Most research on Japanese attitudes toward ancestors has developed along lines first typified by the work "About Our Ancestors" (Senzo no hanashi), which was written by the ethnographer Yanagita Kunio. Yanagita's research was undertaken with reference to the traditional Japanese family ideal called the ie, with the result that the concept of family perpetuity naturally occupies an important place in his research. Yanagita says the following regarding the attributes of ancestors within the ie:
We Japanese believe in the protection of our ancestors, and entrust ourselves to that naturally occurring benevolence. In our ritual worship we do not even feel it necessary to ask for release from specific tribulations, but merely to offer gratitude and joy overflowing from the wellsprings of our hearts. This trust is a result solely of the wisdom of history, since long experience has taught us that the ancestors have the will and power to protect us, and are equipped with the external conditions as well which make such protection possible.1
Yanagita's view of the "protective attributes" of ancestors has been criticized from a number of perspectives, one being that Yanagita fails to make a clear distinction between his own views and those of the "common people" (jômin) he is studying.2
Further research on ancestors within the framework of the "family" has been undertaken as part of studies of "lineage groups" or dôzokudan, primarily from within the disciplines of sociology and anthropology.3 In turn, the concept of ancestors as ideology - particularly its relation to the "family nation" concept - has been pursued within the fields of the sociology of law and political sociology.4
In short, our understanding of the way in which the Japanese conceive of their "ancestors" has been furthered by studies that approach the issue from a variety of perspectives. Unfortunately, there has been virtually no investigation of the way in which the concept of ancestors is approached by "new religious groups," many of which nonetheless place heavy emphasis on the performance of ancestral rites.5
Among all the Japanese new religions, ancestral rites are given a particularly important place within Reiyûkai, which originated in the Taishô period (1912-1926), and other groups which trace their lineage to Reiyûkai.6 Together, these groups have memberships reaching into the millions. This article is a study of the ancestral concept as expressed by these Reiyûkai-related groups, and simultaneously an analysis of which social stratas may have a particular affinity for the Reiyûkai version of the ancestral concept. As specific foci of the study, I have selected the groups Reiyûkai itself, together with Risshô Kôseikai and Myôchikai. My selection is based largely on the simple fact that large quantities of internally published materials are available for these three groups, together with the fact that each of the groups is a prototypical new religion which has succeeded in attracting large numbers of adherents.
I have omitted any analysis of the groups' doctrines, and have attempted instead to abstract and analyze the kind of ancestral concepts serving as the basis for the ancestral rites observed within the groups' everyday religious practice. And as a result, I do not attempt to analyze the dynamics of the groups themselves.
For example, an analysis of the group Risshô Kôseikai would necessitate discussing such concepts as "dharma circles" (hôza), "fundamental Buddhism" (konpon Bukkyô), and the "bright society movement" (meisha undô). Here, however, I want to place emphasis solely on the concept of ancestors as held by ordinary members, with the result that I will limit my discussion to an abstraction of the ancestral concept alone. In short, this study makes no attempt to analyze or explain the overall rationale for these groups themselves, at least not in the sense noted above.
I should also note that many of the items in my analysis of Risshô Kôseikai come from materials dating from the late 1940s. This selectivity is of course a result of the fact that many of the group's publications from that period are dedicated to the problem of ancestors.
A further limitation to this study which should be noted is the fact that it is devoted to an analysis of the way in which these religious groups present the ancestral concept to their members. The issue of how the membership actually accepts the concept remains an issue for future research.
From the decade of the 1920s, new religious movements experienced a period of sharp growth as the result of the emergence of a new strata of urban and town dwellers, manual laborers, and middle- and lower-class owners of marginal and small family businesses. As part of this general growth, pre-existing groups like Tenrikyô, Konkôkyô, and Ômotokyô extended their numbers, while groups like Seichô-no-Ie, Hitonomichi kyôdan and Reiyûkai were newly established.
Reiyûkai first emerged in 1920 when Kubo Kakutarô (1892-1944) founded the Rei no Tomokai, the "friends of the spirit," followed by his establishment of the Reiyûkai itself in 1924 in association with Wakatsuki Chise, an ascetic practitioner devoted to the Lotus Sutra. Kubo dissolved his association with Wakatsuki in the early Shôwa period (1926- ), however, over disagreements relating to the nature of the religious movement he had envisioned and the position of Wakatsuki in that movement. Thereafter, Kubo convinced his sister-in-law Kotani Kimi (wife of his brother Yasukichi) to undergo ascetic training in order to develop her spiritualistic powers, and in time, a new association was formed by Kubo and Kotani.
Kubo considered himself the legitimate successor to Nishida Toshizô (1880-1918, religious name Mugaku), an independent Buddhist teacher who emphasized ancestor worship; Kubo had also received religious training from Masuko Yûkichi, a disciple of Nishida who had attempted to organize Nishida's followers into a coherent group.
Nishida's own personal history contains numerous lacunae, but it appears that it was from around the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912) that he began espousing the observance of rites for all deceased spirits (i.e., not merely for the ancestral spirits of one's own family). Nishida's teaching was evidenced in terms like Bussho gonenII and senbô shoseirei kuyô (rites for all deceased spirits). Nishida was active in the Yokohama and Tokyo areas, encouraging lay men and women to perform rites for "unrelated deceased spirits" (muenbotoke, the spirits of persons who have died without a family to perform posthumous rites for them) and to assign kaimyô (posthumous Buddhist names) to such spirits.
Nishida's claims were unique in that he viewed funerary rites for all spirits as a means of ridding oneself of bad karma, but Kubo Kakutarô narrowed the scope of those rituals, focusing on the importance of rites for relatives on both the husband and wife's sides of the family involved, or what are sometimes called in Japanese the "six blood relations and relations by marriage" (rokushin kenzoku).
