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Ikeda Sensei

Celebrating the 55th Anniversary of the Young Men’s Division

Photo by Dave Goodman.

In Hall Caine’s epic novel The Eternal City, the youthful revolutionary David Rossi cries out: “Be brave, be strong, be patient.”[1] Our youthful revolutionaries of kosen-rufu are forging ahead with courage, abundant self-confidence and steadfast perseverance. As the young men’s division marks its 55th anniversary this month (July 2006), I am thrilled with the vigorous progress made each day by these young champions of Soka.

• • •

In the opening of his treatise “The Selection of the Time,” Nichiren Daishonin writes, “When it comes to studying the teachings of Buddhism, one must first learn to understand the time” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 538). What is the nature of the times we are living in? What kind of challenges should we pursue now? I have decided that there is no time other than the present to ensure that the Soka Gakkai spirit will permanently endure through to the distant future of kosen-rufu.

When we look back across history, we find certain moments that were pivotal and decisive. At the beginning of World War II, for example, the forces of Nazi Germany were wreaking terrible havoc and suffering on Great Britain. Winston Churchill, who had become British prime minister in May 1940, concluded a speech he delivered one month after his appointment with these stirring words: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”[2]

This mighty lion’s roar, delivered at a time of greatest distress, roused the people’s fighting spirit. Over the next five years, they overcame countless bitter trials and defeated the arrogant dictator Adolf Hitler. They turned the tables and scored a tremendous victory. Those five years will forever stand out in world history.

• • •

If I were asked to specify which period of my youth I consider to be my “finest hour,” it would be the days I spent fighting with all my might to restore second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s failed businesses and protect the Soka Gakkai from the threat of destruction.

Many of my seniors then, who had gained so much from Mr. Toda’s support, deserted him the moment his businesses collapsed, showering him with insults as they left. I was outraged. Had they forgotten all he had done for them? What had become of their dedication to kosen-rufu? Didn’t they realize that protecting our mentor is the same as protecting the Soka Gakkai and the noble flow of kosen-rufu?

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “None of you who declare yourselves to be my disciples should ever give way to cowardice” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 764). When the crucial moment comes, it is important to battle through with the ferocity of a charging lion. This is the key to creating a record of lasting brilliance. As the ancient Greek poet and playwright Euripides inscribed, “Courage is very powerful against misfortune.”[3]

On a cold January 7, 55 years ago (in 1951), I wrote in my diary, “No matter what sufferings may await me, I will always count as my highest, greatest happiness the honor of having studied under this man [Josei Toda].”[4] Amid a time of bitter trial, so excruciating that Mr. Toda even considered death, I fought like a demon to protect my mentor.

Breaking through every obstacle, we greeted the bright, clear skies of May 3 (1951) and Mr. Toda’s inauguration as the Soka Gakkai’s second president. It was on that day that he pledged to increase the Soka Gakkai’s membership to 750,000 households. My mentor resolved in his heart that this would be the moment of the Soka Gakkai’s “casting off the transient and revealing the true.”[5]

At long last, the Soka Gakkai was displaying a firm and unwavering commitment to tangibly advance kosen-rufu in accord with the Buddha’s intent and decree. A great mentor rose up to carry out the mission that had been his from time without beginning. His impassioned cry announced far and wide his noble determination to achieve kosen-rufu. How could genuine disciples not be inspired by his example? The time had come for us, too, his youthful, energetic disciples, to “cast off the transient and reveal the true.”

The inaugural ceremony of the young men’s division was the unforgettable start of our journey to fulfill that pledge. It took place on the evening of Wednesday, July 11, 1951, two months after Mr. Toda became president. In the small, spartan Soka Gakkai Headquarters building in Nishi-Kanda, some 180 valiant young men gathered around their mentor, Mr. Toda. We were all poor, but in our hearts we possessed a spirit more honorable and worthy than the wealthiest tycoon or monarch. Following a number of vigorous, youthful determinations from participating members, Mr. Toda at last rose to speak. His first words took us completely by surprise, “The next president of the Soka Gakkai is certain to come from among those of you assembled here today.” Saying that he wished to pay his deepest respect and veneration to that individual, he bowed low.

