Feature

The Brazil Grand Culture Festival, 1984

Soka Gakkai Culture Festivals

The Brazil Grand Culture Festival. Photo by Seikyo Press.


On February 19, 1984, SGI President Ikeda stepped foot in Brazil for the first time in 18 years. His previous visit was in March 1966, when, due to the country’s newly established dictatorship and suspicion of the burgeoning lay Buddhist movement, he was kept under police surveillance everywhere he went. The government had accepted as truth bogus rumors that the Soka Gakkai was intending a political takeover. Eight years later, in March 1974, President Ikeda planned a visit to Brazil, but the government denied his visa, forcing him to cancel the trip. The Brazilian members, initially discouraged, stood up with the determination to win undeniable trust in society, which culminated in President Ikeda receiving a personal invitation from the Brazilian president to visit the country in 1982. After an 18-year absence, President Ikeda returned to Brazil in February 1984. During this trip, he traveled the country to encourage members, met with leading figures in society to build further ties of trust and friendship, and attended the Brazil Grand Culture Festival on February 26, 1984.

President Ikeda surprises the youth performers when he walks into the rehearsal the day before the Brazil Grand Culture Festival, São Paulo, Brazil, February 1984. Photo by Seiko Press.

 

Undaunted by Intimidation of the Authorities

SGI President Ikeda shares the following recollection of his first visit to Brazil, in March 1966, in volume 11 of The New Human Revolution, pp. 50–53. He appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.

Shin’ichi Yamamoto then turned to Yasuhiro Saiki and said: “The situation here in Brazil requires a concentrated effort by members to convey a correct understanding of the Soka Gakkai to Brazilian society. This cannot be achieved, however, simply by writing articles for Soka Gakkai publications. The most important thing is to use your voice and conduct dialogue with others. Life-to-life communication is crucial.

“The best way to do this is for each member to go out and make an effort to speak clearly and honestly to their fellow citizens about the correctness of Nichiren Buddhism and our organization. It is also vital to extend our network of friendship and trust as widely as possible, as this is the foundation for dialogue.”

At that moment, Yasuhiro’s expression became tense, and he whispered to Shin’ichi: “Sensei, there’s a heavyset middle-aged man with brown hair sitting on the bench just behind you. He is well known as a high-ranking officer of the secret police.”

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Shin’ichi turned around and walked directly to the officer. He remembered the man, for he had seen him at the culture festival. Shin’ichi stood before him. The man’s face stiffened, and a wary look appeared in his eyes. The Brazilian members watched with bated breath, wondering what would happen next.

Shin’ichi greeted the police officer politely and smiled as he said: “I see you are working hard very early in the morning. Though I have been in your presence several times, I am sorry that I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Shin’ichi Yamamoto, president of the Soka Gakkai. I’m very happy to meet you.”

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A discussion ensued between Shini’ichi and the officer in the restaurant, with the aid of an interpreter. Shin’ichi came straight to the point and said: “I think that after seeing our culture festival and the meeting following it, you must have a good understanding of what we are about. The Soka Gakkai has absolutely no intention of upsetting the social order. Our desire is to realize social prosperity and the happiness of all people.

“It is also the aim of our members to become trusted individuals and to make positive contri-butions to society as good citizens. The Soka Gakkai is by no means a dangerous organization, as has been reported by certain sectors of the media.”

Shin’ichi then went on to explain why the Soka Gakkai had become involved in politics in Japan and that it had no ambition to engage in political activities in any other nation. He also elucidated the goals of the organization and talked about Nichiren Buddhism from various angles. He was determined not to waste this opportunity to change the attitude of Brazil’s secret police toward the Soka Gakkai.

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As the officer listened to Shin’ichi Yamamoto, his stern expression gradually softened. Shin’ichi continued: “If you have any questions about the Soka Gakkai, or anything you’d like to say, please feel free. We would very much appreciate hearing your honest opinion.”

The officer replied quite amicably: “Having observed your various activities during your visit, I am convinced that the Soka Gakkai is not a dangerous organization that seeks to disrupt Brazilian society. We are relieved to have discovered this, and in fact, we have great hopes for your movement.”

A Reunion After 18 Years

President Ikeda writes of his return to Brazil after 18 years, at the invitation of the country’s president, in volume 11 of The New Human Revolution, pp. 78–79.

On February 25, the day before the Brazil Grand Culture Festival, President Ikeda entered the stadium and surprised the performers during rehearsal. The following excerpt captures this moment. He appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.

Shin’ichi Yamamoto also poured his life into inspiring the members in each area he visited. On February 25, he made an appearance at the Ibrapuera Gymnasium, the state sports arena in São Paulo—where members were rehearsing for the Brazil Grand Culture Festival that would be held the following day—to encourage the participants. Shin’ichi was determined to meet with and encourage as many Brazilian members as possible. When he stepped into the arena, he was met with joyous cheers and thunderous applause. Everyone had been eagerly anticipating this encounter.

He then walked once around the arena stage, raising his arms in the air as he did so in greeting to the participants. Later, speaking into a microphone, he said with deep emotion: “I am so happy that after 18 years I am at last able to meet with all of you, my dear friends and noble emissaries of the Buddha, on this wonderful occasion!

“I am certain that this magnificent culture festival will shine gloriously in the annals of Brazil and of kosen-rufu. One can only imagine the struggles you have faced and just how valiantly you have forged ahead in solid unity in order to arrive at this point. I would like to convey my most profound respect and appreciation to all of you. In my heart, I am embracing each and every one of you, and shaking your hand.

“Nichiren Buddhism gives rise to the creation of a culture that will build a new century. I wish to declare that this teaching is the unparalleled path to realizing a world of true happiness and peace.”

 

(pp. 26-29)