Skip to main content

Buddhist Study

Makiguchi: A Champion of the People

Mark Holtzman - West Coast Aerial Photography Inc.

Born on June 6, 1871, in the coastal village of Arahama in present-day Niigata Prefecture, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi experienced tremendous hardships from an early age.

By age 6, his parents could no longer care for him, and they placed him with relatives. At 11, he quit school to work to support his impoverished family. And at 13, he moved to Otaru, Hokkaido, and worked while using every spare moment to study. His academic achievement gained him entrance into a teacher’s college from which he graduated at 22.

These struggles molded him into a champion of justice, equality and respect for people.

An Educator Focused on Students’ Happiness

As an educator, Mr. Makiguchi found himself challenging mainstream educational approaches, which included rote memorization and obedience to national authority.

Japan’s government viewed education as a means to produce students who would become loyal subjects of the Emperor and good soldiers. But Mr. Makiguchi believed that the purpose of education should be to enable every student to become happy. He strove to inspire his students to enjoy learning and cared for them deeply.

On snowy days, he would stand at the school gate to welcome students and prepare warm water to bathe their chapped hands. After school, he sometimes carried smaller children on his back while leading older ones by the hand to take them home.

Having been too poor to receive a full education as a child, Mr. Makiguchi understood society’s inequities and worked passionately to create educational opportunities for underprivileged youth.

For instance, although Chinese people were often looked down upon in Japan, he taught at an academy for Chinese students, treating them with dignity and respect. He also created a correspondence course offering secondary education classes for young women, who often lacked higher education opportunities.

Motivated by compassion, he spoke out fearlessly for educational reform, never kowtowing to those in power. Consequently, he fell under the scrutiny of the authorities.

He refused to give special treatment to children of influential families. This led a disgruntled parent to influence a politician to have Mr. Makiguchi removed as an elementary school principal. In response, the students, teachers and parents came to his defense.

Awakened to the Mission to Work for All People’s Happiness

In 1928, Mr. Makiguchi, at 57, was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism, discovering in it a way to actualize the beliefs he had long upheld as an educator.

On Nov. 18, 1930, he and his disciple, a teacher named Josei Toda, published the first of four volumes of The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. The work expressed Mr. Makiguchi’s ideas about value and how education could lead students to create value out of life’s challenges.

This volume’s publication date became the founding date of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society), the precursor to the Soka Gakkai.

Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda were convinced that Nichiren Buddhism could enable a positive change in the life of each person, providing a genuine means for transforming society.

Starting as a modest gathering of educators, the organization grew to include people of all backgrounds. Its focus became the realization of kosen-rufu, or spreading Nichiren Buddhism for the happiness of all humanity.

Standing Up for Freedoms Amid Growing Fascism

In the 1930s, the Japanese militarist government sought to expand its empire into Asia. Mr. Makiguchi was outraged by the military’s barbaric actions and the government’s imposition of Shinto, which it had designated the Japanese national religion, on people in Japan and throughout Asia.

Mr. Makiguchi’s refusal to accept Japanese Shintoism led him to be listed as a thought criminal. Even while under government surveillance, he continued holding small Soka Gakkai discussion meetings, attending more than 240 of them in two years.

In stark contrast, Nichiren Shoshu priests, whose sole duty was to protect Nichiren Buddhism, gave in to government pressure to accept Shintoism.

Mr. Makiguchi never retreated, even after being jailed in 1943 for refusing to recant his religious beliefs. He viewed his imprisonment as a badge of honor.

Ikeda Sensei writes:

He had a tremendous love and compassion for people, which inspired him to boldly champion the cause of truth and justice, and fight with fierce determination against all that is evil and destructive.

Indomitable faith and unflagging courage give us the capacity to embrace others with limitless warmth and compassion. True kindness to others must always be backed by inner strength. (June 19, 1998, World Tribune, p. 11)

Until the end of his life, Mr. Makiguchi remained a champion of the people, an eternal example of what it means to live a supremely noble life.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Top Rankings for SUA

Bringing Forth Buddhahood Any Time, Any Place