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Vow

Vow
Volume 30, Chapter 6 (41–50)

Ikeda Sensei’s ongoing novel, The New Human Revolution, which he began writing in 1993, is the history of the progress of the Soka Gakkai following his inauguration in 1960 as its third president, and a record of the modern development of the Soka Gakkai and the SGI. It also serves as practical guidance for how to further expand our movement for kosen-rufu. “Vow” is the sixth chapter of volume 30, the final volume of The New Human Revolution. Ikeda Sensei appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.


Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Because human beings wage war, there is no war that human beings cannot put an end to. With this strong conviction, Shin’ichi Yamamoto made his second visit to China. Premier Zhou Enlai, very eager to meet with him, brushed aside his physicians’ objections and welcomed Shin’ichi at the hospital where he was undergoing treatment.

Shin’ichi felt that his earnest wish for peace between China and the Soviet Union had definitely reached Premier Zhou.

The Chinese leader was convinced that the world was moving toward friendship among all peoples.[1]

The 1970s saw a gradual reduction in international tensions, but when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in support of the pro-Soviet regime in 1979, Western nations harshly condemned it. In protest, many of them boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The nations allied with the Soviet Union then retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as a protest against the U.S. invasion of the small Caribbean nation of Grenada in 1983. It seemed as if time were moving backward, and there was talk of a “new Cold War.”

To overcome the standoff between the two sides, Shin’ichi continued his efforts to meet and talk with leading figures in the U.S. and Soviet Union, making a number of concrete proposals, including selecting an appropriate place such as Switzerland for a meeting of their top leaders.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev played a major role in bringing an end to the Cold War. In 1985, as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he implemented the new policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring)—leading his nation on a bold change of course from its strict communist system toward greater liberalization.

Advocating a program of “new thinking,” Gorbachev sought improved relations with the nations of the West, and proposed and carried out arms reductions. In November 1985, the door that had been closed for more than six years was opened, and talks between top U.S. and Soviet leaders were held in Geneva. When Shin’ichi heard this news, he felt that at last the time had come. His long-cherished wish had indeed been realized.

When both sides are serious about peace, it is possible for them to surmount their differences and reach accord, just as rivers flowing on different courses eventually merge into the ocean.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Mikhail Gorbachev made the decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan, where the fighting had reached a stalemate.

In December 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a treaty eliminating all intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), an epochal event in military history.

The reforms taking place in the Soviet Union spread to other nations in Eastern Europe, creating a groundswell of freedom and democracy that led to the fall of the communist governments of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and other nations. These came to be known as the Revolutions of 1989.

East Germany was lagging behind in reform, and its citizens continued to flee to the West. Then, on Nov. 9, 1989, a government spokesman announced at a press conference that citizens were now free to travel outside the country, effective immediately. This was actually an error, for the announcement was supposed to say that applications for visas to leave East Germany would be accepted, starting the following day, Nov. 10.

East Germans rushed to the border checkpoints, which guards were eventually compelled to open, and people poured into West Berlin. At the same time, they began to tear down the wall that divided their city. This surging tide of freedom and democracy seemed to be historically inevitable.

At the beginning of December 1989, U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met for a summit in the Mediterranean nation of Malta.

They held the first joint press conference by leaders of their nations and announced the start of a “new peaceful period,” effectively marking the end of the Cold War.

On Dec. 22, the Brandenburg Gate, which had come to symbolize the two Germany’s division, was opened.

Watching the television news, Shin’ichi Yamamoto remembered what he had said to those traveling with him as they stood together in front of that gate, after the rain had stopped, on his visit to Berlin in October 1961: “I am sure that in 30 years, this Berlin Wall will no longer stand.”

