Kiriyama Seiyu and the Development of Agonshu
Spirits, Satellites and a User-Friendly Religion
Kiriyama Seiyu and the Development of Agonshu
Agonshu was founded as recently as 1978 and has come to prominence largely since the beginning of the 1980s although its roots trace back to an earlier religious group founded by Kiriyama in 1954. ... Kiriyama exemplifies many of the characteristics of the powerful individual figures discussed in Chapter 5, for it is his dynamic teaching, spiritual power and charisma, coupled to his talent for proselytisation, organisation and development that have been at the core of Agonshu’s contemporary prominence. ...

By undertaking a long period of ascetic practice, standing under waterfalls, meditating, fasting, reciting Buddhist prayers and making offerings to Kannon, he came to realise that he had been surrounded by karmic hindrances (specifically, unhappy ancestral figures) that were the root cause of his failures. His religious practices served to eradicate these hindrances and, at the same time, to build up a small group of followers. In 1970 Kannon appeared to him in a dream and told him he had eradicated the encumbrances of the past (in Agonshu terminology he had ‘cut his karma’ — karuma o kiru): henceforth he was no longer a seeker but a guide for others and was to go out and help others ‘cut their karma’ and find salvation. ...
His following remained small, despite a general if passing interest in [his] expression of potential esoteric power. In 1978 he changed the name of the organisation to Agonshu after ‘finding’ new, hidden truths that form the core of Agonshu’s subsequent growth in the 1980s. This discovery came through reading the Agama (Japanese: Agon) sutras, early Buddhist texts that pre-date Mahayana and esoteric Buddhism and that had been accorded little importance in Japan, especially when compared to major Mahayana texts such as the Lotus Sutra. By reading the Agamas in the light of his esoteric training Kiriyama was able to ‘see’ their inner truths that had long been overlooked and find in them a direct and rapid path to Buddhahood not just for the living but for the spirits of the dead as well. Kiriyama saw a powerful fusion between the essential truths hidden in the Agamas (which are proclaimed by Agonshu as the essence of original Buddhism) and the esoteric knowledge that had evolved since they were transcribed and that he had mastered through his austerities and command of ritual performances. The two in tandem could be synergised into a potent structure through which to overcome all spiritual hindrances, release unhappy spirits from their turmoil and liberate the living from the karmic hindrances that were blocking their own happiness. (Religion in Contemporary Japan, 208-11)

A Messianic Optimism
Agonshu’s basic teaching is that it alone, because of the unique configuration of understanding and teaching that it has acquired through the marriage of the hidden truths of the Agamas and the ritual performances of esotericism, is able to perform the correct rites to liberate the souls of the dead. This, it asserts, is a vital role because of the vast numbers of households tainted with some spiritual misfortune from the past. If unchecked these will cause people in the present to suffer, with the result that they will die unfulfilled and angry, leading to a greater escalation of problems and further turmoil for future generations, not just on personal or household levels but on a broader, national and world scale. ...

It is only through recognising this plight via the enactment of religious rituals that eradicate the sufferings of the dead and lead them to Buddhahood (jobutsu), a role only Agonshu is fully capable of performing, that the roots of spiritual interference, and hence of contemporary problems on all levels, can be dealt with. Through the purificatory powers of its fire rites Agonshu can liberate the souls of the dead and transform them into benevolent spirits, thus removing the potential dangers. (Religion in Contemporary Japan, 212-3)
Like many new religions Agonshu expresses a messianic view of world doom underpinned by assertions that such an ending will be averted through its own salvific powers. ... Agonshu argues that only by going to the heart of the problems through looking at their spiritual causes rather than toying with superficial political answers that have, in any event, failed, can any solution to the crisis of contemporary society be found. A dramatic Agonshu video ... expounds these themes dramatically, suggesting that the ruin foretold by Nostradamus could come by the end of the [twentieth] century as a result of the escalating hordes of unhappy spirits unless a religious answer is found that gets to the core of the problem by dealing with the souls of the dead themselves. The video makes it clear that such a solution may be found in Agonshu’s methods of pacifying these spirits and enabling people to live positive and fulfilled lives: hence it can, and will, save the world. It further affirms Agonshu’s chosen role by describing how Kiriyama, while visiting the site of the first Buddhist monastery at Sahet Mahet in India, received a ‘vibration’ directly from the Buddha himself. This transmission confirmed his sense of purpose and made him realise that his mission was to revive Buddhism for the modern world: thus he was to build a ‘new Sahet Mahet’ in Japan, at Agonshu’s headquarters at Yamashina near Kyoto, from which Agonshu will spread peace across the globe. (Religion in Contemporary Japan, 214-5)

The “True Relic of the Buddha”
In 1986 President Jayawardene of Sri Lanka presented to Agonshu a casket said to contain a genuine bone relic of the Buddha. This relic (known in Agonshu as shinsei busshari, ‘true relic of the Buddha’, but generally shorted to busshari) ... has been widely publicised by Agonshu as a major legitimation of its teachings and as the only true relic that is properly venerated in Japan. Perhaps more important still, the busshari or relic has become the main image of the religion, interpreted as the Buddha incarnate, containing immense power that has been unlocked by Kiriyama via his performance of esoteric rituals and his use of the ‘true essence’ of the Agamas. According to Agonshu an unique confluence has occurred with the arrival of the busshari: the true manifestation of Buddha’s power (the relic), the true method of transforming spirits into realised Buddhas via the fire rituals and the Agamas, and the true teacher who has learnt these methods via a direct transmission from the Buddha. Taken together they represent a coalition of tremendous power that can benefit the lives of all.

