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Significance of 2020

In 2020, the Year of Advancement and Capable People, the SGI will celebrate three historic milestones: May 3 marks 60 years since Daisaku Ikeda was inaugurated as the third Soka Gakkai president at the age of 32; October 2 is the 60th anniversary of President Ikeda’s arrival in Hawaii to launch his first journey outside Japan with the goal of actualizing kosen-rufu throughout the world; and November 18 is the 90th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding. The Living Buddhism staff sat down with SGI-USA General Director Adin Strauss, Women’s Leader Naoko Leslie, Men’s Leader Kevin Moncrief and Many Treasures Women’s Leader Kazue Elliot to discuss the significance of the time and how to advance victoriously in 2020.

Living Buddhism: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us about the significance of 2020. When President Ikeda came to the U.S. for the first time in October 1960, Buddhism had yet to transcend the framework of an Eastern religion. It was accessible only to intellectuals and the wealthy elite in the west. How should we view the 60th anniversary of his visit?

SGI-USA General Director Adin Strauss: The year 2020 is the stepping-off point for a new era. Everything that has happened in our history as a Buddhist community has meaning. This year is the time when, through our actions, we will make clear the profound significance of everything that has happened in the past, without exception, and use it as a launching point for the future.

SGI-USA Women’s Leader Naoko Leslie: I feel the same way. This is the year of blossoming. During Sensei’s first visit to America, he chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo throughout the land that Bodhisattvas of the Earth who would dedicate their lives to kosen-rufu and fight for world peace would emerge. He planted seeds of myoho (the Mystic Law) wherever he went.

I’m reminded of the story of the Oga Lotus. In 1952, in Chiba Prefecture where Nichiren Daishonin was born, a lotus seed that had been dormant for thousands of years suddenly blossomed. At the same time in Washington, D.C., a seed that was dormant for tens of thousands of years bloomed, too. This occurred in the 700th-anniversary year of the founding of Nichiren Buddhism.[1]

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda interpreted this as a sign of the great revival of Buddhism. Sensei was only 24 at the time, but he shared that it helped him solidify his determination to spread Buddhism in Asia, the United States and throughout the world (see The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, pp. 231–33).

The lotus flower blooms when the time is right. The groundwork has been laid, and I believe the 60th anniversary is the year for kosen-rufu to blossom in America.

In My Dear Friends in America, SGI President Ikeda cites the book The Cycles of American History, in which Dr. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. discusses the theory that American society undergoes change at intervals of 30 years, returning to the prime point of its founding ideals. The book notes how the 1930s saw America challenge its founding ideal of equality, symbolized by President Roosevelt’s New Deal. The 1960s were also a period of great change with the American Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of counterculture movements that caused a collective sea change in society.

And while President Ikeda gave this guidance in February 1990 (30 years after his first visit to America in 1960), in retrospect, we can see that 1990 also represented the start of a period of great change, with the emergence of the personal computer, cell phone and Internet, which have transformed every aspect of our lives and the world.

It’s also a reality that 1990 marked a momumental shift in SGI-USA’s history, when we returned once more to the prime point of the Gohonzon, the writings of Nichiren Daishonin and President Ikeda as our eternal mentor of kosen-rufu.

Adin: In that same vein, President Ikeda also noted that in a 30-year period, one generation is replaced by the next, with the emergence of a new, youthful generation.

For us, I think that this generation of SGI youth will be in the vanguard of a new movement that recognizes the dignity of each individual, transcending the core impulse to deny others or treat them in abstract ways. The SGI youth have the mission to become that generation. And now, in 2020, 30 years since President Ikeda’s historic visit in 1990, another 30-year period in our history will begin.

SGI-USA Men’s Leader Kevin Moncrief: I couldn’t agree more. This year represents the beginning of an era in which the SGI will play an increasingly important role in refocusing society on the magnificence of life. And, in order to make this philosophy of respect the spirit of the age, we, of the SGI, must become unshakable pillars in our communities.

Incidentally, the year 1960, when President Ikeda was inaugurated as the third Soka Gakkai president, was designated as the Year of Advancement. Similarly, 2020 is the Year of Advancement and Capable People. In announcing the theme, Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada shared that the essence of this theme is found in spiritedly expanding our organization and the ranks of capable people by first becoming capable ourselves. He said: “Let’s also stand up with the conviction that: ‘Without my advancement, worldwide kosen-rufu will not advance’”(December 3, 2019, World Tribune, p. 11).

In this same vein, the SGI-USA will focus on welcoming 6,000 youth to our SGI organization. How are you encouraging longtime members to engage in this effort to foster successors?

SGI-USA Many Treasures Women’s Leader Kazue Elliot: In faith, there’s always something you can do. We can do shakubuku, regardless of our age. I’m 90 now, so I gave up driving. I started taking Uber to meetings and spoke to my driver about Buddhism. He attended four SGI meetings, but then stopped coming out. I chanted for him. Then he reached out and said, “I want to come to a meeting.” He received the Gohonzon. He came to my home recently to practice gongyo and said that he wanted to share the practice with others. I’m so excited. When I pray, I’m determined to do as much shakubuku as I can in my lifetime.

