NOT VERY long after its completion, the new headquarters building would no longer hold all the people who came for guidance and religious services. It became necessary for members to sit outside on the ground on grass matting. The sessions for groups who gathered in this way came to be known as hoza, one of our activities that has remained a basic practice from the inception of Kosei-kai to the present, though it did not start with a fixed form and has changed from time to time.
The members were so devoted and eager that none of them complained about sitting on the ground or even regarded it as an inconvenience. They made circles of mats around the hoza leader. Often two or three concentric circles formed a single group. And when the group became very large, the people in the outermost circles had to stand throughout the discussion.
Members vied with each other for the privilege of being in charge of preparations for the meetings and cleanup afterward. If hoza was supposed to start at nine in the morning, these people would arrive as early as five or six, spread the matting, prepare everything, and then stay after three in the afternoon to put things in order again. All this was hard work, but the members pleaded with the leaders to be allowed to do it. They were eager to acquire as much virtue as possible from their efforts, and it was because they were permeated with this desire that they were able to achieve miraculous things.
They were equally devoted to and eager for all the other duties and services of the group, including morning and evening meetings, the observances held on memorial days, and the midwinter austerities.
For the midwinter austerities, they arose at four in the morning every day for thirty days from January to February. The night before, they set out a bucket of water. In the morning, breaking the ice that had formed on its surface, they poured the water over their heads. They then drew other buckets of water until they had emptied twenty or thirty over their bodies. They then read the Threefold Lotus Sutra. Each member practiced this discipline independently in his own home.
As a result of such training, several members developed abilities to receive spiritual inspirations and to invoke the sacred protective mantra. They could quickly cure colds or stomachaches. One of the most memorable of the enthusiastic members of the early period was Ken'ichiro Murata, the head carpenter for the construction of the headquarters building. Murata was very diligent in the mid-winter austerities and became especially adept at the invocation of the sacred mantra. He took part in all our pilgrimages to Mount Shichimen (the holy mountain near Mount Minobu, where one of the priest Nichiren's disciples founded a temple in the thirteenth century) and advanced rapidly in hoza discussion groups.
Later a training hall was built at the headquarters building, and midwinter austerities were conducted there under a system that called for strict adherence to rules and schedules. People who were late to training were not allowed to enter. Bus service did not exist in those days, and people had to hurry along the cold, windy streets from the nearest train station. If they suspected they were late, they would take off their wooden clogs and run barefoot over the icy ground. If they did arrive late, they found the doors closed and had to content themselves with reading the Threefold Lotus Sutra in front of the door and returning, trembling, home. The leaders did not pamper the members, and the members survived their harsh training and made spiritual progress. The story of one woman should give an idea of the mood in which we lived. I shall let Mrs. Hiroyo Igusa speak for herself in these words taken from an extract of the official records of a meeting of former Tokyo chapter heads held on August 4, 1967.
"When my son, who is now twenty-five, was four years old, I was instructed to join a pilgrimage to Mount Shichimen. On the night before our departure, when I had made all my preparations. I was tested. My small boy suddenly developed a temperature of about forty degrees centigrade. I stayed up all night applying cold compresses to his head, but by morning his temperature still had not dropped. I did not know what to do but decided that I could not neglect my religious faith. Putting on a white pilgrimage kimono, I left the house at about four in the morning.
"Before I had gone far, I heard my eldest daughter calling, 'Mother, come back! Yoshiharu's having a fit!' I returned at once to find my son in convulsions.
"Dreading that the trouble might be very serious, I hurried to the house of Mrs. Ikuyo Morita, the leader of the second chapter - ours - to discuss the matter. She simply turned her back on me and refused to answer my questions. She was waiting to see if I would repent. Then she at last said, 'All right, I suppose you can come one train late.'
"Intending to do that, I returned home. As I was about to take my pilgrim's staff and leave to take the train, my son had another convulsion. It seemed impossible for me to go that day. I called the doctor, who did not know what the cause could be but said that it might be juvenile dysentery and recommended that we wait and watch a while longer. By about nine o'clock, the boy was somewhat better.