This was an expression of Shin’ichi’s faith that the conscience, wisdom and courage of people longing for peace would triumph in the end. At the same time, it was an assertion of his determination as a Buddhist to dedicate his life to achieving world peace. Now, 28 years later, it had become a reality. The times had taken a great step forward.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Mikhail Gorbachev had initiated moves toward disarmament, taken steps to rebuild the Soviet economy and implemented political reforms to promote democratization. In addition, he oversaw constitutional amendments to create an executive presidency and shift away from dictatorial one-party rule to a multiparty political system. In March 1990, he was inaugurated as the first president of the Soviet Union. That same year, he was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his enormous contributions to peace.

Gorbachev foresaw the difficulties and confusion that his historic social experiment, the new reform policy of perestroika, would incite.

At his first meeting with Shin’ichi Yamamoto, he said: “Our society has had a unique history. Around 120 languages are spoken in the Soviet Union, and the number of ethnic groups is even larger. Ours is an extremely complex society. The first thing that perestroika has brought is freedom. But the challenge before us now is how we use that freedom.”

Someone who has been long confined in darkness will be dazzled by sunlight when they step outside for the first time. Likewise, it is only to be expected that people in a society lacking a foundation of freedom and democracy will be disoriented once those liberties are granted. Various forces in society will begin to make demands and seek to promote their own interests.

Gorbachev’s concerns in this regard were indeed warranted. Ethnic conflicts flared up across the country and economic stagnation obscured the way ahead. Bureaucrats, intent on safeguarding their privileges, sought to oust Gorbachev, and advocates of more radical reform took advantage of their new freedoms to attack him for not doing enough.

Several Soviet republics moved to break away from the Soviet Union and the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—began preparations for declaring their independence. The times roiled with a turbulence far surpassing anything Gorbachev had anticipated.

In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin, a proponent of radical reform, was elected president of the Russian republic.

In August, however, a hard-line communist faction opposed to reform carried out a coup d’état, holding Gorbachev under house arrest in Crimea, where he was staying at the time.

Amid these raging waves of historic change, Shin’ichi prayed for Gorbachev’s safe release.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Russian President Boris Yeltsin called for the defeat of the coup d’état by the hard-line leaders, and, with the support of people demanding democratization, it was quashed.

After being released, Mikhail Gorbachev returned to Moscow to find that power was shifting to Yeltsin’s hands, a trend that consequently accelerated.

In August 1991, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the Communist Party and called for the Communist Party Central Committee to dissolve. In September, the State Council of the Soviet Union recognized the independence of the three Baltic States. In December, Yeltsin, as Russia’s leader, and the leaders of the Ukraine and Belarus, announced the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to replace the Soviet Union. Eleven Soviet republics signed the founding agreement, making official the Soviet Union’s demise, and Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president.

Seventy-four years after the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union, the leader of the Eastern bloc of nations, came to an end, swept away by the surging currents of history.

Gorbachev, the first and the last president of the Soviet Union, was harshly criticized, but his resolve and his actions had brought a fresh breeze of freedom and democracy to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and created an important turning point in history.

Soon after Gorbachev’s resignation as president, the writer Chinghiz Aitmatov, his close friend and a supporter of perestroika, wrote a letter to Shin’ichi Yamamoto. It was titled “A Parable Told to Gorbachev” and detailed the latter’s commitment to perestroika.

When the implementation of perestroika was under way and being applauded as a historic democratic reform, Gorbachev invited Aitmatov to visit him at the Kremlin. At their meeting, Aitmatov shared the following parable with Gorbachev.

One day, a prophet visits a great lord and asks, “Is it true that out of your concern for the people’s happiness, you wish to give them complete freedom and equality?” That is true, confirms the lord, to whom the prophet then says, “You have two paths forward, two fates, two possibilities, and you are free to choose between them.”

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

One of the two courses the prophet presented to the great lord was to govern strictly to consolidate the power of the throne. If he did that, then as heir to the throne, he would acquire unmatched power and be able to enjoy the privileges of that position.

The second course was to give his people their freedom. That, however, was the difficult path of martyrdom. Why? The prophet explained, “The freedom you give the people will come back to you as the dark ingratitude of its recipients.”

