- Editor's Introduction
In the outskirts of Tokyo, a vast semicircular structure hosts the headquarters of Risshō-Kōsei-Kai, a Japanese new religious movement that was founded in 1938 by Nikkyō Niwano (1906–1999) and Myōkō Naganuma (1889–1957). In Japan, the late-nineteenth and the earlier part of the twentieth centuries witnessed the emergence of a variety of new religious movements, from alternative Shinto organizations such as Omotokyo, syncretistic organizations such as Tenrikyō, and neo-Buddhist groups such as Reiyūkai. This last movement, in particular, proved to be very successful in the difficult years that followed the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake and the following economic depression—as a lay organization, it was not affiliated to any sect, and it managed to eschew the sectarian divisions that plagued the different Nichiren schools. Risshō-Kōsei-Kai's two founders started off as members of Reiyūkai, but chose to leave when some of Reiyūkai's leaders suggested that the movement's emphasis on the Lotus Sūtra—one of the most influential Mahāyāna sūtras—was out of step with the needs of Japanese society. Niwano would soon become the main teacher of this new organization, which would soon number thousands of adherents. Work on the daiseidō—the Great Sacred Hall—was begun in the wake of the war and was completed in the late 1950s. At the center of the hall stands a massive statue of the Eternal Buddha, the central figure of the Lotus Sūtra, and the key focus of Risshō-Kōsei-Kai's devotion. This iconographic choice stands in stark contrast with the Nichiren practice to honor a scroll or calligraphic image—known as gohonzon—inscribed with the title of the Lotus Sūtra and ascribed to the hand of Nichiren himself. By the time of Niwano's passing in 1999, there were over 200 Risshō-Kōsei-Kai centers in twenty countries, with over six million members.
On the one hand, Niwano's teaching focused on themes that were common with other traditional Nichiren sects: devotion to the Lotus Sūtra as the highest teaching in Buddhism, the presence of the Buddha nature in all beings, the centrality of Nichiren and his role as a bodhisattva, and a strong missionary impulse. On the other hand, Risshō-Kōsei-Kai took the lead among the Buddhist movements in Japan and already in the 1960s became involved in interreligious dialogue, especially with the Catholic Church and other Christian churches. In 1965, as the Second Vatican Council was drawing to a close, Niwano was one of the first Buddhist leaders to meet with Pope Paul VI. In 1970, he helped to establish the World Conference of Religions for Peace. A most singular development of Niwano's interreligious outreach was [End Page vii] his extraordinary friendship with the Italian Catholic activist Chiara Lubich (1920–2008), the founder and spiritual leader of the Focolare movement. Lubich's intuition, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, was that people of faith could play a crucial in the reconciliation of the human family—a vision that not only anticipated the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, but also echoed—despite the obvious cultural and spiritual differences—Niwano's own hope for Risshō-Kōsei-Kai in the difficult reality of Japan under American occupation. In 1981, Chiara Lubich visited Risshō-Kōsei-Kai's headquarters in Tokyo and gave a talk in the daiseidō introducing her audience to her own spiritual experience—an unprecedented honor for a woman and a Catholic. This initial contact led to multiple exchanges between Risshō-Kōsei-Kai and Focolare, with many Japanese Buddhists finding their way to Loppiano in Italy, where Focolare had established its open university. The essay by Hiroshi Munehiro Niwano in this issue touches on the commonalities between the vision of the Italian Catholic movement and the spirituality of the Lotus Sūtra.
Two decades after Niwano's passing, the interreligious engagement of Risshō-Kōsei-Kai's founder continues today in the annual International Lotus Sūtra Seminar, where scholars from all over the world come together to discuss...