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Buddhist Study

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: A Model of Compassionate Propagation

A Life Committed to Spreading Buddhism

A diverse group of adults sit in a circle and listen to each other attentively. One man is speaking and smiling.
A group of people sit in a circle and listen to each other attentively. FatCamera / Getty Images

Encountering Nichiren Buddhism in 1928 at age 57, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a passionate educator, expressed astonishment in how his anxiety and fears dwindled, his indecisiveness disappeared and his goals became loftier. He also said:

I came to fully comprehend and appreciate in my daily life [Nichiren] Daishonin’s words: “When the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated. Similarly, when one knows the Lotus Sutra, one understands the meaning of all worldly affairs.”[1]

With an indescribable joy, I completely changed the way I had lived for almost 60 years.[2]

That joy persisted throughout his life and in his efforts to spread Nichiren’s teaching.

On Nov. 18, 1930, with support from his disciple, Josei Toda, Mr. Makiguchi published the first volume of The System of Value-Creating Education, a culmination of his educational theory. This also came to mark the beginning of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-creating Education Society), the precursor to the Soka Gakkai.

As Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda deepened their conviction in the power of Nichiren Buddhism, they realized that creating a society based on respect for all life required them to reach out not only to educators but to all people.

A Life Committed to Spreading Buddhism

Mr. Makiguchi would go anywhere to encourage even one person to take faith in Nichiren Buddhism. For instance, in 1939, at age 68, he traveled 600 miles from Tokyo to Kyushu’s Fukuoka Prefecture—a three-day journey by train—to engage in Buddhist dialogue with the parents of a young man.

After the couple agreed to start their practice, Mr. Makiguchi assured them that their decision “signifies that in the future all the people of Kyushu will be relieved from misery.”[3]

The next day, he brought the couple along to talk with his friend in a neighboring town. On the way, he said to them: “Watch carefully as I share Buddhism with this person. Sharing the Buddhist teachings is the lifeblood of our faith. A life dedicated to benefiting others is a life of great good.”[4] And he urged them to maintain a strong determination since obstacles will inevitably arise.

This is how Mr. Makiguchi taught new members the basics of faith.

Upholding the Spirit of Propagation in Prison

In the early 1940s, despite being under pressure and surveillance by the military government, Mr. Makiguchi continued his resolute efforts to spread Nichiren Buddhism.

On July 6, 1943, during a visit to Izu to propagate Buddhism, Mr. Makiguchi was arrested for violating the repressive Peace Preservation Law.

In prison, he was subjected to intense interrogation, yet he unabashedly voiced his resolve in Nichiren Buddhism as the key to lasting peace and happiness. He explained to his interrogators the core aspects of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai’s propagation efforts: publications, one-to-one dialogues and regular discussion meetings—the basis of our movement still some 80 years later.

His efforts led one of his prison guards to start his Buddhist practice. Ikeda Sensei also describes Mr. Makiguchi’s interactions with other prisoners:

He used to call out from his solitary cell, asking the other prisoners if they were bored, offering to engage them in debate about such questions as whether there is any difference between not doing good and actually committing wrong. He was an unrestrained master of humanistic education who always sought equal and unqualified dialogue with others.[5]

The magnitude of his spirit is also apparent in letters to his family. “Even hell has its enjoyments, depending on one’s outlook,” he wrote to them. He also said:

We may consider this a great misfortune, but it pales into insignificance when compared to what the Daishonin endured. It is important to understand this fact clearly and to strengthen your faith more than ever.[6]

Mr. Makiguchi spent roughly 400 days in a small prison cell, where he endured extreme heat and cold. This left his health severely compromised. On Nov. 17, 1944, an emaciated Mr. Makiguchi walked with dignity to the prison infirmary, refusing any assistance. Having lived with a supreme sense of mission, his life came to a close on Nov. 18, 1944, the anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding.

Mr. Makiguchi’s life provides an eternal example of fearless dedication to the Mystic Law and a wellspring of inspiration for living with compassion, resilience and conviction.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376 ↩︎
  2. April 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 26 ↩︎
  3. The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, p. 31 ↩︎
  4. Ibid. ↩︎
  5. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 413 ↩︎
  6. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. ↩︎

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