A hushed, awed atmosphere filled the room. All of us were exhilarated by this astonishing pronouncement. I, sitting in one corner of the room, engraved my mentor’s words in my young heart. It was like a private ceremony between a mentor and disciple who had overcome unimaginable adversity together. The birth of the young men’s division was also a solemn rite foretelling the passing of the baton from the second president to the third president.

Mr. Toda stressed that kosen-rufu is a mission that he must fulfill without fail, and he hoped that each of us would awaken to our sublime role in this endeavor. Our mentor’s firm determination to realize kosen-rufu became the vow of each one of us, young men of profound mission, and resonated throughout our lives.

• • •

It was raining very hard the night of the inaugural ceremony. Oddly, in May three years later (in 1954), a torrent also poured as 5,000 youth division members conducted a pilgrimage to the head temple. And in May of the following year (1955), when we gathered 10,000 young men’s division members at the head temple, it rained heavily yet again. Time and again, rain drenched our indomitable march. But that rain only made us stronger. It forged us into youth of genuine substance. No matter how harsh the gales of slander or storms of destiny may blow, youth march ahead into the maelstrom, with pride and good cheer.

Nichiren Daishonin cites these words [by T’ien-t’ai], “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere” (“Letter to the Brothers,” WND-1, 501). The correct teachings of Nichiren Buddhism and the spirit of mentor and disciple pulse in the midst of great and dramatic struggles.

The German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) observed, “Any task to which a man earnestly devotes himself becomes infinite; only through competitive activity can he help himself.”[6]

• • •

The German poet Novalis (1772–1801) wrote that only through eradicating evil can good be manifested, have a guiding influence and be spread.[7] When I was young, I took that message deeply to heart. Buddhism is a struggle against evil.

It has been the honor of the young men’s division ever since its founding to take the lead in the struggle to courageously refute the erroneous and reveal the true. One such example is an incident that occurred one year after the establishment of the young men’s division, the so-called Operation Tanuki Festival[8] aimed at admonishing a certain Nichiren Shoshu priest.

During the war, there was a corrupt and unprincipled priest (Jimon Ogasawara) who, while head of the Nichiren Shoshu Council, distorted Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings by asserting that Buddhism was subordinate to Shinto. His motivation for proclaiming this slanderous doctrine was to ingratiate himself with the Japanese militarist authorities by backing State Shinto and, with the government’s support, take control of Nichiren Shoshu. It was an incredibly despicable plot.

The whole affair was a ludicrous farce, bringing to mind Nichiren’s insightful warning: “Neither non-Buddhists nor the enemies of Buddhism can destroy the correct teaching of the Thus Come One, but the Buddha’s disciples definitely can. As a sutra says, only worms born of the lion’s body feed on the lion” (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 302). The cowardly priesthood, intimidated by the pressure of the militarist authorities, found themselves at the mercy of this wicked priest’s intrigues. They violated the stern injunction against slandering the Law and accepted the Shinto talisman, which the government was forcing on all Japanese citizens.

In contrast, the Soka Gakkai rejected the talisman and, declaring that the time had come to remonstrate with the government authorities, adamantly resisted these demands out of a staunch refusal to slander the Law. As a result, the militarist authorities cracked down on the Soka Gakkai. The scheming of this corrupt priest triggered the arrest and imprisonment of first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, General Director Toda and all the other Soka Gakkai leaders at the time, eventually leading to Mr. Makiguchi’s death in prison.

• • •

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi heavily underscored this passage from “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” in his copy of The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, “If we do not admonish the evil priests, how can we hope to do good?” (WND-1, 12). Josei Toda, from the day that he emerged from prison (on July 3, 1945), never forgot for even a moment his ardent desire to denounce those “worms born of the lion’s body” and vindicate his mentor.