Kotani Kimi's husband Yasukichi was Kakutarô's elder brother, and Kakutarô encouraged Kimi to enter the religious life on the occasion of an illness suffered by Yasukichi. She described her early period of ascetic practice as follows:
This time, I went behind the house and poured cold water over myself, earnestly worshiping the sutra and chanting the invocation to the Lotus (Daimoku) while massaging my husband. Tears fell one after the other from my face as I shook with the cold, and I was so unhappy I couldn't stand it. I wondered, "Why do I have to do this?," but just continued chanting the Daimoku and rubbing my husband as energetically as I could. And I must tell you all, after about thirty-five days continuing like that, my husband's pain was gone. You must remember that I had pawned our clothes and we had neither rice nor soy sauce. We no longer had anything at all. We had absolutely nothing to cling to any longer. Since there was simply nothing else to be done, I merely continued chanting "Namu Myôhô Renge-kyô" (Hail to the Lotus Sutra of the Marvelous Dharma).7
In short, Kimi describes herself entering the religious life in the midst of extreme poverty and distress. Following her initial experience, Kimi practiced a variety of harsh austerities, including cold-water ablutions, fasting, and dieting on buckwheat flour, and as a result of her practice she came to possess shamanistic powers.
The year 1930 saw the completion of a compilation of the "Blue Sutra Chapters" or the Aokyôkan, an abbreviated selection from the Lotus Sutra which was to become central to the Reiyûkai doctrine. In the same year a ceremony was held marking the official opening of the religious organization, with Kubo Kakutarô serving as chairman and Kotani Kimi as honorary president. This was followed in 1932 by the establishment of "flag branch" organizations (mihata shibu) in 1932 and by the institution of a membership fee system in 1933. Finally, in 1934 the first issue of the group's news organ, the Dainippon Reiyûkaihô was published, and behavioral norms for believers, called precepts of "Right Conduct" (shôgyô) were instituted.
It was also from around 1933 that the systematic practice of the secret ritual called kyûju was initiated, with the result that the three areas of doctrine, ritual, and organization had been generally established by 1934.
The stimulus for a new religion is produced in situations of anomie accompanying social change. Through charisma the new religion proclaims a new supernatural and ultimate system of belief, thus succeeding in serving as a "bridging" mechanism through the transitional period, gaining adherents and allowing us to ultimately define it as a religious mass movement. And through the acceptance of the movement's system of belief, it becomes possible for the believer to escape a sense of relative deprivation. In the case of Reiyûkai, that system of belief took form centered around the conceptual axis of "karma" (innen):
One of the people living nearby had had five children die by the time they were sixteen years old. As a result, when the youngest child reached fifteen, she fell into worry about the fact that the child would be sixteen the following year, and she asked me, "What if he dies like all the rest? Just what does all this mean?" I told her, "I understand," although in fact I didn't understand at all, and I talked to Reverend Kubo about it. He scolded me, saying, "You can't just go around taking on that kind of burden from now on, can you?" So I poured more water over myself, and chanted the sutra for it must have been ten times, all night long. Then, Reverend Kubo told me, "That family has the [bad] karma of the White Tiger Brigade (Byakkotai)III so the child will die when he reaches sixteen. But if the karma is dispelled he won't die; he'll live." ... The next time I went to that family's house, I told her to copy the temple records listing the dates of death for the sixteen-year olds of the White Tiger Brigade, and to perform rites for the dead (kuyô) for those youths. Well, then the child of the woman turned sixteen. When New Year following the child's sixteenth year approached, I could neither sit nor stand, I was so full of concern, up all night offering the sutra. But after that time, that child continued to grow normally.8
In this instance, prophetic charisma took the form of divination of past karmic causes, and a release from that karmic suffering was effected by dedicating memorial rites to the dead.9 The procedure leading to salvation likewise involved a transcending of traditional concepts:
A Buddhist priest [shukke] does not save the living, but merely guards the bones of the dead. Now is the time for lay people to shout with a loud voice and encourage others to develop their heart of enlightenment, their bodhisattva spirit, and thus effect salvation.10
In short, a doctrinal system was created, centering on a lay performance of rites to ancestors. This was, in turn, linked to the establishment of a cosmology and view of humanity centered on the ancestral concept.
"Reiyûkai-derived groups" are groups which have begun by branching from the parent Reiyûkai organization. In the pre-war period, four groups branched off from the parent Reiyûkai organization, including Kôdô kyôdan (1936); Sankai kyôdan (1936); Shishinkai (1938); and Dainippon Risshô Kôseikai (later changed to merely Risshô Kôseikai, 1938).11
At the same time, the original Reiyûkai organization continued its development in spite of this internal division, and by 1943 it had grown to a nominal one-million members.
Immediately following the end of the Pacific War a second internal split occurred within the group, resulting in the creation of numerous new groups. Among these newly derived groups were Hakuai Dôshikai (1949); Myôchikai (1950); Hosshikai (1950); Bussho Gonenkai (1950); Daiekai (1951); Tokkôkai (1951); and Daijikai (1953). In addition, a new group called Kishinkai became independent from Shishinkai in 1953.
Each of these new groups stressed its own unique individuality and made attempts at forming its own respective doctrinal system. With the exception of Kôdô kyôdan, however, the single practice common to the religious life of all the groups is the rite to ancestors involving recitation of the Lotus Sutra.
By belief system, I mean here a body of concepts that gives legitimacy to the actor's actions by linking him or her to a transcendent existence.12 And the core element of a religious group's belief system is the concept of the supernatural and ultimate existence represented by deity. A belief system in this sense incorporates both a "view of the world" and a "view of human existence," from which are drawn explanatory principles for understanding the meaning of pain and suffering. From the perspective of the believer, those principles give meaning to his or her own limited existence, while also acting as pointers toward the ultimate resolution of all human problems. In other words, the belief system forms the limits of conformity for the believer, while also attributing directionality to the believer's behavior.
An analysis of the belief system of Reiyûkai-derived groups necessitates a study of at least three elements: first, the group's worldview, namely, the way in which the group perceives actually existing society; second, the group's view of humanity, namely, the significance given to overall human existence by the group; and finally, the place given to ancestors as the divine element within the belief system.
Within groups derived from Reiyûkai, particularly in the case of the three I discuss here, a variety of terms have been used to describe modern society as a dark, evil place. These terms include "evil world" (akuse), "evil world of the five impurities" (gojoku no akuse), and "final days" (masse):
People think that if things are okay with themselves, it doesn't matter a whit what happens to others. That is what has come of human feelings in the "evil world."13
It is because I am also subject to karmic hindrances (gôshô) that I have been given this post [group leader]. I was sent out into the evil world of the five impurities with the admonition, "Since you are subject to karmic hindrances, fulfill this office."14
No matter how one tries to avoid responsibility with the complaint that this is the final days of the five impurities, it makes the situation no less deplorable. It is for that reason that faith has fallen to the ground, and the world has become full of evil thought, so that even the deities have lost their power to protect. And this explains why the numbers of self-indulgent, egocentric humans have increased so.15
These groups all share the view that it is human egoism which has brought modern society to this pass. In the case of Reiyûkai, that emphasis can be grasped from the following passages.
