SGI President Ikeda's 1996 Visit to the United States
20th Anniversary Feature
America, vast land of freedom and equality!
America, proud nation of solidarity among the world’s people!
America, utopia of hope and victory I long to see!
—SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. xiii
In 1996, SGI President Ikeda journeyed from Japan to the United States, the Bahamas, Cuba, Costa Rica and Mexico for a trip that lasted more than one month. In the United States, he visited Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Weston, Florida, and El Paso. This June, we mark 20 years since that visit.
The following is a portion of the preface to My Dear Friends in America, in which President Ikeda recalls his visits to the United States and the spirit that he held in his heart during that time.
The following pages feature photos as well as President Ikeda’s words, excerpted from My Dear Friends in America, given in each U.S. city that he visited.
From 1990 through 1996, I visited America on six occasions, almost once each year. I leapt in among my circle of friends with the intent of packing a year or even 10 years’ worth of effort into each day. In addition, I initiated dialogues with a number of scholars and leaders of society and delivered lectures at several universities.
Determined to lay the foundation for the next thousand years of the SGI organization in America—an America reborn—I moved, conversed, spoke out and strove with my beloved fellow members of the SGI-USA.
America is vast. It is a majestic land. For that reason, American kosen-rufu is something you must move forward steadily, firmly and sincerely, one step at a time, while gazing into the distant future, hundreds or even thousands of years ahead.
It is with this in mind that I have made every possible effort to prepare the way. Nichiren Daishonin writes, “And now when Nichiren chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, he is enabling all living beings to attain Buddhahood in the ten thousand years of the Latter Day of the Law” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 41).
If we consider that ten-thousand-year journey, it is clear that we are still in the very groundbreaking stage. The time has come to pour all our heart and soul into fostering one person at a time, thereby steadily and carefully planting the seeds for future development. At times, the seeds we have taken such great pains to plant may not sprout. Should that happen, then we must plant more seeds. Or there may be times when, upon sprouting, those young plants become bent or twisted. If so, then we had better try again to raise them straight.
If you tirelessly continue to challenge yourselves in this way, then without doubt a great “forest” of kosen-rufu will unfold before you. This is the formula of the Mystic Law. In a well-known passage from “The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” Nichiren Daishonin declares: “At first only Nichiren chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but then two, three, and a hundred followed, chanting and teaching others. Propagation will unfold this way in the future as well. Does this not signify ‘emerging from the earth’?” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 385).
— My Dear Friends, pp. xiv–xv
WORDS OF WISDOM
SGI President Ikeda began and ended his more than month-long trip abroad in Los Angeles, from June 1–June 6 and June 29–July 6. During his visits to the city, President Ikeda attended the First SGI-USA Executive Conference, First Los Angeles Executive Conference and Second SGI-USA Executive Conference, and held dialogues with distinguished friends. In addition, he lectured at the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the life of founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. The following are excerpts from President Ikeda’s speeches given at various gatherings in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has been the power source of kosen-rufu in the United States and an important cornerstone in our worldwide movement. Los Angeles’ victories have also been the SGI’s victories. (p. 423)
Life is a series of changes, a succession of ups and downs. But those who possess a prime point, a home to which they can return, no matter what happens, are strong.
To always come home to the world of friendship of the SGI, to talk things over and prepare for a fresh beginning—this is the way I hope all of you will live. (p. 400)
Faith is light. The hearts of those with strong faith are filled with light. A radiance envelops their lives. People with unshakable conviction in faith enjoy a happiness that is as luminous as the full moon on a dark night, as dazzling as the sun on a clear day.
Nichiren Daishonin discusses the meaning of the Chinese characters for the word benefit (Jpn kudoku), as follows: “The element ku in the word kudoku means good fortune or happiness. It also refers to the merit achieved by wiping out evil, while the element toku or doku refers to the virtue one acquires by bringing about good ”(The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p .148).
We fight against those who try to destroy the correct teaching. That struggle purifies us and brings forth benefits in our lives. Justice or happiness without a battle is just an illusion. Thinking that happiness means a life free of hard work and effort is a fantasy.
