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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Young, Kathleen Z.

Second Advisor

Pine, Judith M. S.

Third Advisor

Campbell, Sarah K.


The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Nichiren Shoshu have always had a complex relationship. Formed in 1930 by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai was from its inception an independent lay-Buddhist organization. For 60 years, they maintained an uneasy partnership with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, a conservative sect of Nichiren Buddhism, who oversaw certain religious and ceremonial functions for the Soka Gakkai. However, there were points of doctrinal interpretation that the two groups never agreed upon and which ultimately made a split between them inevitable.

The ritual practice of gongyo, borrowed from the priesthood, was developed over a span of 600 years on the temple grounds of Taiseki-ji, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. The format and performance of this ritual was the result of hundreds of years of temple tradition. This practice was handed down to the fledgling SGI in its early years under Toda’s presidency of the organization in the 1940's.

In 1991 the Nichiren Shoshu excommunicated the SGI and all of its constituent chapters and members internationally. Ten years later, in 2002 the SGI abruptly changed the entire format of gongyo. The present study explores the changes that have occurred in the performance of gongyo since the schims.

The reformatting of gongyo and the realignment of the Soka Gakkai's doctrine are not coincidental nor independent phenomena; in order for the SGI to survive after the schism these changes were necessary, and it is purpose of the present work to substantiate how and why these changes took place. Peircean semiotics forms the basis for analysis of the data presented in this work.

The present study proceeds from a historical overview of the evolution of Buddhism as a world religion, touching upon the ideological developments in a succession of traditions which led to the formulation of the key components of Nichiren Buddhist thought. From this the points of divergence and conflict between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu are clarified and explored.

To illustrate the degree of their ideological differences, the liturgical manuals which provide the guidelines to the performance of gongyo for SGI members both pre- and post-schism are presented for analysis. The ritual performance of gongyo, its format, ritual paraphernalia, and attendant beliefs are described, unpackaged and presented for semiotic analysis. Finally, field notes of the author's observations of SGI meetings are provided to give some context for the performance of this ritual activity in a group context.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Sōka Gakkai Buddhists--History; Sōka Gakkai Buddhists--Rituals; Sōka Gakkai Buddhists--Relations; Nichiren Shōshū--Rituals




masters theses




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