Feature

Celebrating the Life of Josei Toda

My Mentor, Josei Toda

Photo by Torsakarin/Getty Images.


This essay from SGI President Ikeda’s “Our Brilliant Path to Victory” series originally appeared in the May 7 and June 11, 2010, issues of the World Tribune.

In this life,
win victory with the noble spirit
of mentor and disciple.

Thomas Edison (1847–1931), who brightened the world with his inventions, is admired by many for his service and contributions to humanity. He stands out all the more for his altruistic spirit, which saw him take the greatest joy in being able to share the inventions that were the fruit of his arduous labors for the benefit of humankind.

Edison was born on February 11, 1847, a date that now shines in history. By strange coincidence, born on that very same day some five decades later, in 1900, was second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, who went on to illuminate the world with a great, new spiritual light for the peace and happi-ness of humanity. As direct disciples who feel a deep karmic connection with Mr. Toda, my wife and I regard his birthday as the happiest day of the year. Whenever it arrives, the golden memories of my days of youthful struggle alongside my mentor come flooding back.

Once Mr. Toda said to me with a smile: “When it comes to talking about [first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo] Makiguchi, I could go on forever.” I also feel the same way about my own mentor. I could talk about Mr. Toda for hours, for days, and still have more to say. As the third Soka Gakkai president and heir to the Soka Gakkai spirit, I have a lifelong duty and mission to communicate to the world and pass on to future generations the true greatness and integrity of my mentor.

Furthermore, this year [2010] is the 110th anniversary of Mr. Toda’s birth in Ishikawa Prefecture in the Hokuriku region of Japan.[1]Hokuriku region comprises Ishikawa, Fukui and Toyama prefectures, and is located along the coast of the Sea of Japan in the central area of Japan’s main island.

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda encourages a mother and her child at a meeting, 1957. Photos by Seikyo Press.

• • • •

The hometowns of our mentors,
adorned with the benefit and victory
of everlasting happiness.

This winter, heavy snows have fallen in many parts of northern Japan, including the Hokuriku region, where Mr. Toda was born; Hokkaido, where he grew up; the Shin’etsu region,[2]Shin’etsu region comprises Nagano and Niigata prefectures. where founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was born; and also the Tohoku region,[3]Tohoku region comprises
Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima prefectures, which are located in the northern part of the Japanese main island of Honshu.
for which both had a great love. Our members living in those areas are all working for kosen-rufu in high spirits.

Indeed, many SGI members around the world are striving valiantly in cold regions, not least our staunch members in Iceland and Alaska. I am praying for the good health and safety of all our members living in northern climates at this time of year.

On this 110th anniversary of Mr. Toda’s birth, my heart is filled with an even deeper sense of gratitude to my mentor. Through the example of Mr. Toda, who was an exceptional mentor in faith, I wish to reconfirm with you some essential attributes of a leader of kosen-rufu.

• • • •

First, Mr. Toda was a disciple who was unparalleled in his sincere commitment to repaying his debt of gratitude to his mentor, Mr. Makiguchi.

The Chinese character for “sincerity” (Jpn makoto) is composed of two components, which together literally mean “to live up to one’s words.” One dictionary definition of it is “to act with integrity.” In other words, sincerity requires taking action. Mr. Toda’s life was a perfect embodiment of sincerity—for he completely realized his mentor’s vision and his own vow as a disciple.

Having triumphed over the ordeal of two years’ imprisonment for his beliefs during World War II, he wrote in a letter to an acquaintance (dated September 1945):

Accompanying my mentor, Mr. Makiguchi, joining him in enduring persecution for the sake of the Lotus Sutra, I practiced faith in solitary confinement and underwent hard-ships that defy description. But, thanks to this, I was able to experience what it means
to “read the Lotus Sutra with one’s life.” I explored the profound depths of the Buddhist scriptures and, at length, I perceived the Buddha and understood the Law.

Mr. Toda comprehended at the core of his being the principle of “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land” that lies at the heart of Nichiren Buddhism, which seeks to free all people from suffering and pave the way to lasting world peace.

“With the achievement of a membership of 750,000 households, I will show the world the
true greatness of Mr. Makiguchi, who died in prison for his beliefs!”

He once solemnly stated: “I’ve done just as Mr. Makiguchi instructed. This is the way of mentor and disciple.” And another time, he said: “Without retreating a single step, I will definitely vindicate Mr. Makiguchi by widely propagating Nichiren Buddhism.”

