Feature

Lions of Justice Vow

A report from the First SGI-USA Chapter Through National Youth Leaders Training Course in Japan.

TOKYO—“We will never give up. We will never back down. This is our vow.” With this rallying cry, and in an event that SGI President Ikeda said signaled “a new era of kosenrufu for America,” 201 youth representatives traveled to Japan to take part in the First SGI-USA Chapter Through National Youth Leaders Training Course from Feb. 1–4 in Tokyo and Kansai.

Advancing toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival on Sept. 23, the participants, on behalf of all the members of America, received encouragement from Soka Gakkai leaders and attended various activities, including a gongyo ceremony at the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu, the 31st Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting in Toyonaka City, Osaka, and exchange meetings with local members.

Kansai Nakanoshima Civic Hall. Photo by Marc Giannvola.

At the headquarters leaders meeting, the SGI-USA youth sang the official 50K festival song, “Lions of Justice Vow,” with President Ikeda watching via live video feed.

In a message to the training course participants, President Ikeda called “Lions of Justice Vow” a “soulful song of which you are justifiably proud—a spiritual ode that my wife, Kaneko, and I listened to once again today, its words resounding in the depths of our lives.”

Many of the SGI-USA youth participants were chapter leaders and nearly half of them had taken faith less than five years ago.

Toward the historic trip, SGI-USA Young Women’s Leader Olivia Saito said she was deeply moved to see the youth across the country unite, especially those who did not go. “Many were seeing their friends off at the airport or chanting for them,” she said. “Even the‘Lions of Justice Vow’ song was created by youth who didn’t attend but were still so happy to contribute in this way. I felt that this fact alone signaled a great turning point for the SGI-USA.”

Overjoyed by their presence and determination, President Ikeda sent several messages and named the SGI-USA youth the Lions of Justice Group. For SGI-USA Youth Leader David Witkowski, the name isn’t a title of accomplishment or praise, but rather about awakening to a deep sense of responsibility. “Sensei says a lion wins, so there’s no turning back,” he said. “More than accomplishing a gathering of 50,000 youth, true victory can only be assured when each of these youth stands up as a lion of justice.”

SGI-USA Youth Training Course. Photo by Justin Kunimoto and Yvonne NG.

In a departure message, President and Mrs. Ikeda asked the participants to convey their best regards and appreciation to their fellow youth and men’s and women’s division members who had warmly sent them off to Japan.

President Ikeda reminded the youth of their own unique mission for kosen-rufu that they alone could fulfill: “Stay strong no matter what hardship or challenge may arrive in life,” he said, “embracing every difficulty as laborious yet a necessary task along the path of achieving a great human revolution. Prevail over these adversities by chanting as fiercely as the lion’s roar—thereby, defining the days of your youth through the success you yourself wrest. And in doing so, expand the united network of peace and happiness together with your friends and fellow members, reaching skyward without constraint and in high spirits.

Tokyo: February 2

In their first training course activity, the 201 SGI-USA youth visited the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu for a gongyo ceremony, led by Soka Gakkai General Director Shigeo Hasegawa. Simultaneously, members across America did gongyo from their respective locations to unite in spirit.

(SGI President Ikeda sent a message to the SGI-USA members, praising their efforts to chant simultaneously with the youth training course participants.)

In closing remarks, General Director Hasegawa called on the youth of America to “cast off the transient and reveal the true, and rise to action with a sense of purpose!”

U.S.-Japan Youth Friendship General Meeting

Following their visit to the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu, the youth participated in the U.S.-Japan Youth

Tokyo Exchange Meeting. Photo by Justin Kunimoto AND Yvonne Ng.

Friendship General Meeting, an exchange with the Soka Gakkai youth of Tokyo. SGI Vice President Hiromasa Ikeda, who centered the meeting, emphasized President Ikeda’s great expectations for the American members.

He went on to share that the mentor’s main battle for kosen-rufu is to complete volume 30 of his epic autobiographical novel The New Human Revolution. President Ikeda is currently at the end of chapter 5 and will soon begin chapter 6, which will be titled “Vow” (tentative translation). Mr. Ikeda delivered key points from each chapter of volume 30, pointing out that at every critical juncture in the history of kosen-rufu, President Ikeda went to America.