[The Buddha] Shakyamuni said that the world of humans is "suffering." This "suffering" is produced as the result of that flame of evil desires which we ordinary humans hold. ... In sum, it is that illusion of "self" which wants to do and become whatever it desires.16
There are those who make their way diffidently through the world while growing more and more puffed up, showing increasing displays of egotism and self-centeredness and turning to extremes. They run after evil ways, becoming familiar with evil practices, with the upshot that they damage their own reputations and lose their own selves, causing worry to their families and trouble to strangers, and what's more, poisoning the nation with their evil thought.17
These passages make it clear that the groups place responsibility for modern problems on the fact of human selfishness. Such human egoism is expressed in the term the "three poison elements" (san dokuso), which are defined as greed, anger, and querulousness.
Since the ultimate responsibility for this "evil world of the five impurities" is placed squarely on human egoism, one does not see the kind of revolutionary orientation toward "rebuilding the world" found in a religion like Ômotokyô. But neither was the Reiyûkai teaching linked immediately to a support for national authority. During the war years Reiyûkai expressed positions which did not always accord with national aims, teaching its members, for example, that "if the family performs their ancestral rites, rifle bullets will not strike their sons and husbands on the front lines," and "even if the war is prolonged and goods become scarce, members of Reiyûkai will experience material prosperity." Such statements, as well as the fact that the groups themselves suffered official persecution, point out that their doctrines were not focused on unilateral submission to the state, but rather on the search for happiness within the individual family.18
The perception of these groups that human beings are egoistic existences burdened with the "three poisons" is explained in connection with ideas about karmic transmission:
The real longing of human beings is to do the right thing. The fact that even a thief or a murderer wants deep down to do good is because all people have the same mind - only they are not always capable of performing the good they desire.
Why is it that they cannot? It is because they are controlled by this thing called karma, and because their own mind is polluted. Since they are subject to this polluted mind, they cannot perform the proper, pure action.19
We are so subject to karmic hindrances that we cannot recognize our own sins and faults without accepting a most harsh enlightenment. The karmically hindered is one who is congenitally afflicted with deep evil karma. Evil karma is none other than the evil deeds which we or parents and ancestors have performed and accumulated over countless previous lives. And the fact that we must suffer so from sickness and troubles in this present life is nothing else than a result of the evil karma transmitted from previous lives to the present. In short, we must sleep in the beds which we ourselves have made. You reap what you sow. We turned and spit at heaven and now that spit is falling back on our own faces. And that is not all. The evil deeds and evil karma which continue to accumulate from day to day will bear their evil fruit in the future, so that we will never be free of its torment.20
If you ask what is "ordinary knowledge," it is our own shallow egoistic understanding, that which we use to form judgments about events and things. Our minds are full of knowledge springing from the evil mind of the six ways. For example, when one views himself as the center, all manners of evil minds arise, including anger, pride, insolence, negligence, spite, and greed... How can common people have such a mind of evil? It is because, while we have been blessed with birth into humanity, we also bear a burden of evil karma accumulated through evil deeds since time immemorial.
It is that karma that makes us suffering sentient beings. We must each awaken to the realization that we are victims of a disease of mind.21
You all probably think that those who have entered the spirit realm have achieved buddhahood, but that is a big mistake. Those who died in suffering, now suffer in hells of fire. And they are crying out to their children to let them reach buddhahood. This longing of ancestors makes itself clearly known in our world. Families lack harmony and quarrel without end, the suffering of poverty goes on all year long, and even when money is present people are always sick... Such events are evidence that ancestors are suffering in fiery hell.22
Karmic transmission is asserted to continue from past ancestors to the present and into the future. And that karma is viewed as being transmitted through all ancestors and relatives on both husband and wife's sides of the family. In other words, the links of karma expand endlessly in all directions. Considered from the converse side, humans can be characterized as being weighted down with an unlimited burden of karma. This view of ancestors goes far beyond the narrow limits suggested by the framework of the Japanese "family" or ie. And this view also has a place as an element within the mechanism used by the groups to explain human suffering, namely as a reflection of the suffering of ancestors.
Within the ancestral rites observed by Reiyûkai-derived groups, central importance is given to the sôkaimyô, the posthumous Buddhist name assigned jointly to all the ancesters of a family. This custom of selecting a sôkaimyô is based on Nishida Toshizô's practice of assigning new posthumous names to "unrelated departed souls" (muenbotoke) and other deceased whose posthumous names were unknown, and offering "rites for all departed spirits" (senbô shoseirei kuyô). In the sôkaimyô, spirits from both husband and wife's sides of the family are simultaneously enshrined with a common posthumous name. The actual format of the sôkaimyô in Reiyûkai and Myôchikai differs somewhat from that adopted in Risshô Kôseikai,IV and each of the several groups gives its own respective exegesis for the complicated set of characters used.23 The rationale for enshrining the family ancestors of both sides of the family can be said to rest on the recognition that the establishment of the family itself requires both a husband and a wife.24
Together with the sôkaimyô, the maintenance of a family death register or "book of the past" (kakochô) forms another important element in the ancestral rites. The book of the past is to include not only immediate relations by "blood and by marriage," but also as many other collateral relatives as can be assembled.V Each relative listed in the book is given a new Buddhist name (hômyô) unique to the group, and offered ancestral rites said to assist the ancestor in reaching buddhahood. In the case of Risshô Kôseikai, these "ancestors" are referred to merely as "kith and kin" (shinrui enja), and they are not necessarily limited to the narrower class denoted by the "six blood relations and relations by marriage." An independent kakochô is constructed to hold the names of more distant acquaintences, since it is said that "they might feel out of place [within the family register]."
Myôchikai gives the following rationale for assigning a new Buddhist name (hômyô) to the deceased listed in the "book of the past":
The Buddhist names given within Myôchikai are our own lay persons' kaimyô. There are likely some people who wonder why this is necessary:
"Since the Buddhist priest has already assigned one kaimyô at the time of the funeral, why do we have to go to the trouble of assigning a separate lay kaimyô as well?"