As chance would have it, during the celebration of the 700th anniversary of the establishment of Nichiren Buddhism in April 1952, word got out that the corrupt priest would appear at the head temple. Mr. Toda gave strict orders to the youth: “If you find him, engage him in a debate and completely refute his claim that Buddhism is subordinate to Shinto!” The young men’s division members spent hours searching the temple grounds for the villain, and, thanks to an insightful tip from a women’s division member, they were finally able to find and confront him. Right then and there, they admonished him for his false teachings and denounced his evil deeds. The priest, however, far from showing any remorse, spat out vile words at the young people, cursing and abusing them. The young men brought him to Mr. Makiguchi’s grave and insisted that he apologize for what he had done. The cunning priest, as if suddenly experiencing a pang of conscience, admitted his offense and even wrote a letter of apology, declaring the erroneousness of his doctrine subordinating Buddhism to Shinto that he had advocated during the war.

But almost before the words were out of his mouth, he recanted his confession and began to write denunciations and attacks of the Soka Gakkai that he spread far and wide, both within the organization and to the general public. His actions were utterly devious, shameless and low. Nichiren’s warning couldn’t have been more appropriate: “A hundred, thousand, ten thousand, million times more than mad elephants, vicious horses, fierce bulls, savage dogs, poisonous snakes … the people of Japan today should fear those high-ranking priests who keep the precepts and yet hold distorted views!” (“The Problem to Be Pondered Night and Day,” WND-1, 621).

We in the young men’s division were enraged. Taking the initiative, we launched a volley of counterattacks, such as publishing articles in the Seikyo Shimbun rebutting the priest’s erroneous views. We engaged in the same type of stinging refutation and vigorous attack as the Daishonin when he wrote: “I overturned them as easily as a sharp sword cutting through a melon or a gale bending the grass” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 771–72).

This episode stands as proof of the way young people practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.

• • •

In response to this fight for truth and justice, the priesthood complained loudly that they had suffered a loss of prestige, and they issued a number of high-handed directives, such as dismissing Josei Toda as Nichiren Shoshu senior lay representative and banning him from visiting the head temple, Taiseki-ji. At the same time, the Nichiren Shoshu Council, which should have severely disciplined this crooked priest, took no clear punitive action. Their only concern was to protect one of their own. Lacking even the slightest inclination to fight for what is right, the priests were terrified by the Soka Gakkai’s passionate commitment to propagating Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. So, like cowards, they attempted to silence Mr. Toda.

Nichiren instructs his followers to speak out against slander of the Law. Mr. Toda was relentless in denouncing those who, like “worms born in the lion’s body,” committed grievous slander. So how could the priests then turn around and punish this great leader of propagation, whom by all rights they should have been praising?! My blood boiled with anger. There was no way that I was going to allow them to harm my mentor even in the slightest. I rose up with a fierce determination, and the members of the young men’s division joined me.

We launched a vigorous campaign against the evil that had become rooted within the priesthood. In July 1952, we visited local Nichiren Shoshu temples throughout Japan, refuting in no uncertain terms the errors made by this deluded priest, while also removing the prejudicial views against us that had been fueled by envy and ignorance. We did this through face-to-face discussions with local priests. After emphasizing that the Soka Gakkai could not be duped by clerical authority, I would conclude these discussions by stating: “We will give our full support to those priests who cooperate with the Soka Gakkai, which is dedicated to carrying out kosen-rufu. However, we will also resolutely fight against any unscrupulous priests who refuse to do so. It’s up to you to decide which side you are on.” Many of the priests we visited promised to see to it that the unjust measures taken against President Toda were rescinded.

The day of our great triumph coincided with the first anniversary of the establishment of the young men’s division on July 11, 1952. One year had passed since the division was formed in the midst of a torrential downpour. I commemorated that auspicious anniversary by winning in our dialogue campaign for justice. And as a result of this valiant struggle waged by the young men, the priesthood finally withdrew all their punitive measures against Mr. Toda toward the end of the month.