"I went to the headquarters, where I met Mrs. Tanaka, of the first chapter. She asked me why I was not on the pilgrimage train, and I explained. She then said that there were many posthumous Buddhist names for the second chapter and that I should attempt to make amends for not going on the trip by copying them. I set about the task eagerly.
"At lunchtime, when I returned home, my son was well and playing happily. I then saw clearly that his sickness had been a test of me. Realizing this, I went to the headquarters to copy out posthumous names for the four days that I knew the pilgrimage would last. But I was not sincere enough. I thought the matter would be settled by my doing this work. I had forgotten my children in the Law, for whom I was responsible. They were on the pilgrimage, and I remained in Tokyo. If I had so much as telephoned them at Mount Minobu. But I did not think of it.
"I was in for a difficult time at the meeting of thirty leaders that took place in the headquarters the day after the group returned. Sitting in the rear of the room and making myself as small as possible, I apologized from the bottom of my heart to both Mr. Niwano and Myoko Sensei.
"Suddenly Myoko Sensei called out, 'There's someone very foolish in this room! For the sake of her own child she left her children in the Law alone on Mount Minobu. She says she performed some tasks here to make up for it. Fool!'
"I had no idea such a loud voice could come from such a small body. The whole building seemed to be about to crack from the sound. Trembling, pale, and terrified, I could do nothing but look at the floor.
"When the leaders' meeting was over, we were to spread mats on the ground for a hoza counseling session. I was to guide one group, but before doing that I felt that I had to apologize to Myoko Sensei. I could think of nothing else.
"I happened to meet Mrs. Iwafune, the head of the fifth chapter, and asked her to take me to Myoko Sensei. Saying that it was all a part of religious training, she agreed to take me to the main room of the building. She opened the door and announced me. Mr. Niwano said, 'Very well, come in.'
"Kneeling with my forehead on the tatami floor and weeping with repentance, I seemed to strike a chord of sympathy. Myoko Sensei said, 'It's all right; if that's the way you feel, it's all right.' Then she encouraged me to go out and guide my hoza group to the very best of my ability. Next she told the head of the fifth chapter to bring me some tea and some dried persimmons.
"But this was not the end of my penance. I next had to suffer the displeasure of the head of my own chapter, Mrs. Morita, who said to me, 'Anyone Myoko Sensei says is no good is no good. I don't want to have anything to do with you.' For two months she would not speak to me. She would not exchange morning greetings with me and always sat with her back to me in hoza discussion meetings. Nothing is more painful than being ignored. A good scolding is much easier to take. Every day I read the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue, the so-called sutra of repentance. I lived repentance until finally she began to speak to me again. This trial affected me very deeply. Mrs. Morita must have known that I am rash and tend to take things lightly. That is why she resolved to teach me a thorough lesson. I have not experienced any further tests since then. But that one was both bitter suffering and an extremely good chance to learn from a religious lesson."
This episode reminds me of the experience of a certain Zen priest aspirant who, as part of his training, was given a koan by his master and was expected to reach enlightenment on it in a fixed number of days. He was to sit morning and night concentrating on the koan and, when enlightenment came, to report to the master. According to the rules, if he failed to reach enlightenment, he did not have to go to the master.
But while the trainee was performing zazen, seated meditation, the priest in charge ordered him to report to the master. The trainee objected strenuously; he had not attained enlightenment. But the priest in charge physically dragged him from the training hall. Though a grown man, the trainee wept, clutched at pillars, and did all he could to resist, but to no avail.
Of course, he had no solution to the koan yet and was severely scolded and badly embarrassed when he appeared in the master's presence.
Such an experience convinces the person that he must devote himself entirely and enthusiastically to his training program. Ordinary common sense says that, since the rule requires no appearance before the master without enlightenment, there was no reason to force the trainee to go. But when spiritual renovation and growth are the aims, training cannot be limited by common sense. Sometimes an unreasonable shock must be administered to force the human being to shed his old self and thus reveal his true, inner self, develop his true powers, and manifest his true life-force. It is especially important to give attention to this today, when everything is interpreted in the light of facile rationalism.
