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Toward an Age of Peace in the 21st Century

SGI-USA members hold virtual celebrations in five U.S. cities to mark the 25th anniversary of Ikeda Sensei’s June–July 1996 visit to the U.S.

Photo by Neos Design - Cory Eastman / Getty Images.

Ikeda Sensei visited the U.S. six times between 1990 and 1996, further solidifying the foundation of the kosen-rufu movement in America for the next thousand years.

It was during his 27th visit from June to July 1996 that he outlined the essential elements of global citizenship in his Columbia University Teachers College address; convened a development planning committee meeting for the Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California, campus; opened the Buddhist retreat center for SGI-USA members, the Florida Nature and Culture Center, in Weston, Florida; received an honorary doctorate from the University of Denver, his first from an American institution of higher learning; and gave key guidance.

To mark the 25th anniversary of this visit and also the 40th anniversary of his trip to New York, virtual meetings were held in five U.S. cities. In a message to those events, Sensei called America a “trailblazer and model” for worldwide kosen-rufu, urging the members to continue chanting the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo no matter what happens. Sensei continued:

My mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, often said: “Times of agonizing hardships are precisely when we must share Buddhism with others and lead them to happiness for the sake of kosen-rufu—for establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land and the world. This is how we all become Buddhas. Such efforts bring immeasurable benefit and victory.”

The following are highlights from these celebrations, where members, with their gaze set on the Soka Gakkai’s centennial in 2030, made fresh determinations to open the great path of hope and victory.

Honor—Ikeda Sensei receives an honorary doctorate—his first from a U.S. institution of higher learning— at the University of Denver, June 1996. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Denver: June 6–11, 1996

We practice to make our prayers and dreams come true and to achieve the greatest possible happiness. The purpose of Nichiren Buddhism is to enable us to realize victory. …

When we plant the seed of happiness that is faith and carefully tend its growth, it will produce fruit without fail. We have to bear in mind, however, that we cannot plant a seed today and expect it to bear fruit tomorrow. That’s not reasonable, and Buddhism is reason. If we persevere in the practice of faith equals daily life in accord with reason, then our prayers will definitely be answered. This is Nichiren’s promise to us, and his words are true beyond any doubt.[1]

Highlights From 1996: Ikeda Sensei arrived for his first visit to Denver on June 6. Two days later, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Denver—his first from a U.S. institution of higher learning. On June 9, Sensei met with members at the SGI-USA Denver Culture Center for the Rocky Mountain Joint Territory Cherry Blossom General Meeting, followed by an executive leaders conference the next day. He departed on June 11, making a brief layover in Indianapolis before touching down in New York.

Highlights From the 25th Anniversary: SGI-USA members of Rocky Mountain Zone celebrated the 25th anniversary of Sensei’s first visit to Denver with the Cherry Blossom General Meeting, held virtually on June 5, 2021, and a ceremony with the City of Denver on June 12 at City Park.

Representative members joined Denver’s deputy mayor, Murphy Robinson, to unveil exhibit signs installed at three public parks—City Park, Washington Park and Jacobs Park. The event, sponsored by the city, paid tribute to the efforts of the local SGI-USA members over the past 32 years to plant more than 2,300 cherry trees throughout Denver’s metropolitan area in the spirit of community and friendship. The annual tradition began in 1989 with a defining moment in June 1996, when members planted a cherry tree with Sensei during his visit to the SGI-USA Denver Culture Center.

The commemorative signs are emblazoned with Sensei’s poem:

It’s spring!
Cherry blossoms!
In full bloom!
Cherry blossoms of youth!
Cherry blossoms of happiness
enduring the bitter winter
to bloom in profusion![2]

During his remarks, Mr. Robinson praised the SGI’s dedication to fostering youth for a better future, as well as spreading humanism in society through hope, love, dialogue and nonviolence. The SGI, he said, is an example of the kind of partnership that the City and County of Denver wants to continue to work with to spread peace in the community.

Illustration by Ngedit_Vector / Fiverr

Fulfilling My Dream to Raise Successors

by Masumi Kawabata

During the months of preparation leading up to Ikeda Sensei’s visit to Denver in 1996, I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, Erica. The leaders accompanying Sensei told me, “What fortune you and your baby have to support Sensei and the members!” They were right, and my husband, Bill, also contributed, supporting the security group.

In preparing for a general meeting, I was asked in the middle of my translation duties to go to the first-floor Gohonzon room. We thought that all the members downstairs would only be able to see Sensei on screen, but when he arrived at the center, Sensei came to greet us first. What I learned from his behavior was how much he cares for each member, never leaving anybody behind.

