Feature

Daisaku Ikeda’s First Step as a Disciple of Josei Toda

Seventy years later, lessons gleaned from Daisaku Ikeda’s time working for Josei Toda’s company.

Photo by Debra Williams.


Photo by Debra Williams.

August 14, 1947. Daisaku Ikeda was 19 years old when he attended his first Soka Gakkai discussion meeting amid the devastation of a war-torn, defeated Japan. His eldest brother, Kiichi, had been killed during World War II and his family home destroyed in an air raid. What’s more, he suffered from poor health and was not expected to live past age 30.

The young Daisaku was earnestly searching for a sound life philosophy and a mentor to guide him, yet, like others his age, he had lost all trust in authority. The values touted by the nation’s once-revered politicians and religious figures had led the nation to ruin.

At that first Soka Gakkai discussion meeting, he posed several questions to Josei Toda, including: “What is a true patriot?” and “What is a correct way of life?”

“When I think of our family, our country and our turbulent world,” Mr. Toda responded, “I want to eliminate all misery and suffering from the face of the earth. This is what the movement for kosen-rufu is all about. Will you join me?”[1]October 16, 2009, World Tribune, p. 4.

Instinctively, he felt that he could trust Mr. Toda. The young Daisaku was so deeply inspired, in fact, that he rose to his feet and recited an impromptu poem:

Traveler,
From whence do you come?
And where do you go?
The moon has set,
But the sun has not yet risen.
In the chaos of darkness before
the dawn
Seeking the light,
I advance
To dispel the dark clouds from
my mind
To find a great tree unbowed
by the tempest
I emerge from the earth.[2]The Human Revolution, p. 233.

Ten days later, on August 24, 1947, Daisaku Ikeda received the Gohonzon and joined the Soka Gakkai, beginning his Buddhist practice in earnest. Just 16 months later, he took his first step as a disciple of Josei Toda.

Daisaku Ikeda, at age 21, joins Josei Toda’s publishing
company Nihon Shogakkan. Photo by Seikyo Press.

The Starting Point—Boys’ Adventure

January 3, 1949. In fall 1948, Daisaku Ikeda was asked to join Josei Toda’s publishing company Nihon Shogakkan. He was taken aback by the offer, as he was still a new Soka Gakkai member and was already employed and in night school.

But he had decided to take Mr. Toda as his mentor in life, and, thus, accepted the position, starting work on January 3, 1949. This month marks the 70th anniversary of this milestone.
The young Daisaku was 21 by then, and on his first day of work, he cleaned the office, scrubbing the floors and dusting the walls, before the first person arrived.

Recalling that time, SGI President Ikeda described the layout of the two-story office building, which was located in the Nishi-Kanda neighborhood of central Tokyo.

Management and business relations were conducted on the first floor. There was a mezzanine on the way to the second floor, which contained three rooms: one 12-by-12 feet, flanked by two 9-by-12-foot rooms. In one of these rooms to the rear, we did the editorial work.[3]My Recollections, p. 59.

President Toda had also begun using a room in the building to give lectures on the Lotus Sutra and personal guidance to Soka Gakkai members, making the Nihon Shogakkan, in effect, the first Soka Gakkai headquarters.

Daisaku Ikeda’s first assignment was to the editorial team of the magazine Boys’ Adventure—a dream come true, as he loved reading and writing essays and poetry.

Four months later, in May 1949, he was appointed as the magazine’s editor-in-chief, allowing him to fully exercise his literary creativity. After completing his first issue as editor-in-chief, Daisaku expressed his thoughts in his diary:

Finished the July issue of Boys’ Adventure. My maiden work. I advance in the cultural vanguard, in company with pure-hearted children. Will develop my editing to the limits of my ability, treating it as my dearest friend, or as my lover.[4]A Youthful Diary, p. 3.

The young Daisaku exerted himself to make Boy’s Adventure a world-class magazine, reaching out to well-known poets and essayists to contribute pieces and to popular illustrators to create artwork that would inspire hope in the children who read the magazine.

He often went to a bus or train station to see what kind of books or magazines children were reading and even asked them about their interests, giving him fresh ideas for the magazine. He also shared Buddhism with one of the famous illustrators, who seemed to be struggling deeply.

With the aim of reaching a wider audience, the magazine was renamed Boys’ Japan, starting with the October 1949 issue. But with the country in an economic tailspin, the magazine folded by its December 1949 issue.

Amid economic collapse Boys’ Japan is suspended.

October 25, 1949. The mood was somber as Josei Toda called an emergency meeting. The employees thought the company must be on the brink of financial ruin, given the rising number of cancelled subscriptions and book orders. But no one anticipated what came next. Addressing the employees, Mr. Toda said:

Taking into consideration the present situation, both within and without our company, anyone could draw this conclusion as a matter of course. In the end, it is nothing but this: Total suspension of the publication of our magazines![5]The Human Revolution, p. 475.

After a silence that seemed to last for an eternity, Mr. Toda finally spoke, encouraging the employees that he had a plan, but that it would take time to carry out. He asked them to be patient.

In the end, the young Daisaku Ikeda was the only employee to remain, determined to protect his mentor even if he could not receive a salary. He decided that to protect Mr. Toda was to protect kosen-rufu.