What were the key points Mr. Toda focused on when he launched his solitary struggle after the war to rebuild the Soka Gakkai, which was then in a state of virtual collapse? They were steadfast personal guidance, enjoyable discussion meetings, thoroughgoing Buddhist study, and introducing others to the practice with compassion and integrity. Going back to the basics of the Soka Gakkai in this way, Mr. Toda led by taking personal initiative—something Mr. Makiguchi had valued highly.

• • • •

“With the achievement of a membership of 750,000 households, I will show the world the true greatness of Mr. Makiguchi, who died in prison for his beliefs!”

This was the impassioned vow made by Mr. Toda on the unforgettable occasion of his inaugu-ration as second Soka Gakkai president on May 3, 1951. The great leader of kosen-rufu had risen to action. As a youth who was his genuine disciple, I was deeply inspired watching him make this powerful declaration.

In February 1952 when I was 24—with Mr. Toda having decided it was time to dispatch me to work on the front lines of kosen-rufu—I was assigned to my first important campaign. This was the so-called February Campaign,[4]February Campaign: In February 1952, SGI President Ikeda, then an adviser to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter, initiated a dynamic propagation campaign. Together with the Kamata members, he broke through the previous monthly record of some 100 new member households by introducing Nichiren Buddhism to 201 new member households. in which the members of Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter and I achieved a breakthrough that opened the way to accomplishing Mr. Toda’s cherished membership goal of 750,000 households. At the start of the campaign, I called on the members: “Let’s celebrate this month of Nichiren Daishonin’s and Mr. Toda’s birth with a brilliant victory!” And so we embarked on a historic expansion effort rooted in the shared struggle of mentor and disciple.

I further stressed to the Kamata members: “Our efforts for kosen-rufu need to begin with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It’s also important that we value and respect our neighbors and those in our immediate environment. And we must confidently share with others the personal experiences we have gained through practicing Nichiren Buddhism.”

I threw myself wholeheartedly into the front lines of the struggle. What does working on the front lines signify? It means taking care of each member, doing home visits and having one-to-one dialogues.

The real challenge in our Buddhist practice comes when we are all alone. We need the resolve to strive in faith and win, even if no one else sees our efforts. The success of our movement lies in fostering countless courageous individuals who possess this stand-alone spirit.

That’s why I actively met with many people and engaged them in sincere dialogue. I went with my fellow members from one place to another to talk with friends about Nichiren Buddhism. And I put my whole heart into encouraging one person after another. I took action burning with deep joy arising from my gratitude to my mentor and a driving passion for kosen-rufu.

Moreover, I went to the areas struggling the most and the places where our members were facing the greatest obstacles. The members working with me seemed to respond to my earnest dedication, and their attitudes and the way they carried themselves changed by the day. Nichiren Daishonin writes, “When your mind begins to work, your body moves” (“Concerning the Statue of Shakyamuni Buddha Fashioned by Nichigen-nyo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 811). Similarly, our joyous hearts made us walk with lighter steps. Soon members throughout the front lines of the chapter followed our lead and began taking courageous action for kosen-rufu.

• • • •

When a lofty spirit nourishes the ground of our organization and the ground of where our efforts for kosen-rufu take place, people of invincible strength will be fostered.

During the February Campaign, an irrepressible wish to strive alongside Mr. Toda and realize his treasured dream swept through Kamata Chapter. That’s why we were able to create an explosion of joyous dialogue, with each individual member realizing remarkable personal growth.

Nichiren writes, “Rejoicing is to have faith and having faith is to rejoice” (Gosho zenshu, p. 835).[5]“Oko Kikigaki” (The Recorded Lectures); not included in WND, vols. 1 and 2. When we rejoice and boldly break through one part of a barrier, it will open the way to pulling the entire barrier down.

As a result of our efforts in the February Campaign, we achieved an unprecedented accomplishment of introducing Nichiren Buddhism to 201 new households in a single month, at a time when the record in even the largest chapters was less than 100 new households a month.

Anything can be accomplished if we try hard enough!—this courageous and confident spirit spread throughout the members of Kamata Chapter and those in the rest of Japan, and the Soka Gakkai took off toward actualizing a membership of 750,000 households.