How inspiring! Our subsequent efforts to care for these new members will be an important aspect of our efforts next year. How did you learn to care for members?

Adin: When I received the Gohonzon, I did gongyo with my sponsor and young men’s leader four to five times a week. They wholeheartedly embraced me. Recently, I went to Japan and had dinner with the same young men’s leader and my sponsor. The relationship is still there after 36 years.

Naoko: My young women’s leaders also visited me continually, taught me gongyo and shared Sensei’s guidance and passages from Nichiren Daishonin’s writings with me. They encouraged me that all my dreams would come true with this practice!

Thanks to their home visits and warm support, I stood up in faith and awakened to my mission for kosen-rufu. Then, I became a district young women’s leader and started doing home visits myself.

So through and through, the key to raising people, especially new members, is to continue to visit and encourage them in faith, and take action together, such as doing gongyo or attending discussion meetings. Continuation is power.

What other points should we keep in mind?

Kevin: During the November SGI Training Course in Japan, Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada shared about someone who once asked Sensei, “What does the oneness of mentor and disciple relationship really mean?” Sensei replied, “It means to take care of the members on my behalf.” Naoko mentioned how important it is to continually meet with new members to teach them gongyo and the basics of practice. Along those same lines, in April and September of next year, we will focus solely on helping new members start their practice, including taking the Introductory Exam, so that they can ground themselves in Buddhist study. As we foster these new members, we should consider each of them a potential Shin’ichi Yamamoto.

How has caring for others changed your life?

Adin: In my case, I grew up overly sensitive to what other people thought of me. I found that once I started chanting sincerely for the members, my life opened up. President Ikeda often says that when you do your human revolution, you can change even your negative aspects into strengths. A person who is stubborn and arrogant, for instance, can become someone who is rock-solid in their convictions. For me, I’m no longer controlled by what others think. My sense of self-worth comes from a much deeper place now—it derives from my vow for kosen-rufu.

Kevin: When I first became a group leader, my interactions with the members I was supporting were fraught with conflict. People often complained about me and said that I was arrogant.

Through reading Sensei’s guidance and learning from my seniors in faith, I realized I needed to become someone who could be trusted by others and who treated others with the same respect as the Buddha.

How should we understand the significance of America’s role next year in the advancement of kosen-rufu?

Naoko: In July, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Soar Into the Vast Skies of Freedom Into the New Century,” Sensei’s last poem to America. I have been reading this one particular part of this poem every day:

This land of freedom
in which I live.
In the early years of the twentieth century,
the founding president of our movement,
Tsunesaburo Makiguchi,
saw in America
the land where future civilizations
would encounter and unite.

Josei Toda, our second president,
often recalled that it was
America that brought
freedom of religion to post-war Japan,
opening the way
for a peace movement based
on this Buddhism to unfold.
“Daisaku!” he would say,
“I want to go to the U.S.
to repay our debt of gratitude!”

And thus, as their direct disciple,
I determined to take the first step
in my travels for peace
here in my beloved America.

• • •

For the sake of
these free, young spirits,
I have determined to spend
the culminating years of my life
in this America I love,
together creating infinite memories,
sounding the reverberant trumpet of the dawn.
(August 11, 2000, World Tribune, pp. 6–8)

Through reading this poem, I can feel Sensei’s love for America. He says that he wants to be in America and he feels he is already here. How do we ensure that Sensei is here in America? I feel that what he expressed in this poem is deeper than I can comprehend. Right now, we can seek Sensei through reading The New Human Revolution. It is up to us to live what Sensei wrote in The New Human Revolution. That is how we can ensure that Sensei’s spirit is in America. This is how I will repay my debt of gratitude and appreciation to Sensei.

By welcoming 6,000 new youth members next year and strengthening our efforts to care for them, we will guarantee that this is the Year of Advancement and Capable People.

What would you like to impart to the youth who are leading our movement and to those joining the SGI in 2020?

Kazue: The key to my practice has been to stick with the SGI, stick with our precious organization. President Toda said we’re like mountain potatoes that are dirty when picked from the ground. When you roll potatoes in a barrel of water, they rub up against each other and become shiny (see Discussions on Youth, p. 243). If you leave the “water” of the organization, you’ll only dry up outside the barrel. I’ve never forgotten that guidance.

I also want to share with the youth that faith is boundless. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo encompasses the entire universe. You can move your life in any direction when you do your best to develop your faith. No matter what, you should never stray from faith. You can resolve anything with faith. It all comes down to doing morning and evening gongyo. Through gongyo, you can understand faith, and through gongyo, you can expand your life, and through gongyo, you will find happiness.

To this day, I’m strict with myself about faith. I ask myself, What can I do for kosen-rufu today? I need to burn with seeking spirit. To live in the world of faith is the greatest thing.

Adin: This year is the year to fully break out and seek our deepest roots. It’s the year to hold nothing back. Let’s set our personal goals high and pursue them, never forgetting that this moment with our mentor is irreplaceable.


  1. A lotus plant directly descended from the Oga Lotus that blossomed in 1952 in Chiba is now planted at the Florida Nature Culture Center in Weston, Florida. ↩︎


Peace, Culture and Education: The Future Division—Part 3