Young Protagonists Deepen Their Vow for Kosen-rufu
A report from the February North America and Oceania Study Conference
From February 3–6, 2017, nearly 200 youth attended the North America and Oceania Study Conference with SGI Vice Study Department Leader Hidetoshi Fukuda who traveled from Tokyo to give lectures. With a seeking spirit to study Nichiren Buddhism, youth from New Zealand, Canada and throughout the United States gathered at the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida, to deepen their vow as protagonists in the new era of worldwide kosen-rufu. (see March 3, 2017, World Tribune, pp. 6–7 for more conference coverage.)
In his many years as a reporter for the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, Mr. Fukuda has had numerous opportunities to report on SGI President Ikeda’s activities. And throughout the conference, he shared many observations and stories of the SGI president. The following are some highlights from Mr. Fukuda’s question-and-answer sessions.
HOW CAN I CONFRONT THE RAMPANT DIVISIVENESS IN SOCIETY?
In his message to the conference, President Ikeda states, “To the extent that the times grow more deeply chaotic and confused, the light of Buddhism will shine all the more brightly. ”
Many of the conference participants asked how to show respect and compassion toward those with differing views, especially regarding the current state of society. Mr. Fukuda clarified the Buddhist view of this dilemma.
He began by discussing exclusivism, which is rooted in the fear of someone who is different from oneself. Many fall into the trap of stereotyping others and categorizing them into certain groups. Mr. Fukuda said that it is easier to blame “the other” when things aren’t going well or to label that person as being “different from me.” He said that at times it is easier to think: That person is evil, and I am good; or That person is unjust, and I am a person of justice.
He also pointed out that it might seem easier to target one particular group of people as being the cause of all problems, thinking, If that group of people leave, then all of our problems will be solved. This way of thinking often results in tragedy and genocide.
Buddhism, on the other hand, does not view any person or group of people as having a fixed identity. No one is absolutely evil or absolutely good. Rather, within the life of each person exists the potential for both good and evil. The idea of the Ten Worlds teaches that people have the capacity to experience various states of life from one moment to the next. And the principle of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds” teaches that all people can reveal the Buddha nature inherent in all life.
From the Buddhist perspective, all people are inherently equal and respectworthy, and have limitless potential. Our undying trust in the boundless potential of each person is vital in transforming society at its core. What’s important is to never give up on our belief in others and to continue thoroughly praying for their happiness.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT THE SGI GOING INTO THE FUTURE?
In response to a question about how to protect the SGI into the future, Mr. Fukuda recounted an exchange he witnessed in the 1990s when as a student division member he participated in a meeting attended by President Ikeda. During the meeting, Sensei held a question-and-answer session, encouraging the participants to ask anything.
Concerned about the future of the organization, a women’s division member, expressing how happy she was to be able to study Nichiren Daishonin’s writings alongside President Ikeda, asked how we can continue to practice Buddhism correctly far into the future.
President Ikeda praised her for her concern about the future and went on to assure her that he has written and spoken about everything for the sake of the future. He encouraged her to advance with confidence in knowing this. At the same time, he said, many capable leaders will emerge in the future, and he encouraged her and all those in attendance to become great leaders who can shoulder the future of kosen-rufu.
Mr. Fukuda reiterated that President Ikeda, through his writings and speeches, has addressed every aspect of advancing kosen-rufu. He asked the youth to study President Ikeda’s guidance and to put it into action. By doing so, he said, they can become capable leaders who protect the SGI from devilish functions. In his writings, Nichiren assures his disciples that when they unite based on the correct teaching of Buddhism, they will overcome all adversities and continue to widely spread this great humanistic philosophy.
WHY ARE DISCUSSION MEETINGS SO REVOLUTIONARY?
Mr. Fukuda reaffirmed that the purpose of our kosen-rufu movement is to expand the network of bodhisattvas and Buddhas who are constantly striving to transform their lives. For SGI members, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, visiting members and holding discussion meetings every month may seem mundane. However, every effort we make in the SGI has a great impact on the lives of the people around us and in our greater movement to expand our Soka network to create a better society.
