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News Watch


In Brief

by William M. Alnor

columns from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1992, page 5. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Infighting, Division, and Scandal Afflicting Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists

Adherents of the worldwide Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist sect are embroiled in a growing, major dispute that could result in its breakup.

At press time the situation was clearly worsening as Nichiren Shoshu high priest Nikken Abe ordered the Soka Gakkai, the lay arm of Nichiren Shoshu, to disband. But according to the November 11, 1991 World Tribune, Soka Gakkai president Einosuke Akiya has refused the November 8 order on the grounds that the Soka Gakkai is an independent religious organization. (The World Tribune is a newspaper published by the U.S. branch of the Soka Gakkai.)

The disbandment order was the second major blow against the organization by its priesthood in less than a year. According to the September 1991 Cult Awareness Network News, in December 1990 the priesthood stripped Soka Gakkai leader Diasaku Ikeda of his title as sokoto, head of all Nichiren lay believers.

Since Ikeda's picture was prominently placed near Nichiren Shoshu altars worldwide, the move stunned many.

In some ways this rift between the priestly side of the sect (as represented by the Nichiren Shoshu high priest) and the secular side (as represented by Ikeda, who is also a powerful political leader in Japan who helped spawn Komeito, "Clean Government," the second largest opposition party in Japan) couldn't have come at a worse time for followers of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. In Japan within the past year and a half the Soka Gakkai group has been tarnished by a $4.5 million tax evasion case, a major stock market scandal, and a scandal involving alleged missing funds resulting from the religious group's questionable acquisition of two Renoir paintings that also implicated the Mitsubishi Corporation (see the September 8, 1991 Los Angeles Times).

Until these scandals, which appear to have hurt Nichiren Buddhism in Japan, the movement was considered one of the fastest growing religions. But despite this, there are few outward indications that the squabbling has hurt the movement in North America. Here the sect is still in an expansion mode as it is attempting to build large educational and conference facilities in Southern California's Santa Monica Mountains and in Toronto, Canada. In both locations fierce community opposition to the sect -- which is operating under the name SGI-USA (standing for Soka Gakkai-USA) in America and under the name NSC in Canada (standing for Nichiren Shoshu Canada) -- is growing due to concerns that the group may be a cult.

According to the November 17, 1991 Los Angeles Times, while the group is credited with "many good works in Japan," many critics "say it functions like a cult, with promises of material rewards and happiness in exchange for unquestioning allegiance."

The article states that certain cult-watching groups, including the Cult Awareness Network, charge that it is "a dangerous cult because of its charismatic leader -- Ikeda -- its coercive recruitment techniques, and its emphasis on chanting for material gain, which the network describes as brainwashing." In addition, Canadian opposition to the group began following an episode of "Inside Edition," a tabloid television show, which accused it of practicing mind control.

According to the 1989 Winter/Spring CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, U.S. membership in the group was estimated at a half million, while worldwide membership of the Nichiren Buddhist movement was at 17 million (including 10 million in Japan) in over 117 countries.

The movement was traced to a thirteenth-century Japanese monk named Nichiren Daishonin who claimed to have found the "True Buddhism." The JOURNAL's article, quoting the sect's own literature, also added that the group believes that the first Buddha, Shajyamuni, who lived in India 3,000 years ago, predicted that his own teachings would lose their "validity and fall into confusion." He predicted that "a great teacher would propagate the correct form of Buddhism for the new age....[and] Nichiren Daishonin...fulfilled all the conditions of the prophecy."

The sect claims that in A.D. 1253 Daishonin began chanting NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO (which is said to mean "glory to the lotus sutra of the mystical law"), and that was the date the group started.

But Nichiren Shoshu did not develop into a significant movement until the Soka Gakkai was formed as a lay branch in the 1930s. Now the Soka Gakkai is reported to be the largest single religious group in Japan.

Since Ikeda took over as president in 1960 the Soka Gakkai has flourished. He has penned more than 200 books promoting his religious philosophy that he believes will someday shape the destiny of the world. And he has hobnobbed the globe making friends and gaining influence with many leaders. Soka Gakkai actually means "value creation society."

Nichiren Shoshu is quite a bit different than most forms of Buddhism in that it is a religion that attracts many upwardly mobile people. Other forms of Buddhism, such as Zen, do not emphasize the material world. One cult watcher quoted in the JOURNAL article described it as a Buddhist "name it and claim it" movement in which members chant for better jobs and material blessings. Most adherents chant to an altar in the morning and evening in which the Gohonzon, a scroll of sacred writings contained in a black box, is kept.

Since 1967 the Soka Gakkai's U.S. headquarters has been located in Santa Monica, California, where nearby in a lush mountain meadow the sect now operates a 100-student branch of Soka University (other branches are in Japan and France). But in recent days the university has ignited controversy as it has announced plans to expand the 580-acre campus to a full-blown liberal arts college for 4,400 students, according to the September 8, 1991 Los Angeles Times. Besides the concerns of many in the community over the group's aggressive recruitment techniques, environmental groups are opposing the expansion.

In Japan the Soka Gakkai paid $4.5 million in back taxes in May 1991 after a government investigation determined that it had underreported income earned from the graveyard business it operated with the Mitsubishi Corporation. The venture, which flourished as the result of selling and renting graveyard sites near Mount Fuji, attracted scrutiny about two years ago when $1.2 million in cash was found in a safe accidentally sent to a scrapyard.

Soka Gakkai's reputation was also tarnished by Japan's stock market scandal when it received about $3.3 million from brokerage houses to compensate for its losses, while many other Japanese investors who lost millions received nothing.