In response, let me be a bit brash and say that the kaimyô given out by Buddhist temples depend on nothing but money ... But the kaimyô in Myôchikai are given so that any person at all, without distinction, can be helped to attain buddhahood.25
The hômyô or "lay kaimyô" is considered to be the real name of the ancestor in the spirit world; as a result, members are urged to gather the posthumous names (kaimyô) of as many deceased as possible in order that they might be given new hômyô, in this way assuring that all ancestors have individual personal names in the spirit world. Then, on each anniversary of death, ceremonies are held in order to assist the departed spirit in attaining buddhahood.
Unlike the belief in some other segments of Japanese religion, Reiyûkai-derived groups do not believe the departed spirit loses its individuality a set number of years after being enshrined with a kaimyô. All departed spirits are enshrined with individual personalities. This custom is explained in Myôchikai as follows:
Since the sôkaimyô is the posthumous name for all the ancestors, it forms the focus for prayers which aim at the buddhahood of all ancestors. At the same time, each one of the ancestors had his or her individual name and personality. As a result, they must each be given a name based on the Buddhist dharma, and that name is called the [individual] kaimyô.26
The persons who must be enshrined with religious names in this way includes not only the relatives from the husband and wife's respective sides of the family, but also personal and family friends and acquaintences; as a result, the potential exists for the list to expand endlessly.
As noted earlier, the sufferings of deceased ancestors are revealed through the suffering experienced by living humans. This concept thus indicates the influence of the traditional Japanese understanding of the "vengeful spirit" (onryô) and its rehabilitation:VI
In the case of illness as well, you naturally become sick because your family has that kind of karma. It is not anyone else's fault. Since your ancestors have died of the same disease, unless they achieved buddhahood, a lot of illnesses will continue to occur, even if you join our group and display a fervent mind of faith. For example, when someone dies of consumption or palsy, that happens because their ancestors died of that same kind of disease.27
Numerous concrete examples of this kind of sickness resulting from ancestral karma can be found in the testimonials recorded by believers. The etiology of such illnesses is determined through divinations of the past using a variety of means, including the search for karmic influences and "name divination" or onomancy.
In sum, the view of ancestors is one in which "the spirit world and visible world are two sides of a mirror," as expressed in Myôchikai. The ancestors are understood within a relational framework in which they form merely the other side of the coin from temporal human life. Moreover, the concept is not limited to the specific borders of the traditional "family" (ie), but has the potential to expand endlessly on the bilateral family sides of both husband and wife. In short, this view of ancestors can be called one in which the individual forms the point of convergence for innumerable ancestral spirits.
Within any religious group, the belief system (doctrinal system) gives rise to patterns of behavior which assure the believer of release from suffering. Those patterns can be called the group's behavioral norms for salvation. In Reiyûkai-derived groups, the behavioral norm of "practice" is particularly stressed: "Why are new religions so powerful? It is because they possess something linked to the common people, something which appeals to them. That something is the power of a practice which goes beyond mere formalism."28
This kind of assertive self-confidence can be seen as well in Kotani Kimi and Naganuma Myôkô (1889-1957). In their cases, the confidence was gained by establishing religious groups through dint of harsh austerities while in the midst of severe poverty. And it was expressed in the form of a critique of established Buddhism:
People who speak with nothing but sophistry and rhetoric I call "religion technicians." The established religions are all collections of such religion technicians. They think that absentminded memorization of a sutra will suffice. But that's something anybody can do if they just study long enough. Religious faith is not a technology.29
For analytical purposes, the behavioral norms of these groups can be divided into three categories: (1) domestic religious behavioral norms, which stipulate the kind of religious behavior which should be observed on a daily basis within the family; (2) everyday family-life behavioral norms, which stipulate the kind of lifestyle to be followed within the family; and (3) religious group behavioral norms, which stipulate the kind of behavior required of the individual vis a vis the religious group of which he or she is a member.
As noted above, the foundation for domestic religious behavioral norms is found in the dedication of the sôkaimyô and the accompanying ceremonies dedicated to the salvation of deceased souls. Within Risshô Kôseikai, the significance of these practices is explained as follows:
The sôkaimyô not only includes the kaimyô of both father and mother's ancestors, but it also demonstrates the doctrine of the two masters. As a result, it is an expression of the precepts which must be observed by all members.30
And the aim of those precepts is "to stimulate the correct mind of faith, to become cognizant of the correct way of practice, and [to attain] the divine merit of diligence in that faith,"31 in other words, to fervently follow the Buddhist layperson's practice of the bodhisattva path and the performance of rites to ancestors. The same sort of interpretation is given within Myôchikai as well. There, basic requisites of ancestor rites are the enshrinement of the sôkaimyô and prayers for the salvation of ancestral spirits. And it is further taught that "merit is obtained by performing your own rites for your own ancestors."32
Together with the enshrinement of the sôkaimyô and performance of rites to departed souls, importance is also given to the assigning of Buddhist names in the "book of the past" for relatives and acquaintences on both husband and wife's sides of the family, and to performing memorial rites to them. The collection of kaimyô has been an important norm ever since Kotani Kimi was led to faith by Kubo Kakutarô. It is said that by giving Buddhist names to ancestors and offering masses to them, not only are the ancestors allowed to achieve buddhahood, but the individual practitioner also accumulates merit.
People who are currently blessed with happiness are merely receiving the happiness which is the fruition of the good merit accumulated by their ancestors. As a result, it is important above all that they revere their ancestors and serve them with gratitude. And on the other hand, people who are tormented by unhappiness are being punished by the accumulation of evil karma from the past. As a result, they must dispel the evil karma which comes from all the ancestors, relatives and unrelated spirits of the past if they are ever to turn their unhappiness to happiness. In order for the happy individual to receive thanks and the unhappy person to receive happiness, they must earnestly seek the reversal of karma by performing rites for the dead, beginning with the spirits of every generation of ancestors entered in the book of the past, to all spirits everywhere they may be.33
There are many of you who haven't yet invited your ancestors into your own house. Things just won't be right if you don't do more to ask relatives about your family tree and enter every last one of your ancestors in your Book of the Past.
