A booming economy has spawned a militant new religion with 10 million adherents bent on dominating the world

Look Magazine/September 10, 1963
By Richard Okamoto

The Japanese people either want to be leaders or want to be led," says an international business executive and learned Japanophile. "Soka Gakkai guarantees fulfillment for both the shepherd and the sheep -- or for a Hitler and the hordes."

Soka Gakkai (Value Creating Society), or "True Buddhism," as it is called, today ranks next to the "in" Liberal-Democratic party and the opposition Socialist party. It has become the Third Voice of Japan. Its personable 35-year-old leader, who claims a following of 10,000 (including Americans, Europeans and Southeast Asians), has proclaimed that "Soka Gakkai's ultimate goals are happiness for the Japanese people and world peace." By respected detractors, the new faith is variously labeled as "militaristic," "fascistic," "ultra nationalistic" and "dangerous," "sacrilegious," "deceptive" and "fanatic." There is no question that Soka Gakkai's significance within Japan is of the first magnitude.

Soka Gakkai regards itself as not only the one true Buddhist religion, hut the one true religion on earth. Its principal aims are the propagation of its gospel throughout the world, by forced conversion if necessary, and the denunciation and destruction of all other faiths as "false" religions. Flushed with success at home, over and beyond the movement's own confident expectations, and armed with a powerful organization envied by other religious and political interests, Soka Gakkai is unmistakably a church militant in Japan geared for a determined march abroad. Its significance to America and all nations cannot be ignored. Its target is world domination.

The Japanese have been generally an irreligious but tolerant people who have made their country a fertile if frustrating field for all religions. Indeed, Japan has been called a "museum of religions." Today, a merger of religion and politics seems ready to transform that complacent museum into an exploding arsenal.

At a rehearsal for the Japanese adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, in Tokyo's dimly lit Haiyuza Theater, actress Tetsuko Kobayashi said, "Yes, Christianity is dominant in the world today, and there will be 'discrimination' and 'cold war' as long as people believe in this false religion. In order to gain world peace, people everywhere must be taught to believe in Soka Gakkai."

Tetsuko-san's voice was gentle; her vision of peace was unmistakably militant. The bright, comely 25-year-old television and stage actress continued: "The most important mission of Soka Gakkai is to show others that their religion, whatever it is, cannot be true religion and therefore cannot bring them true happiness. They must, sooner or later, join the only true faith, Soka Gakkai. It is our one purpose in life to make them join us and realize true happiness and he real values of life, now and in the life to come." Convinced that her artistic career would have ended long ago except for her strict adherence to Soka Gakkai, she said, "I never forget to worship, just as I never forget to breathe."

Of the 30 "new" religions now established in Japan, Soka Gakkai (pronounced So-ka Gok-ki-ee) is the one movement that has startled, ,shaken, awakened and alarmed this once again vigorous nation. Tetsuko Kobayashi is typical of 10 million who have rejected other beliefs to embrace "True Buddhism," and make it, within ten years, the Third Voice of Japan.

By the elections of 1962, Soka Gakkai had installed 15 members in Japan's Upper House (senate), and 99 percent of its candidates were shoo-ins in local and prefectural elections throughout the country. Leaders spoke openly of winning the majority of seats in both houses (a goal they now deny), and Japan was faced with the sudden intrusion of a religious movement into the political arena.

The Japanese Ministry of Education. scholars and such nonpartisan societies as the Union of the New Religious Organization Japan and the International Institute for the Study of Religions (Tokyo) began research on Soka Gakkai and the other religions. Their general conclusion was that the movements natural developments in the religious and sociological vacuum created in postwar Japan following the American Occupation.

According to missionary Harry Thomsen, author of The Religions Of Japan (Charles Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vt.), the existing "old" religions had been put to the test and had failed. Japan's defeat, the first in its long and unique history, opened the floodgate for the new religions, which poured, quite naturally, into a devastated and spiritually starved country.

The new faiths, for the masses, are answers to a moral crisis was a by-product of the impotency of traditional beliefs. Shinto, with its propagandized link to the head of state, the Emperor, suffered great loss of face upon Japan's defeat. Buddhism generally had not been a vital religion since long before the war. Christianity was (and remains today) a "foreign" religion.

The 30 new religions (that is, not Buddhist, Shinto or Christian) registered as "miscellaneous" with the Ministry of Education attracted about 18 million converts, or one out of every five Japanese. Ten million of the 18 million belong to Soka Gakkai.

