I WOULD like to turn for a moment to the period of World War II, when the oppressive power of the militarists extended to all phases of Japanese life, including religion. All kinds of religious organizations suffered from oppression, but because of the militarists' mistaken belief that the teachings of Nichiren (who propagated the Lotus Sutra) and those of the Lotus Sutra (on which his teachings are based) could be put to the service of ultranationalism, less pressure was applied to organizations - like Rissho Kosei-kai that - professed faith in that sutra.
In truth, the Lotus Sutra, completely the opposite of all power philosophies, advocates respect for humanity, the perfectability of man, and peace for mankind. We did not attempt to take advantage of the ultranationalism then rampant in Japan. Instead we remained a group huddled in a corner and devoted to mutual protection and the preservation and education of human beings. From the stand-point of the militaristic national state, individual human lives were of little importance. As an organization devoted to the respect of individual human lives, we might have become the victims of government oppression. But the military's mistaken interpretation of the nature of the Lotus Sutra proved to be our good fortune.
If we escaped oppression from the military, we were not spared the censure of the mass communication media. One newspaper called us traitors because groups of women came together under our auspices to spend whole days doing nothing but reading sutras when the factories and other enterprises of the nation were crushed with work and crying out for help. While realizing that there might be something in this objection, we clung to our faith because, on closer examination of the issue, we saw that spiritual calm and repose and the healing of psychological wounds also served the good of the nation.
With the intensification of the war, more and more people came to us. And the increase in our membership stimulated the police to interfere with us in more annoying ways. At night, even when no police or air-raid warnings were in effect, they would come to us with orders to turn out the electric lights by which we had been conducting hoza sessions. Ironically, this had a spiritually strengthening effect. To take the place of the electricity, we lighted candles, which we shielded with newspaper to prevent their being visible from the outside. Sitting around these lights gave us all the feeling of truly protecting the flame of the Law of the Lotus Sutra.
The noted Japanese Christian writer Reverend Toyohiko Kagawa, who is intimately familiar with the Lotus Sutra, made some pertinent comments about it and the way the Japanese people interpreted it in the days of World War II. In his book Religion as Life he says:
"Reading the Lotus Sutra made me happy that Japan has preserved such a fine work for over a thousand years. There is good reason why prince-regent Shotoku [574 - 622] and Nichiren endorsed this sutra. The Lotus Sutra is not a philosophical work, but a perfect religion in itself. In this, it differs from the Agama sutras, which the Buddha expounded in the first period of his teaching.
"But I wonder to what extent the Japanese people today realize the teachings of the Lotus Sutra in their daily lives and the extent to which followers of that sutra think its teachings ought to be so realized. The number of followers of Nichiren Buddhism who use the Lotus Sutra as a tool in the service of the militarists and the privileged classes makes me indignant. But I was relieved and overjoyed to see that the Lotus Sutra itself teaches the very opposite of the way such people use it. I was very happy to learn that the true essence of the Lotus Sutra is to be found in the practice and realization of its teachings.
"When I learned that the truest follower is one who humbly reveres even the smallest beings, I discovered that I too might be called a follower of the Lotus Sutra. Believers in this sutra have no reason to fault Christ and his disciples. Indeed, the believer in the Lotus Sutra should rejoice that its predictions have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ."
"Who humbly reveres even the smallest beings." We were the smallest beings, striving to walk hand in hand on the path of life. But even the smallest beings enjoy mighty protection when they bear the grave responsibility of being an emissary of the Buddha. My personal experiences demonstrate the working of this protection.
On August 8, 1941 , I received orders to report for military duty. The war between Japan and China was moving into its last phase, and the danger of conflict with the United States was growing stronger. Thirty-four years old, I was strong and healthy. I was prepared to serve from three to five years, if I was not killed in battle. Though my own resolution was to be brave and do the best I could, Kosei-kai's members were troubled to be deprived of one of their leaders.
But Myoko Sensei received a divine revelation to this effect: "Niwano will be home within three to five days. It is unthinkable that a man with a great mission should be sent to the front as a soldier. Niwano has not yet been able to abandon himself entirely. Until he does, he will be unable to serve as a true disciple of the Buddha. He must ponder this and leave now."
Reflecting on this severe revelation, I asked myself if my willingness to serve in the military to the best of my ability indicated that I had not completely abandoned myself for the sake of my mission. Perhaps so. If I had given myself to my mission entirely, I would have regarded being ordered to the front as a misfortune.
Be that as it may, it was impossible that I should return in three to five days. With the nation on the brink of a huge war, my personal fate was inconsiderably small, no more than a sheet of paper in a typhoon. Like a typhoon, war sweeps all before it--the good, the bad, the rich, the destitute, the day laborer, the university professor, and everyone else. The leader of a religious organization with about one thousand members does not count at all. No matter what Myoko Sensei's revelation said, that could not be altered. There must have been some mistake.
I left Tokyo Station at eight in the evening, on August ninth. About a hundred neighbors and members of Kosei-kai came to see me off. On the following day, I arrived at the Maizuru training base and, for some reason, was declared physically disqualified.
I was struck dumb. At the same time, I experienced a burning sensation throughout my body. My person, which I had considered no more significant than a scrap of paper in the wind, suddenly took on great importance. The Buddha had assigned to one of the smallest beings the mission of saving his fellow small beings.
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