History – The birth of Reiyukai
Convinced that the prosperity of any society is linked to people’s level of consciousness and to the quality of their humanity, Kakutaro Kubo tried to find out how to help human beings build up a world at peace and tackle the problems caused by a society whose industry was expanding at a dizzying rate: such was the situation in Japan after the first World War. He listened to the new ideas originating from the western world with much interest and acknowledged the benefits produced by the improvement of the school system. Yet, he did not believe that the ongoing social reforms were sufficient enough to bring the relief needed by his compatriots.
He then became most interested in the Lotus Sutra trilogy and began to study and recite it daily in the autumn of 1919. That was how he came to realize that the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha expounded in this Sutra deeply differed from those of traditional Buddhism. He grasped a key idea of this teaching: human beings must strive to give an essential dimension to their lives thanks to their own will and their own efforts. Following the improvement of the school system, nearly all his compatriots could now read and write. He realized that for the first time in human history, all the requirements were satisfied for all citizens to have direct access to the Buddha’s teaching and to get fully involved in the practice of such teaching. Then he founded lay Buddhism putting within everyone’s reach Shakyamuni’s teaching as well as the practices expounded in the Lotus Sutra trilogy.
Exceptional human beings: The Founders
A man concerned by the state of the world
Kakutaro Kubo was born on January 1892 in Kominato in Japan. Orphaned when he was twelve, he questioned at an early age the meaning of people’s existence. At fifteen, he went to study in Tokyo and became an engineer. He was hired as an architect by the Ministry of the Imperial Palace.
The world was then in full upheaval. Concerned and moved by the social and human problems he was witnessing, he studied social sciences and looked for authentic solutions to the dehumanization and degradation of the world. The programmes of the various political parties, whether in Japan or in the western world, the reflections put forward by philosophers, sociologists and scholars, the perspectives offered by traditional religions did not seem sufficient to him to offer human beings the means to achieve honourable, essential and deeply fulfilling lives.
The Lotus Sutra: a revelation
Discovering the Lotus Sutra was like a revelation to him: he could see that the values and the Buddhist practices expounded were the key to a better society. He was convinced that the progress of each human being was essential to the improvement of the society. According to him, their education level enabled each one to put into practice and to realize Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching in their lives, without refusing to play an active part in society. In 1928 he founded a Buddhist lay practice similar to the practice of the Lotus Sutra bodhisattvas’. Along with Kimi Kotani, his sister in law, co-founder and first president of Reiyukai, he guided Reiyukai members on this path of progress and awakening until his death in 1944.
A difficult start in life.
Born in 1901 in Miura, Japan, into a family of totally deprived farmers (as most farmers were at that time), from an early age, Kimi had to work to survive, as did all the rest of her family. At the age of 11, she stopped school to go and work at her aunt’s as a maid. Aged 17, she got a job as a servant in Tokyo. At 24, she married Kakutaro KUBO’s brother -Yasukichi Kotani- a widower who was twenty-one years older than she was. He was running a boarding house.
A decisive encounter
The Kotani family frequently received the visit of Kakutaro Kubo who introduced them to his ideas of bringing Buddhism into society. He was aware of Kimi Kotani’s qualities, her determination and her energy but also of how limited her material ambitions were. He encouraged her to develop a liking for her spiritual improvement and invited her to discover the important part every human being can play in the building of the present and future society, by putting Buddha’s teachings into practice.
An unfailing determination
Driven as she was by unhappy circumstances in life – her husband’s disease- she complied with what Kakutaro Kubo suggested. She had to trust and follow him on a totally unknown path, which was not easy for her. The reading of some particularly moving extracts from her memories (Ten no Ongaku- The Life of Kimi Kotani) reveals the hardships she had to go through in their relationship, her doubts, her rebellion, then her gradual change of attitude towards him as her evolution gave her access to understanding the relevance of the practices he suggested she undertook. Convinced by her experiences, she totally devoted herself to the development of Reiyukai.
Devoting her life to the improvement of society
Nominated president of Reiyukai in 1930, Kimi Kotani completely took over its management after Kakutaro Kubo’s death. Under her influence, the movement developed even more. After the Second World War, the Japanese were mainly preoccupied by the economic rebuilding of their country. According to Kimi Kotani, it was essential, in this time of crisis, to work for the building of human beings as well : she invited Reiyukai members to redouble their efforts so as to bring about everyone’s improvement and fulfilment. From 1950 onwards, Reiyukai also paid more attention to young people, that’s why it created places to meet and practice, built middle and a high school whose main purpose was their harmonious development excluding any competitive spirit.
She got Reiyukai involved in numerous humanitarian and social actions, sometimes collaborating with NGOs such as the Red Cross.