All the new religions share some general characteristics: a modern and imposing "Mecca" headquarters; a simple, uncomplicated doctrine; optimism, faith healing and strong leadership. Each is in based in part on ancient Buddhism, Shintoism, Christianity or convenient admixtures. Each holds out a sense of self-importance and dignity; each is an "I-ism" offering social acceptance and social security.

Soka Gakkai is distinguished by its near-miraculous pole vault into national prominence and by its fanatical egotism and maniacal intolerance of all other religions. No other group has so aroused a nation. No such charges as "militaristic," "aggressive," "fantastic," "intolerant," "egotistic" have been leveled against any new religion in Japan but Soka Gakkai. Its fantastic success can be attributed to it's principal Marxist-like doctrine of propagation (the end outweighs the means) and its militaristic organizational structure. Fifteen families' constitute a squad, six squads a company, ten companies a district, and 30 districts a regional chapter. The regional chapters are directly responsible to Tokyo headquarters, and headquarters chiefs of staff are responsible only to the president (or Commander-In-Chief), whose word is absolute. Each convert has a two-fold obligation: propagation and blind devotion

Founded in 1930 as a lay movement of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a disgruntled school principal, Soka Gakkai was given new direction after World War II by Josei Toda, a former schoolteacher. Toda adapted Patron Saint Nichiren's 3th century doctrines to the needs and aspirations of a defeated people. The Toda-Nichiren doctrine calls for the marriage of church (Soka Gakkai) and state, a ferocious intolerance of any other teaching and destruction of all other religions as false, baseless or obsolete.

Today's president is energetic, genial and glib 35-year-old Daisaku Ikeda (no relation to the Prime Minister). Ikeda Sensei ("Teacher"), as he is addressed, was interviewed by LOOK in Soka Gakkai's modern press building in Tokyo. President Ikeda reflected actress Kobayashi's mild manner and dogmatic, arbitrary spirit.

Asked about Soka Gakkai's political principles, Ikeda replied that he was interested solely in getting rid of those "corrupt elements in Japanese politics which ignore the individual and are only concerned with themselves."

Recently, the Japan Times had reported that a 33-year-old an "avid follower of Soka Gakkai," had shoved his four-year-old son into the path of an oncoming train, then changed his mind about committing suicide. The child died of a fractured skull. Reminded that Soka Gakkai promised "instant" better lives to all members and converts alike, Ikeda commented, "Miserable incidents of this kind [can only be traced] to the poor, corrupt Government of Japan in order to elevate the Government from such a deplorable state, the Komeikai [Komeito] [political arm of Soka Gakkai] is trying to make the Government provide welfare for the general public and the peace of the entire world!"

As to other great world religions, he said, "Soka Gakkai leaders and I, myself, have thoroughly studied and researched all the religions of the world. We found them all to be wanting in one way or another ...false, too mystical, obsolete." When offered the information that

This writer is an Episcopalian, Ikeda ingenuously admitted ignorance of the denomination. He dismissed it adroitly by lumping it as "Christianity based on the Bible," and, since the Bible has been "researched and evaluated" and found to be "false, unbelievable" and "full of myths," it, too, was "valueless." By the end of the interview, it was clear that Ikeda, whose word is absolute law to 10 million unquestioning believers, was unflinchingly confident that Soka Gakkai will succeed in the total conversion of Japan, and then the world.

According to the organization's public relations director, Yukimasa Fujiwara, it has an average net annual income of over $8,500,000 -- tax-exempt as with all acknowledged religions. He points out that Soka Gakkai's temples and headquarters are not "littered with collection boxes like the temples of the false religions."

Fujiwara said, "We have many members who are poor in heart, poor in health, but wealthy; we do not ask contributions from the economically poor. The wealthy volunteer great sums." Asked for the identity of such affluent members, he supplied only the name of the head of a minor importing firm, who happens to be on Soka Gakkai's Board of Directors.

Soka Gakkai operates its own extensive printing plant, which publishes weekly and monthly magazines, pamphlets, bulletins and newspapers in both Japanese and English, as well as hard-cover books such as Essays on Buddhism by Josei Toda and President Ikeda's Lectures on Buddhism. It is a publishing empire with a built-in, captive subscription list of 3,500,000 households.

Soka Gakkai also operates a large-scale manufacturing enterprise, whose output includes home altars, shrines and religious objects to fit anyone's budget. Although leaders claim that the home prayer scroll does not require special "housing," members are regularly urged to buy altars and adornments when good fortune strikes, as it must with faith. Soka Gakkai is, in effect, a guaranteed multiple-sales monopoly with a self-controlled, self-perpetuating mass market.

