RISSHO KOSEI-KAI (Religious Movement)

Founder: Niwano Nikkyo, Naganuma Myoko

One of the largest new religions in Japan (see New Religions (Japan)), Rissho Koseikai was founded in 1938 by Niwano Nikkyo (1906-99) and Naganuma Myoko (1889-1957) after they seceded from Reiyukai.

In 1935, seeking a cure for his second daughter’s illness, Niwano Nikkyo joined Reiyu-kai and began to offer reverence to the spirits of his ancestors and then became active in Reiyu-kai as a missionary. He happened to meet Naganuma Myoko in 1936 who at the time was suffering from a weak heart and an unhappy family life. Niwano Nikkyo advised her to pay reverence to the ancestors and persuaded her to become a member of Reiyu-kai. Both were later to oppose the proposal that the study of the Lotus Sutra should be abandoned and founded Dai Nippon Rissho Kosei-kai in 1938. The name of the group was changed to Rissho Koseikai and incorporated as a religious juridical person in 1952.

Naganuma Myoko was of primary importance in the early years of Rissho Kosei-kai, because of her shaman-like qualities and healing powers. Rissho Kosei-kai rose to prominence after the Second World War when complete religious freedom was granted in Japan. The movement claimed in 1955 to have over 700,000 members. After the death of Naganuma Myoko in 1957, the shamanistic practices ceased and great emphasis was placed on the study of Buddhist doctrine, especially the Lotus Sutra as religious practices, and on social activities.

In 1969, Rissho Kosei-kai launched Akarui Shakai zukuri Undo, the Brighter Society Movement for fostering community-based voluntary activities, and in 1975 set up Ichijiki wo Sasageru Undo, sponsoring the Donate One Meal Campaign, whose participants forgo three meals a month and contribute the money to the Rissho Kosei-kai Fund for Peace (see Peace and Japanese New Religious Movements). In recent years, Rissho Kosei-kai has sponsored international movements such as the World Conference of Religions and Peace which seeks to promote world peace through inter-religious dialogue. Since the passing of Niwano Nikkyo in 1999, Rissho Kosei-kai has been led by his son, Niwano Nichiko, who succeeded him as president in 1991.

The Lotus Sutra is the main scripture of this lay Buddhist movement. According to Rissho Kosei-kai, the heart of the Lotus Sutra is divided into the three major concepts of Mahayana Buddhism:

1. All sentient beings can attain perfect enlightenment, that is, buddhahood, and nothing less than this is the appropriate final goal of believers;

2. the Buddha is eternal, having existed from the infinite past and appearing in many forms throughout the ages to guide living beings through the teaching of the Wonderful Dharma; and

3. the noblest form of Buddhist practice is the way of the bodhisattvas (see Mahayana Buddhism), those who devote themselves to attaining enlightenment not only for themselves but for all sentient beings.

Daily recitation of excerpts from the Lotus Sutra is one of the most essential practices of the members. The main chant is Namu Myoho Renge-kyo, meaning ‘to take refuge in the Lotus Sutra’. Members also recite Kaiin Koryo, or vow: ‘We, members of Rissho Kosei-kai, take refuge in the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, and recognize in Buddhism the true way of salvation, under the guidance of our revered founder, Nikkyo Niwano. In the sprit of lay Buddhists, we vow to perfect ourselves through personal discipline and leading others and by improving our knowledge and practice of the faith, and we pledge ourselves to follow the bodhisattva way.’

One of the most important activities of members is a unique form of group counselling called hoza, in which the members listen to each other and try to solve each others’ problems according to Buddhist teachings. According to Rissho Kosei-kai, the purpose of hoza is to help all the participants reveal and develop the spark of divinity that dwells in everyone by working together with compassion to solve the problems of those who are troubled. Ancestor worship is encouraged as means of eliminating negative karmic effects.

Rissho Kosei-kai claims that there are some 6.5 million members in 239 branches throughout Japan as well as in six branches overseas. The president, other leaders and some 800 staff members are working at the headquarters in Wada, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

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