Twenty-five years ago, I made a vow for kosen-rufu here in Rocky Mountain Zone with my mentor and determined that my children would become successors. Erica was born on July 24, 1996. I became a district women’s leader after many years in the young women’s division. With all these changes, however, I was faced with uncertainty and fell into a low life condition. I had to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with strong determination for absolute victory.

When we welcomed our son, Solar, in 2003, Bill lost his job and was unemployed for almost three years. When he found a new job in Salt Lake City, we made the difficult decision to raise our children from separate locations. I have deep appreciation for all the support from our Soka family, including our local youth leaders who taught Erica and Solar how to do gongyo. Eventually, they both joined the Ikeda Youth Ensemble and made wonderful friends in faith. When Erica struggled to find her own path as a high school senior, her young women’s leader came to our house every Saturday morning to chant with her to break through. Solar’s young men’s leaders took him under their wings, encouraging him and doing activities together. In 2018, Solar brought four friends to the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, and one of them started practicing.

Despite many hardships along the way, I am happy to report that I fulfilled my 1996 promise to Sensei. In 2019, Erica graduated from Soka University in Japan and worked at the school’s language department for two years. She will soon enter graduate school in London for environmental studies. Solar was accepted to Soka University of America and will begin his undergraduate program this fall. He wants to become a doctor.

I have great appreciation for my husband, children and our entire Soka family. Together, we are transmitting faith from one generation to the next. I am so thankful to Sensei for his memorable visit 25 years ago, which inspired me to have big dreams.

Future division members welcome Ikeda Sensei to the SGI-USA New York Culture Center, June 1996. Photo by Seikyo Press.

New York: June 11-19, 1996

Global society today faces myriad interlocking crises. …

It is my view, however, that the root of all of these problems is our collective failure to make the human being—human happiness—the consistent focus and goal in all fields of endeavor. The human being is the point to which we must return and from which we must depart anew. What is required is a human transformation—a human revolution.[3]

Highlights From 1996: Following his trip to Denver, Ikeda Sensei spent nine days in New York. On June 13, he lectured at Columbia University’s Teachers College on the topic of education for global citizenship, followed by a trip to the United Nations the next day.

At the SGI-USA New York Culture Center on June 15, Sensei attended a gongyo meeting with representative leaders, touching on the themes of inconspicuous benefit, the four universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death, and attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime. The meeting commemorated the Day of New York, June 20—the day in 1981 when Sensei wrote his poem “To My Beloved Young American Friends—Youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth” in New York.

Then, on June 17, Sensei met with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for their eighth encounter, after which Sensei recommitted himself to efforts for a peaceful world. On June 18, he joined the World Peace Youth Culture Festival at Carnegie Hall and then departed for Florida the following day.

Highlights From the 25th Anniversary: On June 20, 2021, SGI-USA members of New York Zone and Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island Zone commemorated the 25th and 40th anniversaries of Sensei’s historic visits to New York in 1996 and 1981.

For the occasion, the City of Glen Cove, New York, issued a proclamation declaring June 20, 2021, Poet Laureate Daisaku Ikeda Day. The recognition pays tribute to Sensei’s visit there 40 years ago, when he penned the iconic poem “To My Beloved Young American Friends.” In this work, Sensei crystallizes his hopes and expectations for the youth of the SGI-USA, stressing that young people who uphold the Mystic Law in America have a mission to revitalize their land and the entire world, defining the power source for accomplishing this mission with the words “faith is— / to fear nothing.”[4]

Debbie Gonzalez recalled how Sensei’s 1981 visit awakened her to her mission. “I began to chant differently,” Ms. Gonzalez shared at the meeting. “For the youth division, the poem became our muscles, our heart to align ourselves with Sensei and fulfill our mission in New York and in America.”

The celebration capped off with a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” performed by original members of the Rainbow Orchestra who dedicated the song to Sensei during his 1981 visit.

As they reflected on their history with Sensei, the New York members made a fresh determination to advance toward 2030, the Soka Gakkai’s 100th anniversary, and raise capable successors in response to the great expectations and vision of their mentor.

