ON THAT morning, according to custom, I awakened at five. Listening carefully, I heard the branches of the trees rustling. "It rained last night. I wonder how the weather is today," I thought. Rising and opening the window, I felt the refreshing breeze of a May morning flow into the room. The rain that had fallen in the night had stopped, leaving a blue sky and floating white clouds. I felt the wind and said to myself, "This breeze has come from fresh spring greenery." That was the memorable morning on which ceremonies were to be held to commemorate the completion of the Great Sacred Hall of Rissho Kosei-kai.
After my private morning services, I changed into formal clothes. This always seems to brace me mentally and physically. My wife and eldest son, Koichi, too put on formal clothes; and when we met, they seemed to be somewhat tense. Soon the automobile that had been sent for us arrived, and we got in and rode away. My wife said, "I'm glad the rain has stopped, though the wind is a little strong." "But," I replied, "it is a fine wind."
There was a great throng of people in the vicinity of the Great Sacred Hall, and many happy and emotion-filled faces crowded around our car as we drove up to the entrance.
My first duty was to turn on the votive lamps in the Precious Stupa surmounting the Great Sacred Hall. The switch for these lights is located in the control room on the first floor. Prior to switching on the lights, I cut the red and white ribbons stretched across the control-room door and at the switch itself. There was not a sound as I moved to the control box. For the sake of making certain of the moment, I glanced at my wristwatch. Then I turned on the switch. At exactly eight forty-five on the morning of May 15, 1964, the eternal lights on the top of the Great Sacred Hall were illuminated.
Then, accompanied by a group of senior leaders of the organization, I went to the rooftop to see the lights and, more important, to see the roof itself. On the center pole, the purple flag of Kosei-kai fluttered in the wind. Looking down to the Haramitsu Bridge and the thoroughfare beyond, I saw masses of people moving toward the building. From as far as Hokkaido in the north and Okinawa in the south members came to celebrate the completion of the Great Sacred Hall. Looking at them, I felt my heart grow full; and without my being prepared for them, tears filled my eyes. In my mind, I called out to Myoko Sensei to observe the fervor of the members and the splendid hall that their sincerity and enthusiasm had built. I wished that she had lived long enough to see the day.
On February 24, 1956, ground-breaking ceremonies for the hall had taken place. During the following eight years and three months, the members devoted good wishes, fervor, services, and money to a project, the completion of which marked a very important step in the history of Rissho Kosei-kai. As I thought of these things and of Myoko Sensei, a sense of great warmth welled up in my breast.
The changes in the buildings used as the headquarters and main hall of worship of Kosei-kai tell much about the growth of the organization. When Kosei-kai was founded, in 1938, its headquarters was a room on the second floor of my house; but we quickly outgrew that space and, in 1942, moved into a small building, with eighty-three square meters of floor space, that we had constructed. Throughout the period of World War II, this building served our needs well. (It has since been moved to Kosei Cemetery.) After the war, however, membership increased at such a rate that the old building soon became too cramped. A movement got under way to build a new structure, but because of the conditions prevailing just after the war, a building permit was not immediately forthcoming. We did get permission, however, to move an already existing building to a different site.
We bought a training hall that the military had used in the Tokyo suburb of Hoya, transferred it to another site, and converted it into what is now called the Former Main Worship Hall. Alterations were completed in 1949. Although we thought that, with an area of 528 square meters, this building would be large enough, as soon as it was finished, we saw that we had miscalculated. Before long, three times as many people as could be accommodated in the large hall were attending services, and every day groups were forced to spread mats on the ground outside and sit on them for meetings.
To do something about this situation, we planned to build another worship hall that would be two stories high and that would house facilities for wedding ceremonies, a discussion room, and a library. But we quickly saw that the continuing increase in the membership made it impossible to accommodate a library. We therefore altered our plans and decided to build a three-story, reinforced concrete building and to devote the entire space to rooms for discussion meetings. This we did three years after the completion of the Former Main Worship Hall. But even with the new building, before long the path between the two halls was packed with people each time a meeting or worship service was held.
