December 19, 1922 |
|Period in office||April 15, 1978 – December 15, 2005|
|Ordination||August 28, 1928|
|Previous post||High Priest of Nichiren Shōshū|
Nikken Abe (阿部日顕, Abe Nikken; December 19, 1922, in Sumida, Tokyo) was the 67th high priest of Nichiren Shōshū, a major school of Nichiren Buddhism, and chief priest of its head temple, Taiseki-ji, in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan.
Personal history before becoming high priest
Born Shinobu (信夫), Abe was the first son of Hōun Abe, then the chief priest of Jōsen-ji in Sumida, Tokyo, and later 60th Nichiren Shoshu High Priest Nichikai. He tonsured (entered the priesthood) in 1928, taking the Buddhist name Shinno (信雄). He graduated from Risshō University in 1943 and, after his return from navy duty, served as chief priest of three major local temples, Hongyō-ji (Tokyo, 1947), Heian-ji (Kyōto, 1963), and later Jōsen-ji (Tokyo). He was appointed head of the school's Kyōgakubu (a section responsible for doctrinal study and maintenance of orthodoxy, often rendered Study Department) in 1961. In this position, he was one of the two Nichiren Shoshu priests who traveled overseas to conduct the first initiation rites (gokjukai) for new believers outside Japan in 1961, for which the contemporary high priest gave him the name Etsuyo (越洋: "he who crosses the seas"). Abe was named Nichiren Shoshu Sōkan (the school's second-highest ranking priest) in early 1979. He took over as high priest shortly after the passing of the previous high priest, Nittatsu Hosoi, on July 22, 1979. At the time, he changed his nichi-gō (the name beginning with nichi that all priests have but use publicly only after attaining a certain seniority) from Nichiji (日慈) to Nikken (日顕) in deference to a more-senior priest who is the next high priest, Nichinyo's father of the same name.
On Sunday, December 4, 2005, Abe announced his intention to step down as high priest before the end of the year. He performed the ceremony of transferral of the Heritage of the Law on December 12, 2005, in which he appointed Nichinyo Hayase (1935-) as his successor. He officially retired on December 15—four days before his 83rd birthday after a total of 26 years as high priest. Sixty-eighth High Priest Nichinyo Shōnin ascended the high priest's seat at a ceremony on December 16..
Period as high priest
Abe's tenure as high priest was marked by a mixture of progress and controversy..
He officiated several milestone celebrations—the 700th anniversary of Nichiren's passing (1981), the 650th anniversaries of the passing of Taiseki-ji's founder Nikkō and his successor Nichimoku (1982), the 700th anniversary of Taiseki-ji's founding (1990), and the 750th anniversary of Nichiren's proclamation of his teachings (2004)—as well as oversaw the compilation and publication of several important works—previous high priests' letters, treatises, and sermons; official biographies of Nichiren (Nichiren Daishōnin Shōden, 1981) and Nikkō and Nichimoku (Nikkō Shōnin, Nichimoku Shōnin Shōden, 1982); a 1999 revision of Nichiren Shōshū Yōgi (1978), a comprehensive overview of Nichiren Shoshu doctrine; and a new compilation of Nichiren's writings (Heisei Shimpen Nichiren Daishōnin Gosho, 1994) based on thorough historical and documentary surveys. Further, Abe also initiated and oversaw the publication of an annotated edition of 26th High Priest Nichikan's doctrinally definitive work Rokkanshō ("The six volume writings"; 1996), a revised edition of the Lotus Sutra with its prologue and epilogue sutras (Shimpen Myōhōrengekyō narabini Kaiketsu, 1998), and a compilation of Nichikan's Gosho Mondan, exegeses on 14 of Nichiren's most important writings (Nichikan Shōnin Gosho Mondan, 2001). In 2003, Abe also published Juryōhon Seppō, a compilation of sermons on the Life Span of the Thus Come One (Juryō) chapter of the Lotus Sutra he delivered over a period of 23 years at Taiseki-ji's annual autumn celebration of Nichiren's life, the Gotai-e..
Abe also worked to restore the Nichiren Shoshu faith to what he saw as a certain orthodoxy that he felt had been lost during the school's association with the Soka Gakkai and SGI, a mass Buddhist movement previously connected with Nichiren Shoshu as a lay organization. This stance began with moving that start of Ushitora Gongyo, a prayer service for the worldwide propagation of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, from midnight forward to 2:30AM so the service would span the eponymous "hour of the ox (ushi) and tiger (tora)".
Abe also left his personal mark on the grounds of Nichiren Shoshu Head Temple Taiseki-ji: He had numerous old lodging temples rebuilt and parts of the compound re-landscaped. In conjunction with some of the anniversary celebrations mentioned above, he had a bare-concrete building removed and a plaza and garden built in its place, as well as several quickly-built concrete lodgings replaced with two modern structures. And after Nichiren Shoshu's excommunication of SGI, he also had demolished several ferro-concrete edifices donated by Soka Gakkai, replacing them with buildings more in keeping with the atmosphere of a traditional Japanese Buddhist temple. This was highly controversial considering the buildings were built through member contributions. The Grand Reception Hall, for example, made of materials from 46 countries, was constructed after a four-day fund-raising drive in 1961 in which members contributed $9 million (today $71 million).