“I’ll always be your mentor”

Several days later, Josei Toda adapted his enterprise into the Toko Construction Credit Association, which seemed the only workable business model amid Japan’s steep road to economic recovery.

But less than a year later, on August 22, 1950, he was forced to fold the credit union.

On August 24, 1950, at a gathering of Soka Gakkai leaders, Mr. Toda announced his resignation as Soka Gakkai general director to shield the Soka Gakkai from his business difficulties, and appointed a successor.

Following the meeting, Daisaku Ikeda rushed to Mr. Toda’s office and asked whether he would should regard the new general director as his mentor. Mr. Toda responded: “No, not at all. I may cause you nothing but hardship, but I’ll always be your mentor.”[6]The New Human Revolution, vol. 23, p. 307.

On that day, Daisaku pledged to protect his mentor whatever the cost, and to stabilize his mentor’s businesses so that he could become Soka Gakkai president and take the helm of kosen-rufu.
During the period between December 1950 and May 1951, Daisaku traveled relentlessly throughout Tokyo and to neighboring cities to meet with business associates to settle debts and work out payment plans with those who owed money to Mr. Toda’s company.

During this time, he received a small salary intermittently. His shoes were falling apart, and he lacked proper clothing. He also remained in poor health, but was driven by the singular
determination to protect his mentor. He writes:

During that time, most of his fellow employees cursed Mr. Toda and quit one after another. Shin’ichi, however, did not waver. He did everything he could to protect Mr. Toda, struggling wholeheartedly to ensure that his mentor was able to become the second Soka Gakkai president and freely take the lead of the kosen-rufu movement.[7]The New Human Revolution,
vol. 18, p. 39.

Each day was an endless barrage of threats from creditors. During this most difficult time, Daisaku visited Mr. Toda’s home, where they chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together to strengthen their life force and persevere over their daunting struggles.

Daisaku pledged to protect his mentor whatever the cost, and to stabilize his mentor’s businesses so that he could become Soka Gakkai president and take the helm of kosen-rufu.

That night, Daisaku expressed his vow as a disciple in a poem to his mentor:

Still serving
an old
and mystic bond—
though others change
I alter not.[8]May 8, 2015, Future Journal, p. 3.

The next day, he presented the poem to Mr. Toda, who immediately responded with one of his own:

Whenever I stand
on the field of battle,
you are the faithful sword
I always keep
at my side.[9]Ibid.

In fall 1950, in the throes of their shared struggle as mentor and disciple to rebuild the Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda offered to personally tutor Daisaku each morning in a wide variety of subjects, including literature, physics, anthropology, philosophy and history. These sessions came to be know as “Toda University,” of which President Ikeda considers himself a proud graduate to this day.

A springtime of victory arrives

May 3, 1951. In early 1951, Josei Toda received a letter stating that certain depositors would take legal responsibility for his company, freeing him of all potential liability.

From that point on, as mentor and disciple, they began working toward developing the Soka Gakkai’s membership. On April 20, 1951, they published the first issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s newspaper. And on May 3, the long-awaited day arrived when Mr. Toda was inaugurated as second Soka Gakkai president, a truly glorious day, resulting from the shared struggle of mentor and disciple.

Although the Soka Gakkai had just 3,000 active members at the time, Mr. Toda vowed in his inauguration address to spread, by his own hand, the life-affirming philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism to 750,000 families in his lifetime. Waging a fierce struggle to pull people out of the acute misery and poverty that consumed postwar Japan, he proclaimed that day:

If my goal should not be attained by the end of my life, you need not hold a funeral for me, but just throw my remains into the sea off Shinagawa, all right?[10]The Human Revolution, p. 563.

Thoughts raced through Daisaku’s mind as he listened to his mentor’s speech, and he determined in his heart to help his mentor accomplish this goal that was so bold that some assumed President Toda had misspoken at his own inauguration. He resolved:

My mentor, without any worry, will finally meet a decisive moment. He has finished, so to speak, a perfect but difficult warm up. Ahead lie the important milestones in the unheard of goal of kosen-rufu. Since it is a decisive battle, we can never lose. If we lose, we will be ruined. We cannot be careless for even a moment throughout our lives, nor can we retreat. A historic sweeping advance will begin.[11]Ibid., p. 564.

Seventy years have passed since the young Daisaku, at 21, took his first step as a disciple of Josei Toda—their shared struggle of mentor and disciple resulting in the current worldwide transmission of Nichiren Buddhism to 192 countries and territories. Now, youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth, with the spirit of young Shin’ichi Yamamotos, are emerging in ever-growing numbers around the globe, ensuring that worldwide kosen-rufu, like a mighty river, will advance forward, ever forward.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. October 16, 2009, World Tribune, p. 4.
2. The Human Revolution, p. 233.
3. My Recollections, p. 59.
4. A Youthful Diary, p. 3.
5. The Human Revolution, p. 475.
6. The New Human Revolution, vol. 23, p. 307.
7. The New Human Revolution,
vol. 18, p. 39.
8. May 8, 2015, Future Journal, p. 3.
9. Ibid.
10. The Human Revolution, p. 563.
11. Ibid., p. 564.