The choice of a site for the new headquarters of Kosei-kai was made in a very simple way. I took Myoko Sensei to the plot I had in mind. It was located in a place now called Wada Honcho. Though today it has been considerably built up, in 1964, it was still largely rural fields and groves of trees. The land that was to become the site of the Great Sacred Hall was a small hill, in the middle of the southern slope of which was a pine tree about forty years old. At the bottom of the hill flowed a small stream.
"What do you think?" I asked Myoko Sensei. "Perfect for our purposes, isn't it?"
"You seem to like it," she replied.
Dandelions were blooming on the land on that late spring day. Picking some of the golden flowers and narrowing her eyes as she looked toward the hill, Myoko Sensei said, "If you like it, I have nothing to say against it." And that was the way the site was selected.
The ground-breaking and land-purification rites, accompanied by readings from the Lotus Sutra, were conducted on February 24, 1956. Although the winter sun shone, the bitingly cold, dry wind made my ears sting. Myoko Sensei, who stood next to me throughout the ceremonies, did not complain. At one point, she turned to me and said, "Let's finish the building as fast as possible, in about a year if we can." I was curious to know why she was in such a hurry, but all she would say was, "We must hurry. Let's make the biggest and most modern hall of worship we can."
From first to last, I remained firmly insistent that the Great Sacred Hall must be an architectural manifestation of the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai. I adopted this approach because I knew that the building would be an object of intense interest and concern to nonmembers, as well as to members. For this reason, as long as it stands, it must be the main place of worship of the Lotus Sutra and a sanctuary of the Law. I felt that the building should manifest the principles of truth, goodness, and beauty. I decided that the hall must be round because the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, by which we live and work, are as perfectly complete as a circle.
Construction work got under way on the day following the ground breaking. Funds for the project were provided by donations from members all over the nation at a time that was not necessarily favorable for the giving away of money. In 1956, much was said about the final conclusion of the immediate postwar period of social and economic chaos. The Japanese economy was gaining strength; life was becoming stable again; and electrical appliances were being used by more and more people. The following year saw a slump; but by the end of the year, things took a turn for the better. Nonetheless, life was not easy for the ordinary people; and greed and selfish interest were becoming increasingly apparent in business and daily life. It was against such a background that funds were contributed for the building of the Great Sacred Hall.
Incidents occurred in connection with this project that made me realize how fortunate we are to have members of deep faith. A young girl in middle school sent two hundred seventy-five yen to the Kosei-kai liaison office and accompanied her contribution with this letter. "I made a promise not to use all my spending money on our school trip and to give three hundred yen to the building fund for the Great Sacred Hall. But when I got home and counted what I had left, I found that there was only two hundred seventy-five yen. I had spent twenty-five yen of the money that I had promised to donate. I apologize, and I feel very ashamed to admit this in front of our family altar, to my ancestors, and to Myoko Sensei and President Niwano. My contribution is small, but I hope you will accept it."
There is more to the story. When this schoolgirl's classmates began preparing to take their trip at the end of the school year, she found that she would be unable to go because of the financial straits of her family. Her elder sister, who was working in Tokyo, heard of this and, realizing the disappointment her sister would feel if deprived of this trip, which is something that all Japanese school-children look forward to eagerly, saved her own spending money and sent it home for the younger girl's travel expenses. It was from this money that the young sister resolved to save three hundred yen for the building fund. She promised that she would do this in order to put to best use the money that love and affection had inspired her sister to give her.
Probably all her classmates vied with each other to see who could purchase the biggest and best souvenirs and gifts for family and friends. But this one girl, checking her meager funds, saw that she must spend carefully if she was to save the promised three hundred yen. Even so, she overspent by twenty-five yen and felt compelled to apologize to Kosei-kai for breaking her word. The purity of heart that inspired her to write a letter of apology reflects the humility of people who live by the Buddha's Law.
In 1957, the good efforts of another needy member of Kosei-kai led us to coin the motto "A Homemade Savings Bank Is a Prayer for the Sacred Hall." The widow of an army major who was killed in World War II was forced to raise her three children by doing day labor. She wanted to make a contribution, even a small one, to the building fund; but since she received only three hundred fifty yen a day in wages, she was in no position to offer much. The leader of her neighborhood group suggested that she save the one or two yen she got in change from purchases or the five or ten yen she could save by walking instead of taking the bus and allow these coins to accumulate. She agreed to do this and made a savings bank from an old medicine can, into which she vowed to put ten yen each day. This much she felt she could manage to spare. She even wondered why this idea had not occurred to her before.
