"As an eternal principle, the Soka Gakkai will never ask for even the tiniest contribution of offering from the members." --Daisaku Ikeda Seikyo Shimbun, June 16, 1962
$OKA GAKKAI'S MONEY COLLECTING ACTIVITIES
The Unification Church coerced its members to purchase strange objects like pottery and miniature pagodas. A court ordered them to pay compensatory reparations for their "Inspirational Business." However, the Soka Gakkai matches their perniciousness in taking advantage of people's weaknesses. No, in fact, the Soka Gakkai's money gathering techniques exceed those of the Unification Church. Their money collections from believers throughout the entire country, which are carried out under the designation "zaimu," and which are conducted by order of Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda, are absurd, and their practice to efficiently collect money with "bank transfers" is shameful.
Two women sought compensation against the Unification Church, saying they had been coerced by the Church into giving money. They say they were told, "Unless you make a donation, more misfortune will occur. Your (deceased) husband hopes for $500,000, or at the very least, $300,000." A decision in the "Inspiration Business" trial in Fukuoka handed down on May 17 recognized the responsibility of those within the Unification Church who had employed the coercion, and ordered a total payment of $37,600,000. It was an epoch-making decision.
However, Hiro Yamaguchi, a lawyer with "The Nationwide Liaison Association of Lawyers against the 'Inspiration Business,"' says, "They engaged in coercion and were ordered to pay the victims for the coercion that they used against them by June 3, but the Unification Church immediately filed an appeal, so we cannot yet breathe a sigh of relief. It is thought by the lawyers in charge of the case that as a next step, if the Unification Church cannot meet the payment, the Church will declare bankruptcy in order to avoid revealing their hidden assets. However, we are discussing the possibility of seeking their dissolution before they can do so, based upon Article 81 of the Religious Corporation Act."
Article 81 of the Religious Corporation Act states that when a religious corporation engages in conduct recognized as having greatly harmed the public good, and when its conduct greatly deviates from the goals of a religious body, it can be ordered to disband. In the same manner, Article 79 states that when a religious corporation engages in enterprises outside of its public works (that is, its religious activities), in opposition to the goals of a religious body, a halt to those enterprises can be sought. Mr. Yamaguchi continues, "However, up until now there has not been a single instance in which Articles 81 and 79 have been put into practice. In order to win such an unprecedented decision in a court of law, we must accumulate many lawsuit victories such as the one in the current Fukuoka decision. At the very least, in having a religious corporation disbanded on the grounds of it engaging in anti-social behavior, we want to have a clear court decision in which the religious corporation is found guilty of illegal activities."
However, it could be said that he has in mind the money collection activities of the Soka Gakkai, about which doubts about its conduct being illegal are stronger than those of the Unification Church. At any rate, the Soka Gakkai's tremendous money collection activities, which they call "zaimu" (financial affairs), is already common knowledge. Moreover, their current method of collecting money consists of "bank transfers." It is extremely efficient, organizationally. Such money collection activities are of a distinctly deviant nature from the donations which religious corporations collect from their believers for propagation
Journalist Isao Dan says, "To begin with, I have never heard of a religious corporation which collects donations through bank transfers. Whether the money covers operating expenses or organ subscription costs, we're talking about offerings to Buddhas and Buddhist deities. It is not at all the same as payments by bank transfer for receiving the NHK TV signal, and it would be extremely odd to say that it is.
One unit of Soka Gakkai zaimu is $100, and there is no limit to how much may be given above that amount. In the last Upper House election, Komeito received approximately 6,040,000 votes. 80% of those, or approximately 5 million, are thought to be Gakkai members who earnestly participate in Gakkai activities.
Last year zaimu was conducted for three and a half months, from September 13 until December 31. Zaimu collected by the Gakkai for one year ranges from $2 billion to $3 billion. I have even heard the number estimated at $3,900,000,000."
Vastly Different from Other Religious Bodies
Zaimu was originally introduced into the Gakkai in the decade between 1945 and 1955. At that time, only wealthy households were zaimu members, and they each donated 4,000 yen a year. (With the post-war exchange rate of 360 yen to one dollar, U.S., the amount would have come to just over 11 U.S. dollars.)