He continued: “Those who obtain their freedom will take revenge on you for the past as soon as they are liberated. They will denounce you to the masses, revile you in public, and scoff at and mock you and those close to you.

“Many of your once-trusted colleagues will openly criticize you and refuse to follow your instructions. To the end of your days you will never be free from the ambitions of your associates, who will continually try to humiliate you and trample on your name.

“Great lord, you are free to choose between these two fates.”

The lord asked the prophet to wait, saying that he would ponder this and make his decision in seven days.

After Aitmatov finished recounting the parable and prepared to leave, Gorbachev spoke.

“There’s no need to wait seven days—not even seven minutes. I have already made my choice. I will hold to my course no matter what. Democracy, freedom and deliverance from the horrors of the past and all forms of dictatorship—these are the only way for me. The people are free to judge me however they please.

“Even if many today don’t understand, I am determined to follow that path.”

This letter sent by Chinghiz Aitmatov to Shin’ichi Yamamoto fully conveyed Gorbachev’s extraordinary commitment to pursuing perestroika.

People who only care about protecting their own interests, who hunger for fame and profit, cannot carry out true reform. The great undertaking of kosen-rufu, too, will be achieved by people of resolute commitment.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Republic led by Boris Yeltsin became the Russian Federation, inheriting the international rights and privileges of the former Soviet Union. Many difficulties lay ahead, however, including a severe economic crisis.

The countries of the Eastern bloc gained their freedom, but ethnic and regional conflicts broke out in Yugoslavia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Chechnya Republic in Russia and other places. Acts of terrorism also became more frequent.

Additionally, with the end of the Cold War, struggles triggered by ethnic, religious and economic factors became more deeply entrenched, and regional strife spread around the world.

The road to peace is a perilous one—which is why we must never halt our progress toward achieving it.

In the peace proposals that Shin’ichi Yamamoto issued every Jan. 26, SGI Day, he urged that the post-Cold War world order should be forged by creating an international system and rules aimed at realizing peace, with the United Nations taking the lead.

He also felt that in order to usher in the dawning of a new age, there was a need to dispel the despair, cynicism and suspicion that had clouded the minds of people seeking peace, democracy and freedom.

To accomplish that, channels for open and broad-minded dialogue must be made possible on every level. This means searching not just for a way to alleviate the symptoms of the pathology of our times, but undertaking the much more arduous work of finding a fundamental cure that treats the causes of that illness.

After Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as president, he and Shin’ichi continued to meet on several occasions.

In April 1993, when Mr. Gorbachev and his wife Raisa visited Japan, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Soka University, and Raisa was recognized with Soka Women’s College Award of Highest Honor. Mr. Gorbachev gave a speech that day in the university auditorium.

In 1996, a compilation of the dialogues between Shin’ichi and Mr. Gorbachev was published, titled Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century.

In November 1997, Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev visited the Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High Schools.

Through persistence, friendship becomes more deeply rooted and blossoms more beautifully.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

In response to the baseless attacks on the Soka Gakkai by priests of the Shoshin-kai, Shin’ichi Yamamoto launched a series of fresh initiatives for kosen-rufu. Inspired by this, Soka Gakkai members began a new, joyful advance. The movement for kosen-rufu spread and grew steadily, regaining its momentum month by month, year by year, to flow powerfully like a mighty river.

The path of kosen-rufu, however, is always steep and challenging, and one must overcome all sorts of ordeals and obstacles to keep moving forward.

Shin’ichi himself experienced numerous personal trials. On October 3, 1984, his second son, Hisahiro, died suddenly of an illness. He was only 29.

Hisahiro had obtained a master’s degree in law at Soka University, and joined the university staff after graduating, motivated by his wish to protect the citadel of Soka education for future generations.

On September 23, Hisahiro was on campus making preparations for various upcoming events. Later, he complained of stomach pain and was hospitalized. It appears that even the day before he passed away, he was discussing plans for the Soka University Festival with other staff members over the phone in the hospital.

