by David J. Hesselgrave
“Don’t hold a funeral for me, but just throw my remains in Tokyo Bay off Shinagawa if we fail to achieve 750,000 families in the next seven years.”11 These were the words of Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai of Japan, when he took office in 1951.
"Don’t hold a funeral for me, but just throw my remains in Tokyo Bay off Shinagawa if we fail to achieve 750,000 families in the next seven years."1 These were the words of Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai of Japan, when he took office in 1951. This religious group had emerged after World War II with a few scattered believers. By the time of Toda’s inauguration it had grown to 5,000 families. (Membership is always counted by family groups.) The 750,000 goal was reached toward the end of 1957. By 1965 it had reached an estimated membership of over 5,000,000 households, or approximately 13,000,000 individual members.’
The influence of the Soka Gakkai has been felt in the labor movement, business circles, political bodies, and educational institutions of postwar Japan. When religion is discussed in Japan the conversation almost invariably includes the Soka Gakkai. It is in the spotlight of the religious world, East and West, with active groups in Europe and North and South America as well as the Far East.
This amazing record invariably elicits the question, "How have they done it?" This is the question we will attempt to answer. But first let us briefly identify the Soka Gakkai.
THE SOKA GAKKAI AS A RELIGION
"Soka Gakkai" literally means "Value-Creation society."
The society has two distinct strains — one philosophical and one religious. The philosophical strain is discoverable in the pragmatism of one Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and his disciple, Josei Toda. These men were Tokyo school teachers at a time of strict authoritarianism in Japanese education. IN the 1930s they formed a pedagological society to promote in a practical way the notion that "truth" in the Kantian triumvirate of truth, good and beauty should be replaced by the concept of "benefit" or "profit." Truth simply is while benefit, good and beauty can be "created."
Both Makiguchi and Toda had been converted to the Orthodox Sect of Nichiren Buddhism in 1928, however, and the Society they later founded became increasingly occupied with religious questions. At the heart of Nichirenism is the contention that "heretical religions" (those other than NIchiren Buddhism) are the root cause of all national ills, and that true fatih begins by calling on the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra with the words Namu-myoho-reng-kyo (Homage to the wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra). A synthesis between Makiguchi’s relativistic, utilitarian value theory and the authoritarian, absolutist faith of Nichirenism was chieved by making the religious value central to the whole system. Since none of the three values is realizable if "life power" (Jap., seimeiryoku) is weak, and since "life power" comes through the true religion, faithful worship of the Honzon (worship object in the Nichiren Orthodox Sect) is at once the aegis and the sine qua non of the happy life.
The Soka Gakkai is therefore a lay auxiliary of the Orthodox Sect of Nichiren Buddhism. And it should be noted that the phenomenal success of this religious movement is due almost entirely to the efforts of lay people!
THE SHAKUBUKU APPROACH TO PROPAGATION
Josei Toda instituted the Great Shakubuku Advance in 1951 and from that time forward the Society has grown by leaps and bounds. The word shakubuku to an extremely aggressive means of propagation that involves making new converts by vehemently attacking competing beliefs, insisting on Nichirenism as the true faith, and exerting every possible pressure to secure the persuadee’s conversion. The word is usually translated as "forced conversion" though I prefer the translation "coercive propagation" because it focuses upon the method rather than the object of the process. Furthermore, it is not as connotative of physical force (which may be restored to when the situation allows, but is not usual).
TECHNIQUES OF PROPAGATION
As an overall strategy shakubuku has been implemented by an elaborate organizational structure, an extensive use of mass media, political activity, an intensive program of indoctrination, and an increasing reliance on the small group as the supreme instrument of propagation.
A military-type, hierarchical organization reaches from the central headquarters in Shinanomachi, Tokyo, through general branches, regional branches, districts, squads and groups to the family unit or individual believer in the remotest corner of Japan. In addition, there are organizations of a cultural and educational nature to engage the interests of members with propensities in art, music, philosophy, etc. High quality newspapers, mgazines and books find their way to homes and the man on the street from Hokkaido to Kyushu. Each publication has its distinct appeal but is geared to the one great task of propagating the teachings of Soka Gakkai.
Ulitmately the teachings will be propagated by political means. With this in mind a political party called the Komeito (Clean Government Party) has been formed. The political success of the Soka Gakkai at both national and regional levels has occasioned a good deal of apprehension both in Japan and overseas.
