The Soka Gakkai’s Founding Spirit

On the history of November 18, Soka Gakkai Founding Day


The Day of the Founding!
This is a day
Shining with brilliant splendor
On which we return
To our prime point
Of time without beginning.
[1]June 6, 2014, World Tribune, p. 8.
—SGI President Daisaku Ikeda

On Nov. 18, 1930, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a forward-thinking geographer and educator, founded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society) with his disciple and fellow educator, Josei Toda.

On that day, Mr. Makiguchi published the first volume of his four-volume work, The System of Value-Creating Education. An outspoken advocate of educational reform, Mr. Makiguchi believed that the purpose of education was to enable students to lead happy, fulfilled lives.

Although Mr. Makiguchi founded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai as a society to promote educational reform based on the theories outlined in his book, over the next decade, it developed into a bold religious movement that sought to transform society through the practical application of Nichiren Buddhism, a life philosophy that seeks to unlock the limitless potential in all people.

Mr. Makiguchi started practicing Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings around 1928 through a fellow educator and found that they deeply resonated with his own views. As he would later recall:

When I eventually made the firm determination to adopt this faith, I was able to affirm, in the actualities of daily life, the truth of the words of Nichiren Daishonin: ‘When the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated. Similarly, when one knows the Lotus Sutra, one understands the meaning of all worldly affairs’ (The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376). And with a joy that is beyond the power of words to express, I completely renewed the basis of the life I had led for almost 60 years. The sense of unease, of groping my way in the dark, was entirely dissipated; my lifelong tendency to withdraw into thought disappeared; my sense of purpose in life steadily expanded in scope and ambition, and I was freed from all fears; I became possessed with the irresistible and bold desire to effect the reform of national education with as much haste as was humanly possible.[2]www.tmakiguchi.org <accessed on Nov. 2, 2016>.

Mr. Makiguchi began traveling throughout Japan to hold Buddhist discussion meetings in peoples’ homes. He was known to arrive ahead of time and always sincerely thank the families who had offered their homes for meetings.

He especially encouraged young people with the same compassion for which he had become known as an elementary school principal. To one struggling young man, he said: “It is not the Lotus Sutra if it cannot change poison into medicine. Now is the time for you to put this into practice in your own life.” Likewise, he instructed a young woman to “be especially kind to those younger than yourself.”[3]June 6, 2014, World Tribune, p. 4.

Authorities move to break the burgeoning people’s movement.

In the mid-1930s, Japan’s militarist government began dismantling religious groups at odds with state-sponsored Shinto religion, which viewed the emperor as a living god. In 1941, the Special Higher Police intensified its focus on the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, even following Mr. Makiguchi to discussion meetings and disbanding them at will.

In a move to break the organization, authorities in May 1942 shuttered the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai’s organ publication, Kachi sozo (Value Creation). Mr. Makiguchi had challenged militarist dogma, state-sponsored Shinto and the emperor’s status as a divine being.

Undaunted, Mr. Makiguchi attended more than 240 Buddhist discussion meetings during the first two years of World War II, while under the constant surveillance of the Special Higher Police.

In June 1943, Nichiren Shoshu priests called the top Soka Gakkai leaders to the head temple grounds, where they instructed the lay believers to accept and enshrine the Shinto religious object. While the priesthood succumbed to government pressure, Mr. Makiguchi and the other directors refused.

[Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s] message of courage and wisdom will continue to echo and resound, awakening people’s conscience in the coming centuries.

“Buddhism is not an intellectual game,” Mr. Makiguchi said of their divergent course of action. “Its purpose is to save the land and the people from suffering. To stand by with folded arms and fail to do so when that time arises is to betray the Buddha’s intent.”[4]Ibid., p. 5.

In early July 1943, at age 72, Mr. Makiguchi traveled to Izu Province to attend a discussion meeting in Shimoda, well aware of the danger. At the meeting, he declared: “The Lotus Sutra is like the sun.”[5]Ibid., p. 4.

Police arrested him on July 6, 1943, charging him with blasphemy and violation of the Peace Preservation Law. Mr. Makiguchi remained so firm under intensive interrogation that a portion of his police transcripts was published for study by those engaged in breaking thought criminals during the war.

Of the 21 Soka Gakkai leaders arrested by police, only two refused to recant their beliefs—Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, the mentor and his disciple.

Although they were separated in prison, Mr. Toda continued to pray fervently: “I am still young, but my mentor is old. Let all the responsibility for the charges against us fall on me alone, and allow my mentor to be released as soon as possible!”[6]Ibid., p. 4.