Mr. Isao continues. "However, this was gradually expanded, so that money was collected from the households of general members. From the early '70's, it extended beyond the aim of kosen-rufu. They began what they called 'special zaimu,' under the pretext of constructing facilities called Soka Culture Centers and of donating temples to the sect. Then, from 1977, it took the form of the current zaimu, where once a year they collect at least $100 per person. They used to call the people who collect zaimu, Zaimu Division members. They now call such people Kofu (Kosen-rufu) Division members."
When the current Honorary President Ikeda was reinstated as Sokoto (the General Head of the Hokkeko) in 1982, they escalated their money collecting activities, calling it "a mad dash forward." According to the journalist Masao Okkotsu (a Soka University graduate), "Previously, one unit of zaimu was $100 per person per year, but now there is no limit to how much a person can give above that amount. Money is even given in the name of children. It is not at all unusual for families who are not the least bit wealthy to give $10,000 or $20,000. Gakkai members who give more than $100,000 are called 'Diamond Members. Orders have been handed down from the Headquarters for chapter leaders to see how many 'Diamond Members' they can muster. There are even cases where the Gakkai has learned of a father passing away, and they have collected the money that he willed to the family."
From 1985, they instituted the "bank transfers" in big cities such as Tokyo on an experimental basis. From 1990, this was carried out on a nationwide basis. Mr. Okkotsu explains, "Before the 'bank transfers,' Gakkai members would assemble at the districts and chapters on the last Sunday of July and make cash donations only on that day. They would stuff their money into a cardboard box, and it would be conveyed to the Gakkai Headquarters, but leaders would pilfer the cash enroute to the Headquarters. This happened frequently. In addition, there was the danger of transporting large amounts of cash in an automobile, so they hit upon the idea of 'bank transfers.'"
However, as may be expected, there are no other religious groups which employ such conspicuous techniques. Rissho Koseikai, which has approximately 6 million believers, collects one dollar when someone joins and one dollar a month for operating expenses, as well as monetary donations they call "zaishi"(monetary offerings). However, a spokesman says,
"When members come to one of our 239 churches throughout the country, they place donations in a collection box, which we refer to as a 'donation box.' But we do not set the amount a person is to give, like the Soka Gakkai does. We do not set time periods or distribute blank bank transfer forms. And of course, there is absolutely never any coercion."
Seicho no Ie has approximately 800,000 believers. A spokesman says, "Members give monetary donations, which we call 'kenshi' (donated funds), and which are classified according to four rankings: $1 a month, $4 a month, $10 a month, and more than $100 a month. Also, aside from that, those who make a one-time donation of $1,000 or $10,000 are called Seicho no Ie Special Members. This is the designation we give to people who come with money and wish to donate it for something other than operating expenses. Most members make donations every month, but there is no donation amount stipulated as being 'special.' Everyone comes to the churches and each of them make their donations there."
The Soka Gakkai is referred to as a money collecting religious body, but with the bank transfers, they have further increased their efficiency. A former Gakkai district leader attests, "Officially there is no coercion in the Gakkai's zaimu activities, but in actuality, they are quite skilled in collecting zaimu. First of all, six months before payments are to commence, certificates of merit acknowledging Kofu Division members are passed out in each district. In addition, scarves used for wrapping prayer beads in are passed out as commemorative items. The designs on these scarves change every year, and the patterns have opportunity to give their experiences. They take such forms as, 'I gave this much and received this benefit, and thanks to zaimu, my business is prospering greatly.'
Members are given rankings of ABC, according to the extent of their faith. Then, when the zaimu is collected, members are made to write down how much they will donate this year and by what date it will be paid. Blank bank transfer forms are also passed out. If the proposed amount is paid, there is no problem, but when the money is not paid in the designated time or when the amount is less than proposed, district leaders go around to the members' homes and persuade them until the money is collected. They are relentless, making no allowances."
A Lawsuit for Repayment Turned Away at the Door
Well, what becomes of the tremendous amount of money collected? The previously introduced Mr. Dan says, "It is estimated that the cash the Gakkai currently holds is $20,040,000,000. Just the interest on that money is $70 million. Their primary disbursements are for real estate. They construct facilities and training centers all over the country, but recently, they have purchased castles in Italy and England. In addition, the personnel expenses for the Gakkai's 3,000 employees is a pretty fair amount. Aside from the above, they presumably also give money to the Soka schools."