In a poignant message to the event, President Ikeda crystallized his expectations for the American youth, saying in part: “You and I are inextricably bound at the most profound level by the daimoku we chant to realize our vow for kosen-rufu . . . You have all grown, standing resolute, as grand and gallant as young lions. Lions never succumb nor do they ever retreat. Lions leap ahead, roar, battle and win without fail. I therefore firmly entrust each of you with the torch of justice, the heart of the lion king that I together with the everyday champions of our movement have kept ablaze over the years. I do this because there is no one I believe in and trust more than I do you”

February 3. Kansai Local Exchange Meetings

Departing Tokyo for a two-and-a-half hour bullet train ride, the youth headed to Kansai for the remainder of the training course. There, they broke out into 10 local exchange meetings across Kansai region. In December, when the Kansai members first heard about the American youth visiting them, each block (equivalent to the group level in the SGI-USA) determined to introduce at least one person to the practice. By the time of their arrival on Feb. 3, every block throughout Kansai had accomplished their goal.

Local Exchange Meeting. Photo by Justin Kunimoto AND Yvonne Ng.

At each local meeting, the youth of the SGI-USA and Kansai exchanged vows through the “Ever-Victorious Declaration in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu,” which encompasses three eternally shared pledges:

1: We vow to be eternally
ever-victorious and lead
worldwide kosen-rufu
with the motto
“Never be defeated.”

2: Work together in unity
and triumphantly open
the future of worldwide
kosen-rufu based on the
daimoku of “many in body, one in mind.”

Local Exchange Meeting. Photo by Justin Kunimoto AND Yvonne Ng.

3: We vow to eternally
uphold the spirit of the
oneness of mentor
and disciple
and wholeheartedly
dedicate our lives to
fighting alongside our
mentor as true disciples
of Ikeda Sensei.

Kansai. February 4:
The youth launched their final day of the training course by visiting the Nakanoshima Central Civic Hall, a treasured landmark in the Soka Gakkai’s history.

SGI-USA youth division representatives at the Osaka City Central Public Hall (Nakanoshima Civic Hall), in Nakanoshima, Osaka. (February 4, 2017). Photo by Seikyo Press.

On July 3, 1957, the 29-year-old Daisaku Ikeda was arrested in Osaka on false charges of election law violations. In reality, this was an attempt to suppress the Soka Gakkai’s burgeoning people’s movement. The police subjected him to repeated verbal abuse in closed interrogations and, on one occasion, paraded him outdoors in handcuffs in an attempt to publicly humiliate him.

“It was clear that the authorities had their sights set on implicating [second Soka Gakkai President Josei] Toda,” SGI President Ikeda recalled of that incident. “I therefore firmly resolved to act as a shield and prevent them from laying so much as a finger on my mentor” (Oct. 22, 2010, World Tribune, p. 10).

On July 17, President Ikeda was released from jail. That evening, 20,000 members attended a rally with him at the Nakanoshima Central Civic Hall to reaffirm the united spirit of mentor and disciple to fight undaunted against those forces that aim to destroy what is true and just.

After a trial spanning nearly five years, on Jan. 25, 1962, President Ikeda was fully exonerated of all charges. At this historic site pulsating with the oneness of mentor and disciple, the American youth took a commemorative photo, expressing their vow to always advance with the Ever-Victorious Kansai spirit to never be defeated.

Headquarters Leaders Meeting

The main highlight of the training course was the 31st Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting, held in conjunction with the Kansai General Meeting, at the Soka Gakkai Kansai Toda Memorial Auditorium in Toyonaka City, Osaka. Some 35,000 additional members in Kansai joined the meeting via live video feed.

In his message to the gathering, SGI President Ikeda welcomed the American youth, addressing them as the “young lions of justice of the SGI-USA” and recognizing their efforts to share Buddhism with others (see p. 2 for full message). In the past year, the 201 SGI-USA youth participants collectively helped 577 friends receive the Gohonzon and begin their Buddhist practice with the SGI.

SGI-USA youth division representatives at the 31st Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting of the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu. (February 4, 2017) Photo by Seikyo Press.

The SGI-USA youth presented President Ikeda with a 50,000 Lions of Justice flag, which he requested be displayed at the meeting.