Hisahiro often told his friends about his dream to build Soka University into a leading world university that would have a place in history. That would require truly dedicated individuals who were willing to give their all to achieving that goal, he said, and he was determined to be one of those individuals.

Shin’ichi was in Kansai to attend the 5th SGI General Meeting and other activities, and was devoting himself to encouraging members day after day.

On the evening of October 3, when he learned of Hisahiro’s death, he offered prayers at the Kansai Culture Center for his son’s eternal happiness. Although Hisahiro died so young, Shin’ichi was confident that he lived his life exactly as he had resolved, doing his utmost to fulfill his mission.

Shin’ichi felt that there must be profound meaning in his son’s death.

It is to be expected that all sorts of difficulties and hardships will arise in the process of striving for kosen-rufu. Genuine faith enables us to confront anything that happens without fear or doubt, to deeply perceive the true nature of every painful event with the eyes of faith and to overcome every hurdle.

The path of kosen-rufu is a long, ongoing series of struggles from which we can never retreat. To have this awareness and embody the principle that “difficulties are peace and comfort” (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 115) is what it means to apply the Daishonin’s teachings to our lives and is the heart of the Soka Gakkai spirit.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

In October 1985, Shin’ichi Yamamoto himself fell ill and entered a university hospital for a thorough medical examination.

He had suffered from tuberculosis when he was young, and his physician at the time had said he probably wouldn’t live to see the age of 30, but since then he had spent his days exerting himself tirelessly. Even after stepping down as Soka Gakkai president, he traveled around the world and was, in fact, even busier than before. At one point, Soka Gakkai President Eisuke Akizuki had fallen ill, and Shin’ichi responded by striving even harder to support the members.

It occurred to him that he would soon be 58, the same age that his mentor, Josei Toda, was when he passed away. Further, reflecting on the fact that his immediate successor as Soka Gakkai president, Kiyoshi Jujo, had also died at 58, Shin’ichi made a fresh determination: “I have a mission for worldwide kosen-rufu that was entrusted to me by my mentor. For that reason, I cannot afford to be ill. I must live out my life to the fullest for the sake of my mentor and lay the enduring foundations for our global movement for kosen-rufu!”

Shin’ichi turned his thoughts to new plans for the future of kosen-rufu, while freshly recognizing the importance of taking good care of his health.

Life is an unrelenting struggle with our destiny.

We may experience the loss of loved ones, or become ill ourselves. We may struggle with family discord, children getting into trouble, unemployment, bankruptcy or financial hardship. Suffering assails us without end, like raging waves pounding us one after another. That’s why we practice Nichiren Buddhism, why we have to become strong. There is no destiny that we cannot overcome through faith.

The harder we continue to strive without letting difficulties defeat us, the more our spirits are forged, strengthened and deepened, fostering the power to overcome any challenge. At the same time, we attain an expansive life state that enables us to understand the sufferings and sorrows of others, to empathize with those who are struggling and to sincerely support and encourage them.

When we live undeterred by suffering, fearlessly challenging our problems and moving forward, this itself attests to the tremendous power of Nichiren Buddhism. In other words, when we dedicate our lives to kosen-rufu, our karma is transformed into our noble mission, and our problems become invaluable treasures of the heart.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Shin’ichi Yamamoto kept striving wholeheartedly for worldwide kosen-rufu. Time does not wait.

In Japan, the criminal case continued against Tomomasa Yamawaki [a former legal counsel of the Soka Gakkai], who had been arrested (in 1981) on charges of extortion and attempted extortion against the Soka Gakkai. Shin’ichi testified as a witness for the prosecution in October 1982 and again in 1983. The Tokyo District Court rendered its decision in March 1985.

Yamawaki was sentenced to three years imprisonment with mandatory labor and no suspension. In explaining its sentence, the court stated: “Considering not only the large amount of money involved, but also Yamawaki’s breach of his duty of confidentiality as an attorney, this should be described as a crime that constitutes a grave violation of trust.” In addition, the court exposed Yamawaki’s disgraceful, malicious methods. It found that while “colluding with activist priests and supporting their attacks on the Soka Gakkai, and acting to inflame public opinion against the Soka Gakkai through the tabloid media,” he also made threats against the Soka Gakkai, an organization that only wished for harmonious relations with the priesthood.

