Buddhist-Christian Studies 21.1 (2001) 13-30
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Peace and Nonviolence from a Mahayana Buddhist Perspective: Nikkyo Niwano's Thought
Michio T. Shinozaki
Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, taught a perspective on peace and nonviolence that I would like to explore from a Mahayana Buddhist point of view. Niwano's understanding of peace and violence and his "road" to peace are discussed. The first section explores his understanding of peace as harmony at four different levels. The second section deals with the issue of the causes of violence on different levels and the precept of not-killing. The third section focuses on nonviolent action and the Bodhisattva Never Disrespectful as a model of nonviolent action. Also, the vision for overcoming hatred and violence is discussed within the context of the pacifist argument. The fourth section focuses on problems of harmony in terms of diversity and universal altruism, on the value of open forums in decision-making processes, and on Niwano's theological grounding for interreligious cooperation as a road to peace.
Rissho Kosei-kai (RKK) is a Japanese Buddhist organization founded in Tokyo in 1938 by Nikkyo Niwano (1906-1999) and the late Mrs. Myoko Naganuma (1899-1957). The name "Rissho Kosei-kai" means society for establishing the true Dharma and the perfecting of selves through mutual exchange. RKK is a nonmonastic Buddhist group that draws much of its inspiration from the Lotus Sutra and claims to have six million members, largely in Japan.
Nikkyo Niwano was born on November 15, 1906, in a small, poor village near Tokamachi in Nigata prefecture, which has heavy snow in winter. He was raised in a large family under one roof with another family. His harmonious and peaceful personality was the product of such circumstances. 1 He went to Tokyo to work at seventeen and took various jobs--at a rice shop, a charcoal dealer, a Japanese pickle dealer, and a milk delivery shop. In 1926, he was discharged after completing three years of naval service. He says of this experience, "One of the greatest harvests from my military experience was the reinforcement of my philosophy of nonviolence." 2 He was confident that the philosophy of nonviolence was applicable in the situation of the everyday event of military corporal punishment. [End Page 13]
Upon coming to Tokyo, a new spiritual journey began with becoming acquainted with various folk religions, and he joined Reiyö-kai, practicing reverence to one's ancestors. After the founding ofRKK, Niwano received orders to report for military duty twice, in 1941 and 1945, but he was disqualified from serving in the army, so he had no battlefield experience. 3 Niwano and Naganuma were imprisoned in 1943, because the police regarded her inspirational guidance as a false and wicked religion. This was the time of the Peace Preservation Law under which religions and religious ideas were suppressed. 4
Niwano preferred "not quarreling and harmony" to strife.When the faith and activities of RKK were criticized regularly for almost a month in 1956 by the nationwide newspaper TheYomiuri Shimbun,and when Soka Gakkai attacked RKK as a wicked religion and tried to start a campaign to abolish it, Niwano called them the "Yomiuri bodhisattva" and "Gakkai bodhisattva," as they could lead members to improvement and reflection on their motives and behavior. 5
From inside RKK, Niwano was severely criticized and experienced being ostracized by Myoko Naganuma's ardent followers, who tried until 1957 to have her become president of RKK or establish a separate organization. He regarded this as a time for him to be tolerant and forbearing through reflecting on himself and not blaming others, and he later warmheartedly accepted his former opponents.
Robert Kisala refers to Rissho Kosei-kai as follows: "After the Second World War, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, whose activities centered around a big metropolitan urban city, advocated strengthening the solidarity of the family and local community in modern society and devoted himself to religious cooperation in order to solve social issues at an international level." 6