Beaming with joy, my outstanding mentor patted me on the shoulder, saying, “Well done.” Tears came to my eyes as I met his warm, affectionate gaze. The correctness of the Soka Gakkai’s position had been clearly and irrevocably demonstrated to the entire world. As Nichiren Daishonin writes: “In the final analysis, unless we succeed in demonstrating that this teaching is supreme, these disasters will continue unabated” (“The Treatment of Illness,” WND-1, 1114). Never allow ingrates to obstruct the flow of Buddhism! Drive the worms out of the lion’s body! Fight forever against the devilish nature of wicked and corrupt authority! This intrepid commitment to refuting the erroneous is the eternal spirit of the young men’s division.

The French essayist Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715–47) pointed out that liars are despicably arrogant,[9] and that undue acclaim easily turns into scorn.[10] How true this is. Just look at the trembling villains whose wicked acts were exposed by the righteous arguments of the young men; observe how those scoundrels who lied so shamelessly ended up in miserable obscurity.

• • •

The American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) wrote that it is heroic to strive wholeheartedly to achieve as much as one possibly can.[11] I have loved this heartfelt cry since the days of my youth. You, my noble young friends, are creating a brilliant record of accomplishment in this irreplaceable life, together with praiseworthy lifelong companions.

At the end of April (2006), the Tokyo metropolitan area youth division were the first in the nation to conduct general meetings. Then in May, all of our districts in the Kansai region held general meetings in the spirit of their vow to be “ever-victorious successors.” From June and July and through to this autumn, youth division general meetings will be held in areas throughout Japan.

For the last few years, the youth division members of various regions of Japan have produced a number of exhibitions that have been well received by the public, including an exhibition on Chinese premier Zhou Enlai held in the Chubu region and an exhibit on British historian Arnold J. Toynbee mounted in the Tohoku region.

Last month (June 2006), young people in Kagawa Prefecture on the island of Shikoku worked hard to organize the Poet Laureate Exhibition. I have received a letter from one scholar who viewed this exhibit, expressing his appreciation for its important contributions toward promoting the culture of the printed word. The scholar quotes a passage from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860): “Thus they [bad books] use up all the time, money and attention of the public which by right belong to good books and their noble aims.”[12]

Since last year, the youth of SGI-Brazil has been working on a project they call “A Million Friends.” They’ve far surpassed their goal and have built a network of 1.5 million friends. Their catchphrase as they aim toward the next 50 years is “A Struggle to Remove Limitations!”

Dr. Bryan Wilson (1926–2004), former president of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion and reader emeritus at Oxford University, once said to me that in order to foster young people, we need to help them awaken to a sense of responsibility to contribute meaningfully to the world, to care for their friends and to engage in service to society, adding that a better future can be realized only by elevating the spirituality of young people. He also noted that Soka youth are making enormous contributions to society through their actions to restore the spirit of compassion on both the personal and global level.

People of genuine intellect have a certain clarity of vision. Arrogant thinkers, on the other hand, can’t see things as they are because their vision is distorted by petty jealousies.

The most distinctive characteristic of the Soka Gakkai is the vibrancy and dynamism of its youth, and their wonderful, energetic spirit—this is the conclusion of the majority of truly eminent thinkers. The leader of one university observed that Soka youth are marvelous young people who have a spiritual mentor, cherish a profound philosophy and possess a lofty worldview. In countries all over the world, people are remarking on how admirable Soka youth are and asking how they became that way. The Soka Gakkai is really the Youth Gakkai. We should always burn with the dynamic vitality and fighting spirit of youth.

• • •

Two months after the death of my mentor Josei Toda, I contributed an article to the Seikyo Shimbun entitled “The Youthful Revolutionary Napoleon.” In it, I asserted that we are an organization of young people thousands of times greater than Napoleon. I envisioned our youth riding gallant steeds, charging courageously ahead toward world peace, clasping the philosophy of the Mystic Law in our right hand, the sword of compassion in our left. Youth, proudly summon forth your incredible potential! Score an astonishing and decisive victory over those arrogant, high-handed relics of bygone times.