Only by struggling against the extremes of evil can we live a life of extreme good. That effort will help us create lives that can transcend any obstacle or difficulty with ease and dignity. I hope that all of you, my dear friends in America, will lead lives as champions of justice and happiness. (p. 425)
When one is completely dedicated to the path of mentor and disciple, he or she experiences no doubt or confusion, no uncertainty or fear. (p. 487)
Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s life was an all-out struggle against fascist authority, never retreating a single step. His message of courage and wisdom will continue to echo and resound, awakening people’s conscience in the coming centuries. He realized that, no matter how noble the principle or belief, it can only be realized through a concerted grassroots effort . . . This spirit of the first president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, lives on within the Soka Gakkai and takes concrete form in the activities of the SGI. We will always remain firm and unbending before any form of authoritarianism and in this way will carry on Mr. Makiguchi’s beliefs and convictions far into the future. (p. 417)
What a great joy!
What profound significance!
To celebrate This noble day of July  here in America.
■ ■ ■
As a disciple,
Please bring your life
To a magnificent completion
For American kosen-rufu. (p. 490)
Please make every effort to find and raise capable people. My wish is that you construct a wonderful organization here in the United States, joyfully building ever-expanding circles of friendship and a solidarity of people who cherish hope for life and the future. Please lead the most wonderful of lives. (pp. 489–90)
Prayer is the foundation. But at the same time, if we fail to make concrete efforts, no matter how much we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, our prayers will not be answered. Buddhism is reason. If we just chant without doing any work, we cannot succeed in our jobs; if students do not study, it will be reflected in their grades.
We must make steady and persistent efforts firmly grounded in daily life. If we travel in the orbit of faith equals daily life, all our prayers will definitely be answered. We can then lead lives in which all our desires will be fulfilled. (p. 428)
SGI President Ikeda spent June 6–June 11 in Denver. During his stay, he joined members from throughout the Rocky Mountain States in attending the Rocky Mountain Joint Territory Cherry Blossom General Meeting and the Rocky Mountain Joint Territory Executive Conference. President Ikeda received his first honorary doctorate from an American institute of higher learning, the University of Denver, on June 8, making his first visit to Denver all the more historic. The following are excerpts from President Ikeda’s speeches given at various gatherings in Denver.
Denver is a wonderful city. The streets are broad, and the air is clean and fragrant—like your pure hearts. Gazing at the Rocky Mountains in the distance, I am struck by the vivid contrast between the white snow-covered peaks and the bright green slopes. (p. 431)
The heart matters most. A heart that praises the Mystic Law brings forth boundless benefit, and the heart that praises those who spread the Mystic Law elicits still greater benefit. I hope all the leaders in the SGI will have the spirit to praise others and put everyone at ease, creating a warm and pleasant atmosphere. Kosen-rufu expands where people feel a true sense of pleasure and enjoyment. (pp. 439–40)
When we plant the seed of happiness that is faith and carefully tend its growth, it will produce fruit without fail. We have to bear in mind, however, that we cannot plant a seed today and expect it to bear fruit tomorrow. That’s not reasonable, and Buddhism is reason. If we persevere in the practice of faith equals daily life in accord with reason, then our prayers will definitely be answered. This is Nichiren Daishonin’s promise to us, and his words are true beyond any doubt. (p. 433)
At long last
A city a flame
With pioneering spirit,
I clasp the hands of friends.
■ ■ ■
Is a bright land
Embodying the history
Of kosen-rufu in America
And the world.
■ ■ ■
With smiling countenance,
Protect sand praises
My radiant friends
In Denver. (pp. 430–31)
Human beings are raised by human beings. Only people can help other people become happy. I hope that all of you, as outstanding humanistic educators, will also raise many fine individuals. (p. 436)
SGI President Ikeda flew from Denver to New York, spending June 11–June 19 in the Big Apple. During his visit, he attended a general meeting, an exchange meeting with members from the northeastern United States, Canada and Japan, and the World Peace Youth Culture Festival at Carnegie Hall. He also visited the United Nations Headquarters, held a dialogue with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and presented a lecture at Columbia University’s Teachers College on the topic of education for global citizenship.