And if family relatives don't know, then go ask the local Buddhist temple. And if the temple doesn't know, then go to the local (city) office and ask... And if you don't have a Book of the Past, it's the same as though you were leaving your ancestors out in the cold. Your ancestors are in tears because you keep a roof over your own head but leave them out in the cold. And that's the reason you yourselves can't be happy, either.34
In Myôchikai, the merit produced by ancestral rites is described as follows: "The overall atmosphere of your home will change, and you'll come to say, `I don't know why, but somehow things have become indescribably happy.'"
As demonstrated by the preceding passages, religious life within the home in Reiyûkai-derived groups is centered on the concept of bussho gonen,VII as expressed in the admonition to "worship your own ancestors yourself by offering them memorial rites with the Lotus Sutra both morning and evening."35
The attitude towards ancestral rites characterized within domestic religious behavioral norms is directly linked to the strong emphasis on filial conduct as demonstrated in family-life behavioral norms:
The most important thing to parents is their offspring. And the most important thing to ancestors is their own descendants. The ancestors in the other world are full of concern. Here in this world, you must learn the precious nature of those invisible ancestors and offer them the worship of filial descendants, loyally serving the parents which are visible to you ... no other teaching on earth is as fine as that.36
It is children's duty and an undoubted virtue to offer delicacies to parents and give them pleasant memories. But viewed from the perspective of the Buddha, that alone does not constitute true filial conduct. Real filial piety means to adopt the correct religious faith in order to eliminate parents' evil karma and prevent them from having to suffer.37
Genuine filial piety does not stop at protecting parents from material worries. First, you must know the depth of love of your parents toward their child, and offer gratitude for that love. Then, whether your parents are living or passed on, repent for all your shortcomings and earnestly long for the buddhahood of your parents - there is no greater filial piety than this.38
Such comments would seem to point to a direct application of the concept that states that ancestor worship is the result of a ritualization of filial piety. The everyday norm of filial conduct seen here is thus universalized to the entire range of individual behavior. In concrete, it directs the individual toward a maturation of the personality by excluding selfishness, egoism and self-centered desires. In Reiyûkai, this process is expressed as "sweeping away the dust of the soul," and "making right the spirit." Risshô Kôseikai teaches its members to accomodate parents, husband, and others with a "submissive mind." And Myôchikai states clearly that the four pillars of its doctrine are "First, ancestral rites; second, the patient practice of works leading to good karma (ninzen); third, confession; and fourth, gratitude." Of these four items, Myôchikai places special emphasis on the second, namely, ninzen. The group explains this by relating the examples of the religious lives of Miyamoto Kôhei (1891-1945) and Miyamoto Mitsu (1900-1984):
As these two people sought the way within Reiyûkai, their spirit of practice could be summed up in the single word ninzen. Maintaining a constant mind of confession, never contrary, never angry, never complaining, never grumbling - doing away with all idle thoughts of anger and strife, living each day in an effort to become pure and unsullied.39
But the norm of family life which demands the elimination of selfishness is not restricted to filial devotion and marital loyalty. The demand is extended to all other areas of life and religious behavior. Living a life based on this norm is said to be the way to buddhahood for self and ancestors. In other words, the teaching can be called a means of narrowing the gap between specifically religious behavioral norms and the more general norms of behavior observed in everyday life.
"Practice" is strongly emphasized within Reiyûkai-derived groups. The performance of charitable acts is also given heavy emphasis, in particular the conversion of others (called "leading" [omichibiki]). Within the records of the religious lives of Kotani Kimi, Naganuma Myôkô, and Miyamoto Mitsu, one finds frequent descriptions of their devotion to the practice of "leading others," even while themselves in the midst of deep poverty. The groups' official teaching regarding "leading" is thus a result which grew from the experiential self-realization of these religious founders. Based on her own experience, Kotani Kimi described the merit of this "leading" in the following words:
Dear people, some of you have experienced early separation from your father, your parents, your brothers and sisters, and you want to meet those people again in the spirit world, to look on the faces of the ancestors. I tell you, anyone with that kind of wish should make a vow, and store up merits of "leading"; accumulate merits in the spirit realm, and give yourself to confession, for it is certainly possible that your wish can be fulfilled, perhaps in a dream.40
It is also said that the potential for spiritual merit and buddhahood exists only when leading is done "for free," that is, at one's own expense. In Risshô Kôseikai, charitable acts are divided into the categories of financial giving, dharma giving, and fearless giving. Of these, the practice of "leading" is included within the category of "dharma giving." It is taught that leading even a single other soul to the group will result in happiness and buddhahood for ancestors. Further, the activity is also linked indivisibly to the perfection of one's personality:
The injunction to "lead others" is not given merely to increase the number of members in the group, but because the activity of leading teaches us what kind of minds we should have, what kind of people we should be. Just as a person who formerly had tuberculosis leads many other tuberculosis sufferers ... in the process of leading others, one comes to see the kind of troubles the others have, their thoughts and feelings, their doubts, and for the first time one comes to be able to see oneself as though in a mirror.41
Within Risshô Kôseikai, this process of coming to an awareness of one's own karmic hindrances through the medium of other people is called "being shown" (miserareru). And "being shown" thus becomes part of the process leading to the perfection of the personality.
In Myôchikai, charitable acts are said to neutralize or reverse the effects of the "three poisons." Such acts can take the form of "dharma giving," "bodily giving," and "financial giving," and leading others is considered to fall within the category of dharma giving. Myôchikai also teaches that leading others can become a vehicle for self-understanding, while emphasizing the accumulation of merits to self and buddhahood for ancestors:
You should remember that the activity of leading others is for your own benefit. Since our religion says that leading one soul to faith makes it possible for one ancestor to achieve buddhahood, you should try leading fifty. Even people with critical illnesses will recover, just like that! Fifty and above, then even more - as the ancestors in torment are comforted, the sick [in this world] will get better, too.42
While the various groups have their own unique ways of putting the matter, they agree in saying that the significance of the practice of "leading" others is linked both to rites for deceased ancestors, and to the perfection of one's own personality. Further, the logic whereby one comes to an awareness of one's own karmic hindrances through the activity of "leading" extends implicitly to an objectification of suffering and the experience of empathy with others.