All believers are challenged to daily worship, and charged with the responsibilities of learning the doctrine and winning converts. In fact, they are instructed not to talk to outsiders about their faith apart from the conscious intent to convert them. The writer knows of a case where Society of officials turned down several invitations to send represenatives to address a sizeable and influential group of Japanese and foreigners interested in their teachings. They responsed that representatives would be sent to explain the faith in individuals or very small groups! The obvious explanation is that they feared that the larger meeting would be merely an intellectual exercise, while the more personal encounters would yield increased opportunity to actually convert some of the group.
To aid in such face-to-face efforts a Manual of Shakubuku is to be mastered by all believers. It contains an intensive apologetic and a lengthy elucidation of the teaching, and concludes with an explanation; of numerous "heresies" (Christianity among them) and suasory techniques. In addition, uniform series of studies with increasing degrees of difficulty are available to all believers. By studying the material at the various levels and passing thorough examinations, ordinary believers can advance to places of responsibility in leading small groups or even lecturing locally, regionally, or nationally.
In the 1950’s the Japanese press reported cases of Soka Gakkai intimidation and coercion with increasing frequency. In 1954 the Aseehi Evening News reported that as a result of numerous complaints that Soka Gakkai "mobile youth movements" were trying to force the acceptance of their doctrine by Christians and Buddhist sects the Education Ministry had started a nationwide check to find out if the Society was guilty of violating the Religious Corporation Law.3
In 1955 one woman reported that several Soka Gakkai members called upon her and threatened her home with some kind of calamity if she didn’t become a believer. After visiting her for three days in succession they finally said that they would not leave until she was converted. They stayed until two o’clock in the morning.4
It was reported in 1957 that certain Tokyo schoolteachers were visiting the homes of their school children and proselytizing by warning parents that their children would be abnormal if parents did not enter the Society. One of the teachers defended herself in the ensuing inquiry by saying that she had gained so much happiness from her faith that she was offering spiritual as well as educational help on her visits.5
In the later part of the decade when public opinion in Japan became aroused against such tactics, the primary battleground of shakubuku was shifted by Soka Gakkai strategists to the zandankai or small discussion group. It was a master stroke. Members of these local groups have become unrelenting in their efforts to get acquaintances and strangers to attend.
The writer attended one such meeting held in the city of Urawa in 1962. A friend who had repeatedly been invited to a neighboring zadankai informed the householder that his guest was studying the Soka Gakkai and would be happy to accept a similar invitation. He was informed that there would be a meeting that very afternoon to which the guest would be more than welcome.
Arriving about 2:00 P.M. I found five members already seated in a large circle on the tatami floor. The householder was somewhat late in arriving home, but he soon appeared and after the exchange of a few pleasantries I requested that they carry on their meeting just as though I were not in attendance. It soon became evident that this would not be the case. They immediately began to urge me to believe in the honzon, or worship object, (a mandala inscribed by Nichiren ). They did accede my request to tell how they entered the faith, however, and each in turn gave the circumstances of his or her conversion.
The householder had worshipped at shrines and temples for years without understanding religion or gaining anything in exchange for his offerings. He had also been a heavy drinker. Now he had a faith he understood and a body that no one could match for health and vitality.
An elderly woman of about sixty-five explained how she had attended a Christian church for twenty years without results. Her troubles remained unresolved and a seriously infected ear would not heal. Since placing faith in the honzon she had experienced healing and true happiness.
A twenty-two-year-old man of the youth division, who was present in the capacity of an advisor, explained that he had been very timid as a child but had become self-confident and poised after entering the Gakkai during high school days.
As the afternoon wore on, the members of the group became more and more insistent that I at least "try" the faith. Surprised at my comparison of Nichiren and Christ, and disappointed by my insistence that all men would some day acknowledge the Lordship of the latter, they bade farewell.
The meeting was a revealing initiation into the methods and procedures o£ the small approach, but it was somewhat atypical. All else had been put aside in hopes of winning the first Christian missionary to the Nichiren faith! Usually there is more variety. The members almost always give testimonials of improved health, increased wages, improved interpersonal relationship, business successes, increased personal confidence, etc. – all of which is attributed to the power of the honzon (worship object). But there is more. Militant songs are sung to the accompaniment of rhythmic hand-clapping. Current affairs are discussed from a perspective provided by Soka Gakkai literature. Though the householder or local believer will likely lead the group, a headquarters representative (often a member of the youth division) is usually present to give guidance and instruction – the role of the young man in the Urawa meeting mentioned above. Once in the meeting, the newcomer may find that his own faith (or lack of it) is under concentrated attack, but he will also find an island of camaraderie and homogeneity on the sea of an atomized, confused, and heterogeneous modern society.
