Escape From Nichiren Shoshu and the 13th Century

Escape From Nichiren Shoshu and the 13th Century

Dedicated to Linda Hager wherever she may be.

And in memory of Kirk Kilgore

By Paul Morantz
© Nov. 2010

Life was so much fun at USC. Just spending days on campus watching girls go by on bicycles, pedaling in hot pants and short skirts, leading me to philosophize in my Daily Trojan column that girls who stop pedaling when boys pass by make poor dates. Another way of saying this must be as good as it gets in life.

But now it was law school graduation time. Our basketball team (we won intramurals) had a farewell breakfast and then there was the ceremony itself.

Next up was the grueling preparation for the State Bar exams. I decided this was something I would take only once and not let such a delay in my life again. I hid away in a small studio in an apartment building on the beach at Playa Del Rey, which was then the Volleyball Capital of the world—where most tournaments were then held.

I had fallen in love with the game after my then best friend, school and team mate, Steve Brandt, had taken me to a UCLA match where I saw All American Kirt Kilgore play. I so enjoyed Kilgore perform that I began the struggle to learn the game. I organized that summer so I studied from morning to bed time, with time outs for Saturday afternoon and Sunday days outside my apartment playing volleyball. Two nights a week we met for a State Bar review course coincidentally taught in a temporarily converted private basketball gym at a private playground on Robertson Blvd not far from my old high school Hamilton. I had literally grown up playing hoops there as a kid. Sometimes, after the class ended, my old law school teammates and I would play some hoops on the outside court.

That was extent of my life. No parties, no interruptions, no women for just one summer. When a girl friend Chris, a dancer by stage name Shawna at the Kitten Club near USC campus, said she had an invite for a weekend party at Playboy Mansion where we would have our own room I passed. I was afraid of lost time studying due to recovering.

Perhaps the worst thing happened one night when at 3:13 a.m. I rolled off the bed onto the floor at the sound of gun shots. The studio faced the street side, not the beach side. Across the street was a halfway house for recovering young addicts. I could hear 2 cars had driven off with screeching tires. But after searching outside and finding no one else had awakened I questioned my conclusions and decided not to call the police because I would be up all night and the bar exam was just 2 weeks away. I regretted this a day later when her brother was honking his horn in the street demanding someone tell him what happened to his sister. She had disappeared at midnight the night I heard the shots from LAX and her purse was found behind the halfway house across the street in a field. Maybe if I had called the police the cars would have been tracked down and maybe the sister was still alive. I don’t think any criminal case was ever brought as I was not contacted to testify as to hearing the shooting. Apparently one other tenant heard it, too.

But this story is less about the effect on me of that shooting as was the effect of something started in the 13th Century.


Nichiren Daishonin was born on February 16, 1222 in the village of Kominato, Nagase District, Awa Province . His father was Mikuni-no-Tayu Shigetada, aka Nukina Shigetada Jiro and his mother was Umegiku-nyo who had originally named him Zennichimaro which has been translated as “Splendid Sun.”

Nichiren ‘s Buddha philosophy was considered controversial and at age 50, during a second exile that lasted through said to-be-three –harsh-years wrote two doctrinal treatises, the Kaimoku Shō (“On the Opening of the Eyes”) and the Kanjin no Honzon Shō (“The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind. ” He also created the first Gohonzon , a visual representation of Chinese characters described in the Lotus Sutra where it was stated all persons could attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. For Nichiren, the Gohonzon embodies the eternal and intrinsic Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, which he identified as the ultimate Law of life and the universe and established on April 28, 1253.

Many schools of Nichiren split and one, Nichiren Shoshu (Orthodox Nichiren School) established in America not surprisingly in the l960’s given the identical belief of Abraham Maslow’s Human Potential movement–man was essentially good so we strive to release our inner self– that had become popularized by the 60’s as youth seven centuries later still searched for new meaning. As such Nichiren Shoshu found a welcome American audience. It’s believers were organized in temple congregations known as Hokkeko. Most attended services at a local temple, or in private homes when no temple was nearby, at least once a month. Services were usually officiated by a priest, but lay leaders sometimes fill in when no priest is available. When they gather, believers frequently study Nichiren Shoshu teachings, particularly the various writings of Nichiren, called Gosho.

