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Awakening the Consciousness of the People

Makiguchi Memorial Hall was built in 1993 to commemorate the towering life of founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Hachioji, Japan.
Makiguchi Memorial Hall was built in 1993 to commemorate the towering life of founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Hachioji, Japan. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an educational reformer, openly opposed imperial Japan’s ever-growing nationalistic agenda and penchant for rote learning. He believed that educators create value by developing happy individuals who would go into society and contribute, in turn, to the well-being of others.

His theory of value creation, later coined soka by his protégé, Josei Toda, focused on the human being. Its essence: To discern whether something had value, one had to look at whether it advanced and contributed to or hindered and detracted from the human condition.

Mr. Makiguchi spent many hours contemplating how to ensure his students’ happiness. He prepared box lunches for those who could not afford their own, hiding the food in the janitor’s closet, where children could access them without being seen by others. And when it snowed, he walked the students home.

Mr. Makiguchi and his disciple, Mr. Toda, embraced faith in Nichiren Buddhism in 1928 after the former had been introduced through a fellow educator. Nichiren Daishonin’s humanistic and life-empowering teachings deeply resonated with his own views, as he would later recall:

With an indescribable joy, I completely changed the way I had lived for almost 60 years. … The anxiety that came from searching in the dark for life’s answers completely evaporated, and my inborn reserve and diffidence disappeared. My goals in life became increasingly grander and loftier, and my fears dwindled. (April 2015 Living Buddhism, pp. 26–27)

Two years later, on Nov. 18, 1930, they published Mr. Makiguchi’s book The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. This event marked the founding of the Soka Gakkai.

As the organization grew from a gathering of educators to one that embraced a broader spectrum of people, Mr. Makiguchi held discussion meetings in people’s homes. These were small gatherings where people freely discussed the principles of Nichiren Buddhism and how to put them into practice.

As World War II loomed, the Japanese militarist government cracked down on all expressions that threatened or contradicted the emperor or state-sponsored Shinto, which viewed the emperor as a living god.

In 1941, the Special Higher Police intensified its focus on the Soka Gakkai, even following Mr. Makiguchi to discussion meetings and disbanding them at will. Undaunted, he attended more than 240 such meetings during the first two years of World War II.

In early July 1943, at age 72, Mr. Makiguchi traveled to the town of Shimoda in Izu Province in what would become his final discussion meeting. There, he left behind a declaration of his great conviction: “The Lotus Sutra is like the sun” (Oct. 31, 2008, Seize the Day, p. F).

Ultimately, Mr. Makiguchi’s outspoken critique of the government’s oppressive tactics and militarist dogma led to his arrest on July 6, 1943. He spent 500 days in solitary confinement, where he was denied adequate food and clothing amid the sweltering summers and bone-chilling winters.

Although in his early 70s, he never compromised his faith. In letters to his family, he wrote: “I have no worries,” “I have no fear,” “I have no wants” (Oct. 31, 2008, Seize the Day, p. G). And to the very end, he embodied this lionlike, indomitable strength.

On Nov. 18, 1944, just after six o’clock on a Saturday morning, as the sun rose, Mr. Makiguchi’s noble life came to an end. He died from old age and malnutrition, a martyr to his beliefs. This was 14 years to the day after the Soka Gakkai’s founding.

His disciple, Mr. Toda, who had been arrested alongside him, survived imprisonment and, as its second president, rebuilt the Soka Gakkai into a thriving people’s movement. He later entrusted the Soka Gakkai’s future to his disciple, Daisaku Ikeda. As the third president, Ikeda Sensei has globalized the philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism, which today has a network of 12 million members in 192 countries and territories.

Sensei wrote that Mr. Makiguchi, in his genuine humanism, believed that religion is justified to the degree that it relieves suffering and brings happiness to individuals. He believed that religions should exist to serve the people.

“Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s life was an all-out struggle against fascist authority, never retreating a single step,” Sensei writes. “His message of courage and wisdom will continue to echo and resound, awakening people’s conscience in the coming centuries” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 417).

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

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