Happy Science, and the Potential Joining of Church and State in Japan
July 28, 2009 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Kōfuku-no-Kagaku (幸福の科学), also called Happy Science, is a relatively new religious and spiritual movement, founded in Japan in October 1986. The organization is gaining ground world-wide, with the international headquarter office in central Tokyo, 6 local temples located in London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seoul and Taiwan, and an additional 37 local offices around the world. The group's leader, Master Ryuho Okawa, has is not limiting the scope of the movement to politics, and in May 2009 the Happiness Realization Party was formed, with over 300 HRP candidates running for the coming general election. To provide background on the religion and political movement, here is a little investigation of Happy Science by MeFi's own shii [via mefi projects]

Believers state that Ryuho Okawa attained Great Enlightenment on March 23, 1981 and renounced his business career in the 1980s after being awakened to the hidden part of his consciousness, El Cantare, Eternal Buddha. El Cantare is also known as Elohim, the Supreme God in the Old Testament, and the Mahavairocana Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism. In the United States, Happy Science is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose aim is to achieve true happiness by deepening and widening our love, and to reach a higher level of enlightenment based on the teachings of truth by Master Ryuho Okawa. If you're in New York City, you might see ads for Happy Science lectures, meditations and discussions.

On the other hand, this (unscripted?) interview with Sohken Kobayashi (the secretary general of the Happiness Realization Party) displays a group less focused on self-realization and more about the stability of Japan versus the forces of the global economy (Kobayashi explains the party already saved the world financial crisis last year by advising the Japanese Prime Minister to fund $100 billions of dollars to the IMF), and reacting to the threat of the secret nuclear alliance among the North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and China. Along with interviews of this sort are propaganda videos, depicting the potential events of North Korea bombing Japan (English summary of the Japanese video).

Bonus bits:
Full color pamphlets and books being made for Happy Science Uganda
Peak inside a Happy Science building in Japan, who aren't too fond of unauthorized photography
Happiness Realization Party posters in Kyoto, being posted by HRP candidate Karube Yoshiteru himself
posted by filthy light thief (32 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Fringe religions of the world, please back away from the word "science."
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:13 PM on July 28, 2009 [16 favorites]

Wait a minute. You mean somebody took Earthbound THAT seriously?
posted by Saydur at 2:20 PM on July 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

Scientology gives you free backrubs. Does Happy Science give any kind of free rubs?
posted by contessa at 2:22 PM on July 28, 2009

Ryuho Okawa attained Great Enlightenment on March 23, 1981

If it walks like a cult,

and quacks like a cult....
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:23 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait, it's called "Happy Science", yet so far fuck all about pizza and wine? "Lame Science", more like.
posted by everichon at 2:36 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

A Japanese cult that looks forward to the resurrection of Martin Luther? Holy 95 Theses.
posted by blucevalo at 2:37 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Those of you attending the NYC 10th anniversary meetup, might have noticed the Happy Science ... temple? office? ... right across the street.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:40 PM on July 28, 2009

Deepening and widening our love?
posted by box at 2:40 PM on July 28, 2009

Fun fact: Doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo tried but failed to send members to parliament before it launched the Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks in 1995.

This reminded me of the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack in The Dalles, Oregon, but the actions were reversed (run for office, and when that fails then poison the public). I hope HRN don't get upset if/when their political aspirations fall short in reality.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:54 PM on July 28, 2009

Wait, it's called "Happy Science", yet so far fuck all about pizza and wine?

Legally, these joints are temples, so no liquor license within 200 feet in NYC.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:57 PM on July 28, 2009

Teaching from wikipedia, with some comment:

The principle of love is the teaching of “love that gives,” giving love to others. This is similar to “loving your neighbor,” taught in Christianity, but essentially it is the teaching of compassion that runs through the center of Buddhism.

Translated: as giving is love, you should give the community all your worldly possession or 99% of them. If you don't "love" this way, then you are not really part of us and you will suffer rejection. Your personality is nothing, others are everything.