The practice consists of affirming and renewing their faith by performing gongyō twice a day, in the morning and at night, which involves reciting certain sections of the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon while facing a small statue of the Chinese figure myō (“mystic law”). This practice, particularly when done in group with others, is seen as the true means for attaining tranquility and enlightenment which provides greater experience and meaningfully fulfilled lives; as well as solutions to problems of life each faces.

The logic behind this is that good thoughts produce positive effects; bad thoughts negative ones , i.e. karma. This law of causality leads members to raise life conditions by acting in accordance with the practice, especially by sharing their faith with others which they are taught promotes world betterment. Thus, American branches believed recruitment led to the world and self benefits. Recruiting as necessary sometimes led to Shaku Buko (sp?) which meant after their evening meetings women went out to flirt/recruit men and men went after woman. It was similar to what Children of God called Flirty Fish.

When recruits are initiated, a Nichiren Shoshu priest, acting as proxy for the High Priest, provides each their own Gohonzon which are enshrined in the home in a Butsudan (altar—usually a cabinet that opens). Home altars generally include a candle, a bell, incense, a vessel containing water, and some fresh greens or fruit. The newly joined pledges to protect and care for the Gohonzon throughout the member’s life.

In Nichiren Shoshu pronunciation of Dai-moku is different, Nam’ Myoho-Renge-Kyo (Adoration to the Lotus of the Wonderful Law”) instead of Namu Myoho-Renge-Kyo. By repeating this phrase for a minimum of an hour a day, members claim to reach harmony with the universe. Fortune comes their way: a job, good health, a spouse, even small benefits. Like at Alcohol Anonymous meetings, members tell their stories of failed lives restored after chanting to fellow members and recruits in attendance.

So what did all this have to do with me? It is hard to say. My escape from it was certainly a necessity for my ultimate career and its experience may have laid foundations for choices that led to the career.


It all begin and ended with Linda Hager. I had returned that day from finishing the bar exam, free at last. As I pulled off my tie I saw from kitchen door window Linda, her little girl and sister Bette walking on the sand entrance between buildings to the beach. If it was true Tina Turner was put on earth to teach women how to walk on high heels, Linda Hager was here to teach how to walk in blue jean cut-offs. She had long dark hair and olive skin like the girl in original Planet of the Apes. I would later think of her when I saw the object girl in the movie “The Sure Thing.”

I hoped into my trunks, put on my floppy beach hat and went to the side of the house and picked up their footprint trail. I don’t think when I found her I had any great line. I think I just admitted I saw her from a window and searched to find her. She granted permission that I sit down on their towel. There was the usual small talk. She had been married to one of the Hager twins who sung country music on the TV show Hee-Haw. That gave me an in as in my first year of law school I dated Barbara Klein who later became Barbi Benton of Hugh Hefner fame and who also appeared on Hee Haw.

I told her how I was just back from the Bar exam and would be waiting for results. I remember an odd moment when I said her daughter, about 4, was playing on what were dangerous rocks out on the water. Linda responded that per her daughter’s astrology sign it was necessary she be allowed to venture and take care of herself. I got up and went and got the little girl anyway.

To my joy, Linda accepted a date with me for that night despite removing her kid from rocks. So I came back from the beach encounter to my apartment excited and proud of my success. Part of me had thought I would never pull it off. Unfortunately, I did not yet realize that I may not have achieved anything except to be Shaku Bukued.


When I called she explained that night was her Nichiren Shoshu meeting. I offered to pick her up after wards but she said it would be nice if I came with her. I was so smitten I gave it no thought.

So I attended what looked like a variation of an AA meeting. Everyone was friendly and shook my hand. I listened as various members took turns telling their story—how bad life was before they chanted but look at me now. I remember a known actor participating as well as the son of CBS sports announcer Gill Stratton.

When they were done they all gathered in another room, where a cabinet door opened revealing a Myō and Gohonzon. Incense was lit and they all started chanting Nam’ Myoho-Renge-Kyo over and over while rubbing beads in their hands. Linda seemed so beautiful dressed in jeans and some bikini top, a flower in her hair, shoeless with red toes, her legs folded firmly under her knees.

Members had said they had become better employees , won raises and simply because they chanted. I did not doubt their sincerity, nor its success, thinking of it as a placebo effect. I made no conclusions about “brainwashing,” or was it a “cult” and had never even heard the tern, “thought reform.” Participation and belief I assumed led to concentration and confidence empowered by positive thinking and group support. I saw no harm potential.

