for advocating an erroneous doctrine.

These ideas were also publicly pushed in 1942 to bolster the Japanese War Effort, Kevin Doak writes:

"When, in September 1942, Kaburagi Kihei revived the heterodox theory, expounded earlier by Ogasawara Jimon in 1934, that the Buddha was merely a manifestation of the Japanese native gods (Pû[)), his sense of timing could not have been better. Kaburagi’s attempt to rede³ne Buddhism for the wartime state held particular signi³cance, as it came in the midst of Shimonaka Yasaburõ’s campaign to have all “war heroes” buried in Shinto rites. Both the struggle over burials and Kaburagi’s theological debates suggested the tremendous power Buddhism retained over the Japanese people even during the heyday of State Shinto ideology. Yet, following so closely after the symposium on overcoming modernity, this theological debate helped situate Buddhism in the early 1940s within the Japanese state-directed “pan-Asianism” by restoring Japanese essence, represented by the priority placed on native kami, at the core of a religious tradition that otherwise might have absorbed Japan into an Asian whole."9

In otherwords, without the subsuming of Japanese beliefs to its nativist Shinto ideas, those ideas might have gained greater currency among Asians outside of Japan. Rather than a genuine "pan-asianism" Japan was promoting a Japanese Hegemony that could only suicidally alienate the Asians whose countries they had invaded. Sure enough that was what happened. People who might otherwise have greated the Japanese as liberators, to this day remember them as horrible "nativist" oppressors. This puts Makiguchi's criticism of those beliefs in even more stark relief.10 And apparantly this criticism didn't pass unnoticed.

Apparantly, there was some reason for Toda to believe that Ogasawara was involved among those who denounced the Sokagakkai to the authorities for their "thought crimes." Even if that is not true, his promotion of Shinto/Nichiren syncretism emboldened the Government to push the "shinto talisman" episode which led to Makiguchi's remonstration and to his being targeted. These efforts thus directly culminated in Makiguchi's and Josei Toda's arrest and imprisonment during the late war period. It was this effort that finally got him in trouble with the Head Temple, as it didn't feel it should join even temporarily with "other Nichiren Schools". His efforts didn't succeed, but the result of the war was that the head temple nearly burned down and one High Priest Nikkyo11 immolated himself in the ashes

The incident at the Anniversary of Nichiren's first Invocation of the Daimoku

After the war Toda held Ogasawara to be responsible for his imprisonment and was surprised, when a few years later he was restored to the priesthood. Despite severely slanderous behavior, Ogasawara had been fully rehabilitated without a public apology. This animosity toward Ogasawara culminated in 1952 with an incident in which the 80-year-old priest was surrounded by thousands of Soka Gakkai YMD, stripped to his underwear and assaulted. According to reports, a young future President Ikeda was part of the "47" YMD who spearheaded this assault.(See revenge.html12 for a discussion of this.)

The book "The Fire in the Lotus"13 recounts the stage as follows:

"In April 1952 a four day Gala was planned to celibrate the 700th anniversary of the first day that Nichiren had chanted the Daimoku. The Hokkeko would bring 2,500 members and he planned to provide 4000.... He had learned that Ogasawara was going to be present."

"Before leaving for the head temple, Toda organized the young members like shock troops. He instructed them to search discreetly for the offending priest and then be ready for action once they found him. They were to challenge him to debate his views right then and there. Forty-seven leaders of the youth division, one of whom was Daisaku Ikeda, worked out a systematic plan to find him. On arriving at Taiseki-ji, they fanned out and carefully combed the temple grounds. Nevertheless they might have missed him entirely had not a young lady from Hokkeko inadvertantly tipped them off by innocently remarking that she ahd seen the famous Reverend Ogasawara at one of the Priests lodging houses. Instantly the Youth Division sent one of their number to advise Toda, while the rest of them converged on the house. They barged strait in and found the sixty-nine year old theologean clad in his priestly garments and talking cheerfully to several other clergymen."

"The young men immediately challenged him to debate his views. The old priest tried to put them off saying the hour was late and he was tired after his long journey to the temple. But Sokagakkai members kept pouring into the room and demanded that Ogasawara retract his views and take the blame for the imprisonment and death of Makiguchi. The old man, now thoroughly annoyed, told them to go away and leave him alone. The lady from the Hokkeko, embarrassed by the results of her innocent introduction, slipped away without a word. Three other priests, who had been chatting with Ogasawara, sat in shocked silence, unable to believe they were hearing such abuse heaped on so venerable a divine."