At present, I am engaged in a discussion with Dr. Jim Garrison and Dr. Larry Hickman, two members of the John Dewey Society in the United States. Dr. Garrison remarked that he thought it most significant that Mr. Toda and I, and more importantly the Soka Gakkai, turned the seeming defeat of Mr. Makiguchi’s death in prison into “victory and immortality.”[6]See Jim Garrison, Larry
Hickman and Daisaku Ikeda, “A New Groundswell for Humanistic Education—Dewey and Soka Education,” (tentative English translation) in Todai (Beacon) magazine, February 2010 issue.
The path of the first three presidents is the brilliant path of justice and continual triumph.

Repaying our debt of gratitude to the mentor means achieving victory without fail as disciples. Exerting myself tirelessly for kosen-rufu as Mr. Toda’s disciple for more than 60 years, I have won in every struggle, and this is my greatest pride.

• • • •

On February 11, 1990, 20 years ago, the eyes of the world were focused on one person: Nelson Mandela, who had triumphed in his struggle and was finally being released from prison after more than 27 years.

As a disciple of Mr. Toda, who had also been imprisoned for his beliefs, I observed the heroic triumph of this invincible South African champion of human rights with much joy. By great good fortune, we met in Japan eight months later (in October) at Mr. Mandela’s request and went on to form a close friendship.

Having subsequently played an important role in abolishing the infamous system of apartheid, Mr. Mandela was elected South African president [in 1994]. In his autobiography, he stated, “I never lost hope that this great transformation would occur . . . because of the courage of the ordinary men and women of my country. ”[7]Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography
of Nelson Mandela (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994), p. 542.

• • • •

Great are the ordinary people—this was the deeply held conviction of Mr. Toda, an indomitable champion of the Mystic Law.

The second attribute of a leader of kosen-rufu we should eternally learn from Mr. Toda and pass on to future generations is this spirit of placing the people first.

Mr. Toda always aligned himself with the people, and he shared the joys and struggles of members striving bravely on the front lines of society. “Let’s reach out to those who are suffering the most,” he said. “Isn’t it the Soka Gakkai’s mission to be their ally, share with them the greatness of the Mystic Law, and help them become happy?”

There were also many members who applied themselves energetically to their jobs, who deeply took to heart his guidance: “In faith, do the work of one; in your job, do the work of three.” It was a priceless and concrete piece of advice based on the passage from Nichiren’s writings “Regard your service to your lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra” (“Reply to a Believer,” WND-1, 905). It was the kind of advice that indolent priests, who shunned hard work and spent their days in idleness and useless chatter, could never provide.

Day and night, Mr. Toda listened sincerely to the worries and concerns of members. He quickly discerned the innate qualities of the person he was talking to and gave guidance that would help them enhance those qualities and bring them to shine positively in their lives. He imparted courage and hope for absolute victory in life, based on Nichiren Buddhism, which enables people to change their karma and do their human revolution.

• • • •

Mr. Toda especially valued and respected women. He once said, “Women should strive in faith to make their life force shine its brightest and savor life’s happiness to the fullest” and “As long as women have a strong sense of responsibility and don’t lose their keen insight, the Soka Gakkai will be sound.” Mr. Toda fostered a great alliance of women, experts in the art of happiness, who weren’t defeated by harsh karmic trials or unfair treatment in society.

• • • •

The Soka Gakkai cannot exist apart from the foundation of ordinary people. There is no Soka Gakkai separate from the ordinary people strug-gling with life’s various problems. Or rather, the Soka Gakkai is the people themselves. That’s why the victory of the Soka Gakkai translates into the victory of the people.

In “The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” the Daishonin writes: “A common mortal is an entity of the three bodies [the Dharma body, the reward body, and the manifested body of the Buddha], and a true Buddha. A Buddha is a function of the three bodies, and a provisional Buddha” (WND-1, 384). As he points out, “a true Buddha” does not exist apart from the foundation of “common mortals.” A true Buddha does not reign over the people but is always among them and living alongside them.

Mr. Toda hated being called “a living Buddha” or “a religious founder.” He would laugh uproariously and say, “I’m a proud common mortal!”

In one of his lectures on the Lotus Sutra to the student division members, he stated:

The basic position of Nichiren Buddhism is that a Buddha exists because living beings exist. When you consider the events of the world from this perspective, teachers exist because students exist, and Soka Gakkai leaders exist because the noble members exist. Anyone who becomes conceited or filled with self-importance, because they’re a top leader or some famous individual in society, is bound to go off track. Never behave arrogantly or let others do the same.

“The Soka Gakkai is always on the side of the people”—this is the fundamental spirit that Mr. Toda taught us.