Thanks to all these actions, Reiyukai is registered as a state-approved religious congregation, by the Ministry of Education in Japan.
Spreading Reiyukai in the world
Before her death in 1971, Reiyukai’s founder, Kimi Kotani voiced her wish that Reiyukai be disseminated to other countries in order to work together towards the building of world peace. According to her wish, Reiyukai spread in the USA (1972), in Brazil and Canada (1975), in the Philippines (1976), in Mexico, Italy and Taiwan (1977), in the UK (1978), in Peru, Thailand and France (1979), in India, Nepal and Paraguay (1983), in Spain (1984), in Korea (1988), in Bolivia (1996) and in Sri Lanka (1999).
A faithful lineage
Tsugunari KUBO’s intellectual influence
Tsugunari KUBO, son of Kakutaro Kubo – Reiyukai’s founder-, was appointed President after Kimi Kotani’s death. Doctor in Indian philosophy, he made a precious contribution to Reiyukai thanks to his intellectual influence. He wrote many books dedicated to the analysis of Buddhist philosophy and to the study of Buddhist texts such as the Lotus Sutra in particular. He provided an intellectual analysis of the philosophical foundations of the Reiyukai practice. This analysis, also inspired by his own experience of putting into practice Reiyukai’s teachings, was mostly appropriate to the aspirations of the contemporary world. His taking part in large international symposia enhanced Reiyukai’s international development. On his initiative, Reiyukai set up its own library and gathered rare Buddhist works consulted by specialists coming from all over the world and founded the International College for Buddhist Studies in Tokyo. He resigned as Reiyukai president in 1996.
Just as Dr Tsugunari Kubo, the following presidents Mrs Yae Hamaguchi (1996-2000) and Mr. Ichitaro Ogata (2000-2013) had been under the direct guidance of Kimi Kotani from an early age. Throughout their lives they gave themselves body and soul, working alongside her so that Reiyukai’s teachings would concretely be implemented in the world for everyone’s happiness.
Mr. Masaharu Sueyoshi was appointed 5th president of the Reiyukai after the death of President Ichitaro Ogata on April 6th 2013.
From Japan to France
Looking for an essential life
Claudine Carayol, who was then a student, was ardently looking for what would bring about an essential meaning to her life. She got her inspiration from the reading of books about Buddhism and by contemplating Japanese paintings. In 1975, having freshly graduated in classics, she chose to go to Japan. She taught French literature for five years at Nagoya University and indulged in ink painting and martial arts. A few months before coming back to France, she met her husband and was introduced to Reiyukai by him.
Aspiring to offer lay Buddhism to the French
Claudine and Yasukazu Shinoda, inspired by their wish to make the practice of the Lotus Sutra available to the French, settled in France in 1979, where Reiyukai was registered as a non-profit-making organization. Since then every member has paid a monthly subscription (€6.50 in 2018). In 1985, thanks to the subscriptions of Japanese members, Reiyukai purchased a building in Nantes to offer French members a place to meet and practise.
Enthusiastic and active beginnings
A group of followers rapidly grew interested in experimenting this pragmatic teaching. Established in Nantes, Reiyukai offered its members to gather in its Centre so as to hear the Teaching and share their experiences. Alongside their Buddhist search and in order to actively take part in social life, French practitioners organized social and cultural events.
In 1987, “Forum Meliniere” whose aim was mostly cultural, was created.
Started in 1988, the “Consultation Circle” aimed at sharing experiences to develop better human relationships within companies.
In 1989, “Starting Point” was created. Under the aegis of UNESCO, it organized national and international contests for young people who had realized positive projects.
As early as 1995, Reiyukai got involved in various collective projects such as the European Buddhist University in Paris.
In 2014, Reiyukai began to organize quarterly regional meetings.
Today, in 2018, Reiyukai counts 1400 members.
A European dimension
Inspired by the construction of Europe and the hope for peace it involved, Reiyukai France became a member of the European Buddhist Union (EBU) in 1997, eager as it was to work towards harmony between European peoples. The EBU’s main goals are first to encourage the development of friendly relationships between European Buddhist organizations and to cooperate on topics of common interest and secondly to enable them to work in synergy therefore improving the knowledge of this teaching for the benefit of all human beings.
Claudine Shinoda, the spiritual guide of Reiyukai France, was elected vice-president of the European Buddhist Union (EBU) in 2002 and then president in 2005. She resigned in 2008.
Reiyukai is still a member of the EBU and is present at the Board of Directors. Some members took part in the Berlin conference in 2016 on the following theme: “Families: a melting pot for the development of Buddhist virtues, the progress of society and of the world”.
In May 2018 they attended the Malaga conference whose theme was: “The spreading of wisdom and compassion in our European societies”.
Reiyukai Buddhism is currently spreading in several European countries.