Ikeda Sensei and Mrs. Ikeda enjoy a golf-cart ride on the Florida Nature and Culture Center grounds, Weston, Fla., June 1996.
Ikeda Sensei and Mrs. Ikeda enjoy a golf-cart ride on the Florida Nature and Culture Center grounds, Weston, Fla., June 1996. Photo by Seikyo PRess
Weston, Florida: June 19-24, 1996

[Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda said:] ‘Becoming happy yourself is no great challenge; it’s quite simple. Working for the happiness of others in addition to your own happiness, however, is the foundation of faith. I think that unless you honestly pray to the Gohonzon to do this, strengthen your faith and really devote yourself to faith with a spirit of seeking nothing for yourself, then you cannot be called a true leader.’[5]

Highlights From 1996: Following his visit to New York, Ikeda Sensei spent June 19–24 in Weston, Florida, to celebrate the opening of the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center (FNCC). On June 23, Sensei attended the 21st SGI General Meeting at the FNCC Friendship Hall, where 1,500 SGI representative members from 52 countries and territories gathered. Here, he spoke about the six conditions for happiness and spent several days freely traveling the FNCC grounds, interacting with SGI members from around the world. He then left Florida for a brief visit to Latin America before returning to the United States.

Highlights From the 25th Anniversary: On the morning of June 20, 2021, SGI-USA members of Florida Zone, which includes members from the state of Florida as well as the Caribbean Islands, virtually celebrated the 25th anniversary of Sensei’s visit to their zone, during which time he opened the Florida Nature and Culture Center.

They enjoyed a video of Sensei’s timeless guidance on the six conditions for happiness that he presented at the 21st SGI General Meeting held on June 23, 1996. The six conditions are 1) fulfillment, 2) to possess a profound philosophy, 3) to possess conviction, 4) to live cheerfully and vibrantly, 5) courage and 6) tolerance. Sensei concluded this guidance by stating: “The six conditions I have just mentioned are all ultimately expressed in the word faith. A life based on faith is a life of unsurpassed happiness.”[6]

At this historic gathering, the members renewed their spirit to carry out their mission, share Buddhism with those in their environment and raise youthful successors in Florida Zone.

The runway of a local El Paso airport photographed by Ikeda Sensei, June 1996. Photo by Daisaku Ikeda.
El Paso: June 29, 1996

Highlights From 1996: On Ikeda Sensei’s return to the U.S. from Latin America, he stopped briefly on June 29 at an airport in El Paso, Texas. There, he encouraged and praised the local SGI-USA members for their efforts to advance kosen-rufu. To mark the occasion, Sensei composed the poem “To the Great Pioneers of Kosen-rufu of El Paso,” which includes the lines:

El Paso—
your lovely name
has the meaning of “path”

Birds have a path in the sky
fish have a path in the sea
And though invisible to the eye
there exists without a doubt
an unsurpassed path for human beings
continuing eternally
throughout three existences[7]

Highlights From the 25th Anniversary: El Paso Chapter held a virtual celebration on June 29, 2021, to commemorate the silver jubilee of Sensei’s visit to El Paso. They were joined by Chair of the El Paso Chamber’s Ambassadors Committee Marcus Taylor, who announced that the city would mark the anniversary by lighting the El Paso Star on Franklin Mountain that evening. The star is a human-made landmark illuminated by the chamber and can be seen from up to 100 miles away. The certificate, issued by El Paso Chamber President and CEO David Michael Jerome, recognizes Sensei as a “world-renowned peace activist.”

Celebrating the joyous occasion with the SGI-USA, the cities of El Paso and neighboring Las Cruces, New Mexico, sent congratulatory letters to Sensei. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser thanked him for his continued friendship with the city and emphasized that Sensei’s 1996 poem perfectly captures the SGI’s indispensable role as a driving force for social change and world peace through dialogue and personal transformation. Las Cruces Mayor Kenneth Miyagishima, meanwhile, praised the local SGI-USA members who, based on Sensei’s example, have dedicated themselves over 30 years to “promoting opportunities for people of all walks of life to work together to create a shared vision for peace, cultural understanding and education in their community.”

Illustration by Ngedit_Vector / Fiverr

My Path of Mission

by Tony Benitez
El Paso, Texas

I joined the SGI-USA as a 19-year-old college student in April 1976, in El Paso, Texas. Back then, the pioneer women’s division members would always say that one day Ikeda Sensei would visit our city. So, when that visit took place many years later, on June 29, 1996, it was an exciting and surreal experience.

On that day, Sensei made a brief stop at an El Paso airport on his way from Costa Rica to Los Angeles. I was part of a small group of local SGI-USA members who welcomed him. Earlier that morning, it had been raining, so we chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for Sensei’s safety and for good weather. When he arrived, the clouds had disappeared, making way for clear blue skies. Before deplaning, Sensei took a photo of the airport runway, which is displayed at our Buddhist center.

