Our History

The Day of Soka Justice

Our History: April 24, 1979.

Global impact—The skyline of Yokohama harbor. In May 1979, SGI President Ikeda looked out to the harbor, which faces the Pacific Ocean, and made a powerful determination to spread Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world. Photo by Getty Images/Juregen Sack

April 24, 1979.

That was the day Daisaku Ikeda stepped down as third Soka Gakkai president, a position he had held for 19 years.

Behind his sudden resignation were the machinations of Nichiren Shoshu priests. Consumed by jealousy, resentment and self-interest, they aimed to take control of the Soka Gakkai and exploit it for their own gain. Toward that end, they distorted the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism in such a way as to ascribe to themselves special powers and absolute authority—in direct contradiction to Nichiren Daishonin’s humanistic teachings.

President Ikeda later wrote of that incident: “Those self-serving priests who bore hostility toward the Soka Gakkai, borrowing the guise of the Daishonin, sought to turn the true emissaries of the Buddha— the Soka Gakkai members— into pawns, exploiting them and finally destroying the Soka Gakkai. We were confronted with an insane rampage of the terrible, insidious nature of authority” (May 21, 1999, World Tribune, p. 5). When President Ikeda discussed his resignation with the Soka Gakkai’s executives, one top leader callously responded, “You can’t go against the flow of the times.”

“A sharp pain tore through my heart,” President Ikeda later recalled. “I also knew how exhausted everyone was, due to the long, defensive battle in which they had all fought so hard. But ‘flow of the times’!? It was the attitude, the state of mind underlying that utterance that so disturbed me. I could detect no trace of the fighting spirit to protect the Soka Gakkai with one’s life or the willingness to fight together with me, no matter the times or circumstances” (May 14, 1999, World Tribune, p. 7).

“I won’t change in the least. Do not worry! I am [Josei] Toda’s direct disciple! Right will win out in the end!”

On Tuesday, April 24, 1979, President Ikeda’s resignation was announced to a group of representative leaders from throughout Japan at the Shinjuku Culture Center in Tokyo.

After a new Soka Gakkai president was named, cries rang out: “Sensei, don’t resign!” “Sensei, remain as our president!” “All our members are waiting for you!”

President Ikeda replied firmly: “I won’t change in the least. Do not worry! I am [Josei] Toda’s direct disciple! Right will win out in the end!” (May 14, 1999, World Tribune, p. 7). A few days later, on May 3, 1979, the atmosphere was heavy at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters General Meeting in Tokyo, where his resignation was officially announced. Some top Soka Gakkai leaders hesitated to applaud in appreciation for his efforts or even acknowledge President Ikeda for fear of upsetting the priests in attendance.

Submitting to the priests’ authority, participants were told to restrain their applause during the meeting and not to applaud for President Ikeda at all. Before and after the meeting, when President Ikeda courteously greeted the priests, they coldly ignored him.

Who will protect the members? President Ikeda thought. Who will work for their happiness? What will happen if cruel and heartless animals dressed in priestly robes begin to dictate to these people? (see May 15, 1998, World Tribune, p. 9). After that meeting, President Ikeda didn’t return to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters; he no longer had a desk at the place he had built. His only workspace was in a small room set aside for the building’s caretakers. Instead, he went directly to the Kanagawa Culture Center, which faces Yokohama harbor and the Pacific Ocean, and links Japan to the world. There, he made a powerful determination to stand alone in spreading Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world.

That May 5, while in Kanagawa, he took up a calligraphy brush and with intense determination wrote the Chinese characters for “justice,” as he thought of his mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, who exemplified the stand-alone spirit. In the bottom right-hand corner, he wrote, “I carry the banner of justice alone.”

Whatever circumstances I found myself in, I would fight resolutely, he said to himself. Even if I was alone. I firmly resolved in the depths of my being that I would triumph—in the true spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple (May 15, 1998, World Tribune, p. 9).

Underscoring the spirit of shared struggle, President Ikeda writes of his actions as a disciple: “I have struggled tirelessly for kosen-rufu in exact accord with the instructions of my noble predecessors, first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, working all out to achieve great victories for them.

“We mustn’t be influenced or defeated by those who disdain or disparage the lofty Soka spirit of mentor and disciple.

“The British author George Orwell wrote: ‘Nothing ever stands still. We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or go backward.’ I have always striven harder than anyone to powerfully propel the Soka Gakkai forward and to communicate the true greatness of my mentor, Mr. Toda, to the world” (Jan. 23, 2009, World Tribune, p. 4).

In their unscrupulous attempts to sever his connection with the members, the priesthood barred President Ikeda from making public appearances at activities. His writings and images were also forbidden from appearing in the organization’s publications.

Unable to reach the membership through his published writings, President Ikeda wrote poems and calligraphic works for individual members. Unable to speak publicly, he traveled throughout the country, visiting members in their homes to offer them encouragement.

Though no longer the Soka Gakkai president, he began focusing more on the international sphere as the president of the Soka Gakkai International. He writes of that time: “I came to a decision. I would travel around the world, encouraging members in Japan from outside. Though I had resigned as president of the Soka Gakkai, I refused to let anyone stop me being active as president of the SGI. The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin is a Buddhism of fighting for peace . . . Who had the right to stop me from taking action for world peace? Besides, those who were trying to undermine me out of their own petty jealousies and personal motives weren’t the least bit interested in such activities anyway. In the autumn of 1980, I embarked on what was to become a year of traveling around the globe, starting with a trip to the United States” (www.daisakuikeda.org).

Through his valiant leadership, the SGI has now developed into the largest lay Buddhist association in the world, showing that an ordinary person truly committed to securing the dignity, peace and happiness of all people can turn the bitterest adversity into the greatest victory.

On April 14, 2009, at a nationwide leaders meeting in Tokyo, President Ikeda for the first time unveiled a calligraphy that he wrote on the day of his official resignation. On May 3, 1979, he penned kyosen or “shared struggle.” Beneath the calligraphy, he included the following:

I am determined to
advance kosen-rufu
Throughout my life,
With an unshakable heart,
Trusting there are true

Today, SGI members throughout the world are taking up the same vow and share their mentor’s struggle for justice, forever protecting the SGI and its mission for world peace.

On the 37th anniversary of April 24, let us remember this infamous day so that we never repeat it.