Each morning after her private devotional services, which she held at six o'clock, she dropped ten yen into the savings bank and experienced great happiness as, slowly but surely, the container grew heavier. Hands that were roughened by hauling gravel and by road construction gradually collected a widow's mite that was more precious than the larger gifts made easily by the rich.
Another deeply moving incident concerning the donation of funds has to do with a one-thousand-yen bill mailed to headquarters by a blind woman, sixty-three years old. Shortly after marrying, she had lost her sight; and this had made her short-tempered and cross. Frequently she misunderstood her husband's good intentions and upbraided him. Fights between them were frequent until she began to learn about the Buddha's Law. Then she came to understand her husband's kindness for what it was and to be grateful to him for it. Convinced that it was the Law that had made the change for the better in her life, she wanted to do something to repay a small bit of the debt she owed. Being blind however she could not go from house to house on leadership or guidance work. When she heard of the building fund for the Great Sacred Hall, she saw a chance to be useful. As a young girl, she had learned to weave the straw sandals that are called waraji. Turning her hand to this work again, she soon discovered that her blindness was not an insuperable barrier. Weaving these sandals involves several processes. First, the straw must be pounded to make it soft. It must then be woven into a kind of rope, from which the flat sandal is made. Finally, cloth is used to make the thongs that hold the sandal to the foot. This elderly woman did all these tasks herself. The only assistance she had was from her husband, who matched the colors of the cloth for the straps, a task that she was unable to perform.
On very good days, she could make two pairs of sandals; but ordinarily one pair - or only one sandal - was the limit of her output. She made the astoundingly large number of seven hundred pairs, sold them all for one thousand yen, and donated this money to the building fund.
I have never met this woman, but in my mind's eye I can see her seated on a grass mat in the front entrance to her home, pounding straw, weaving the rope, and making sandals day in day out. I can see the sweat running down her back in the sultry summer. I can feel the chill rising in her legs in the windy cold of winter. And the reward for all those many days of hard work was freely given to the Great Sacred Hall.
Unselfish contributions from all kinds of people helped bring the project to a successful completion. An elderly farmer cut medicinal herbs, sold them, and gave the money monthly to the building fund. An old woman, sixty-five years of age, weeded rice fields and sent all her earnings to Kosei-kai. A twelve-year-old girl saved the five-and ten-yen coins that were her spending money and, on seventeen occasions, contributed them to the fund. I know of many young boys who delivered milk or newspapers and contributed their earnings. All the instances that I have mentioned are only a few of the countless examples of people who collected trash, saved a yen a day, started coin banks, and did all kinds of things in order to contribute so much as one pane of glass or one bag of cement to the building. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people in all parts of Japan moved me very deeply by displaying the purity, enthusiasm, and beauty of heart and intention of those who respect and treasure the Buddha's Law. The Great Sacred Hall was completed because of the pure fervor and the accumulated offerings of Kosei-kai members all over the nation.
The ceremonies to commemorate the completion of the Great Sacred Hall were held in the main auditorium, located on the fourth floor of the building. Flagbearers carrying the banners of all the chapters of Kosei-kai departed from the Former Main Worship Hall and marched to the auditorium of the new building. They filed solemnly into the room to the strains of classical Japanese music and placed their banners around the room. From the balcony, the choir sang ceremonial music. The women in the choir were dressed in pure white and the men in formal black suits.
Against the upper part of the curtain in the front of the hall is a huge green lacquer bodhi tree sprinkled with jewels. As the Kosei brass band played solemn music, the curtain, adorned with a pair of phoenixes with wings spread as if about to fly to heaven, rose. Thunderous applause greeted the appearance of the huge statue (nearly seven meters tall) of the Great Beneficent Teacher and Lord, Shakyamuni, the Eternal Buddha. The statue is gilded and lacquered in five colors. Behind the statue is a wall of jasper from Kyushu. This stone, which is more beautiful than marble, retains a high polish for a long time. Gifts of flowers and incense were presented, and fifty girls in long-sleeved kimonos carried flowers to the stage.