SGI-USA Young Men’s Leader Mike O’Malley reflected on this gesture, saying: “If Sensei is displaying this flag for millions of members around the world to see, he must have complete conviction that we will accomplish our gathering of 50,000 Lions of Justice.” Mr. O’Malley also noted that President Ikeda has physically visited the U.S. 27 times but “by sharing our vow as youth of America to eternalize the Soka Gakkai spirit, this, in a way, is the grandest 28th visit for Sensei.”

The meeting held deep significance for both the U.S. and Kansai members, as it marked 25 years since Kansai representatives traveled to the U.S. to attend the Second SGI-USA General Meeting and the First International Kansai General Meeting, held on Jan. 27, 1993, in Santa Monica, California. At this meeting, President Ikeda declared: “Kansai is the heart of the kosen-rufu movement in Japan; Los Angeles, in America; and America, in the world” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 202). He also presented the U.S. members with the seminal poem “The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land,” in which he urged the members to develop within themselves the dynamic life condition of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth and usher in a new age of hope and respect for humanity.

At the headquarters leaders meeting, SGI-USA Young Women’s Leader Olivia Saito gave an activity report on behalf of the youth of America. She noted that the U.S. is suffering from growing division, hatred and fundamental disrespect for human life. At the same time, she continued, countless youth have arisen, yearning for hope and ready to make a change in society. “That is why now is the time that each youth must fulfill their vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth and passionately engage in Buddhist dialogue, one after another, fulfilling our great mission for kosenrufu together with Sensei.” Ms. Saito reported that through this burning resolve to respond to the mentor, the SGI-USA welcomed 10,766 new members last year, of which 5,649 were youth.

SGI-USA youth representatives at the 31st Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting, Toyonaka City, Osaka, Feb. 4, 2018. The group attended the meeting as part of the historic First SGI-USA Chapter Through National Youth Leaders Training Course, held Feb. 1–4 in Tokyo and Osaka. Photo by Seikyo Press.

“Our campaign toward our 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival is not merely about rallying 50,000 youth,” she said. “I am absolutely convinced that it will be a turning point for the SGI-USA to create a solidarity of justice to show America and the world that we, the disciples of President Ikeda, will not sit back idly, watching violence and oppression threaten the sanctity of human life.”

Onstage Ms. Saito then called out to the American youth: “SGI-USA youth, let’s stand up and sing for our mentor!” All 201 immediately rose up from their seats to powerfully sing “Lions of Justice Vow,” which was streamed live for President Ikeda.

Advancing toward March 16

In his address at the headquarters leaders meeting, Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada emphasized that the members in Japan are vigorously engaging in shakubuku toward the March 16, Kosen-rufu Day, gathering of 600,000 youth. Regarding the spirit of propagation, Mr. Harada emphasized that shakubuku and member care go hand in hand. He noted that while shakubuku produces conspicuous, sometimes immediate results and praise, if we only focus on this, people can grow self-satisfied and arrogant. On the other hand, such inconspicuous efforts as personal guidance and member care are what make the organization strong and enable capable people to flourish. Those who support members in this way will never be swayed, because they must self-reflect to support others and guide them on the correct path of faith, he said. All our efforts to encourage others and enable them to become happy in the end are also efforts to achieve happiness ourselves.

Reflecting on this point and Ever-Victorious Kansai’s legacy, SGI-USA Youth Leader David Witkowski said he was reminded of the absolute workings of the Mystic Law of cause and effect. During the Osaka Campaign of 1956, the 28-year-old Daisaku Ikeda led the introduction of 11,111 households to Nichiren Buddhism in a single month, creating a blueprint for turning the impossible into the possible through faith. In and around the time of that campaign, President Ikeda personally visited and encouraged 8,000 individuals within 180 days, roughly 45 visits every day. There is a famous adage that “there is no corner of Kansai that Sensei has not walked.” The key to President Ikeda’s victory was his serious effort to offer each person one-to-one encouragement and cherish each individual.

Local Exchange Meeting. Photo by Justin Kunimoto AND Yvonne Ng.

“The effect was 11,111 families joining but the cause was Sensei’s personal encouragement to several thousand members, thereby igniting their shakubuku spirit,” Mr. Witkowski said. “Let’s learn from our mentor’s example and win each battle in front of us, starting with the March 18 youth leaders meeting,” he said. “Let’s inspire every unit through national youth leader to advance intrepidly toward our historic 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival!”

(p. 6-10)