"'Take off his robe!' Someone shouted. 'Take off his robe and take him to the grave of Makiguchi!" [which is on the head temple grounds]

"Four men picked up the squirming priest. They were just about to carry him out the door when Toda appeared at the doorway."

"'Stop!'"

What happened next is not clear. According to Ikeda, Toda reasoned calmly with Ogasawara, demanding an apology, while the old man 'drooled at the mouth' and 'howled like a rabid dog.' But Murata claims that Toda told him in an interview that he struck the old priest 'twice.'" In any case, Ogasawara would not be intimidated, and would admit to nothing."

"Seeing that he was getting nowhere, Toda finally strode out, leaving the old priest to his tormentors. 'If you so stubbornly refuse to apologize, whatever happens to you is no longer my concern. Whatever the Youth Division may do to you, I will not take responsibility.'"

As soon as their leader had left, the young men once more hoisted the priest on their shoulders. By then they ahd torn off his priestly robe and stripped him down to his underclothes. They carried him out to the head Temple grounds, shouting through megaphones:"

"'This is Jimon Ogasawara, a parasite in the lion's body, gnawing at Nichiren Shoshu...This is the villanous monk, the actual murderer of Mr. Makiguchi!'"

"They tagged him with a placard reading 'Racoon Monk,' and bore him to the grave of Makiguchi. There the thoroughly shaken old man was forced to sign a prepared apology and repudiation of his theological opinions."

Craig Bratcher tells us:

Toda visited the temple with 4000 members of his Youth Division (led by Daisaku Ikeda) and assaulted Ogasawara. Toda felt justified in doing so to avenge his late teacher and demanded an apology from the octogenarian priest. When Ogasawara refused, the young men mobbed him and carried him on their shoulders, tagging him with a placard inscribed: Tanuki Bozu (Racoon Monk). Ogasawara was taken to Makiguchi's grave, where he was forced to sign a statement of apology.

Ogasawara was in danger of his life. Though he signed the apology, he was obviously unbowed by all the crowds. Whether 2000 or 4000 Gakkai members, he obviously was surrounded by a hostile crowd. Yet he was too stubborn to apologize and too humiliated to do so in any way that could actually make amends for his prior behavior. This was no way to win a battle. Daniel says that next:

"By then a large crowd had gathered at the scene. Chief Director Izumida of the Soka Gakkai took charge....Some local firemen, thinking that the priest was about to be lynched, finally managed to break through the mob. However, when it turned out that the firechief was Izumida's brother in law, the matter was settled amicably. Ogasawara was released and the crowd dispersed."

Of course that was not the end of the matter by a long shot. Daniel recounts that "nearly all the clergy and laity of Nichiren Shoshu were shocked by the violence." The high priest at the time, Nissho, forced Toda to apologize, and Toda promised to convert the entire Japanese nation as his atonement. And there was also a scandal and a court case.

Lessons from the incident

Toda had legitimate reasons to feel bitter towards Ogasawara and that the text he quotes from documents those reasons. For more about Toda's feelings of the time see thelink to his Essay the "History and Conviction of the Gakkai". (in which he doesn't name Ogasawara by name but does relate the results of his schemings.

Even so, as Craig alleges:

The high priest Nissho admitted that assaulting a Nichiren Shoshu priest is tantamount to assaulting the High Priest himself and that punishment of a members of the priesthood is the prerogative of the High priest alone. He further prohibited Toda from coming to the Head Temple for three months. (also see Toda's History and Conviction

You can't paper over Injustice or disagreements

Despite Ogasawara's evident heresy during the war, the priesthood banded together like Police or other groups that place their group identity ahead of enforcing the discipline of their members. While the priesthood did excommunicate him for going "too far" when he tried to "unite" the sects -- presumably under himself eventually -- they reinstated him to full priesthood without even a public apology or disavowel of his previous assertions. Despite the fact that Ogasawara's activities had resulted not only in Makiguchi's death, but, indirectly in the suicide/death of Nikkyo Shonin and the near destruction of the head temple, Nissho had forgiven him without getting a formal apology. This is the trouble with "forgiveness." How anyone can forgive someone for harming another person I never have figured out. The apology was owed Toda and Makiguchi. Even if the High Priest had the authority to forgive Jimon Ogasawara for harming the priesthood, he didn't have the authority to forgive him for harming Makiguchi and Toda. Even with that power, he really shouldn't have done that until a true public apology had been obtained. Allowing him to come back without either a hearing or a public apology was perpetuating an injustice.

