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Buddhist Study

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s Mentor

In 1928, founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was motivated by a fellow educator to further his understanding of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching. While familiar with Nichiren and Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, this encounter inspired him to learn more about the Daishonin’s philosophy.

In particular, he studied Nichiren’s treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” which led him to eventually take faith. Following this, he based his life on Nichiren’s writings, also applying Nichiren’s teachings to his educational philosophy.

In 1930, Mr. Makiguchi published The System for Value-Creating Education. The publication date of this book, Nov. 18, 1930, became the founding date of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society), the precursor to the Soka Gakkai.

He sought wisdom and insight from the priests of Nichiren Shoshu, yet he met none who could help him deepen his understanding and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. As a result, Mr. Makiguchi took Nichiren as his direct mentor.

He stood up with the same vow as the Daishonin to work for the happiness of humanity and to achieve kosen-rufu—the widespread propagation of Buddhism.

“Mr. Makiguchi always based himself on Nichiren’s writings.”

During the early 1940s, when the Japanese militarist government began arresting those who did not support the nation’s war efforts, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood acceded to the government’s demands. Commenting on the priests’ failure to uphold Nichiren’s spirit at a crucial moment, SGI President Ikeda writes:

Practicing faith in perfect accord with the teachings of the original mentor, Nichiren Daishonin, and striving with a spirit of selfless dedication are requirements for a genuine Buddhist teacher fit to inherit the Daishonin’s legacy. Without these qualifications, even the high priest, the chief executive of the head temple, becomes no more than the political head of a clerical bureaucracy far removed from Buddhism’s true teachings. It is utterly inconceivable that any trace of the heritage of faith could be found amid such circumstances.

Some 600 years after the Daishonin’s death, the priesthood capitulated to the demands of Japan’s militarist government. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 2, p. 236)

In contrast to the priesthood, determined to protect Nichiren’s teaching, President Makiguchi resolutely declared:

The time has come to remonstrate with the government. Why should we fear the militarists? The Daishonin’s words are never false, and that is what truly frightens me. To save our country, we must remonstrate with the government. (The Human Revolution, p. 86)

And he never gave in to government pressure to abandon his beliefs. President Ikeda continues:

Mr. Makiguchi always based himself on Nichiren’s writings. It was impossible for him to find a mentor among the cowardly ranks of the priesthood who, fearing government persecution, kowtowed to the authorities by changing the silent prayers in gongyo, deleting portions of Nichiren’s writings and ordering the Soka Gakkai to accept the Shinto talisman. (NHR-2, 236)

Not only did the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood alter Nichiren’s writings to make him appear to be a nationalist, they also reported that the leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai opposed the nation’s imperialist efforts, resulting in the arrests of 21 of them, including Mr. Makiguchi and his disciple, Josei Toda.

Among the 21 who had been arrested, only Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda upheld correct faith, while the others recanted their beliefs to avoid prison sentences. They lacked an adequate understanding of Nichiren’s teachings and were unable to comprehend that, as kosen-rufu advances, devilish functions will try to impede its progress.

Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, on the other hand, thoroughly understood Nichiren’s spirit. In one of his letters from prison, Mr. Makiguchi wrote:

When I reflect on how I was able to produce my theory of value—a theory that scholars for the past 100 years had sought in vain—and, moreover, to connect it to faith in the Lotus Sutra and enable several thousand people to realize actual proof, I am surprised in spite of myself. Therefore, it is only natural that the three obstacles and four devils should have assailed me; it is just as the sutra states. (January 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 68)

Mr. Makiguchi had absolute confidence that his persecution was proof that he was a votary of the Lotus Sutra and direct disciple of the Daishonin.

He no doubt brought forth the same conviction that Nichiren had when he was sentenced to exile on Sado Island in 1271. In “The Opening of the Eyes,” a treatise he composed on Sado, Nichiren writes:

For what I have done, I have been condemned to exile, but it is a small suffering to undergo in this present life and not one worth lamenting. In future lives I will enjoy immense happiness, a thought that gives me great joy. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 287)

Exactly 14 years after establishing the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai and after enduring 16 months of inhumane treatment in prison, President Makiguchi passed away on Nov. 18, 1944.

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi will forever be remembered and appreciated for his selfless dedication to protect and propagate Nichiren’s teachings amid extremely turbulent times. Using Nichiren’s writings as his guide, he gave his life to reviving the essential spirit of Nichiren Buddhism in the modern age. That’s why we consider him one of the eternal mentors of kosen-rufu.

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