The principle of wisdom indicates the importance of learning the truth. In learning, it is important first to acquire knowledge of the truth, then through accumulating actual practices and experiences, transform it into wisdom that is as precious as a diamond.

Translated: there is no such thing as scientific method and falsifiable knowledge, but pure absolute truth you may some day obtain, maybe. Among the absolute truths, one is that guy obtained enlightement, you shall not question this diamon truth.

The principle of self-reflection is the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path that is restructured in a form that is understandable for modern people. It is important to get rid of any mental impurities, and restore the state of mind that attunes to the heavenly world while on earth.

Translated: cognitive psychology

The principle of progress implies the main feature of Mahayana Buddhism; it is also the revival of Hermes' teachings of development and prosperity. It teaches not only the ways to achieve the happiness of a peaceful mind, but it also teaches ways to a positive happiness gained through experiencing success, as well as the path to the creation of a utopia on earth.

Translated: In Mahayana, the Buddha is seen as the ultimate, highest being, present in all times, in all beings, and in all places, and the Bodhisattvas come to represent the universal ideal of altruistic excellence. That's a superhuman being, a god, no longer and enlightened man. That's monotheism with a twist.
posted by elpapacito at 3:01 PM on July 28, 2009

Of course, here in Japan, their main party platform seems to be rescinding Article XI (the part of the Japanese constitution that swears off war forever) and "addressing the threat" of North Korean missiles.

Yes, it is clearly a cult. It's also clearly a fringe political group. Who says it can't be both? Works for the Republicans.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:35 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

So how long til we find out that Happy Science is building a giant robot inside a volcano, powered by the pure focused intent of Ryuho Okawa? This will do battle with the evil robot being built by Sad Science.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:35 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hope this anime gets subbed and posted online, as shii's post suggested might happen. It doesn't sound very watchable, but not being sober might help and make it great.
posted by Gnatcho at 3:37 PM on July 28, 2009

From the interview video, HRP wants Japan to buy information on the F-22 and/or it's stealth technology from the US (I didn't catch what Sohken Kobayashi was saying in whole). Not quite a giant robot in a volcano, but it's something. That video alone seems to be a pretty good overview of the political party's intentions and goals.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:46 PM on July 28, 2009

Yes, it is clearly a cult. It's also clearly a fringe political group. Who says it can't be both? Works for the Republicans.

Indeed, I kind of wonder whether they're interested in playing the same game as the American Christian Right. You criticize their political agenda, they cry persecution. You criticize their attempts to entangle Church and State, they claim they're a non-sectarian political coalition.
posted by Maximian at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if there's the same forced divide between Church and State in Japan. I found the potential joining of the two interesting, especially from a US-centric point of view. As for the Republicans ... yeah. Mixed bag of pandering to the Christian Right and embracing so many things that the Christian Right abhors.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:43 PM on July 28, 2009

happy science: "In the future, the United Nations will collapse and there will be war in the Middle East."

me: "Sounds reasonable..."

happy science: "Then the Angel Gabriel returns, America sinks into the ocean, half of Russia falls in the ocean, Martin Luther, aliens, Atlantis, aliens!!!!"

posted by iamck at 4:46 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

> Ryuho Okawa attained Great Enlightenment on March 23, 1981

If it walks like a cult,

and quacks like a cult....

Without comment on the Happy Science people in particular, I wonder - does talking about "attaining enlightenment" in a language from a culture where Buddhism is pervasive still sound cultish like it does in English?

I would think it might be a relatively common concept and phase, perhaps the way "gospel" or "sermon" does in English, and hence not have quite the same impact.
posted by XMLicious at 4:48 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Could somebody please tell them not to send their little trucks to my neighborhood? The ones with the cheerful-zombie voice on the loudspeaker extolling the virtues of the US-Japan Defense Pact? Cause it's annoying as hell, and it fucked up a vocal take I was doing just the other day.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:50 PM on July 28, 2009

it is also the revival of Hermes' teachings of development and prosperity

I read this as Hermes, the French designer, not the Greek God (of whom Maia is the mother via a rape by Zeus, I should add). But then I thought, maybe they mean the designer?
posted by Maias at 5:07 PM on July 28, 2009

I don't know if there's the same forced divide between Church and State in Japan.