Napoleon declared to his soldiers that victory rests on their shoulders.[13] My disciples in the young men’s division, who are like brothers to me, may you boldly follow the path of mentor and disciple all your lives! Buddhas, spreading the Mystic Law throughout the world! The 80th anniversary of the founding of the Soka Gakkai is approaching (in 2010), and the 60th anniversary of the young men’s division is not far behind (in 2011). Let us triumph brilliantly in these next five golden years, making them worth a hundred! Please advance with courage, resolve and optimism.

The Scottish essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) wrote that only the unjust decline, while there is no reason for the just to be defeated. My comrades dedicated to making truth and justice shine! I call on you to join me in creating a history of total victory that will cause millions of youth of future generations to say, “This was their finest hour.”

Written on July 11, 2006, the 55th anniversary of the young men’s division, in the Mentor-Disciple Hall at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters (in Shinanomachi, Tokyo)

Translated from the July 13, 2006, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.


  1. Hall Caine, The Eternal City (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1901), p. 281. ↩︎
  2. Martin Gilbert, The Churchill War Papers, vol. 2: Never Surrender, May 1940–December 1940 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995), p. 368. ↩︎
  3. Euripides, Selected Fragmentary Plays, introductions, translations and commentaries by C. Collard, M. J. Cropp, and K. H. Lee (Warminster, UK: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1997), vol. 1, p. 109. ↩︎
  4. A Youthful Diary, p. 74. ↩︎
  5. Casting off the transient and revealing the true: The revealing of a Buddha’s true status as a Buddha, and the setting aside of that Buddha’s provisional or transient identity. In “Life Span,” the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni cast aside his transient identity as a Buddha who first attained enlightenment in India, revealing his true status as a Buddha who attained enlightenment numberless major world system dust particle kalpas in the past. Similarly, Nichiren Daishonin indicates in his writing “The Opening of the Eyes” that in surviving the execution attempt of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, he cast off his transient status as an ordinary person and revealed his true identity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 269). ↩︎
  6. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, from Goethe’s Collected Works (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989), vol. 10, p. 325. ↩︎
  7. Translated from Japanese. Novalis, Nobarisu zenshu (Collected Works of Novalis), translated by Yasushi Iida (Tokyo: Bokushin-sha, 1977), vol. 2, p. 211. ↩︎
  8. Operation Tanuki Festival: The name given to a plan formulated by a group of young men’s division members in 1952 to remonstrate with a slanderous senior priest named Jimon Ogasawara. (The name of the operation came from the fact that Ogasawara often used to say of himself, “I’m as cunning as a tanuki [a Japanese raccoon dog].”) During the war, seeking to court favor with the militarist government, Ogasawara had espoused the erroneous doctrine that the Buddha was merely a transient manifestation of the Shinto Sun Goddess. He had also been responsible for bringing government persecution on the Soka Gakkai. In Operation Tanuki Festival, the young men’s division members, motivated by a desire to protect the purity of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, refuted the priest’s misguided theory and forced him to write a letter of apology to founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who had died in prison upholding his beliefs. ↩︎
  9. Translated from French. Marquis de Vauvenargues, Oeuvres de Vauvenargues (The Works of Vauvenargues) (Geneve: Slatkine Reprints, 1970), p. 384. ↩︎
  10. Ibid., p. 476. ↩︎
  11. Translated from Japanese. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emason no kotoba (Words of Emerson), translated by Masaru Shiga (Kyoto: Nishimura Shoten, 1948), p. 195. ↩︎
  12. Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, translated by E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), p. 556. ↩︎
  13. Translated from French. Napoleon Bonaparte, Les Pages Immortelles de Napoléon, compiled by Octave Aubry (Paris: Editions Corrêa, 1941), p. 122. ↩︎

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