“For all of us, faith is the most important thing.”

Mr. Makiguchi spent some 500 days in solitary confinement and was repeatedly subjected to intense interrogation. A record of his time there lives on in the postcards he sent to his family.

In these letters, he encouraged them to view his imprisonment from the standpoint of faith. “For all of us, faith is the most important thing. We may consider this a great misfortune, but it pales when compared to what the Daishonin endured. It is important to understand this fact clearly and to strengthen your faith more than ever.”[7]www.tmakiguchi.org <accessed on Nov. 2, 2016>.

On Nov. 18, 1944—14 years to the day the Soka Gakkai was founded—Mr. Makiguchi died in prison of old age and malnutrition, a martyr to his beliefs. SGI President Ikeda writes, “At the third memorial [second anniversary] marking Mr. Makiguchi’s death [in 1946], Mr. Toda said, addressing his late mentor, ‘In your vast and boundless compassion, you let me accompany you even to prison.’

“What a noble example of the Soka mentor-disciple spirit!”[8]Dec. 11, 2015, World Tribune, p. 3.

A network of 12 million engaged Buddhists in 192 countries and territories.

Mr. Toda was released from prison on July 3 the following year. Without waiting a day, he set out to rebuild the foundation of the Soka Gakkai and prove the greatness of his mentor.

Mr. Toda, who became the second president in 1951, went on to build the Soka Gakkai into a thriving organization with more than 750,000 families in Japan before his passing. He bequeathed the mission to accomplish kosen-rufu to the youth and to his most trusted disciple, Daisaku Ikeda, on March 16, 1958. He died the following month, on April 2.

Daisaku Ikeda, who succeeded President Toda as third Soka Gakkai president in 1960, went on to realize the dreams of Mr. Makiguchi, whom he had never met, as well as his mentor, President Toda—leading the spread of Nichiren Buddhism throughout the world, which stands today as a network of 12 million engaged Buddhists in 192 countries and territories.

President Ikeda also built the Soka schools system in Asia founded on Mr. Makiguchi’s value-creating pedagogy, crowned by Soka University in Tokyo. And on May 3, 2001, he founded Soka University of America, a private, nonsectarian liberal arts university in Aliso Viejo, California. The university today is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 50 liberal arts colleges.[9]According to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges Rankings.

In November 2013, the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu was erected, shining as a lofty citadel dedicated to the shared vow of mentor and disciple to enable all people to become Buddhas. Enshrined therein is the Soka Gakkai Kosen-rufu Gohonzon, bearing this inscription and vow: “For the Fulfillment of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu Through the Compassionate Propagation of the Great Law.”

Gathering 50,000 determined youth in 2018 to take a stand for the dignity of life.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu as well as the 88th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding, the SGI-USA in 2018 will gather 50,000 determined youth under the banner of President Ikeda’s philosophy of humanism and respect for the dignity of life, with the undying hope that world peace is possible.

In his message to the 19th Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting, President Ikeda writes of the significance of the times: “Please promise with me to work hard over the next two years with our fellow members around the world to expand our network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and forge ahead with energy, wisdom and good cheer to make the triumph of mentor and disciple resound into the eternal future of the Latter Day of the Law.”[10]Oct. 7, 2016, World Tribune, p. 3.

President Ikeda wrote of Mr. Makiguchi that, in his genuine humanism, he believed that religion is justified to the degree that it relieves suffering and brings happiness to individuals. He believed that religions should exist to serve the people.

“Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s life was an all-out struggle against fascist authority, never retreating a single step,” President Ikeda writes. “His message of courage and wisdom will continue to echo and resound, awakening people’s conscience in the coming centuries.”[11]My Dear Friends in America, second edition, pp. 416–17.

For more information on the life of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, visit: www.tmakiguchi.org

(pp. 6–7)

Notes   [ + ]

1. June 6, 2014, World Tribune, p. 8.
2. www.tmakiguchi.org <accessed on Nov. 2, 2016>.
3. June 6, 2014, World Tribune, p. 4.
4. Ibid., p. 5.
5. Ibid., p. 4.
6. Ibid., p. 4.
7. www.tmakiguchi.org <accessed on Nov. 2, 2016>.
8. Dec. 11, 2015, World Tribune, p. 3.
9. According to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges Rankings.
10. Oct. 7, 2016, World Tribune, p. 3.
11. My Dear Friends in America, second edition, pp. 416–17.