Unjust systems create Injustice

It was this that caused Toda to invoke the "47 ronin" example. When a system itself is unfair, it cannot help but perpetuate injustice and cycles of revenge. That in itself is an argument for such principles as due process, the right of appeal, and democratic structures.

You cannot claim that something has been "refuted" until the "opponant" has admitted his error and become a "disciple" of the person doing the "refutation" or "critique." The result of this is mischief. Indeed to this day there are camps that assert the righteousness of his assertions during the war or make excuses for him. Toda was right to be aghast at that. He felt very strongly about the importance of the 17th admonition (to not follow even the high priest if he goes against Buddhism.

In the story of the 47 Ronin, A samurai had committed an offense against a court official, but the court official had also had committed an offense and wasn't punished for it. The priesthood had admitted Ogasawara back into the priesthood without punishing him, while Makiguchi had paid for his legal transgressions with his life (even though he had done no wrong). Without equal justice there is no true justice. Without accountability incidents like the 47 Ronin only display the essential unfairness of the system that they lived in. Their act was essentially meaningless because there was no reform of Government or ending of the unequal protection under the law.

Law Suits and revenge

All the sources agree that Ogasawara tried to file lawsuits against both Toda. He won some sympathy until two things happened. First the role that Ogasawara had played in the death of Makiguchi started coming out in the courts. And second he soon over stepped his bounds and sued the High Priest when the High priest demanded that he withdraw his suit against Toda who had already apologized. Public opinion then swung against Ogasawara, and he ultimately dropped his lawsuits and also apologized to the High Priest. He never did apologize sincerely to Toda or recount his teachings. And a variant of those teachings still inform the group called the Kenshokai led by the Nichiren Shoshu Renegade Shoei Asai. Additionally the resentment he felt towards the Sokagakkai was felt by those of his fellow priests who had at one time either shared his factional feelings or been associated with him. One can presume that one of them was the young Acolyte Nikken Abe, who would later become the sixty-seventh high priest.

While the Japanese are infamous for refusing to apologize when they have wronged someone -- they are also famous for abjectly apologizing when they have been caught. And though they aren't any worse than other people on that score one can directly blame the heirarchical habits and authoritarianism of their society for the sorts of injustice that occur as a result. Revenge has been a frequent theme of traditional Japanese writings, and like Western Religion, it is always a result of an official system that either doesn't have recourse for low-ranking or other victims, or that ignores or shelves those avenues of appeal. For a look at the tale of the 47 Ronin follow this link: 47ronin.html, For a discussion of "revenge" follow this link to revenge.html.

Further Readings and sources

These sites tell the story of the confrontation between Toda and Ogasawara:
Craig Bratcher:
http://www.cebunet.com/sgi/ogasa.htm
Craig tries to exhonerate Ogasawara by linking Toda to a forged document created by the Government during World War II to discredit the imprisoned Sokagakkai leaders, including Toda himself.

Some Gakkai Accounts:
http://www.nichiren.com/war.htm
http://members.aol.com/nigelloyd/nichiren-shoshu/highpriest-scandals/5.htm
http://www.gakkaionline.net/TIResources/WWIIactions.html
http://www.nichiren.com/history.htm
http://www.sokaspirit.com/war.htm
Michael Ryuie:
http://www.crosswinds.net/~campross/Ryuei/SokaGakkai-02.html
If you can read French:
http://www.16mars.net/www/watanabe/node65.html
Scholarly:
http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/nlarc/pdf/Rude%20awakenings/Doak.pdf
Also:
http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/pdf/554.pdf
http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/pdf/550.pdf

Footnotes

  1. See Rude Awakenings page 195
  2. Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, by David Bergamini. ISBN: 0671785664, published 1972 (currently out of print)
  3. See my page on Chigaku Tanaka
  4. History and Conviction Essay by Toda
  5. See this article
  6. "http://www.dharmawalk.org/excerpts.htm"
  7. http://www.sokaspirit.com/war.htm
  8. See Rude Awakenings page 195
  9. See my page on Makiguchi for more detail on this
  10. This is a nasty footnote, that first came to my attention in the book the "Human Revolution"
  11. My page Fire in the Lotus, Daniel Montgomery

sources:

Fire in the Lotus, Daniel Montgomery
Japan's Imperial Conspiracy, by David Bergamini. ISBN: 0671785664, published 1972 (currently out of print)
Murata, Kiyoaki; Japan's New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai; John Weatherhill, Int, Tokyo, 1969.
ibid.,pp.95 -97.
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