Not everyone was permitted to make the important pilgrimage to Mount Shichimen. Those who could go were obliged to purify themselves for twenty-one days beforehand. They could not eat meat, fish, eggs, or milk. They could not use grated, dried bonito, which is used in the bean-paste soup that is important in the traditional Japanese diet. Furthermore, they could not even use pans that had been polluted by contact with any of these foods. For a week before departure they were obliged to conduct the cold-water ritual that was practiced during midwinter austerities. The buckets in which they drew the cold water had to be thoroughly purified by scrubbings with salt. Using an ordinary bath bucket could bring serious retributions on the head of the hopeful pilgrim. The night before departure, with ink I wrote the Daimoku - Namu Myoho Renge-kyo - on the pilgrims' white clothes, which had been brought to me, and set them in front of my family Buddhist altar. On each garment I set a glass filled with fresh water. If the pilgrim had been negligent of spiritual development or if his mind and heart were not in a suitable state, froth would appear in the water. When this happened, he would be advised not to make the pilgrimage. All these strict preparations were necessitated by the harsh penalties inflicted on some of the pilgrims during our first trip.
The first pilgrimage took place in September, 1940. The weather was unseasonably warm. I was leading the party, and Myoko Sensei was walking briskly at my side. On the way up the mountain, we all became thirsty. Fortunately, beside the main gate of the temple on Mount Minobu was a well. Near the well grew a fig tree, laden with delicious-looking, ripe fruit. In spite of the religious nature of the trip, two of the pilgrims acted like tourists on a hiking excursion and ate some of the figs.
In the inn that night, after supper, these two people came down with severe stomachaches. Myoko Sensei invoked the gods and was asked the following question: "What is the meaning of stealing on the holy mountain? In such a state of mind, you must not climb Mount Shichimen tomorrow."
We were all shocked. What indeed could "stealing" mean? I noticed that the two ailing people remained kneeling with their faces on the floor. "This must have something to do with them," I thought.
"We ate some figs from the tree by the well," they admitted. So that was what was wrong. Though it was after eleven at night, we all joined in reading the sutra of repentance, the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue.
We arose and departed at three o'clock the following morning. The weather was clear as we walked through the inner temples and had lunch at Akazawa before climbing Mount Shichimen. We stayed in a lodging hall of the temple that night and rose and went to the observation platform before dawn. After spiritual-inspirational training, we sat on the gravel, faced east, and read from the Threefold Lotus Sutra. The holy atmosphere of the mountain exerted an indescribably exhilarating physical and psychological influence. As we watched, gradually the edges of the clouds above Mount Fuji became tinged with red, then turned gleaming gold. Suddenly, with an arrow-like shaft of light, the sun appeared, lifting all of us to the pinnacle of excitement and joy.
One of my most vivid memories of pilgrimages to Mount Shichimen is connected with a religious ceremony that I was to conduct. October thirteenth is the death anniversary of the thirteenth-century priest Nichiren, who first uttered the Daimoku. On that day in 1945, when the turmoil of the immediate postwar period had begun to settle down, Myoko Sensei received a divine revelation ordering me to offer an invocation to Shakyamuni Buddha (whose image is the focus of devotion of our organization) on my next birthday, November fifteenth.
In November, Myoko Sensei was stricken with an attack of erysipelas and was forced to go to bed. I nursed her. Though I am constitutionally strong, I caught a cold, which suddenly developed into acute pneumonia. On the thirteenth and fourteenth of November, I lay ill with a fever of forty degrees centigrade. I was in the inner room of the headquarters building. I could eat nothing. The fifteenth--my birthday--was also the memorial day of the headquarters and the day on which I was to conduct the invocation ceremony. All the officers were happily and industriously making preparations.
My doctor said that I must not think of conducting a service with a temperature, but the most important thing for me was the knowledge that I would be failing my responsibility to the gods and buddhas if I did not.
