AGONSHU (Religious Movement)

This Japanese new, new religion (shin shin shukyo) was established in its present form in 1978 by Kiriyama Seiyu (1921-), its founder and Kancho (leader). Kiriyama started an earlier movement in 1954 known as Kannon Jikeikai, Association for the Worship of Bodhisattva Kannon, who is regarded as the most potent symbol of compassion and mercy and a widely worshipped Buddhist figure not only in Japan but also among Japanese and their descendents abroad, including the United States and Brazil.

In the late 1970s Kiriyama claimed to have discovered the essentials of original, authentic Buddhism, by reading the Agama (Japanese Agon) sutras, early Buddhist texts which, he claimed, predate all previous Buddhist sutras, including the Lotus sutras which is much used in Japan. This discovery, Kiriyama claimed, provided him with an unrivalled understanding of the deeper meaning of Buddhism. In practice it meant the development of a system of beliefs and practices the principal aim of which is to ensure that the sufferings of the spirits of the dead are terminated and that they thereby attain jobutsu or Buddhahood.

In its teachings Agonshu stresses that all misfortunes and problems in life can be explained by reference to one’s own or one’s ancestors’ karmic actions. Large scale goma rituals in which requests or petitions are inscribed on sticks or wood that are then burnt on a pyre while invocations are chanted, are performed every Friday in the Sohonzan Main Temple in Kyoto to eliminate negative ancestral karma and transform the sufferings of the spirits of the dead into jobutsu or buddhahood. The main annual festivals are the Star Festival (Hoshi Matsuri) on 11 February which consists of an outdoor goma ritual on a grand scale, the Flower Festival of 8 April to mark the Buddha’s birthday, the Great Buddha Festival (Dai-Butsu Sai) of 5 May and the Tens of Thousands of Lanterns service held in Kyoto from 13-15 July and in Tokyo from 13-15 August, for the liberation and peace of ancestors’ souls. Many of those who attend the Tens of Thousands of Lanterns festival at Kyoto also visit the Agon shu cemetery on the Kashihara hills northwest of the ancient capital city of Nara. The unique feature of this cemetery is that every tomb has what is called a Ho Kyo Into’ in which a small replica of the Busshari and its casket is placed.

Agonshu’s principal object of veneration is the Shinsei-busshari (true Buddha relic), a casket said to contain an actual fragment of a bone of the Buddha, and hence his spirit. Three esoteric methods (shugyo) form the core of the training undertaken by recruits: jobutsu-ho which provides the necessary sensitivity and aptitude for spiritual enlightenment; noyi hoju-ho, a practice performed with the shinsei-busshari which enables one to achieve the happiness, good fortune and insight to cut loose from karma, an accomplishment rarely achieved, and gumonji somei-ho, a technique for developing profound wisdom and extraordinary mental awareness.

The estimated size of the membership of the movement in Japan is one million and Agonshu now has a modest following of between one hundred and one thousand members in several countries of the Far East, Asia, and Africa. It is also present in small numbers in Mongolia, Russia, the United States, Brazil, and several European countries. The movement is actively engaged in projects for the establishment of world peace and the reform of Buddhism through the teaching of the Agama sutras.

Agonshu is organized into main offices, branch offices, dojos or centres where teaching and training take place, and local offices. There are seven main offices in different regions of Japan, and its main religious centre is in Kyoto while its administrative headquarters are in both Tokyo and Kyoto.

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