After readings from the Lotus Sutra, I rose and went to the platform. Being the first person to speak in the new auditorium filled me with emotions and tension that are difficult to describe.
"Today, the Great Sacred Hall, long awaited by the millions of members of Rissho Kosei-kai, is complete; and in it has been enshrined a statue of Shakyamuni, the Eternal Buddha. As we enjoy the happiness and excitement of the moment, we must all remember something very important. From this memorable day, Rissho Kosei-kai takes a step forward in the movement to bring the Law to other people. We must make the Great Sacred Hall a sanctuary for the salvation of mankind. In order to do this, we must refine our hearts in accordance with the scriptures, act in keeping with them, and prove ourselves to be the bodhisattvas that are prophesied in the Lotus Sutra to spring up out of the earth."
I had already made remarks of this kind on several occasions in connection with the new building - for instance, at the ceremony to commemorate the completion of the framework and at the services held to dedicate the new image of Shakyamuni - because I wanted to impress on the members and especially on the leaders the need for all of us to strive to grow and improve in order to make ourselves worthy of the Great Sacred Hall, a building with significance for the whole world.
Following my remarks, Kyojun Shimizutani, head priest of the temple Senso-ji, in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, made a brief speech.
"I am extremely happy at the completion of this hall of worship, the finest of its kind in the world. The Lotus Sutra is the pinnacle of all Buddhist teachings. For a religious group that strives to live correctly in accordance with the spirit of that teaching to build a hall of worship like this one reveals the will of the Buddha. Today people all over the world are in pressing need of the spiritual teachings of Buddhism. It is said that faith arises from solemnity. The solemnity filling this hall today suggests that all the faithful here are being guided in the correct way and that they will not fail to guide others in the same way.
"I am especially impressed to see young men and young women taking part in these solemn ceremonies. Their presence gives me a sense of freshness that I have not experienced before. I am convinced that their ardor and their burgeoning strength and talents will be absolutely necessary to society. I ask that all of you work boldly for the realization of our ideal."
I agree with what Kyojun Shimizutani said about solemnity and feel that religious architecture must be solemn, significant, and elegant. Furthermore, it must symbolize the basic sources of religious faith of the group for whom it is built. Inside and outside, religious architecture ought to stand for the basic principles of the religion it serves. For the sake of producing a hall that meets these requirements perfectly, repeated revisions of the plans and design for the Great Sacred Hall were necessary. At the time of the completion of the foundation, I traveled to Brazil and other countries in South and North America, where I had chances to observe the architecture of the Catholic Church and of other religious organizations. I studied architectural history as well, and my reading and on-the-site observations provided me with much valuable reference material. On my return to Japan after the trip, I halted the construction temporarily at the point at which the window frames were being installed on the eighth floor because I wanted alterations made. I adopted this policy because I felt building the kind of structure we needed was more important than hurrying.
The basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome, one of the largest and most important churches in the Christian world, was by no means built in a hurry. Construction on it began in 1506. The building was called finished in 1626, though further construction continued until 1667. Most of the churches of the West are made of stone, and almost all of them are richly decorated with sculpture illustrating persons and incidents related to the Bible and to Christian faith. The cruciform plan of such Gothic churches as Notre Dame de Paris and of Renaissance buildings like Saint Peter's is a symbolic representation of the cross on which Christ died. In short, religious architecture often expresses - and ought to express - the teachings of its religion. Religious architecture that ignores such expression is no more than a physical body without a soul. The need to represent the nature of our faith in the Great Sacred Hall led to the circular plan, which symbolizes the perfection of the Lotus Sutra.
I have named the bridge leading from east to west on the third-floor level of the Great Sacred Hall the Haramitsu Bridge. The Buddhist term haramitsu (paramita in Sanskrit) signifies the crossing over from the realm of transience and the cycle of births and deaths to the realm of nirvana. I feel that it vividly expresses both the basic nature of Buddhism and the characteristic nature of our organization. People who cross the Haramitsu Bridge to the Great Sacred Hall do so because of their wish to build the peaceful world of nirvana and because they want to understand the Law that enables them to fulfill this wish. I hope people who walk on this bridge will bear this thought in mind.