When I saw Sensei, he extended his arms, and I gave him a big El Paso hug! He encouraged me to do my best and thanked all of us for our efforts to support kosen-rufu. Sensei also dedicated a poem to the pioneers of El Paso. Though our encounter was brief, I felt his great expectations for us and realized that, even as a smaller SGI-USA organization, we have a big mission here for kosen-rufu.

Three months before his visit, I had been laid off from my job of 14 years. Following my mentor’s guidance, I continued to chant and introduce others to the practice. In 1998, I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and have been with the same company ever since. In my field of life insurance and investments, I was even ranked No. 1 among other professionals in my company in El Paso and its surrounding cities. I want to continue to show actual proof in my daily life and tell others that the reason why I’m happy and successful is because of my Buddhist practice.

I feel very fortunate that I was able to meet Sensei during his stop in El Paso. I will never forget that experience; it is a constant reminder for me to keep working hard for kosen-rufu here. In his poem to us, Sensei wrote: “El Paso—your lovely name has the meaning of ‘path’ / Birds have a path in the sky / fish have a path in the sea / and though invisible to the eye / there exists without a doubt / an unsurpassed path for human beings/ continuing eternally / throughout three existences.” I’m determined to continue along the path of my mission with the SGI and Sensei for the rest of my life.

Ikeda Sensei speaks at a dinner commemorating July 3, Day of Mentor and Disciple, Los Angeles, July 1996.
Ikeda Sensei speaks at a dinner commemorating July 3, Day of Mentor and Disciple, Los Angeles, July 1996. Photo by Seikyo Press.
Los Angeles: May 31-June 6, 1996 and June 29-July 6, 1996

If the organization in America is solid both in terms of its movement for kosen-rufu and its position in society, the world can rest at ease. Please have the awareness, therefore, that your very existence is the hope of all humankind.[8]

Highlights From 1996: On June 1, Ikeda Sensei attended the SGI-USA Executive Conference in Los Angeles, where he offered key points on leadership. Earlier that day, a development planning committee was convened to discuss the future Soka University of America campus in Aliso Viejo, California. On June 5, Sensei attended an executive conference before departing the following day for Denver. He returned to Los Angeles on June 29. To commemorate the Day of Mentor and Disciple, on July 3, he attended the SGI-USA Commemorative Training Session, where he said, “When one is completely dedicated to the path of mentor and disciple, he or she experiences no doubt or confusion, no uncertainty or fear.”[9] Two days later, on July 5, Sensei attended the Los Angeles Representatives Conference, his final meeting before departing to Japan the following day.

Highlights From the 25th Anniversary: SGI-USA members in the Southern California quint zones celebrated the 25th anniversary of Sensei’s visit to Los Angeles with a virtual meeting on July 3, 2021, themed “Celebrating Our History With Sensei!”

West Territory Leader Steve Mortan emphasized how Sensei visited Southern California 17 times—more than any other location in the U.S. He called on the participants to, together, “refresh our vow to accomplish kosen-rufu by planting seeds of hope and creating new experiences and breakthroughs.”

The meeting included two powerful experiences—by Reiko Groshell, who was the newly appointed SGI-USA young women’s leader during Sensei’s 1996 visit, and by Rex Taylor, who supported Sensei’s visit behind the scenes. As if handing the baton to the next generation in an unending chain of succession, the second half of the meeting focused on determinations by the West Territory youth leaders, Mao Izumi Ross and Martin Saito, and determinations from the quint zones’ youth leaders toward the young women’s and young men’s general meetings taking place this month.

SGI-USA General Director Adin Strauss stressed that while this day, in one sense is an opportunity to celebrate the past, what’s far more important is to look forward. “Buddhism teaches that our lives are a product of our karma and our choices; but of the two, what’s far more important are our choices,” he said. “Whether we choose to practice or not, whether we choose to stick with our Buddhist community throughout our lives or not, this ultimately comes down to our own choice. … So, I’m going to take today as an opportunity to rededicate myself to supporting all of you. I’m going to do my absolute best. Let’s move forward together.”


  1. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 432–33. ↩︎
  2. May 3, 2020, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  3. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 443. ↩︎
  4. The Sun of Youth, p. 72. ↩︎
  5. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 474. ↩︎
  6. Ibid., p. 482. ↩︎
  7. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 485. ↩︎
  8. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 491. ↩︎
  9. Ibid., p. 486. ↩︎

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado