Skip to main content

Ikeda Sensei

The Noble Mission of the Members of Our Shirakaba Nurses Groups

Beth Bower (sitting, far left), an SGI-USA member and nurse, with her colleagues at a hospital in Torrance, Calif. As medical professionals responding to COVID-19, they make a heartfelt request to people everywhere, so that we may flatten the curve together. Photo by courtesy of Beth Bower.

The renowned American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) wrote, “It is my desire … to do nothing which I cannot do with my whole heart.”[1] And it is indeed with their whole hearts that the noble members of the Soka Gakkai’s nurses groups—the Shirakaba-kai of the women’s division and the Shirakaba Group of the young women’s division—perform their duties day after day, bringing comfort and hope to so many who are in need of medical treatment and care.

My mentor, Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, identified the fundamental spirit of respect for the dignity of life as “great compassion.” And he described those who worked for the sake of others with that spirit as “champions of health.”

The young women’s division nurses group was established on June 6, 1969, and I presented them with the name “Shirakaba,” or “birch tree.” On my many trips to Hokkaido [in the northern part of Japan], I had observed the white birch trees standing tall with vigorous strength and beauty, and I named our nurses group after them because the trees’ pristine, elegant forms seemed the perfect image for our own “angels in white.”

Later, as many members of the Shirakaba Group graduated from the young women’s division, the women’s division Shirakaba Group was formed to accommodate them. Then, in 1986, this latter group was reorganized as the Shirakaba-kai and established in each area of Japan.

The birch tree has a strong life force. It is a pioneer tree species and, as such, it is one of the first trees to appear in areas cleared by fires or logging. Also, from its role in preparing the way for and protecting the tree species that grow later, it is also called a “nurse tree.”

I have fond memories of planting a birch tree in honor of the Shirakaba members, together with various representatives in June 1978, at the Hakodate Training Center in Hokkaido, where today also stands a magnificent Shirakaba Monument.

The members of our Shirakaba groups, modern-day Florence Nightingales, are always on hand during our headquarters leaders meetings and other activities for kosen-rufu. They work tirelessly behind the scenes with a profound sense of responsibility to provide first aid to our members in the event of an emergency. I have heard that many of our Shirakaba nurses, who are employed at hospitals and clinics, specially take time out of their extremely busy schedules to offer their services at various meetings at our community centers. On behalf of all our members, I wish to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

From the onset, the nurses of the Shirakaba groups pondered and reflected earnestly on their mission and the unique contribution they could make. As nurses of the Mystic Law, they asked themselves what they could do above and beyond offering behind-the-scenes medical assistance. They quickly recognized their primary wish that their fellow members stay well and no one fall ill should also become their guiding purpose. And they recognized that deep, fervent prayer was the means to realize that goal. This sincere prayer for the members’ welfare has been the proud tradition of the Shirakaba, which has been passed down through the years.

The Mystic Law is the Law of life that moves the entire universe, and the only means for tapping that power is wholehearted prayer to the Gohonzon. Those who are most strongly aware of the power inherent in life have the capacity to believe most strongly in the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

My wife and I pray earnestly each day for the health and long life of all our fellow members. To pray for your own good health and for that of others represents the true essence of Nichiren Buddhism.

The members of our Shirakaba groups and all our nurses of the Mystic Law—who are striving with courage, determination and vigor for kosen-rufu in Japan and the entire world—are great masters of the art of compassion.

I remember an incident that took place in the early summer of 1979, almost a month after I had stepped down as president of the Soka Gakkai. After that year’s May 3 Soka Gakkai General Meeting, the Seikyo Shimbun and other organ publications had virtually stopped reporting on my activities altogether, as if a total ban had been placed into effect. It was part of a plot to completely eliminate me from the Soka Gakkai, engineered by a group of ingrates and traitors who had joined forces with treacherous priests from the head temple intent on taking over the Soka Gakkai organization.

My young Shirakaba disciples, however, had keenly detected this perverse, immoral and abnormal state of affairs. On May 22, a day I will never forget, I met for an informal discussion with members of the Shirakaba Group for the first time in a long while, at the Kanagawa Culture Center in Yokohama, where I had been staying. Just before our meeting was to begin, several young Shirakaba Group members came running up to me, calling: “Sensei! Sensei!” One of them, with tears in her eyes, asked with intense concern, “Sensei, are you well?” I could also see the sincere concern and prayers for my health in the eyes and expressions of the other members with her.

“I’m fine!” I said, and they all smiled with relief.

At that moment, my spirit burned with lionhearted determination: for the sake of these dedicated disciples, and also to protect the great teaching of Nichiren Buddhism, I could never allow myself to be ordered about or silenced by corrupt priests utterly devoid of faith.

The heartfelt and perceptive words of our earnest, deeply responsible Shirakaba members reinvigorate and refresh the hearts of so many; their energetic actions, characterized by a profound consideration and genuine concern, protect life and relieve the sufferings of illness of countless people.

Their important and noble mission at the forefront of this “century of life” corresponds to the function of Bodhisattva Medicine King of the Lotus Sutra, who is described in The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings as striving to “do away with the grave ills of living beings” (p. 238).

The Lotus Sutra tells the story of how in a past life, as an expression of his gratitude to the Buddha who preached the Lotus Sutra to him, Bodhisattva Medicine King made an offering of light by burning his own body. Likewise, in the midst of their valiant daily efforts to serve others with every ounce of their beings, the members of our Shirakaba groups also give their utmost to our activities for kosen-rufu, kindling the light of hope in the hearts of so many who are struggling with life’s challenges. According to the law of cause and effect, there is not the slightest doubt that the benefit our noble nurses attain as a result of their dedicated efforts will brilliantly illuminate and adorn their own lives for all eternity.

Mr. Toda declared that the death in prison of first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi—giving his life for the sake of the Law—corresponded to an “offering of Bodhisattva Medicine King.” He also expressed his unparalleled gratitude for being allowed to undergo imprisonment with Mr. Makiguchi, saying, “In your vast and boundless compassion, you let me accompany you even to prison.”

A profound sense of mission and immeasurable gratitude are inseparable; it is these that enable you to attain a state of boundless happiness and shine with radiant human brilliance. When you have appreciation, your mission infuses your life with a vibrant happiness and joy. At the same time, when you dedicate your life to your mission, you will feel a deep and infinite sense of gratitude for the happiness you savor. A person with a sense of mission and appreciation can resolutely overcome all storms of karma, crowned with the laurels of imperishable good fortune and benefit. Such a person will truly be a champion of happiness throughout eternity.

“Gratitude” was a word of which the late Eiko Hayashi, the first leader of the Shirakaba Group, was very fond. When Mrs. Hayashi died, so many people were filled with sorrow and grief and chanted for her with the most profound respect—a deeply moving scene that remains engraved in my heart to this day.

In everything she undertook, whether working, serving behind the scenes at various activities for kosen-rufu or fostering her many juniors, she always conducted herself with immense dignity. She emanated a spirit of joy and appreciation for being able to contribute her energies. On a personal note, I will never forget how, when my elderly mother was forced to take to her bed because of illness on one occasion, Mrs. Hayashi rushed to her side and nursed her with the most tender care.

Mrs. Hayashi’s daughter, who graduated from Soka High School, has followed in the footsteps of her admirable mother and is a registered nurse. This unity of mother and daughter is indeed a beautiful sight. There are now many Soka school graduates who have gone on to become nurses and are making wonderful contributions as members of our Shirakaba groups.

As the aging of Japanese society accelerates even further, nursing and medical care are becoming more pressing and familiar issues to all. Living a healthy life is a universal human desire. The members of the Shirakaba-kai and Shirakaba Group are a brilliant source of health-related wisdom that will truly make the 21st century a “century of life.” The tremendous mission of these bodhisattvas, the most noble and respectworthy challenge of protecting life, is without pause or end.

The founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, dedicated these words to her young successors: “Act that each tomorrow / Find us farther than today.”[2] I am confident she would surely bestow her highest praises on our Shira- kaba members, pioneers of the century of life who embody these very words. And I would also like to powerfully relay to them the sincere gratitude of all our members for their tireless efforts.


  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Brooks Atkinson (New York: The Modern Library, 2000), p. 109. ↩︎
  2. Florence Nightingale, Florence Nightingale to Her Nurses (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1914), p. 98. ↩︎

Proudly Studying Nichiren Daishonin’s Teachings and Savoring the Joy of Human Revolution

Illuminating the Places of Our Mission with the Treasure Light of Mentor and Disciple