With its rich diversity, New York is the world in miniature. In such a setting, you New York SGI members are taking on a challenging and crucially important issue for humankind—respecting and creating harmony amid diversity. Without doubt, Nichiren Daishonin is watching over and protecting this solidarity of the Buddha’s children in New York. (p. 462)
Buddhism teaches that both good and evil are potentialities that exist in all people. Compassion consists in the sustained and courageous effort to seek out the good in all people, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others. Engagement, however, requires courage. There are all too many cases in which compassion, owing to a lack of courage, remains mere sentiment. (p. 445)
The proud mission of those who have received an education must be to serve, in seen and unseen ways, the lives of those who have not had this opportunity. At times, education may become a matter of titles and degrees and the status and authority these confer. I am convinced, however, that education should be a vehicle to develop in one’s character the noble spirit to embrace and augment the lives of others. (p. 447)
It is important to take a long-range view. No great achievement is accomplished overnight or without difficulty. Should benefit be obtained easily without making any efforts in Buddhist practice, we’d probably just as easily abandon our faith and end up miserable as a consequence.
Because it isn’t easy to get into a top-ranked school, students study with all their might, gaining an abundance of knowledge and ability as a result. Faith follows basically the same formula: practice is essential to attaining Buddhahood. (p. 456)
We have stood up, holding high the torch of courage in one hand and the philosophy of truth and justice in the other. We have begun to take action to boldly break through the darkness of the four sufferings—birth, aging, sickness and death— as well as the darkness of society and of the world. (p. 458)
serene and at last triumphant,
you have created a record
invincible and immortal.
■ ■ ■
Deep in faith,
Deep in camaraderie,
Is watched and praised
By friends the world over.
The Daishonin will
Protect you without fail.
Therefore, New York,
Enjoy each day
With courage and hope. (pp. 452–53)
The Lotus Sutra embodies a philosophy that most highly respects, fosters and harmonizes human diversity. The Mystic Law is the source that enables us to manifest our unique brilliance against a backdrop of mutual understanding and appreciation of one another’s differences; to create a lush garden of “cherry, plum, peach and damson” blossoms.
With its rich diversity, New York is the world in miniature. In such a setting, you New York SGI members are taking on a challenging and crucially important issue for humankind—respecting and creating harmony amid diversity. (p. 462)
Suffering and undergoing hardships for the sake of friends and for spreading the Law are manifestations of the great sense of responsibility of a genuine leader and the behavior of a bodhisattva. There is no suffering or hardship that a Bodhisattva of the Earth cannot surmount. So no matter what happens, I would like you to advance steadily, one step at a time, always chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a vibrant voice. (p. 464)
Following his visit to New York, SGI President Ikeda spent June 19–June 24 in Florida, where he opened the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, just outside of Miami. He also attended the SGI Representatives Conference and the 21st SGI General Meeting, which brought together SGI members from 52 countries in North, Central and South America.
Together with members around the world, I truly rejoice at the opening of this wonderful Florida Nature and Culture Center. Once again, my sincerest congratulations. Every inch of the center’s vast grounds sparkles with the members’ beautiful sincerity. (p. 471)
In this lifetime, to demonstrate the power of faith in the Mystic Law to others, some of you may have been born into poverty so that you could show actual proof by gaining secure and comfortable lives, or some of you may have been born with ill health so that you could show proof by growing strong and healthy. Irrespective of your situations, however, the light of faith in the depths of your beings will continue to shine on eternally with diamondlike brilliance. (p. 469)
As practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, we get up in the morning and do gongyo. Some perhaps may do so rather reluctantly! Nevertheless, doing gongyo is itself a truly great and noble thing. Gongyo is a solemn ceremony in which we are, in a manner of speaking, looking out and over the universe; it is dialogue with the universe.
Doing gongyo and chanting [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] before the Gohonzon represent the dawn, the start of a new day, in our lives; it is the sun rising; it gives us a profound sense of contentment in the depths of our being that nothing can surpass. (p. 479)
[Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda said:] “Becoming happy yourself is no great challenge; it’s quite simple. Working for the happiness of others in addition to your own happiness, however, is the foundation of faith. I think that unless you honestly pray to the Gohonzon to do this, strengthen your faith and really devote yourself to faith with a spirit of seeking nothing for yourself, then you cannot be called a true leader.” (p. 474)
After departing Florida, SGI President Ikeda traveled to the Bahamas, quickly making his way to Cuba, followed by a visit to Costa Rica and then Mexico. On his return from Central America en route to Los Angeles, he made a stopover in El Paso, Texas, on June 29. There, he encouraged and praised the local SGI-USA members for their efforts to advance kosen-rufu. He also dedicated to them the following poem, titled “To the Great Pioneers of Kosen-rufu of El Paso.”