However, a financial expert says that most of the money collected is invested in financial markets. "In the case of last year, money transferred to authorized accounts at banks in Tokyo was added up twice between September and November. The three extra months' worth of zaimu was received as 'pennies from heaven' and kept idle in the usual accounts. They thought it would be profitable if they lumped it all together and invested the large amount at fixed intervals. The money from the banks in Tokyo was amassed together at the Yotsuya branch of Mitsubishi Bank, the Gakkai's main bank and then invested in the zaimu department of each of the Tokyo banks. Then, in accordance with instructions from Mitsubishi Bank, the money was returned to the Yotsuya branch, and then remitted to banks and securities firms which pay high interest. Then it was deposited in a fixed account in the Postal savings system. There is also a recent report that it is being invested as a hedge fund for overseas, where they are speculatively vigorous."
Of course, a sufficient amount of money is converted into maneuvering capital and traveling expenses for when Daisaku, who loves honors and decorations, meets with overseas VIP's. This is not just talk to make the believers, who have submitted their savings, believing them to be offerings, feel like fools.
In response to this illegitimate usage of funds, lawsuits seeking repayment have occurred before now. There is the example of a suit being filed in a Tokyo court in 1979, where approximately 530 plaintiffs sought repayment of approximately $1,000 each, for a total of $500,000. However, according to a representative of the plaintiffs at the time, "Zaimu should be collected based upon the spirit of offerings, but it was not, so they wanted their money back. Our stand did not mesh with the Gakkai insistence that zaimu is capital used for kosen-rufu activities. In the end, the court decided that a courtroom is not the place to settle a religious problem, and they dismissed the lawsuit."
There is an instance which occurred after that, in 1982 in Kochi, where 72 people selected three people to represent them as plaintiffs in a lawsuit. In that instance, the Gakkai was ordered to repay approximately $7 million. Though the Gakkai appealed the decision, the very best they could do was reach a compromise to pay back $10,000 per person. According to one of the people involved at the time, "In that case, the Gakkai had at one time agreed to pay back the money, but they never paid it back, so the suit was not over a doctrinal problem. It was a fight against only a broken promise for repayment, so the lawsuit concluded in a victory for the plaintiffs. If the lawsuit had from the very beginning focused on doctrine, it probably would have been turned away at the door of the courthouse."
Its Very Existence Is Unconstitutional
However, there is no doubt that the Soka Gakkai's very existence is anti-social, seeing that it takes advantage of people's weakness, the same as the Unification Church. A Gakkai observer notes, "No. The Unification Church takes people's money, but at least they leave a pot to cook in. The Gakkai takes until there is nothing left. It's existence is evil from beginning to end." Professor Hirohisa Kitano of the Legal Department of Nihon University says, "The Soka Gakkai has been formally excommunicated from their Head Temple. They have no object of worship or anything else. They are nothing more than a collection of believers. Furthermore, their zaimu and bank transfers have no religious significance at all.
Despite all of that, the Gakkai is recognized as a religious corporation. That in itself is strange, and it is clearly in violation of the Constitution. Concretely speaking, it is first of all in violation of Article 20 of the Constitution. That is the article which stipulates the freedom of religion, but it also states that religious bodies are not to receive special rights from the State, and that those bodies are not to exercise governmental authority. They originally did not have tax exempt status, but now they do so this shows that they receive special rights from the State. In addition, they are in violation of Article 89, which stipulates that religious bodies are not to receive disbursements of public moneys. Not paying taxes which should be paid is the same as receiving disbursements of public moneys. Taxes of 35 -37% should be levied against the Gakkai's zaimu activities, the same as for enterprises in general. Even making a tremendous compromise and (hypothetically) acknowledging that the Gakkai is a religious corporation, still taxes of 27% percent should be levied against a non-profit organizations for- profit enterprises."
If we deal with the issue of separation of Church and State, it is impossible to consider as taboo the matter of the Gakkai's existence. Liberal Democrat (LDP) Diet member Yoshinobu Shimamura is following up on the Gakkai problem. He states, "Until now, we have wanted to avoid making the LDP and the Soka Gakkai enemies. We have emphasized peace at any price, but now no one is saying anything like that." If that is the case, then Honorary President Ikeda should either be summoned to appear before the Diet or the Gakkai should bef orced to disband.