On the morning of the fifteenth, I awoke at three o'clock. After a cold-water ritual in the bathroom, I wrote a Buddhist plaque, placed it in my domestic altar, and read the Lotus Sutra with all my mind. The fever did not go down. I went back to bed. Then, at nine, I received a divine inspiration: "You are still worried about your wife and children. You have not cut yourself from them. Unless you become as the gods, you will be unable to conduct the invocation ceremony." Then my fever dropped. I was able to lead the service.
Following an unwritten law of those days, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Mount Minobu as a token of my gratitude for having been allowed to carry out my duty safely. Though I still had a slight fever that evening, I performed the cold-water ritual and read the Lotus Sutra. Since I had eaten nothing for four or five days, I had some of the food that had been cooked for the ceremonies. Later that night, I put on my white pilgrim's clothes, took my staff, and joined eighty-seven other pilgrims on a train from Tokyo Station.
To reach Mount Minobu, it is necessary to change from the Tokaido Line to the Minobu Line at a station called Fuji. We did so, only to find a landslide blocking the tracks two stops before Minobu. There was nothing to do but walk along the tracks for the remaining eight kilometers.
In spite of the sickness and the strain of traveling and walking, after I visited the main hall and reported on the invocation ceremony, I felt miraculously refreshed. "As long as I'm in such good shape, I might as well climb Mount Shichimen tomorrow," I said to myself. And on the next morning, at the head of the group, I walked up the mountain, chanting the Daimoku all the way. It seemed impossible that two days earlier I had been suffering from a high fever and pneumonia. I think I can be justifiably proud that since the foundation of Rissho Kosei-kai I have never missed an event that I was supposed to attend.
On my return to Tokyo, I found Myoko Sensei completely recovered from her sickness. She greeted me with the words: "Mr. Niwano, from now on I am going to call you Kaicho Sensei." (The term means "president-teacher.") When I asked her why, she said that, in a divine revelation experienced while I was away, she had been instructed to do so. From that time, she and the other members of Rissho Kosei-kai referred to me by that title. It was shortly after this that we began calling her Myoko Sensei instead of Naganuma Sensei.
As I have said, no one was permitted to make pilgrimages to the mountains without reaching the correct stage of spiritual development. But I remember the following interesting story. Though one woman wanted desperately to join a pilgrimage to Mount Shichimen, her chapter head would not permit it. Further, her husband was opposed to her religious faith.
Undaunted, she decided to go anyway. The night of departure, she waited until her husband and children were in bed. Then, leaving a note saying that she would become a better wife for the trip and requesting permission to go, she tossed her white clothes and straw sandals out the window and sneaked from her own house. Dashing to the station, she hopped on the train and hid in the lavatory until it started. Then she appeared before the other pilgrims, pleading to be allowed to accompany them.
Pilgrimages were a strict part of our training. For a number of days beforehand, we performed the cold-water ritual as preparation. During the ascent of the mountain, we constantly chanted the Daimoku, Namu Myoho Renge-kyo. Not only did these trips leave a deep impression on the pilgrims, they also helped cement relations between us and the priesthood of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and contributed to our development as good members of society. We learned to help each other as much as possible. The strong and young helped the weak and old in climbing and in carrying provisions. (Since food was rationed then, we had to carry our own rice with us.) Usually we chartered one coach on the train. We were always very quiet, reading the Lotus Sutra or conducting calm hoza counseling sessions. Before leaving the train, we cleaned up any mess that we had made. In inns we never behaved like guests, but cleared our tables, spread our own bedding, and cleaned our rooms - even the toilets. This was excellent training for the pilgrims. In addition, it created a very good reputation for us among the members of the staffs of the inns and the people with whom they spoke about us. Indeed, many of the people working in the inns and shops we frequented and other citizens of the town of Minobu became members of Kosei-kai.
In later years, when the membership grew to hundreds of thousands, pilgrimages of this kind became impossible. We changed to a system of group pilgrimages centering on the headquarters. But for those of us who took part in them, the inspiring trips in the early days are precious memories.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.