As described within the research of Yanagita Kunio, the traditional Japanese "family" (ie) possessed a concept of ancestors limited by the framework of the unilinear and patrilineal family structure. In order for someone to be enshrined as an ancestor within such a system, it was necessary not only that he die, but also that he have a legitimate heir. In addition, it was considered both necessary and sufficient as an attribute that ancestors be worshiped as beings who vouchsafed the happiness and propserity of the future generations of the lineage family.43 The ancestral rites performed within that family structure were thus socially symbolic rituals reflecting the hopes of worshipers for the perpetuity and prosperity of the ie. And in negative cases, the neglect of ancestral rites resulted in social sanctions demonstrated in the form of the "curse" (tatari) meant to restore and maintain the social order of the lineage family.
On the other hand, the arrival of the modern period saw a more ideological view of ancestors promulgated by the Japanese state, aimed at the catechization of citizens and promotion of national unity. The process whereby this ancestral concept was established has been analyzed in detail by scholars like Morioka Kiyomi.44 This ideological view of ancestors was described succinctly in the 1914 work "The Teachings of the Church of the Ancestors" (Senzokyô kyôsho). The purport of the "Church of the Ancestors" was expressed as follows:
We believe that we and our ancestors have both a physical body and an undying spirit, and that even though their fleshly bodies may be lost in this world, the spirits of loving fathers and mothers remain alive in the other world, standing guard over their descendants.45
The view of ancestors which appears here is clearly a benevolent, protective one. And it was linked to an ideological interpretation of ancestors in which citizen subjects were given a place beneath the benevolence and protection of the emperor, who in turn had the status of a "patron family" (taike) or "heavenly ancestor" (tenso). This ideological concept of ancestors was thus linked to the formation of doctrines and rituals aimed at elite society, while also promoting ethnic unity in the face of the danger of disintegration confronted by the traditional community.
It was during this same Taishô period (1912-1926) that Nishida Toshizô appeared, and his teachings led to the formation of the Reiyûkai, whose doctrines were founded on the observance of ancestral rituals. As noted earlier, Reiyûkai-derived groups consider ancestors first as the bilateral ancestral lines of husband and wife, followed by collateral relatives, friends and acquaintenances in an endlessly expanding circle. Within that circle of ancestors, however, primary emphasis is placed on the harmony and peace of the family, expressed in the injunction to observe Lotus Sutra rituals as a means of cutting off the effects of bad karma accumulated by self and transmitted through the family.
Those most prone to supporting this view of ancestors were the lower classes of urban dwellers, owners of marginal family businesses, and manual laborers. Nishida Toshizô was a poor worker who found employment as a purchaser of lye. A widower, Nishida supported two handicapped children, and it was in the midst of that extreme situation that he began teaching of the necessity for rites dedicated to "unrelated souls" and "rites for all spirits." Kotani Kimi, Taganuma Myokô, and Miyamoto Mitsu, the charismatic leaders of Reiyûkai, Risshô Kôseikai, and Myôchikai, likewise awoke to religious faith from within the midst of poverty-stricken extremity. As far as can be determined from existing records, brief profiles of these three individuals might go as follows:
Such life experiences as these had the effect of progressively destroying the traditional image of the ie as something through which a person received a family inheritance together with the obligation to maintain and multiply that inheritance for future generations. The people of this social strata found that their escape from the society of the local village community to the urban way of life brought with it the necessity that both husband and wife work, devising a new kind of family structure if they were to survive. At the same time, the dominant culture continued to place heavy emphasis on the observance of the ancestral rituals of the lineage family or ie. Such elements were likely the essential factors that lead to the acceptance of an ancestral concept which incorporated both husband and wife's sides of the family.
Further, according to the interpretation of ancestors held within the traditional ie family structure,
"the spirits of the dead were thought to roam out of the body for a certain time following death, during which period they retained the individual personalities they had enjoyed during earthly life. After that period, however, they gradually lost their individuality, shedding their death pollution and becoming purified, until they were at last no longer known as anything but an ambiguous, impersonal "spirit of the ancestors." This kind of ancestral spirit had the nature of a kind of divinity, in the sense that it watched over the lives of its descendants, and it was believed to return each year at set times to visit and be worshiped by its offspring.46
As a result, ancestors within the structure of the ie were viewed as benevolent, protective beings who stood guard over the happiness and prosperity of future generations of the "family."
Even within that benevolent social institution, however, ancestors had the possibility of inflicting curses on their descendants. Such curses were viewed as punishing sanctions visited on descendants who neglected ancestral rituals and disrupted the family order. In other words, the same attribute that promised benevolence and protection to the faithful worshiper was also an attribute threatening punishment to the one who was lax at his devotions. But it must be added that that concept did not involve the sense of taking on the burden of the ancestors' karmic hindrances or bad karma.
In this context one must also note the theme of the "vindictive spirits" (onryô) of "unrelated souls" (muenbotoke), "hungry ghosts" (gaki-botoke), and unnatural deaths.VIII These spiritual beings were strictly discriminated from the ancestors of the ie. In some cases, a "shrine to hungry ghosts" (gaki-dana) would be used to offer worship to such spirits in order to contain their spiritual power, placating them and dispelling their curse. Viewed in a positive sense, the proper observance of ancestral rites was an indispensable condition for maintaining the protective, benevolent attributes of the ancestors.
In contrast to the traditional view, Reiyûkai-derived groups bring to the fore the idea of the "curse," in the sense that we in this world are condemned to live as "suffering sentient beings" due to the suffering of ancestors, who as continuing individual personalities are unable to achieve buddhahood.
While the concept of the ancestor within the traditional ie might be said to involve a "positive" geneology in which protection proceeds from the ancestors, Reiyûkai-derived groups emphasize the negative side, namely, the inheritance of karmic hindrances or bad karma. The ie represented a legacy transmitted from the ancestors through each succeeding generation, an institution that required the constant daily efforts of all to assure that future generations of descendants would continue to flourish. Here, the ancestors were considered protective and benevolent, and rites to them had the function of maintaining the order and unity of the ie.
On the other hand, that social strata condemned to live their lives as "suffering sentient beings" had no experiential foundation for the former pacific kind of ancestral concept. For them, the concept of the inheritance of bad karma functioned effectively as an explanatory principle for temporal suffering. Further, the act of enshrining the ancestors of both husband and wife's sides of the family played an effective role in maintaining the peace and order of the family in those cases where the dissolution of the traditional ie structure made it imperative to enlist the efforts of both husband and wife in the establishment of a new nuclear family.