Finally the lay priest for the day took me aside to suggest I try it. Linda, he said, told him I had just taken the bar exam and chanting could see to it that I passed. Chanting, he said, had was a Formula for Happiness that does not fail. “Just chant and what you need happens.”

“What if I want to rob a bank?” I asked.

“Then,” he said, “you will realize what you really want and do it. Or you will be caught, rehabilitated and come out of jail a better person. Or you will get away with it and live in riches.”

I was impressed. He had it covered from all angles. But I remembered little Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street wanting a house with a picket fence saying, “I believe, I believe, its silly but I believe.”

I couldn’t do that. And when the incomparable Linda Hager realized that sometime later, our dating came to an abrupt halt, disappointing me and my law school mates who dropped to their knees when she appeared at a party.

Then on a Sunday Bette called. She lived nearby which is why Linda had been in the area when I first saw her. She said Linda was coming over for a brunch, would I care to join. I would not forgo any chance to get her back and said I would be right over. I had even thought of telling her I would chant to have her. But I knew I couldn’t do that. Not that.

My best friend Steve Brandt was coming over for volleyball, so I left a note on my sliding glass door to come get me at Bette’s.

The breakfast may have been the best I ever had– Eggs, bagel, cream cheese, sausages–all the works. Now I sat on the couch, Bette and Linda on each side, snuggled up and softly touching me, letting me know how much I meant to them, how much they want me to pass the bar exam. If I would just chant, they said with staring eyes, I would pass the exam. What was the harm of trying?

I look into their faces and saw such caring. They had just made me this big breakfast. And Linda … The next thing I knew I was on the floor, on my knees, in face of their Gohonzon, rubbing beads in my hand while all 3 of us chanted Nam’ Myoho-Renge-Kyo over and over.

I will tell Linda later, I thought, it was her I was dreaming of while chanting, not getting my law license.

And then a hand grabbed me, it was Steve’s by the back of my shirt collar and I was dragged away out of the room into the sunlight and onto the beach to play volleyball–Possibly the first kidnapping from a cult that ever occurred.

I never saw or heard from Linda again.


I passed the bar; most of my classmates did not. I became a public defender and when I asked out a pretty court reporter I met she later canceled our first date. When asked why she told me that she was a member of Nichiren Shoshu and she was told she was not allowed to date as it was too soon after her last break up with her boyfriend.

She could not be talked out of it and I realized the complete control they had over her. I then reconsidered my benign view of the group a year earlier. But still this was an unfamiliar arena.


Steve Brandt became a lawyer in Hawaii for many years before returning to Los Angeles and being legal counsel for a bank.

I met Kirk Kilgore eventually in the l980’s while I was playing volleyball in Playa Del Rey. He was brought outside by his friends in a wheelchair, a complete paraplegic. He had broken his neck sometime after I saw him to play at UCLA while doing some gymnastic maneuver to warm up before a game. One day he told me I was a good player and I did not have the heart to tell him I only took up the sport after seeing him play and what that compliment meant to me. Later, he passed away in 2002.

Chris, the dancer by stage name Shawna, called me from a party around l975. She wanted to talk that night and I instead went to sleep. I learned later that the next day she committed suicide. She had been told she may have breast cancer, might lose her breast and her ability to make money. Seems if I had talked to her, and learned of her fears, I might have given her a positive outlook. That, and failing to call the police when I heard the gunshots in Playa Del Rey I always considered to be my two worst choices. It is possible some later choices were based on seeking redemption.

I have Googled for Linda Hager many times but have found nothing. I wonder how beautiful her daughter became.


In 1991, Nichiren Shoshu officially excommunicated the leaders of its then-largest organization, Sōka Gakkai, over doctrinal differences and disputes with the priesthood. In 1997, those non-leaders who chose to remain as members of the Soka Gakkai, instead of becoming members of Nichiren Shoshu, also lost their status as “believers.” The Soka Gakkai now operates as a doctrinally and organizationally distinct group.

Some see Nichiren Shoshu as a harmful cult, teaching theirs is the only way to happiness; others see it as just another meditation process. I see it as a group that has some totalistic tendencies but not high up on the danger list. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. Some Nichiren Shoshu members have told me that controlling people was part of the past and blamed Soka Gakkai.

Perhaps as close as I get to being religious is wondering if it all was a coincidence or was Linda Hager, cut-offs and all, sent to show me a peak at my future. After all, why I was living across the street from a drug rehab in the first place? Seemed someone was trying to tell me something.

Read the other stories and you decide.