Leaving aside the misnomer involved in the word "church" (as Japan is essentially the only first-world nation that doesn't draw heavily from the Judeo-Christian tradition), Japanese society tends to be strongly in favor of superstition over religion, and as such there's a generally rather secular feel to society.

Of course, in addition to that, you also have a combination of other factors that lead to a lack of religiosity among the populace, including a general emphasis on personal privacy, an unwillingness to make waves with any sort of controversy unless necessary, and a religious tradition that consists of a combination of what could fundamentally be summed up as "a collection of basically harmless superstitions" (Shinto) and "a religion that is rarely practiced actively or openly aside from funerals" (Buddhism). There's no Buddhist parallel to "going to church."

Though most Japanese people will say they're Buddhist (in much the same way I suspect most Brits would say they're Christian of some sort), it's a wishy-washy sort of it, consisting mostly of going through the motions on certain occasions and following certain superstitions without really understanding why. Most people seem to be more familiar with Radiohead than with the reasons behind why they do what they feel they're supposed to do at Buddhist temples.

To put it bluntly, if Japanese society were "Buddhist" to any significant degree, it wouldn't be nearly impossible to find vegetarian food here. It's not, to my knowledge, in the Japanese constitution, presumably for much the same reason that you don't have to explicitly ask your houseguests not to pee in the sink.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:11 PM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if there's the same forced divide between Church and State in Japan.

Religion and state were forcibly separated immediately after Japan surrendered. I was reading today that one of MacArthur's first orders was to remove the kamidana from schools and government buildings; the author of the text I was reading described this as a victory for religious freedom, but given the facts that Shinto shrines are spatially bound and Shinto was quickly separated from the political power structure, I feel like this could be viewed as an infringement on folk religious expression. Reminders of the presence of kami and Japanese tradition could have been quite useful in the postwar Westernization.

I'd like to thank filthy light thief for linking my article. New religious movements are often dismissed as powerless cults, but it is estimated that up to 30% of Japanese people are connected in some way to an NRM, and the influence of New Komeito is often understated. I hope people will recognize that as wacky as Ookawa's beliefs are, he presents a strong narrative of Japan's economic future that the LDP and DPJ have utterly failed to counter.
posted by shii at 6:17 PM on July 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Generally, if someone refers to themselves as "Master" anything, that's a good sign to turn around and walk the other way. This goes for politicians, cult-leaders and jedi.
posted by nightchrome at 6:26 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ah, shii, thanks for pointing that out. Hence my use of "to my knowledge" in my post, y'know? I admittedly did not do my research, and am so sleep-deprived right now that I woke up with a headache. Excellent points all.

And yeah, the LDP and DPJ seem largely to still be in charge simply because that's how things have always been. It's a society wherein tradition itself is often more important than the reason behind it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:31 PM on July 28, 2009

well I now know that the Happiness Realization Party was - I live out in Okinawa and they keep plastering their posters and my mailbox with advertisements. Its all in Japanese except for the words "Happiness Realization Party", which I though was odd....

I don't have much to add to the conversation, just odd observation as the mail is sitting next to my comp on the way to the trash.
posted by aggienfo at 6:42 PM on July 28, 2009

As promised, I've made a sequel to my original post, which examines the party platform and advertising. It's seriously worth a read for amusement's sake if nothing else.

Hold On To Your Sanity, It’s the Happy Science Platform
posted by shii at 6:44 PM on July 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Maybe the Church of Scientology is trying to re-invent themselves for an Asiatic audience. It does sounds like some of the beliefs that the Nation Of Islam has (as in the group which Malcolm X belonged).