• • • •

Third, Mr. Toda was a gifted teacher who especially loved the youth and worked unstintingly to foster them.

In my youth, I decided I had to give up my studies at night school because I was determined to wholeheartedly support Mr. Toda and assist him in overcoming his business difficulties. But to make up for that, Mr. Toda personally gave me one-to-one instruction in a wide array of subjects. This is what I now proudly refer to as my schooling at “Toda University.” And this year [2010] is the 60th anniversary of its start [in 1950].

Mr. Toda was a very strict teacher. He never permitted me to be lax or make excuses. His lessons weren’t only from textbooks. Whenever we met, no matter where or when, he would ask: “What book are you reading now? What is it about?” He had the uncompromising intensity of a master swordsmith forging raw metal into a fine sword.

President Toda encourages members who greet him on a railway platform, 1956. Photo by Seikyo Press.

All of the academic honors that I have received over the years from universities and institutions across the globe I owe to the instruction and training I received at “Toda University.” I have accepted each of these honors with the spirit of participating in the ceremonies with Mr. Toda at
my side and dedicating them to him.

I wrote in my diary in the year in which my studies at “Toda University” began: “Youth must not be timid . . . Must never be content with what I’ve achieved so far. ”[8]Daisaku Ikeda, A Youthful
Diary: One Man’s Journey from the Beginning of Faith to Worldwide Leadership for Peace (Santa Monica, California: World Tribune Press, 2000), p. 24.
In our youth, the desire to learn itself becomes fuel for our personal growth and success. The Daishonin writes, “To discard the shallow and seek the profound is the way of a person of courage” (“On the Buddha’s Prophecy,” WND-1, 402).

My youthful successors: Your development will assure the victory of Soka; your actions will create hope for the entire world!

Currently, I am using every opportunity I can to foster young disciples. I’ve begun an ongoing dialogue with youth division representatives, titled “Youth and the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin,”[9]SGI President Ikeda’s lecture series was published as Youth and the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin in 2012 by World Tribune Press, Santa Monica, California. out of a commitment to complete the training of youth by providing them a firm grounding in Buddhist study.

“What matters most about a person are their principles and their actions”—this was Mr. Toda’s conclusion. You, the youth division members who uphold the foremost philosophy of the sanctity of life, have the mission to carry out worldwide kosen-rufu in the 21st century. And you each have a responsibility to hold aloft the banner of victory and peace in the place where you are right now, in whatever part of the world you may be.

• • • •

Mr. Toda cared dearly about the happiness and welfare of the members of the young women’s division, who “open the gateway” (see “The Treasure of a Child,” WND-2, 884) to the victory of Soka.

Once, at a meeting where mainly women’s and men’s division members were present, he asked the young women who were sitting at the very back of the room to come to the front, and offered them personal encouragement. No matter how busy he was, he always answered the questions of young women’s division members kindly and patiently, citing Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and explaining Buddhist concepts to them.

Mr. Toda once said to a young women’s division member, “If you aren’t going to create happiness in the place where you are now, where else are you going to find it?” We must develop inner strength. We need to transform ourselves and become people who aren’t defeated by life’s struggles.
The English poet John Milton (1608–74) wrote, “Our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion.”[10]John Milton, Areopagitica (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor, 2008), p. 43.

I hope you will continue challenging yourselves based on your Buddhist practice and bring victory to bloom in your communities and societies.

Anything can be accomplished when one person rises to action with a solid,
self-reliant commitment.

• • • •

To sum up, then, the three points that Mr. Toda treasured above all were: 1) the path of mentor and disciple, 2) the ordinary people and 3) the youth.

Remaining true to the path of mentor and disciple, respecting the ordinary people and fostering the youth—these represent the timeless guidelines for the resounding victory of Soka.

In contrast, the priesthood—who lost sight of Nichiren Daishonin’s spirit, ridiculed the ordinary people and looked down on the youth—has walked a path of miserable decline.

Be that as it may, the important thing is to have a stand-alone spirit. When Mr. Toda was inaugurated as the second president of the Soka Gakkai, he vowed that he would personally take on the task of kosen-rufu. Rather than relying on others, we each need to stand up decisively and begin with taking action ourselves.

Mr. Toda offered the following well-known guidance to the members of the youth division, when it had grown to approximately 20,000 members: “It just takes one person—one person standing alone. Anything can be accomplished when one person rises to action with a solid, self-reliant commitment.”

• • • •

The power one person possesses is unfathomable.

