Co-founder of Risshō Kōseikai, one of the ‘New Religions’ of Japan belonging to the Nichiren family. Niwano was born in 1906 in Niigata Prefecture, in northern Japan. Several years after leaving school, he went to Tokyo to work and there began studying and practising various spiritual disciplines. Eventually, in 1938, as a member of the new religion Reiyūkai (see Reiyūkai Kyōdan), he attended a series of lectures on the Lotus Sūtra given by Mr Sukenobu Arai. That year, together with Mrs Myōkō Naganuma, Niwano founded a new lay Buddhist organization that they called Risshō Kōseikai (Society for Success in Establishing the Right). After her death in 1957, he became the sole president of the organization. Believing that all religions spring from the same source, Niwano has met with people of religion the world over in order to further the cause of world peace through interreligious cooperation. He dedicated himself to the establishment of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) and the Asian Conference on Religion and Peace (ACRP). In 1994 he attended the sixth assembly of the WCRP in Italy and presided at its opening session with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican's Synod Hall. He also appeared repeatedly before the United Nations to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
True to the Nichiren tradition, Niwano remained devoted to the study of the Lotus Sūtra as the final and most direct revelation of the Buddha's teaching, and to the chanting of its title, called the daimoku in Japanese, as a simple means of salvation for all people. As a personal act of devotion he wrote out a copy of the sūtra by hand, using his own blood. His efforts in interreligious cooperation have been widely recognized. In 1979 he was awarded the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion. In 1992 he was made Knight Commander with the Silver Star of the Order of St Gregory the Great by the Vatican. In 1993 he received the Interfaith Medallion from the International Council of Christians and Jews.