"The main belief of The Nation of Islam and its followers is that there is no other God but Allah. However, they redefine "Allah" by saying "who came in the person of W. D. Fard." Fard founded the Nation of Islam and subsequently installed Elijah Muhammad as the organization's leader.

The Nation of Islam teaches that W. Fard Muhammad is both the "Messiah" of Christianity and the Mahdi of Islam.

Elijah Muhammad taught his followers about a Mother Plane or Wheel, a UFO

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us of a giant Mother Plane that is made like the universe, spheres within spheres. White people call them unidentified flying objects (UFOs). The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that that wheel was built on the island of Nippon, which is now called Japan, by some of the Original scientists. It took $15 billion in gold at that time to build it. It is made of the toughest steel. America does not yet know the composition of the steel used to make an instrument like it. It is a circular plane.

This Mother Wheel is like a small human-built planet. Each one of these small planes carry three bombs.

...And those prophecies are just rich. They sound like they were written by one of those experts who use systematic induction to try and guess what it will be like in 100 years for a history channel documentary.

"The group claims that within the next 100 years the United Nations will collapse and there will be war in the Middle East. Japan will become a religious center just as Mecca and Jerusalem are now. In 2050 the Angel Gabriel will be reincarnated in Bangkok.

From the years 2100-2200 one in ten people will visit outer space. During this time we will also attempt to construct space stations. During this time part of the United States will sink because it angers the gods. Canada and the rest of the Americas are still there, but the states will sink. Just after he makes this prophecy he also states that this is not a definite prophecy, if enough people convert then the states will not sink.

From 2200-2300 robots will run almost all of our industries and people will only have to work four hours a day at the most. Half of Russia and East Asia will fall off into the ocean. Because Russia has fallen this causes disruption within the earth's core, so the earth decides to re-create (it was a lost continent a very long time ago) the continent of Mu. This new continent will be at approximately the current location of Indonesia.

In 2300-2400 the new continent of Atlantis will be recreated as a result of the United States sinking. After this is complete, Martin Luther and Nichiren will be reincarnated and they will lead a new huge religious movement.

During the years of 2400 through 2500 Jesus will be re-incarnated. Another important event is that the extraterrestrials that visited the Earth in the 1980s return. They now have more than 10 races and we communicate with them. Unfortunately the aliens have a different “concept of property” to humans so the aliens disagree on many things."

posted by fightoplankton at 7:38 PM on July 28, 2009

shii - thanks for the additional information and follow-up story!

I was looking for pictures of the fliers, following the comment about terrifying airbrushing. Alas, no luck.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:44 PM on July 28, 2009

does talking about "attaining enlightenment" in a language from a culture where Buddhism is pervasive still sound cultish like it does in English?

Yes. It really, really does.
posted by No-sword at 9:25 PM on July 28, 2009

Also, this is an awesome pair of blog posts, so no disrespect, shii, but in re:
I hope people will recognize that as wacky as Ookawa's beliefs are, he presents a strong narrative of Japan's economic future that the LDP and DPJ have utterly failed to counter.
I don't think they need to counter it, because its wackiness counters itself. The party name 幸福実現 ("Happiness Realization") alone sounds cultish enough to keep non-brainwashed people away -- certainly most people serious enough to follow politics and go the polls. I really don't think we have to worry about a bunch of swing voters thinking "Well, I'm disappointed in both major parties, and I do like happiness... maybe this is the party for me!"

The danger as I see it is that "serious" voters will become more and more apathetic due to the abject failure of the "serious" parties, and their numbers will dwindle further and further -- giving the religious parties an opportunity to seize a greater proportion of the voting electorate simply by maintaining the same absolute numbers (which they can, because they get their adherents to vote as a religious duty).
posted by No-sword at 9:43 PM on July 28, 2009

These guys are basically a more wingnutty and eschatological version of Soka Gakkai, except that Soka Gakkai's political ambitions have been much more effective.
posted by armage at 11:00 PM on July 28, 2009

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