The court also noted the dishonest tactics Yamawaki had adopted in the course of the trial, finding: “The defendant has not only denied the charges from the earliest stage of the investigation, but fabricated numerous stories and submitted falsified evidence. By doing so, he has demonstrated no sense of remorse at all … [T]he nature of the crime is serious, and the defendant’s culpability grave.”

The decision contained the phrase “the defendant’s testimony was not credible” multiple times, making it clear that Yamawaki had repeatedly lied in court.

Yamawaki immediately appealed the Tokyo District Court’s decision, but the District Court’s ruling was upheld by the Tokyo High Court (in 1988). He then appealed to the Supreme Court. In January 1991, however, the court rejected his appeal, thereby finalizing his three-year sentence.

The Soka Gakkai had originally filed a criminal complaint with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in June 1980, with Yamawaki being arrested in January 1981. Ten years had passed since then.

No plot or conspiracy that attempts to block our efforts to realize kosen-rufu can stop the progress of the Soka Gakkai. As Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Though evils may be numerous, they cannot prevail over a single great truth” (“Many in Body, One in Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 618)

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Shin’ichi Yamamoto worked with all his might to create a growing momentum for peace around the world based on the teaching of Nichiren Buddhism, overcoming every obstacle along the way.

He also made the greatest efforts to promote harmonious relations between the Soka Gakkai and the priesthood, and strove in every way possible to support Nichiren Shoshu for the sake of kosen-rufu.

Following the 700th memorial service commemorating Nichiren Daishonin’s passing (in 1282) held in 1981, the priesthood turned its attention to creating a wonderful celebration for the 700th anniversary of the founding of the head temple Taiseki-ji, slated for the autumn of 1990, and ensuring it was a great success.

At the beginning of January 1984, at the strong request of High Priest Nikken, Shin’ichi was reappointed as the chief representative of all Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations [after having resigned from that position in 1979].

In March, at a planning meeting for events commemorating the head temple’s 700th anniversary, Shin’ichi announced the Soka Gakkai’s goal of building 200 new temples for Nichiren Shoshu within the next decade: “In accord with the Daishonin’s declaration that ‘The “great vow” refers to the propagation of the Lotus Sutra’ (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 82), I humbly submit our proposal to build new temples in order to ensure the eternal transmission of the Law and achieve kosen-rufu.”

The donation of these temples was an expression of the Soka Gakkai’s sincere wish for enduring harmonious relations between the priesthood and the laity.

In October 1985, High Priest Nikken appointed Shin’ichi the chairperson of the Head Temple 700th Anniversary Celebrations Committee. Shin’ichi applied himself wholeheartedly to the preparations, determined to make the event a resounding success.

The Soka Gakkai was pouring tremendous energy into building the promised 200 temples, and it had made significant progress, completing 111 temples by December 1990.

Shin’ichi cherished the hope that the priests would sincerely appreciate and treasure the Soka Gakkai members, who were striving for kosen-rufu day after day.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “If you are of the same mind as Nichiren, you must be a Bodhisattva of the Earth” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 385). Soka Gakkai members who exert themselves tirelessly to spread the Mystic Law as Nichiren Daishonin taught are Bodhisattvas of the Earth and the children of the Buddha. The Lotus Sutra passage that “You should rise and greet [a practitioner of the Mystic Law] from afar, showing him the same respect you would a Buddha” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 365) is the essence of the Daishonin’s spirit.

Praising, supporting and encouraging the children of the Buddha are essential to the development of kosen-rufu.

References

  1. Translated from Japanese. Zhou Enlai, Shu Onrai senshu (Selected Writings of Zhou Enlai), translated and edited by Shuichi Morishita (Tokyo: Chugoku Shoten, 1978), p. 700.

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