Ambitious construction programs for its spiritual headquarters (to be "100 times bigger in seven years") at the foot of historic Fuji and business headquarters in Tokyo merely suggest the extent of its financial operations. Soka Gakkai is soliciting and granting investment requests "even from nonbelievers," says Fujiwara.

A Japanese critic marvels at the movement's commercial acumen. "Naturally, Soka Gakkai means to attract floundering and questionable small businessmen by its offer to invest or back them. It will do so to coerce such men into membership. It will also instruct members to patronize this or that enterprise so long as it 'plays ball'; otherwise, intimidation, threat or extortion must be expected. Soka Gakkai is not a benevolent society; it is as much a commercial venture as is greatest industrial combine . . . but it preys on the weaknesses of unfortunate people as well as the ambitions of the business-minded"

Scholars, students and priests of other Buddhist sects, and non- partisan private citizens, raise a common cry against Soka Gakkai. The cry is aimed at the religion's principal doctrine, propagation, and the tactics employed, which demand of believers unquestioning denigration of all other religions and the "only-ness" of theirs.

Daisetz Suzuki, world-renowned Zen Buddhist scholar LOOK: "If Soka Gakkai, so-called 'True Buddhism,' practices intolerance and aggressiveness-and it does-it cannot be Buddhism because Buddhism is the continuous striving toward absolute love and absolute wisdom. These are its two vital features. There is room for intolerance and aggressiveness. . . . When Soka Gakkai people claim theirs is the only religion with value, they contradict the basic tenets of Buddhism. Soka Gakkai is not Buddhism at all."

The Rev. Dr. Shohun Kubota, vice-president of Rissho University of Tokyo, concurs. "The principle of Buddhism," he says, "is to restrain man's desires, such as sex, hunger, wealth and fame, but Soka Gakkai promises the possession of these desires. It uses man's weaknesses as a tool for its own expansion. It has the same characteristics as Nazism. Finally, it is a corruption of Buddhism."

To Dr. Yoshiro Tamura, associate professor of Tokyo University, the "true nature" of Soka Gakkai is "fanatic and dangerous." He says Soka Gakkai "makes politics dependent upon religion as long as that religion is Soka Gakkai . . . and will eventually act against freedom of religion."

Another observer fears that it may act against all freedom. "The Japanese people either want to be leaders or want to be led," says an international executive and learned Japanophile. "Soka Gakkai guarantees fulfillment for both the shepherd and the sheep . . . or for a Hitler and the hordes."

William P Woodard of Tokyo's International Institute for the Study of Religions comments: "Soka Gakkai does not respect the rights of others. It threatens reprisals to all who oppose it. Followers are obliged to engage in forced conversion, and in doing so, they force themselves into private homes and refuse to leave when asked. They disrupt public meetings and threaten nonbelievers. Leaders encourage violence.

"Soka Gakkai has developed in such a sinister manner," Woodard contends, "that most people in positions of public responsibility are afraid to take objective stands against it. They are literally afraid; they never know what form reprisal will take. Its insidious nature makes it a definite threat to a free, democratic society. It creates a kind of private terrorism, something akin to prewar rightist activities here or McCarthyism in the States."

Anxious to talk but reluctant to be identified was one recent renegade from Soka Gakkai, a graduate student at one of Japan's "Ivy League" universities. "After the ritual ceremony when the gohonzon was presented to me, a Soka Gakkai squad came to my home," he began. "My parents and two sisters are believers of Shin-Shu Buddhism. I was shocked when they bullied their way to the family altar and bodily removed and destroyed religious objects sacred to my family. Later, my bloc leader ordered me to pray more heartily to my gohonzon for the salvation of my family and to tell them that Shin-Shu Buddhism was a false religion, and that, by destroying false images, Soka Gakkai simply had performed a 'mission of mercy.' It was now up to me to persuade my family that they, too, must adopt Soka Gakkai.

