Feature

On the Eternal Path of Mentor and Disciple

The first five SGI-USA women's leaders discuss their significant encounter with SGI President Ikeda on March 25, and their thoughts on the oneness of mentor and disciple and American kosen-rufu. 

Photo: Getty Images.


On the morning of March 25 at the Josei Toda International Center in Tokyo, SGI President and Mrs. Ikeda met with several “mothers of American kosen-rufu”—Kazue Elliot, the first SGI-USA women’s leader, and successive women’s leaders Wendy Clark, Matilda Buck and Linda Johnson, as well as former women’s chief secretary Kazue Zaitsu. They discuss their significant encounter, and their thoughts on the oneness of mentor and disciple and American kosen-rufu.

You had a moving encounter with SGI President and Mrs. Ikeda on March 25.

Wendy Clark: We visited Japan to express our appreciation and determination to SGI President and Mrs. Ikeda, who have given us immeasurable encouragement. Never in our wildest dreams did we think that we would be able to have this encounter. The second I saw him, I said from the bottom of my heart, “Sensei, thank you so much!”

Kazue Elliot: I get choked up and emotional every time I recall our meeting. President Ikeda said: “I’m so happy to see you!” “This is wonderful!” “I missed you all so much!” He then shook hands with each of us. After the meeting, we embraced one another with tears flowing down our faces.

I felt with my whole life the truth of Nichiren Daishonin’s words: “It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined you to become my disciple at a time like this . . . The sutra’s statement, ‘Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers,’ cannot be false in any way” (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 217).

Linda Johnson: “I’m so happy to see you again! This is the greatest treasure!” I told President Ikeda. “Thank you!” he said. I was filled with the vow to live eternally with Sensei.

Matilda Buck: For me, I was able to sense eternity through the encounter. President Ikeda’s gaze made me think of the aspect of “eternity, happiness, true self and purity.” I expressed to him, “America will achieve a great victory!” It was a beautiful moment.

Kazue Zaitsu: I was so excited to see President and Mrs. Ikeda, who are in good health and high spirits. I think he fully understood that all five of us had come to Japan to seek our mentor. Being able to meet Sensei was a treasure of a lifetime.

What are some of your most memorable encounters with President Ikeda over the years?

Elliot: During President Ikeda’s first visit to the United States in October 1960, he established the first chapter and district in Los Angeles. I was appointed the district leader.

“I’m determined to work hard, in harmony with my fellow members,” I said to Sensei. “That’s right!” he replied, and encouraged me, saying, “If you practice sincerely for 10 years, you will be able to enjoy benefits that are completely different than if you don’t practice this way.”

Back then, I was a war bride who couldn’t speak English. There were nights when I cried over my hardships, but I never gave up, based on Sensei’s guidance. And now that I’m 88, I can say that I’ve transformed my tears into good fortune and benefits.

Buck: I cannot forget the time I visited Japan to attend a headquarters leaders meeting after being appointed as the SGI-USA women’s leader. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to ask President Ikeda a question.

Burning with a sense of mission, I busily traveled around the United States. At the same time, I was deadlocked, because I didn’t have enough time to go to all the places I needed to go in our vast country. I felt as if I were being crushed by the weight of my important responsibilities. So I asked him what I should do.

President Ikeda encouraged me, saying that it’s important to be serious about doing kosen-rufu. But he also said that only when the life of the person advancing kosen-rufu is thriving and adorned with beauty—like a poem—can kosen-rufu be said to have borne fruit.

“It’s most important that you, yourself, become happy,” Sensei said. He encouraged me to wisely harmonize the three elements of activities, rest and enjoyment in living a healthy and poetic existence.

President Ikeda has visited the U.S. 27 times. What are your thoughts on American kosen-rufu?

Buck: In particular, I think his visit in February 1990 was an important turning point for American kosen-rufu.

His visit lasted 17 days. Taking part in various meetings, large and small, President Ikeda also warmly encouraged members in between the gatherings and created the foundation for faith in the United States.