The Haramitsu Bridge terminates at the stairway leading up to the lobby of the main auditorium. At the head of the stairs are three large lacquer paintings. The picture to the viewer's right is of the Bodhisattva Manjushri riding on the back of a lion. This picture serves to remind the viewer of the need to abandon ordinary wisdom and to clad ourselves in the wisdom of Manjushri, which is based on the elemental meaning of Buddhism. The picture to the viewer's left shows the Bodhisattva Maitreya riding a white ox. This picture is included to remind the viewer that, like this bodhisattva of compassion, we must abandon selfishness and strife and cultivate a merciful heart. The picture in the middle is of the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue, who is riding a white elephant with six tusks. The tusks represent the six sense organs - eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The white elephant symbolizes immense strength applied to the purification of the six senses. The picture is an illustration of my belief that, for the sake of perfection of the character, one must undergo religious disciplines, even at the cost of one's life.
Briefly, the message of the three pictures is this: first, understand the essence of the Buddha's Law by means of superior wisdom; second, effect a spiritual revolution on the basis of Buddhist articles of faith; third, carry out religious disciplines at all costs for the sake of the perfection of the character. Reflecting on this message prepares us to enter the central auditorium of the Great Sacred Hall and to come into the presence of the statue of the Buddha enshrined there. Moreover, it is the kind of religious attitude that I desire for the members of Kosei-kai.
In religious buildings in the West and in Japan, when ceremony is the major function, a single-story design is usually employed to ensure that everyone has a view of the altar or other important space. But the Great Sacred Hall is not a place of ceremony; it is a hall for discipline and training oriented toward acquiring an understanding of the innermost meaning of Buddhism. For that reason, architecturally it breaks with tradition by being eight stories tall. The only parts of the building directly related to ceremony are the main auditorium on the fourth floor and the seats for distinguished guests, which occupy part of the fifth floor. Almost the entire remainder of the building serves hoza counseling meetings.
Ceremonies are not the driving force that will lead to salvation. Daily discipline and assiduous application in hoza meetings are the fount of salvation taught in the Lotus Sutra. These activities must constitute the basis of any religion that is meaningful for our times and that will remain meaningful in the future. Furthermore, these activities are a characteristic feature of Rissho Kosei-kai. They set us apart from all other religious groups in the world.
The earnest efforts of Kosei-kai members in all parts of the nation enabled us to complete the Great Sacred Hall. But the completion of the building must remind us of the danger of becoming complacent and of allowing our efforts to slow down. It is said that an organization begins to disintegrate from the moment it reaches completion. Religious groups are thought to begin a process of atrophy almost on the day on which they complete the construction of a great edifice. Why is this true?
I believe that it is because once the long-cherished idea of erecting a building for religious purposes has become a reality the members of the faith set their minds at rest and become satisfied with their past achievements, while allowing themselves to become totally preoccupied with caring for the building their efforts have created. It is not so much that members of a faith allow themselves to become part of a rigid establishment as that they become mentally and physically absorbed in the building itself. This is the cause of atrophy and of withering in a religious organization. On the day of the completion of the Great Sacred Hall, I made comments intended to prevent our members' falling into such bad ways.
"Recently it seems to me that a part of the membership is leaving the entire responsibility for the spreading of our faith to the leaders, chapter heads, and a few other people in authority. This is an extreme example of the way to cause faith to rigidify. Even Buddhist groups with long histories of tradition sometimes become so accustomed to relying on the head priests and their sermons as the sole ways of spreading the faith that they bog down in a set of lethargic habits from which they find it impossible to break away.
"I have further noticed a tendency to allow the same person always to take the lead in discussions. Of course it is our system to have leaders in hoza meetings, but to allow the leader to assume all the responsibility while the others contribute little or nothing is still another step on the road to atrophy. I understand that some Christian organizations too are concerned about excessive reliance on preaching and teaching by pastors and priests.
"I do not want us to follow the road to atrophy that other religious organizations have followed. I do not want us to dig our own graves."
At the conclusion of these words, a great burst of applause shook the Great Sacred Hall. I interpreted the reaction to be a fervent vow to make that memorable day a starting point for continued, united progress in the Law. It was a powerful vow to go forward; and as I listened to it, I felt a new sense of resolution welling up in my heart.
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