The Reiyûkai orientation toward the worship of bilineal ancestors conforms with those examples seen in many other modern urban nuclear families where relatives on the wife's side of the family are enshrined with the husband's relatives in the household altar.
Finally, I might call attention to the work on "curses" done by Yoshida Teigo in Kôchi Prefecture.47 Yoshida notes that in 83 cases studied, he found 15 examples of "curses" by the spirit of some dead soul or ancestral relative of the person cursed. Of these, three were said to be cursed due to a negligence of ancestral ceremonies; one was cursed by the dead spirit of his father, two were cursed by the spirits of mother or mother-in-law, one by the spirit of an elder sister, three by the spirits of their paternal grandmothers, one by the spirit of a serving maid, one by the spirit of a specific ancestor from several generations earlier, and three by generalized ancestral spirits. It is noteworthy that such curses are not always limited to the curse of ancestors in the direct patriarchal line of the ie. It should also be noted that Yoshida found such "curses" were used as an explanatory principle for suffering. This fact indicates that teachings regarding the inheritance of bad karma and karmic hindrances is not unique to Reiyûkai-derived groups, although it leaves unanswered the question of how ancestors are understood within the personal religious experience of the believers concerned.
1. Yanagita Kunio, Senzo no hanashi (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobô, 1946), 196-197. [See Fanny Hagin Mayer and Ishiwara Yasuyo, trans., About Our Ancestors (Kyoto: Unesco, 1970).]
2. Morioka Kiyomi, "Yanagita Kunio ni okeru senzokan no tenkai" [The development of Yanagita Kunio's view of ancestors], Nihonshi ni okeru minzoku to shûkyô [Folk customs and religion in Japanese history] (Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1976), 31-53; Sakurai Tokutarô, Reikonkan no keifu, (Chikuma Shobô, 1977), 191-243.
3. Ariga Kizaemon, "Nihon ni okeru senzo to ujigami" [Ancestors and clan deities in Japan], in Ariga Kizaemon chosakushû [The collected works of Ariga Kizaemon], IV (Miraisha, 1969), 321-394. Yonemura Shôji, "Dôzoku o meguru mondai", I ["Problems regarding the great family clans, Part 1"], Shakaigaku hyôron [Sociology review] 25:1 (1974), 18-39. Itô Mikiharu, "Senzo sûhai to `ie'" [Ancestor worship and the traditional Japanese family], Kôza kazoku [Lectures on the family], VIII (Kôbundô, 1974), 12-27. Takeda Chôshû, Nihonjin no "ie" to shûkyô [Religion and the Japanese traditional family], (Hyôronsha, 1976).
4. Ishida Takeshi, Meiji seiji shisôshi kenkyû [Studies in the history of Meiji political thought], (Miraisha, 1954). Morioka Kiyomi, "Kindai Nihon ni okeru 'Senzokyô' no tôjo - toku ni 1910 nen zengo o chûshin to shite" [The appearance of the "Church of the Ancestors" in Modern Japan - particularly centering on the period around 1910], Chûô gakujutsu kenkyûsho kiyô [Bulletin of the Chûô Academic Research Institute], No. 5, (1976).
5. Nishiyama Shigeru, "Shûkyôteki shinnen taikei no juyô to sono eikyô - Yamagata-ken Yunohama chiku Myôchikaiin no jirei," [The acceptance of a religious system of belief and its influence, examples from members of Myôchikai in the Yunohama region of Yamagata Prefecture], Tokyo kyôiku Daigaku Bungakubu kiyô, shakai kagaku ronshû [Transactions of the department of literature at Tokyo University of Education: Papers on the Social Sciences], No. 23, (1976), 1-73. Ono Yasuhiro, "Miyamoto Mitsu ron" [On Miyamoto Mitsu], Kikan gendai shûkyô, 1:5 (1976), 152-168. Morioka Kiyomi, "Myôchikaiin no shûkyô ishiki" [Religious perception among members of Myôchikai], Kikan gendai shûkyô, 1:5 (1976), 169-185.
6. Aside from Reiyûkai-derived new religions, groups like Sekai Mahikari Bunmei kyôdan also place strong emphasis on ancestors.
7. Kotani Kimi, Ten no ongaku [The music of heaven], (Hotoke no Sekaisha, 1972), 43.
8. Ibid, 127-128.
9. So-called "divinations" or prophesies include those regarding both future and past events.
10. Kotani Kimi, op. cit., Ten no ongaku, 12.
11. Opinion is not uniform regarding the date of establishment of the Kôdô kyôdan; here, I accept the date given by the group itself.
12. Sakuta Keiichi, Kachi no shakaigaku [Sociology of values], (Iwanami Shoten, 1972), 69.
13. Kotani Kimi, op. cit., Ten no ongaku, 16.
14. Kamomiya Seisuke, ed., Myôkô sensei hôwashû [Dharma talks by Master Myôkô] I, (Risshô Kôseikai Shûkyô Kenkyûsho, 1951), 90.
15. Miyamoto Takeyasu, ed., Miyamoto Kôhei iju to kaisô [Treasures and memories of Miyamoto Kôhei], (Myôchikai, 1956), 18.
16. Risshô Kôseikai, Jihi no kokoro [The mind of compassion], (Kôsei Shuppansha, 1971), 35.
17. Miyamoto Takeyasu, op. cit., Miyamoto Kôhei iju to kaisô, 79.
18. Akashi Hirotaka and Matsuura Sôzô, eds., Shôwa tokkô dan'atsushi [History of oppression by special secret police forces in the Shôwa period] 4, (Taihei Shuppansha, 1975), 148.
19. Kotani Kimi, op. cit., Ten no ongaku, 5.
20. Tsurufuji Ikuta, Risshô Kôseikai no shinkô [The faith of Risshô Kôseikai], (Gochiku Shoin, 1954), 3.
21. Miyamoto Takeyasu,, op. cit., Miyamoto Kôhei iju to kaisô, 11-12.
22. Shinkô no Hikari-sha, ed., Myôchi e no michi [The way to marvelous wisdom], (Shinkô no Hikari-sha, 1952, 186-187).
23. For example, in the case of Myôchikai, the kaimyô "Shôjôin Hôdô Jizen Senzo XX ke...XX ke Tokki Bodaishin" is explained as follows: "Shôjôin is the ingô [an honorific religious name] of your generations of ancestors; shô means 'true sincerity,' thus referring to true compassion, or the genuine truth of the Buddha. Hô is Dharma, the first of the three treasures [the other two being the Buddha and the Sangha], and it means the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. Michi [path] is the practice [gyô] practiced in accord with the Buddha's teaching. Ji means loving compassion. The heart overflowing with the desire to give happiness to all things. Zen means to cast away evil and to accumulate good works in accord with the Buddha's correct teaching. To accumulate these merits and serve the ancestors, means to give offerings to each ancestor and serve them with filial piety. Tokki bodaishin refers to the mind which would be freed from distress by the merits of the Lotus Sutra, and enter into the state of bliss together with the Buddha." (Myôchikai, ed., Oshie no techô [Handbook of doctrine] , 43-44).