"From then on," the graduate student continued, "I had no peace. Gakkai is highly regimented. At all hours, organized squads came to my home, to my university, to my part-time job, to demand that I not only spend more time at prayer, attend weekly meetings without fail, but make up my mind that I must convert my family. I do not dare drop out now and I attend meetings only to escape further pressure. . . . I do not fear bodily harm, but I have heard of cases of threat, intimidation, extortion and other unpleasant situations.. .. So you must forgive me if I cannot give you my name for publication." Shakubuku is a word that haunts any discussion of Soka Gakkai. To believers, it means converting new followers; to others, it is "forced conversion." Literally, it is "breaking and subduing." A scholar-critic who also prefers to remain anonymous has said, "Soka Gakkai is an aggressive, fighting spirit which regards the outside world as the object of shakubuku- a world to be crushed and conquered."

Soka Gakkai leader Airman 1, c Robert E. Keen, 30, and other American converts held their first general meeting last June on the outskirts of Tokyo near Johnson Air Force Base. In his "guidance speech," the omnipresent public relations director Fujiwara said, "Sooner or later, you Americans will finish your tours of duty in Japan and must return to your homes in America. Your duty is to propagate the only true faith there."

Says Keen of shakubuku: "We don't high-pressure nobody ... we are an organization that if the balance should swing to the dirty side of politics, Soka Gakkai can control it, swing it back to the right track."

What brings American servicemen stationed in Japan to Soka Gakkai? Airman 1/c Dan Hansen, 27, recalls, "I don't believe I had any religious training before. I attended the Baptist Church until I was 17 or so and came to Japan. Here, I found Soka Gakkai is what I want to believe." Hansen, a strapping body-builder, says that he always had a "hurting feeling in my throat (whether it was physical or mental, I don't know), but since I joined, I haven't had the hurting at all."

Black Airman Peter A. Allen, 28, from Bessemer, Ala., married a Japanese girl 22 months ago. He wants to remain in Japan with his wife, who is a devout follower. Allen's wife and her Japanese friends persisted in shakubuku. Finally, "to shut them up and to make them stop badgering me to join," he said, "I agreed." Asked if this was the only reason for joining, Allen nodded. "But I have as much respect for other world religions as long as others respect mine. Soka Gakkai," he concluded, "is more democratic than Christian America -- look at the situation in Alabama today!"

Former Methodist Jerry Clayton Kubo, 20, found Soka Gakkai when he met his future Japanese bride. "Just before I received my gohonzon, my prayer scroll," he said, "I wanted to get married, but there was strong resentment on both sides of the Big Sea. On this side, from military personnel, from my parents on the opposite side. I decided to deepen my faith in the gohonzon. I said to it, 'Show me your power.' Things started to change. Letters started coming from home . . . 'Tell us more about the girl.' " Following his marriage, he spent 2 1/2 months in jail for what he describes as the "prejudice of the military against the Japanese, and religious intolerance."

The great shakubuku advance of Soka Gakkai began in 1951 under second president Toda. Ostensibly to "save Japan and asia," the immediate shakubuku goal was to win three million household in Japan. Within one year, membership mushroomed to over 10 thousand families. Today, with 10 million adherents already in the fold, leader Ikeda has clearly pushed the shakubuku button for aggressive worldwide propagation.

In past years, Soka Gakkai has been sending its top leaders throughout Japan "to give instruction in the faith." This year, the drive expanded to the Asian mainland and the West. During August leaders traveled to five major South American cities. The first general meeting for Thailand was held in Bangkok on August 18, and an all European meeting was conducted a week earlier. Americans gathered in Chicago on August 25. At all meetings, everywhere, the cry is shakubuku, ("break and subdue").

The air in Tokyo, night or day, rings with the cacophony of "Soka Gakkai" and "shakubuku," the endless chanting and self-asserting songfests reminiscent of prewar imperialistic Japan. Protagonists, from Ikeda Sensei down to the member-in-the-street, give the impression of being obsessed. A discussion of any topic other than Soka Gakkai with Soka Gakkai people is a rarity. An outsider senses an indefinable uneasiness in their company, like being with people wearing blinders and, perhaps, even earplugs. The distinct feeling that, whether you are talking for or against Soka Gakkai, Tokyo's enervating humidity, or the improbable symmetry of Mount Fuji, you somehow are not getting through.

Among non-followers, general curiosity is mixed with vehement castigation, pro and con opinions, scholarly dissertations, university seminars, surveys and official government interest. Japan's press gives heavy coverage to Soka Gakkai vis-a'-vis politics, it's astronomical growth, its overt declarations and its unspoken, underlying aims. "Once total world propagation is completed," Soka Gakkai spokesmen say, "there will no longer be need for Soka Gakkai."

What, then, will become of the shepherds and the sheep... or the Hitler and the hordes?

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