The busshari has become the main focus of worship in Agonshu, considered to contain the powers to transform the spirits of the dead and liberate the wishes of the living. Members acquire their own versions of this relic in a casket that is a scaled down model of the one holding the busshari. The casket contains a stone, sacralised by rituals performed before the ‘real’ relic and thus transformed into manifestations of the relic itself: the process is similar to that through which o-mamori and fuda become the essence of a Buddha or kami. Until the acquisition of the relic members used to perform a 1000-day-long practice that involved reciting a set series of prayers each day before an image of Kannon: this practice gradually transformed their ancestors into Buddhas and released the members themselves and their families from all but the most serious spiritual hindrances (for example, a mizuko spirit); for this they would need to seek help from a leading Agonshu counsellor or Kiriyama himself. Now this 1000-day practice has been given up in favour of the simple veneration of the relic whose superior power, according to Agonshu, facilitates a swifter transformation of unhappy spirits and contented Buddhas who will then act as guardians, helping one towards increased happiness. (Religion in Contemporary Japan, 216-7)

Agonshu’s Hoshi Matsuri (Star Festival)
The formal name of Agon Shu’s Hoshi Matsuri is the Fire Rites Festival – Agon Shu’s Hoshi Matsuri/Shinto-Buddhist Dai-Saito Goma Ceremony (Shinto-Buddhist Sacred Fire Rites). It is held on February 9,2020 on the grounds of the Main Temple located in Kitakazan-omine, Yamashina-ku, Kyoto, and is the biggest annual event of Agon Shu. The Hoshi Matsuri has been held for the past 40 years, with more than half a million worshippers participating in this event. It is a well-known winter festival event of Kyoto. ...

The great spiritual leader Kiriyama Kancho conducts the Hoshi Matsuri, or the Fire Rites Festival, through the secret teachings of Shinto and Buddhist realms mastered through his many years of training. Two Goma-dan, or giant sacred wooden pyres, are erected on the ritual grounds. Hosho Goma, which changes one’s luck for the better and brings treasures of life, is lit at Shinkai-dan, the Shinto Realm, and Kongokai-dan, or the Diamond Realm, of one of the giant sacred wooden pyres. Gedatsu-kuyo Goma, which venerates ancestors in order to bring good luck, is lit at the Bukkai-dan, or the Buddhist Realm, and Taizo-dan, or the Womb-store Realm, of the second sacred wooden pyre. ...

Each of us has a “birth star,” and the destiny and fortunes of each person are understood to be linked with this star. The Hoshi Matsuri is a Buddhist festival celebrating one’s birth star and the star governing one’s destiny for the coming year. The ceremony, conducted through secret rites of esoteric Buddhism, prays for individual happiness throughout the year, as well as for world peace and prosperity. Combining the great virtues of the Shinto and Buddhist realms with the Shinsei Busshari, or authentic relics of the Buddha, the Hoshi Matsuri brings the power of liberation and equanimity, in a rare opportunity for worshippers and participants to be blessed with extraordinary power and benefit. Kiriyama Kancho conducts the special rites and chants nine secret words repeatedly throughout the day. The festival starts at 7:30 in the morning and lasts until around 4:00 in the afternoon. The sacred fires rise tens of meters in height to the sky, from both of the giant pyres, and continue to burn throughout the day. Kiriyama Kancho and approximately 18,000 Agon Shu members and practitioners conduct the Hoshi Matsuri. ...

Special permission was granted to Agon Shu by White Cloud Temple (Baiyunguan) in Beijing, China, to reproduce the famous secret statues of the Sixty Zodiacal Symbols, and to erect an altar to these deities in Japan. These replicates, displayed on the day of the Hoshi Matsuri, represent the guardian deities of all people. In Chinese and Japanese tradition there is a sixty-year cycle in which each year corresponds to a particular deity. Each person has a guardian deity according to the year of his or her birth. The sacred statues of these guardian deities, which have been worshipped in Taoism, have never previously been allowed to be reproduced outside the White Cloud Temple. Agon Shu is the only religious organization to have been granted permission to reproduce these statues for public veneration. A temporary shrine on Agon Shu’s Main Temple grounds allow public veneration of these guardian deities on the day of the Hoshi Matsuri ceremony. (; cf. Religion in Contemporary Japan, 221-5)
Tradition and Modernity
Mixing Old Wines in a New Bottle?