In the historic Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE, the Greek army won a significant victory against the Persian Empire. There was one youth among the Greeks who was considered the finest and on whom everyone had placed high hopes. But, for some reason, perhaps a lack of vigilance, he was struck down even before the battle began.[11]See Herodotus: Books VIII–IX, translated by A. D.
Godley (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981), vol. 4, p. 245.
In contrast, it was a person who had frequently been insulted and dismissed as cowardly whom the history books record to be the hero of the day for having fought most courageously and performed the greatest deeds in the actual battle.[12]See ibid., p. 243. A person’s true worth is demonstrated at a crucial moment.

In the great struggle for kosen-rufu, you are all capable individuals with a noble mission. As all of you encourage and help one another grow and develop, please give full play to the wonderful abilities and potential you each possess.

• • • •

Today, many international leaders of peace are expressing their praise and respect for Mr. Toda’s Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.[13]On September 8, 1957, Mr. Toda issued a declaration calling for a ban on the testing and use of nuclear weapons. The declaration, announced in a speech at a Soka Gakkai youth division athletic event held in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, is considered the starting point of the Soka Gakkai’s activities for peace.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, former president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, once stated that Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and Josei Toda are three individuals who were far ahead of their times on the issue of nuclear weapons.[14]Translated from Japanese.
Article in the July 29, 2005, edition of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

My mentor’s name and achievements are beginning to shine with eternal brilliance in the annals of human history.

Incidentally, an exhibition titled “The Challenge of Eliminating Nuclear Weapons and the Transformation of the Human Spirit” opened on February 11, 2010, in Kanazawa city—located in the Hokuriku region, where Mr. Toda was born.

• • • •

The American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) declared: “He is great who confers the most benefits. He is base . . . to receive favors and render none. ”[15]Ralph Waldo Emerson,“Compensation,” in Essays and Lectures (New York: The Library of America, 1983), p. 295.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the some 10 years of training I received from Mr. Toda. I have carried on my struggle in the half-century since his passing, firmly believing that my mentor has imparted his life to me, urging me to live on in his stead. That is why I will devote this life, which has been trained and fostered by my mentor, to his ardent wish for kosen-rufu—the happiness and victory of the people.

There is no greater joy or honor in life than striving with the same spirit as our mentor and thereby repaying our boundless debt of gratitude as disciples.

The courageous heart
of a champion,
through faith,
unlocks a wellspring
of boundless and immeasurable strength.

(pp. 12-19)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hokuriku region comprises Ishikawa, Fukui and Toyama prefectures, and is located along the coast of the Sea of Japan in the central area of Japan’s main island.
2. Shin’etsu region comprises Nagano and Niigata prefectures.
3. Tohoku region comprises
Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata and Fukushima prefectures, which are located in the northern part of the Japanese main island of Honshu.
4. February Campaign: In February 1952, SGI President Ikeda, then an adviser to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter, initiated a dynamic propagation campaign. Together with the Kamata members, he broke through the previous monthly record of some 100 new member households by introducing Nichiren Buddhism to 201 new member households.
5. “Oko Kikigaki” (The Recorded Lectures); not included in WND, vols. 1 and 2.
6. See Jim Garrison, Larry
Hickman and Daisaku Ikeda, “A New Groundswell for Humanistic Education—Dewey and Soka Education,” (tentative English translation) in Todai (Beacon) magazine, February 2010 issue.
7. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography
of Nelson Mandela (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994), p. 542.
8. Daisaku Ikeda, A Youthful
Diary: One Man’s Journey from the Beginning of Faith to Worldwide Leadership for Peace (Santa Monica, California: World Tribune Press, 2000), p. 24.
9. SGI President Ikeda’s lecture series was published as Youth and the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin in 2012 by World Tribune Press, Santa Monica, California.
10. John Milton, Areopagitica (Rockville, Maryland: Arc Manor, 2008), p. 43.
11. See Herodotus: Books VIII–IX, translated by A. D.
Godley (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981), vol. 4, p. 245.
12. See ibid., p. 243.
13. On September 8, 1957, Mr. Toda issued a declaration calling for a ban on the testing and use of nuclear weapons. The declaration, announced in a speech at a Soka Gakkai youth division athletic event held in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, is considered the starting point of the Soka Gakkai’s activities for peace.
14. Translated from Japanese.
Article in the July 29, 2005, edition of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.
15. Ralph Waldo Emerson,“Compensation,” in Essays and Lectures (New York: The Library of America, 1983), p. 295.