Various aspects of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's view of re1igion are discussed in a number of works analyzing his thought and activities. Most of the relevant material included in these works is now available in 『牧口常三郎全集』Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu [Complete Works of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi], 12 vols., presently being published by Daisan Bummei-Sha.(In this article, when I cite a passage from these Complete Works, I show only the volume number and the page number.)
My own contributions include an unsigned article titled “「牧口常三郎の宗教観」Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's View of Religion" that appears in Appendix II of volume ten of the Complete Works. Another piece, part of an investigation concerning Makiguchi's arguments for the possibility of the scientific study of religion, was published as "「牧口常三郎の宗教研究法（１）」Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's Research Methods in Religion, Part I." I sum up my findings on the way Makiguchi saw Nichiren Buddhism when he became a believer in a later article, “「田中智学・三谷素啓・牧口常三郎」Chigaku Tanaka, Sokei Mitani, and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.”
Here I bring together the main points in that material in an attempt to present a coherent overview of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's thoughts on the essence of religion. I will also try to analyze his understanding of Nichiren Buddhism, how he related its doctrine--as he understood it--to his own view of religion. Finally, I will discuss how Makiguchi's view of religion and understanding of Nichiren Buddhism influenced his assessment of Nichiren Shoshu as a sect.
Makiguchi's intellect orientation was rationalist and positivist, and although he attached importance to science, apparently he did not believe in its omnipotence. Before becoming a Nichiren Buddhist in 1928, he seems to have thought deeply about the source of religious belief. In a treatise “「山と人生」Yama to Jinsei" [Mountains and Human Life], which he wrote in 1899 at the age of twenty-eight, Makiguchi speaks of a power in the universe that surpasses the power of human beings and controls human destiny. It is the sense of awe toward this power, he wrote, that arouses re1igious sentiment (vol. 7, p. 344).
He expressed this idea again in volume one of 『創価教育学体系』Soka Kyoikugaku Taikei [The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy] (vol. 5, p. 188), which appeared in 1930. Having recognized the existence of a power in the universe greater than that of human beings, Makiguchi experimented with a variety of re1igions prior to his conversion to Nichiren Shoshu. Looking back later on his religious wanderings, Makiguchi wrote in 「創価教育学体系梗概」Soka Kyoikugaku Taikei Kogai [Outline of the System of Value-Creating Pedagogy] in 1935:
Although I was born in a Zen family and was raised in a Hokke (Lotus Sutra) home, I did not have any sense of religiosity. Most of the teachers and friends whom I respected and grew close to when I was young were Christians. Even though we worked together under trying circumstances in the strenuous pursuit of learning did not in the end feel compelled to convert [to Christianity].
However, finding that morality of Confucianism alone was inadequate as I thought to deal with the sense of uncertainty that I felt after coming to the capital as an adult, I again turned to Zen meditation, I listened to sermons by Christian ministers, and I even learned deep-breathing methods. I also looked into a number of other teachings.
And while I embraced some of them for a time, I never became deeply involved in any. Still, for a period of over ten years I participated in nearly all of the ancient Shinto rites of ablution in summer or winter. To this day I still make it a practice to take a cold bath every morning. All the same, I could not believe with heartfelt conviction (vol. 8, p. 405).
In addition, Makiguchi attended lectures given by a Buddhist scholar Chigaku Tanaka on several occasions around 1916. However, as will be discussed below, he could not accept Tanaka's interpretation of Nichiren Buddhism.
Rather than passively accepting the religion of his family or being content to take religion as merely a matter of form or courtesy, Makiguchi experimented and actively investigated religion as something intimately connected to his life.
In the same work, he explains why he did not convert any of these teachings, as follows: “It did not seem to me that any of them had the power either to divert my interest in science and philosophy, or to harmonize with it (ibid)." Makiguchi could not fully accept a religion that either was incompatible with, or lacked the power to supersede, his scientific and philosophical ideas.
After experimenting with several different religions, Makiguchi finally converted to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. As to his motivation, he writes immediately after the passage cited above:
When I encountered the Lotus Sutra, however, I was surprised to find something completely different from religions and morality that I had been learning about until then. This teaching has no contradictions and is the basic scientific and philosophical principles that underlie the experiences of daily life.
As my interest grew, mysterious phenomena began to crop up around me; it was nothing short of miraculous how these occurrences concerned with the testimony documented in the Lotus Sutra. Then, when I had finally decided to firmly commit myself to this faith, I found confirmation of Nichiren Daishonin’s statement, “when the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated. Similarly, when one knows the Lotus Sutra, he understands the meaning of all worldly affairs .” This message became a reality to me throughout my daily life. Filled with joy beyond description, I completely changed the way I had been living for nearly sixty years (vol. 8, p. 405).”
Makiguchi was drawn to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra (Nichiren Buddhism) because he found in it: (a) the basic principles of science and philosophy that underlie the experiences of daily life; (b) no contradictions whatsoever; (c) a theoretical character that was totally different from religions and morality that he had known until then. Further, (d) he experienced various phenomena in his daily life that were validated by testimony in the Lotus Sutra. Makiguchi embraced the faith with a joy and determination, for, as he wrote, not only did Nichiren Buddhism accord with his scientific and philosophical perspective, but it completely transformed his idea of religions.