I had the opportunity to attend a number of these meetings, and Sensei stressed that we were each irreplaceable and for us to respect one another.

Johnson: I agree. I think that his visit in 1990 was an occasion for him to take steps to ensure that the American organization forever advances on the trajectory of the oneness of mentor and disciple. He clearly taught us that the organization exists for the sake of the members’ happiness and not the other way around. He also said that as disciples, we couldn’t be like sheep—we had to be lions.

Since then, we have stressed the importance of study. We have sought to learn from Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, seeking to understand the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple. It was because we were able to receive Sensei’s guidance that we prevailed in the priesthood issue.1[1]


“Let Us Refresh Our Own Vow”

Akemi Bailey-Haynie SGI-USA Women’s Leader

During the recent SGI training course, there was great excitement among Soka Gakkai members regarding the news of the encounter between the five pioneering women’s division members of the SGI-USA and SGI President Ikeda.

When I met with SGI Women’s Leader Yumiko Kasanuki, she shared with me that President Ikeda has visited America 27 times. She asked us to please consider his encounter with the five pioneering women’s division members as his 28th visit.

In a message, Sensei said that his encounter represented him meeting with “all the precious pioneer members of America.”

As a result, the members of the SGI-USA are rejuvenated. This is our fresh departure as we advance toward Nov. 18, 2018, and our gathering of 50,000 young people, who will stand up for peace and the dignity of life.

Toward this end, Sensei has asked us to work even harder alongside him to expand our network of awakened individuals who will uphold the supreme dignity of life (see Oct. 7, 2016, World Tribune, p. 3).

Let us refresh our own vow to respond to his tremendous expectation for us, as disciples, to secure the peace of the land. Only through our courageous efforts to introduce others to this life-affirming philosophy of SGI Nichiren Buddhism can we help awaken the citizens of our country to their great mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.


As we advance the SGI’s movement for peace far into the future, an important consideration is ensuring that succeeding generations inherit faith in this Buddhism.

Zaitsu: In the U.S., we are now advancing toward 2018 and our goal of gathering 50,000 young people who will stand up for peace—a genuine castle of youth.

Toward this end, many members are eagerly studying The New Human Revolution to learn about our history and Sensei’s heart. Volume 1 of the novel begins with President Ikeda’s arrival in Hawaii, the first place he visited in 1960 for worldwide kosen-rufu. In it, he describes what went through his mind and specific actions that he took.

Our men’s and women’s division members are accompanying the youth on home visits and offering guidance to them and guests.

Buck: Then, what becomes important is, just as President Ikeda did with his mentor, President Toda, for each of us to challenge ourselves to do human revolution every day by asking, “What would our mentor do if he were here?” I think that the only way forward for us is to demonstrate this spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple in our lives.

Johnson: I think that to encourage someone to live the oneness of mentor and disciple is the same as urging them to live for a great purpose. I make it a point to remind everyone that we each have a great mission.

Now that the new era of worldwide kosen-rufu is upon us, the importance of the SGI-USA’s mission only grows.

Clark: President Ikeda has created bonds of human harmony all over the world. He has trained the American members for over a half-century so that they may be the forerunners in this endeavor. We must ensure that his efforts are not in vain. So long as I am alive, I am determined to give my all to raising youthful successors and to actualize Sensei’s vision together with them.

Johnson: The United States is a melting pot. This is why I think that it’s our mission to prove that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has the ability to call forth goodness from all people who walk the earth.

In the world today, there are those trying to divide people and societies. That’s why it is important for us to uphold the philosophy of the dignity of life and to develop youth who can bring people together. Increasingly, nurturing the youth of SGI will be synonymous with transforming society.

Of course, this won’t be an easy challenge. But one is able to enjoy benefit by overcoming obstacles. We must not let differences divide us; we must transcend differences to bring people together. I’m convinced that when we’re able to do that, America will become an arcadia of human harmony capable of truly leading the world.

Elliot: The only way to actualize world peace is to live our lives embodying the oneness of mentor and disciple. We will boldly advance while holding fast to this spirit!

(pp. 6–7)