AN ANALYSIS OF SOKA GAKKAI SUCCESS
The success of the Soka Gakkai must be studied from the perspective of the Japanese mind and the postwar situation in Japan. The reasons for success are to be found in a propitious confluence of many factors – some adventitious and fortuitous, some premeditated and strategic. We must confine our observations to those factors that seem to be transcultural in their importance. In this category objective analysis of the approach outlined above would necessarily require attention to the meticulously planned and carefully implemented organization that makes room for individual initiative and vertical movement, while preserving a clearly defined and recognized chain of command. Consideration would have to be given to the ability of the Society to appeal to the various age levels and social strata of society (though most believers have come from the working class) and to the "whole man" with all his varied interests. Nor could one overlook the significant place given to the high quality literature of all types – a propagational endeavor that undoubtedly pays off handsomely in finances as well as conversions.
But perhaps the great overriding factors in Soka Gakkai success are the ability of the group to enlist the common man in the effective propagation of its doctrine and the resort to the small group technique. The professional priesthood is appreciated and supported, but propagation is the job of the layman. It is not enjoined upon believers as an easy task. It entails personal sacrifice, constant attention, painstaking study, and even social antagonism. But propagation of the doctrine is the task of every individual who claims to be a follower of Nichiren And a point that should not be overlooked is that the Society undertakes to challenge every believer to this service, to equip him for it, and to direct him in it in concert with all his fellow believers.
The individual carries out his shakubuku responsibility through the small group. Mass meetings are for the faithful not for the winning of new converts. Literature is not made the agent of propagation, but is used and utilized to the fullest extent in and through the small discussion group. At this level a specially trained representative interprets the doctrine and guides the discussion at important points. The small group most readily exhibits and maintains a high degree of homogeneity. It operates to undermine the "false" beliefs of the persuadee and to substitute new values and attitudes. Here the newcomer is not lost in the crowd. If he has problems or becomes careless in his attendance, other members are immediately in contact with him to encourage and restore him to the group. The new convert is immediately challenged to win others – before his initial interest and zeal begins to lag. And when the group grows larger than twenty or twenty-five, it divides and thus preserves the advantages of limited numbers.
Research in our Western world underscores the effectiveness of the Soka Gakkai approach in propagation.
1. The small group is widely recognized as the most effective means of bringing about attitudinal change.6 It has been shown to be much more effective than the lecture method.7
2. The effectiveness of mass media is dependent to a high degree on the way the media are linked to interpersonal relationships and the characteristics of these relationships.8
3. The role of strategically placed individuals who exercise a "relay function" in linking groups to the mass media is extremely important.9
4. Deviants respond most readily in the direction of uniformity when there is high pressure toward that uniformity, and they perceive the group to be homogeneous.10
5. Once a group arrives at a decision to act, the individual members tend to overcome the resistance to changing habits in response to the force of group decision. In other words, when the decision to act is a group decision the individual is more likely to actually carry it out.11
6. Contrary to what one might expect, the individual member of the small group is more likely to conform to the opinions of his group when the majority holding a contrary opinion is large.12
However one might comment on the erroneous doctrine] and chauvinistic tendencies of the Soka Gakkai, an honest appraisal would have to include the fact that in its methodology the movement is closer to the conclusions of modern research and the approach of the New Testament Church than most present-dad Christian missions at home or abroad. Could it be that in spate of our emphasis on mass evangelism and mass media, we are losing the masses to those who realize that to gain the masses the supreme effort must be directed toward winning and utilizing the individual and the small community of individual believers? This may be one of the most serious questions for reflection facing the Church of Christ in a mechanized, depersonalized age!
1. The Sokagakkai (Tokyo: The Seikyo Press, 1960), p. 30.
2. This figure is based on information contained in a personal letter from Mr. Hirao Matsuyama of the Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau under the date March 4, 1965. Mr. Matsuyama gives the membership at the end of 1964 as 5,246,458 households or family units. The 13,000,000 Figure is obtained by multiplying the number of households by 2.5.
3. The Asaisi Evening News ( Tokyo: October 26, 1954).
4. Shinshukyo Shinbun (Tokyo: November 20, 1955).
5. Yomiuru Shinbun (Tokyo: July 6, 1957).
6. J. A. C. Brown, Techniques of Persuasion (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963), p. 67.
7. J. Levine and J. Butler, "Lecture vs. Group Decision in Changing Behavior", journal of Applied Psychology, XXXVI, (1952), pp. 29, 30.
8. Melvin DeFleur and Otto Larsen, The Flow of Information (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. 31. 9DeFleur and Larsen, loc cit.
10. A. Paul Hare, Handbook of Small Group Research (New York: The CrowellCollier Publishing Co., 1963), p. 57.
11. Levine and Butler, loc cit. 12A. Paul Hare, p. 30.
Copyright © 1967 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.