To offer a concrete example, Mr. Fukuda shared his experience of visiting the Tohoku (northeastern) area of Japan in March 2011, only 10 days after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the region. Nearly 18,000 people perished in this disaster.
When he arrived, there were almost no buildings in sight—most were swept away. Cars and boats that had been swept up by the tsunami were scattered everywhere.
Forty days after the tsunami, he attended the first discussion meeting of a local Soka Gakkai district in Miyagi Prefecture, the center of the devastation. Twenty people gathered, and one by one, they shared their stories through tears—of having to be rescued by helicopter from their homes and of still not being able to locate loved ones. Many had lost family members and friends. In contrast to the traditionally bright and joyful Soka Gakkai district meetings, this one was solemn.
To close the meeting, the men’s district leader, who is reserved by nature, encouraged the members, confidently asserting: “We’ve all lost our homes and possessions. But just as Nichiren Daishonin and Sensei tell us, the treasures of the heart can never be washed away. I will never be defeated. So from today, let’s work together to move forward in our lives.” No movement is more grassroots and revolutionizes society at its roots, the hearts of each person.
Mr. Fukuda felt that he was bearing witness to the great strength emanating from the life of this one person amid the gravest circumstances. Knowing that many members had lost their copies of Nichiren’s writings in the devastation, President Ikeda sent every member in Tohoku a new copy, which became a treasure for them to advance with pride alongside their mentor.
Throughout the disaster-stricken region, monthly discussion meetings became the rallying point for rebuilding the area. It was at these meetings that the members encouraged one another to determine and redetermine to transform their lives. This is how the Soka Gakkai members there rose up to become catalysts for the reconstruction of their communities. And today, the youth of Tohoku are leading the country in propagating Buddhism.
Directly observing this transformation, Mr. Fukuda reaffirmed the importance and power of monthly discussion meetings and our SGI activities. The youth participants, too, confirmed that their daily efforts to encourage others and hold discussion meetings are powerful sources for creating great change and momentum in society.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TREASURE THE PERSON IN FRONT OF ME?
In 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army forced roughly 75,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war to march some 60 miles to prison camps in what is now called the Bataan Death March. This march was characterized by physical abuse and killings. Thousands lost their lives.
In 2004, President Ikeda met with Laureana Rosales, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. Though she and her mother were able to escape the march, she witnessed her mother die of malnutrition after their escape. Given her harrowing experience, Ms. Rosales became a staunch opponent of war, and a firm believer that education was the only way to secure the path to peace. She eventually founded Capitol University in the Philippines.
Upon meeting Ms. Rosales, President Ikeda welcomed her with a warm embrace, praising her as “a great mother of the world.” Moments later, Ms. Rosales was in tears.
The night before this meeting, she explained, she had re-read a letter from President Ikeda, in which he deeply apologized on behalf of the Japanese people for the tragedy and suffering caused by the Japanese army. Though not at all responsible for the tragedy, President Ikeda had been the first Japanese man to apologize for the atrocities of the war. She cried as she read his letter, shedding tears that helped her let go of years of suffering. Ms. Rosales said that President Ikeda’s words had moved her so deeply that she was able to transform her suffering into a love for all of humanity.
This heartfelt encounter between President Ikeda, the founder of Soka University, and Ms. Rosales, the founder of Capitol University, was the starting point of an exchange between the two schools that continues to this day.
President Ikeda is a great example of someone who has created many ties of friendship through his courage, sincerity and wisdom.
During his closing words, Mr. Fukuda urged the youth of the SGI-USA to continually advance together with President Ikeda, declaring, “The youth of the SGI-USA can definitely accomplish 50,000!
The SGI-USA youth have made a firm determination to solidify the movement of kosen-rufu through studying and taking action, ensuring the growth of youth in each chapter and encouraging many more young people to join in our Soka movement for peace.