Christian Scientists Charge Their Church with Violating Its Principles

For more than four decades the Christian Science church refused to publish a book it considered heretical.

But now, faced with the loss of $92 million in potential revenue, the church has changed its mind. The book in question -- The Destiny of the Mother Church by Bliss Knapp, a Christian Science lecturer who died in 1958 -- elevated church founder Mary Baker Eddy to the status of a biblical prophet. Until this year the 260-page book, which was written and privately published in 1947, was on the church's "incorrect literature" list.

Stephen Gottschalk, an authority on Christian Science and a leader in a growing dissident movement within the church, said in the October 2, 1991 Los Angeles Times that the book "comes close to deifying Eddy." Similarly, former church archivist Lee Z. Johnson, who was fired in January, 1991, told the October 14, 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer that the book is "blasphemous" because it gives Eddy the same stature as Christ and that the church is publishing it "because it is desperate for money."

Mrs. Eddy, who founded the church in 1879, actively discouraged her followers from elevating her to the status of prophet, the Inquirer article states.

According to published reports, under the condition of the wills of the author, his wife, and his sister-in-law, if the church published the book as "authorized" church literature and displayed it prominently in "substantially all" Christian Science reading rooms (which number about 2,500) within 20 years after the death of the last of the family, the church would get about $92 million left in trust. If they didn't publish it the money was to be divided between Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The last of the family died in 1973, which meant that in order to receive the money the book had to be published and displayed by May, 1993.

According to a church official quoted in the Times article, the church decided to publish the book and mail copies to the reading rooms in late September 1991 as part of a series of 15 biographies of Eddy. But within the church this decision is being debated due to growing opposition from some reading rooms to carrying the book.

Many church observers suggest that the decision to publish the book was related to the church's declining financial condition. The church treasurer quoted in the Inquirer article said that it would have been "fiscally irresponsible" for the church's board not to consider publishing it.

The article noted that in the past five years the church's total available funds have dipped from $208 million to $117 million. Operating expenses have more than doubled from $54 million to $115 million. Additionally, the church has been losing members -- a reported slide from 270,000 in the 1930s to about 150,000 today.

The church has also been facing a handful of highly publicized government prosecutions under child abuse and man-slaughter statutes related to deaths that some say could have been prevented. (See the Winter/Spring 1989 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL.) A hallmark of Christian Science teaching is that all disease can be cured by prayer rather than through medical treatment.

At the same time the church has been increasing its media outreach at a high price. In addition to publishing the Christian Science Monitor the church in recent years has gotten into television, shortwave and public radio, and began publishing a monthly international news magazine. In May 1991 the church launched what the Inquirer called "their biggest undertaking of all -- a 24-hour, advertiser-supported cable television network called the Monitor Channel."

Watchtower Issues New Instructions on Blood

The Watchtower Society has issued new instructions requiring Jehovah's Witnesses to offer greater resistance to court-ordered blood transfusions.

The June 15, 1991 Watchtower magazine (p. 31) suggests that JWs "avoid being accessible" for such a court-ordered transfusion by fleeing the scene, or else follow the example of a 12-year-old girl who had been taught to "fight any court-authorized transfusion with all the strength she could muster... scream and struggle...pull the injecting device out of her arm and...attempt to destroy the blood in the bag over her bed."

The Watchtower article states that this course is to be followed even if such action might make the Jehovah's Witness "a lawbreaker or make him liable to prosecution" by the authorities. While medical personnel generally agree that adults have the right to refuse treatment, hospitals routinely obtain court orders when children of Jehovah's Witnesses require transfusions and the parents refuse to consent. In the past, many Jehovah's Witness parents appeared content to leave the matter there: they were freed of responsibility in the eyes of their leaders, while at the same time the child's life could be saved. (Watchtower rules mandate the punishment of shunning for any who accept blood willingly.)

But now hospitals can expect many more Jehovah's Witnesses to follow the headline-making course that only a few took in the past. Obedient to the new instructions, Witness parents may either physically intervene to obstruct treatment or else abduct the child from the hospital and flee -- regardless of whether this will make them lawbreakers liable to prosecution.

In Brief....

Two new surveys have recently been published indicating that traditional Christian beliefs are eroding. The first survey -- conducted by Christian pollster George Barna of Glendale, California and summarized in his booklet, What Americans Believe -- states that 65% of Americans say Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists all "pray to the same God," although they are called by different names. It also notes that 82% of adults think that "every person has the power to determine his or her own destiny in life," a belief the report says is one of the "guiding principles" of the New Age movement. The second survey, the results of which were featured in the October 1991 United Church News (a publication of the United Church of Christ), involved the beliefs of readers of publications from various mainline denominations and the Roman Catholic church. In most cases, the results were similar to Barna's survey, but not for members of conservative Protestant groups. For example, to the question, "Are there other paths to salvation besides believing in Jesus?" more than 50% of Roman Catholics and United Church of Christ readers said yes, but 88% of Baptist readers said no.

* * * *

The confession in September from two men in their 60s that they formed the mysterious crop circles in wheat fields in England was not convincing to the UFO community. According to the October 1991 Mufon UFO Journal, their confessions don't explain how "the supposed hoaxers could create so many formations in so many countries." The mysterious circles have been found in more than 30 nations, with more than 400 appearing in England in 1990 and approximately the same number in 1991.

* * * *

Transcendental Meditation founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has landed in the African country of Zambia. According to the October 16, 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer the guru has persuaded Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda to give him 44 million acres of the country -- about one-fourth of its land mass -- for an innovative Heaven on Earth project. But there's trouble brewing for the president. Political opposition to the project is mounting in the south central African country.

End of document, CRJ0132A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"News Watch"
release A, July 31, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)

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