Risshō Kōseikai

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RISSHŌ KŌSEIKAI (Society Establishing Righteousness and Harmony) is one of the new religions of postwar Japan. It was founded in 1938 by Niwano Nikkyō (19061999), at that time a minor leader of Reiyūkai, and his disciple and assistant Naganuma Myōkō (18891957), a woman with shamanic attributes. The school regards the Lotus Sutra as the ultimate source of their teachings.

Niwano Nikkyō was born into a farming household in a mountain village in Niigata Prefecture, went to Tokyo in 1923, and eventually became a shopkeeper. In his early twenties he studied systems of fortune-telling based on people's names and on rules governing auspicious and inauspicious dates (rokuyō ) and directions (shichishin ) derived from ancient Chinese forms. In 1934, when his daughter became seriously ill, he turned to Arai Sukenobu, a chapter leader in the Reiyūkai organization and a renowned scholar of the Lotus Sutra, for advice. Convinced that the Lotus Sutra provided answers to the problems of suffering, Niwano became active in the Reiyūkai movement. However, by 1938 his increasing doubts about Reiyūkai, especially its insistence that lectures on the Lotus Sutra were unnecessary, led him to form a new organization, Risshō Kōsekai.

Early in its development, Kōseikai taught that adverse karmic causes and effects caused by bad deeds in a previous existence or by the bad deeds of one's ancestors could be overcome by means of ancestor veneration in which the Lotus Sutra was chanted, by religious training for the improvement of one's personality, and by guiding others to the faith. This teaching, which stemmed primarily from Reiyūkai doctrine and practice, was complemented by Niwano's use of fortune-telling techniques in order to attract converts to the movement. Niwano also instituted mutual counseling sessions, known as hōza, designed to improve the mental outlook of practitioners.

In keeping with the doctrinal roots of the movement, the original iconographic focus of Kōseikai devotion was the Daimoku ("Hail to the Lotus Sutra ") maala transmitted in the Nichiren tradition. But as Niwano became increasingly disillusioned with the Nichiren sect and the possibility of carrying on joint missionary work with it, he began his own study of the Lotus Sutra. In 1958, as a result of his study of the text, he declared the focus of Kōseikai devotion to be the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus, and an image of this Buddha was installed in the movement's headquarters in 1964. From around this time a change took place in the composition of the Kōseikai members, as an increasing number of them sought a more meaningful life rather than mere respite from worldly problems. This reflects perhaps the rising standard of living in the Japan of the 1960s. With the changing concern of its followers, and also with the emergence of second-generation members, the core of the Kōseikai doctrine shifted from the attainment of happiness by the elimination of negative karmic effects to the perfection of the personality and the realization of peace on earth.

The basic unit of membership in Risshō Kōsekai is the household rather than the individual. Kōseikai claimed a membership of about a thousand households in 1945. Since then, its membership has increased dramatically: 50,000 in 1950, 399,000 in 1960, 973,000 in 1970, and 1,640,000 in 1980. Members are not requested to end all former religious affiliations. While no clergy-laity distinction exists, the formal status of "teacher" is institutionalized; in 1980, 173,000 people had this qualification. Originally, new members were installed in the same branch as the senior member who brought them to Kōseikai (a system called oya-ko, literally, "parent-child"). There were nine such branches in 1945. In 1959, there was a reform in branch organization, and the oya-ko system was replaced by one based on propinquity, whereby a branch was made up of members living near one another irrespective of oya-ko relations; 138 new branches were set up by this system. A further reform instituted in 1969 defined the boundaries of a branch as coincident with those of municipalities. In 1982 there were 224 branches in Japan, with additional ones in Korea, Brazil, and the United States. These reforms promoted local Kōseikai activities, including campaign work for local and national elections and dissemination of its teachings to nonmembers. Around 1970, Kōseikai launched the Brighter Society Movement (a public-spirited movement bringing together secular, religious, and governmental organizations to create a better society) and an international movement for the attainment of world peace through interreligious cooperation. The headquarters of Kōseikai have been located in Wada, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, since its foundation. Full-time workers at the headquarters and its affiliates numbered a little more than five hundred in 1980. No position is hereditary, with the exception of the presidency, which is held by lineal descendants of Niwano.

Kōseikai, the second largest new religion in contemporary Japan, is unique in a number of ways. Although it may be said to stem in part from Nichiren Buddhism, today it stresses basic bodhisattva practices as well as faith in the Eternal Buddha. While Kōseikai emphasizes traditional values such as reverence of ancestors, modesty, and harmony, it is neither nativistic nor nationalistic, as demonstrated by its peace movement. It is not meditation-oriented; rather it is practice- or action-oriented on the basis of inner reflection. Its organization is unlike that of other new religions in that the municipality-based local branches are linked to the highly developed bureaucracy at the headquarters.

See Also

New Religious Movements, article on New Religious Movements in Japan.


Dale, Kenneth J., and Akahoshi Susumu. Circle of Harmony: A Case Study in Popular Japanese Buddhism with Implications for Christian Mission. Tokyo, 1975. A valuable study of hōza, the small mutual discussion and counseling group that is the center of Kōseikai's teaching and training activities.

Kyōdanshi Hensan Iinkai, ed. Risshō Kōsekai shi. 5 vols. Tokyo, 1984. A history of Risshō Kōsekai written by nonmember specialists.

Niwano Nikkyō. A Buddhist Approach to Peace. Tokyo and Rutland, Vt., 1977. Translated and compiled by Masuo Nezu. Based mainly on the author's Heiwa e no michi (Tokyo, 1972).

Niwano Nikkyō. Lifetime Beginner: An Autobiography. Tokyo and Rutland, Vt., 1978. Translated by Richard L. Gage. An autobiography of the founder of Risshō Kōsekai based on Niwano's two books, Shoshin issho (Tokyo, 1975) and Niwano Nikkyo jiden (Tokyo, 1976).

Risshō Kōsekai, ed. Niwano Nikkyo howa senshu. 7 vols. Tokyo, 19781982. A comprehensive collection of Niwano's sermons, speeches, and essays. Very detailed biographical notes are appended to volume one.

New Sources

Guthrie, Stewart. A Japanese New Religion: Rissho Kosei-kai in a Mountain Hamlet. Ann Arbor, 1988.

Morioka Kiyomi (1987)

Revised Bibliography