Also following the split with Soka Gakkai, described below, Abe founded numerous temples overseas (the last in Singapore in December 2005) and propagation centers—in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America as well as Europe and North America—and staffed them with able-bodied young priests. He also frequently visited them personally despite his advanced age.
On the other hand, Abe's succession to the position of high priest was challenged in December 1980, well over a year after the fact, by a group of Nichiren Shoshu priests belonging to the Shoshinkai after he excommunicated five of them for disobeying repeated admonitions to cancel a massive anti-Soka Gakkai rally (August 1980) and to cease attacking Soka Gakkai from their pulpits. In the end, Abe excommunicated over 200 priests who had aligned themselves with Shoshinkai, which balked at Abe's erstwhile policy of reconciliation with Soka Gakkai after a conflict with the group that had surfaced in the early 1970s and lasted through the end of the decade.
Abe eventually excommunicated Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and all its members in November 1990, alleging doctrinal deviations. SGI, on the other hand vigorously rejects this charge, claiming that it is Abe who has deviated from both the word and the spirit of Nichiren's teachings. It further alleges that Abe himself is personally corrupt and that his motive for excommunicating the SGI was to bolster his personal power over believers. The SGI leadership has been consistently scathing in its criticism of Abe in particular and the priesthood in general. These actions were interpreted by Nichiren Shoshu as retaliation for the priesthood's admonitions of the Soka Gakkai leadership urging them to follow through on what they say were earlier promises to uphold Nichiren Shoshu traditions, which many in the priesthood and traditional lay organizations felt Soka Gakkai was ignoring or furtively undermining (for details, see Nichiren Shoshu#Friction and split with Soka Gakkai).
In an ironic twist of fate, since its 1992 excommunication, Soka Gakkai has slowly moved towards adopting Shoshinkai's rationale for accusing Abe of being a pretender to the high priest's position (on grounds that Abe was unable to substantiate claims that Nittatsu Hosoi transferred the position to him ), even as many Shoshinkai priests have distanced themselves from the position and drifted back to Nichiren Shoshu.
Soka Gakkai further attributes Abe's motivation for demolishing the Shohondo (completed in 1972), the Grand Reception Hall (1964), and other buildings in the Taiseki-ji compound donated by Soka Gakkai (see Taiseki-ji), to resentment towards and jealousy of Soka Gakkai's leadership and to a desire to usurp the achievements of his predecessor. Abe's demolition of the main temple building, the Sho Hondo, has been particularly controversial. The construction of the Sho Hondo was completed in 1972, largely through the efforts and financial donations of Soka Gakkai members, and was regarded as a notable work of Japanese architecture. Nichiren Shoshu stated that since the official petitioner of the Sho Hondo, Daisaku Ikeda, was no longer a Nichiren Shoshu believer, and that the structure was the largest manifestation of the Soka Gakkai's past participation in Nichiren Shohsu, it would no longer be appropriate, from the standpoint of faith, for this structure to serve as the High Sanctuary building at Head Temple Taisekiji. Some people view Abe's decision as a product of his personal hatred for SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. However, Nichiren Shoshu insists that the issue behind the demolition of the Sho Hondo and the subsequent erection on the same site of the new High Sanctuary, the Hoando, was a necessary step in establishing a High Sanctuary building based on correct faith in Nichiren Shoshu.
Abe was the first high priest in Nichiren Shoshu's history to reach the age of 80 while serving in the position. By the time he retired about mid-way through his 27th year, he had reconfigured Head Temple Taiseki-ji in a manner more congruent with tradition and restored a number of ceremonies to their traditional times and formats. In the view of Nichiren Shoshu believers, he ensured that Nichiren Shoshu doctrine was communicated to believers without reinterpretation of convenience. He also survived attempts against efforts from three breakaway groups, comprising nearly half the membership of the priesthood as it was before the excommunication of the SGI, to bring about reform within Nichiren Shoshu and put an end to the doctrinal distortions and personal corruption that they say are now characteristic of the sect in general, and of the office of high priest in particular.
Sources and references
- Japanese Wikipedia article on Nikken Abe
- Japanese Wikipedia article on Shōshinkai
- Shoshū Hashaku Guide (Jp: 諸宗破折ガイド: Guide to refuting [erroneous teachings of] other schools). Taiseki-ji, 2003 (no ISBN)
- Nichiren Shoshu Fuji Nempyō (Jp: 日蓮正宗 富士年表: Chronology of the history of the Fuji Schools). Fuji Gakurin, 1990. (No ISBN)
- Brannen, Noah S. (1968). Soka Gakkai: Japan's Militant Buddhists. Richmond, VA: John Knox Press. p. 81.
- Buddhism in America, Seager R H, Columbia University Press, 2000, p.83
- "A Major Eruption At the Foot of Fuji". members.aol.com. Washington Post. June 14, 1998. Archived from the original on 1999-11-03. This article is also referenced in Jane Hurst, "A Buddhist Reformation", in Global Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World eds. David W. Machacek, Bryan R. Wilson, Oxford University Press, 2001, p.70
Official Nichiren Shoshu Temple site (USA)
Official Soka Gakkai / Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sites
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