24. "First of all, you may say they're `ancestral rites,' but if they're only your own ancestors, what happens to the ancestors of your missus? Your wife has her own two parents, and her grandfather and grandmother before them, and other ancestors even further back than that." "Yeah, but my wife's ancestors are being worshiped at her parents' house, you know." "But you didn't start your family all by yourself. It's been you and your missus, the two of you together, that's gotten you this far. If that's so, then isn't it only fair that you ask for the protection of the ancestors of both your families?" (Sôda Saburô, Konjô o naose [Correct your nature], (Hotoke No Sekaisha, 1974), 63-64.
25. Myôchi, 6:1, 25.
26. Ibid, 25.
27. Hensan'iinkai, ed., Kokoro ni hana o [A flower for the heart], (Myôchikai Hôsankai, 1967), 198-199.
28. Myôchi e no michi, op. cit., 199.
29. Ibid, 198-199.
30. Kyôgakubu, ed., Senzo ekô no igi, [The significance of saving ancestors] (1965), 17. [The "two masters" refers to the two founders Niwano Nikkyô and Naganuma Myôkô. - Trans.]
31. Ibid., 18.
32. Kotani Kimi, op. cit., Ten no ongaku, 154.
33. Kôsei, 2:7 (July, 1951), 4.
34. Kokoro no ryôyaku Hensan'iinkai, ed., Kokoro no ryôyaku [Balm for the heart] (Myôchikai Hôsankai, 1970), 104-105.
35. Miyamoto Takeyasu,, op. cit., Miyamoto Kôhei iju to kaisô, 25.
36. Kotani Kimi, op. cit., Ten no ongaku, 21.
37. Kôsei, 3:1 (January, 1952), 10.
38. Hensan'iinkai, ed., op. cit., Kokoro ni hana o, 287-288.
39. Myôchi, 10:3 (October, 1974), 18.
40. Kotani Kimi, op. cit., Ten no ongaku, 137.
41. Kôsei, 3:7 (July, 1952), 11.
42. Kokoro no ryôyaku, 10.
43. Yonemura Shôji, op. cit., "Dôzoku o meguru mondai"; Takeda Chôshû, op. cit., Nihonjin no "ie" to shûkyô.
44. Morioka Kiyomi, op. cit., "Myôchikaiin no shûkyô ishiki."
45. Nagasawa Rintarô, Sosenkyô kyôsho [Teachings of the religion of the ancestors], (Sosenkyô Honbu, 1914), 8.
46. Takatori Masao and Hashimoto Mineo, Shûkyô izen [Before religion], (Nihon Hôsô Shuppan kyôkai, 1968), 150.
47. Yoshida Teigo, Nihon no tsukimono: shakai-jinruigakuteki kôsatsu [Possession in Japan: A social-anthropological study], (Chûô Kôronsha, 1972), 114-118.
I. This paper was originally published in Japanese under the title "Minshû no naka no senzokan no ichisokumen (1)," Sakurai Tokutarô, ed., Nihon shûkyô no fukugôteki kôzô [The compound structure of Japanese religion] (Kôbundô, 1978), 357-381.
II. Derived from the Lotus Sutra, the term bussho gonen originally referred to the "attentive protection of the buddhas," although in Mugaku's thought it took on the sense of the believer's concern (as evidenced in memorial rites using the Lotus Sutra) for the buddhahood of his or her ancestors.
III. The White Tiger Brigade or (Byakkotai) was a group of samurai youths who were organized in Aizu Domain (present-day Fukushima Prefecture) in 1868 to battle the imperial forces during the Meiji Restoration. The last members of the group returned to Wakamatsu Castle in October 1868 and committed suicide on a nearby hill. Here, the lingering attachment to this world felt by young members of the group is viewed as a cause for the sickness and death of others.
IV. In modern Japan, hôgô, kaimyô, dôgô, and ingô can all be considered variations of "religious names" taken by Buddhists at various times during their life, when adopting the monastic life, or following death. According to Kômoto, the three parts of the kaimyô in Reiyûkai-derived groups include the characters jô, in, and toku, thus leading to the abbreviation for the entire kaimyô as "Jôintoku".
In Reiyûkai and Myôchikai, the sôkaimyô takes the form "Shôjôin Hôdô Jizen Senzo XX Ke...YY Ke Tokki Bodaishin." Here, the "XX Ke" and "YY Ke" refer to the husband and wife's family names. In Risshô Kôseikai, the Shôjôin is replaced by Taijôin. See Komoto's note 23 for the interpretations given these characters by the respective sects.
It should also be noted that in actual practice within Japanese Buddhism, the terms hômyô and kaimyô are often used interchangeably to mean "posthumous Buddhist names." In the subsequent passages, however, Myôchikai makes a differentiation between the two, considering the first kaimyô to be the posthumous name assigned as matter of form by the funerary temple at the time of death, while Myôchikai's own individualistic hômyô (or "lay kaimyô") is considered the "genuine" religious name for the deceased.
V. For more information on this practice, see Helen Hardacre, Lay Buddhism in Contemporary Japan: Reiyûkai kyôdan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 65-69.
VI. As noted here, onryô or goryô refer to the spirits of persons who died in the context of some unusual spiritual stress, situation of violence, or as the result of unjust punishment. They are thus believed to harbor lingering attachments and resentments against those in this world and must be placated by worship in order to protect the living from their curse. See Ichirô Hori, Folk Religion in Japan (Tokyo: University of Chicago Press; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
VII. See above, note II.
VIII. All of these categories of spiritual beings were believed to roam the earth and cause trouble to living humans if not properly placated. See note VI.
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