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Ikeda Sensei

The Art of Writing

A view of the waning crescent moon and Venus over Taos, New Mexico, Jan. 2, 2019. In his new series “Constructing the New Era,” SGI President Ikeda writes of members kindly sending him photographs of Venus and the moon, side by side, taken shortly before sunrise on Jan. 2, the day of his 91st birthday. Photo by MIKE LEWINSKI / FLICKR.

This year, SGI members worldwide are earnestly studying SGI President Ikeda’s The New Human Revolution to both eternalize the mentor’s teachings and transmit them to future generations. To that end, the World Tribune has begun reprinting SGI President Ikeda’s essay series “Thoughts on The New Human Revolution.” This installment was originally published in the Jan. 10, 1998, Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

People often ask me how I have mastered the art of writing.

When I think about it, I have never engaged in any special study to improve or develop my writing skills, for I did not have the time. Nor do I feel my writing is particularly good.

What I have done, since my youth, is a great deal of reading of the literary works of many different authors. And while walking along the seashore or beneath the cherry blossoms, I would jot down my impressions and feelings. Those two things no doubt helped build the foundations of my writing ability.

When I worked as an editor for a children’s magazine in [second Soka Gakkai President Josei] Toda’s company, I also had to write poems or essays on the spur of the moment, when our regular contributors failed to deliver their articles on time.

When the Seikyo Shimbun was established in 1951, Mr. Toda began to write his novel, The Human Revolution (under the pen name Myo Goku), which was serialized in the paper, along with his regular column of pithy sayings titled “Epigrams,” and he also encouraged us, the youth division leaders, to write for the paper.

Having run a publishing company for so long, Mr. Toda was an excellent judge of writing. I still fondly remember his strict criticism of my writing: “This will not move people!” “Your point is unclear!”

He often used to pass me an installment of The Human Revolution that was only half-finished and, after sketching the plot outline of the piece, say to me: “You write the rest. And if you see anything you’d like to change in what I’ve already written, go right ahead and do it.” It was an arduous challenge to say the least, and where my real training started. Upon reflection, how grateful I am for my mentor’s lessons.

When we were late in finishing our writing, Mr. Toda would frequently remind us of the story of the “poem in seven steps,” which appears in Eiji Yoshikawa’s Sangokushi, a Japanese version of the ancient Chinese classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Two brothers, Ts’ao P’ei and Ts’ao Chih, fought over who would succeed their late father, Ts’ao Ts’ao. The elder brother, Ts’ao P’ei, ascended the throne and then threatened his younger brother, Ts’ao Chih, who was a gifted poet. “Compose a poem,” he demanded, “in the space of seven steps. If you fail, I shall kill you.”

Ts’ao Chih composed the following poem on the spot:

They were boiling beans on a beanstalk fire;
Came a plaintive voice from the pot,
“O why, since we sprang from the selfsame root,
Should you kill me with anger hot?”[1]

Ts’ao Chih was able to find a clever metaphor to express the sadness of strife between brothers, and Ts’ao P’ei was moved by his plea and deeply regretted his actions.

“Speed is of the essence in the struggle to communicate the truth. If you were Ts’ao Chih, you’d be headless by now!” I can still remember Mr. Toda’s face as he’d roar with laughter.

I think the greatest writing practice I had was writing letters of encouragement and advice to my friends. Wherever I went, I carried stationery, envelopes and postcards. Whenever I had a few moments, between meetings or when riding a train, I would write words of encouragement to friends and fellow members. In the short time I had, I would think long and hard what approach I should take to best bring hope, inspiration and renewed energy to the person I was writing to. When I lifted my pen and moved it across the paper, I wrote with all my concentration, wanting to touch them with my very life and being.

Many of our friends are facing great obstacles or personal struggles. Sometimes a single postcard can change a person’s life.

It was not some intellectual pastime. It was a spiritual struggle amid harsh reality, a struggle in which I concentrated my mind to the task of drawing forth a thread of the most appropriate words to encourage and inspire each recipient.

Even while traveling overseas, I wrote dozens of letters and postcards each day. I also composed short poems on a daily basis and sent them to my friends, to cheer them and encourage them. Some years I have written nearly a thousand poems annually.

If I could, I would write a letter of appreciation and encouragement to every single one of you. But I am only one person. There is a physical limit to what I can accomplish. So instead, every day I write an installment of The New Human Revolution. It is my daily letter to you all.

I am always embarrassed to read what I have written. I know there are many infelicities in The New Human Revolution. I can’t begin to measure my chagrin. I wish I had more time to polish and refine the manuscript to my full satisfaction, but I’m afraid the harsh demands of a novel written in daily installments won’t allow it.

Tokyo is blanketed in snow this eighth day of January. Hachioji has become a wonderland of gleaming white. Tranquillity

Ho Goku[2] pushes his pen forward; every day, another day of striving to perfect the art of writing.


  1. Lo Kuan-chung, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, trans. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1959), vol. 2, p. 198. ↩︎
  2. Ho Goku is SGI President Ikeda’s pen name under which hecomposed his serialized novels. ↩︎

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