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Vow

Vow
Volume 30, Chapter 6 (81–90)

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

Arriving in Hong Kong after his visit to India, Shin’ichi Yamamoto met with Governor David Wilson and participated in a number of other events. From there, on Feb. 22, he headed back to Japan, stopping first in Okinawa.

This had been Shin’ichi’s first overseas trip for peace since the Soka Gakkai had achieved its spiritual independence from the priesthood.

In India, where Buddhism has its origins, as well as in Thailand and Hong Kong, members were steadily forging strong bonds of friendship and trust with people in their communities and actively working to promote peace, culture and education. Looking to the future, Shin’ichi devoted himself fully to securing a new foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu.

In Okinawa, the 1st SGI Asia General Meeting—held over three days—began on Feb. 25 at the Okinawa Training Center in Onnason. Representatives from countries and territories throughout Asia participated. Shin’ichi attended all three days’ events and encouraged the members with every ounce of his being.

At a gongyo session on the second day (Feb. 26), Shin’ichi announced that a Soka Bodhi Tree Garden would be established on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. Noting that Nichiren Daishonin wished for the happiness of all people, he reaffirmed that the purpose of our Buddhist practice is for each of us to live a vibrant and enjoyable life.

He said: “There’s no need to be obsessive about faith and put pressure on yourself as a result. Also, you mustn’t give guidance that makes people feel burdened and lose their joy.

“Doing gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo benefit your life. But that doesn’t mean that you will be punished or suffer negative consequences if you don’t do them. If that were the case, we’d have a situation where those who never practiced Nichiren Buddhism in the first place would be better off!

“The Daishonin teaches that sincere faith in the Mystic Law, and even chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo just once, is a source of immeasurable benefit. With that conviction and the determination to strive in your Buddhist practice with courage, confidence and joy, your life state will expand limitlessly and you will accumulate ever-growing good fortune. Our Buddhist practice is not an obligation; it is our greatest privilege. The key to faith in Nichiren Buddhism lies in this subtle shift in our mind-set.”

Shin’ichi wanted everyone, as members of the Soka family, to advance wisely and enjoyably along the path of kosen-rufu, savoring the joy and exhilaration of their Buddhist practice.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

On Feb. 27, the third and final day, the SGI Asia General Meeting and a peace music festival were held in conjunction with the Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting and Okinawa Prefecture General Meeting. Members from Okinawa and throughout Japan participated with 250 visiting SGI members from 15 countries and territories in Asia.

Okinawa was poised to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its reversion to Japan [from U.S. rule on May 15, 1972], and the members there brimmed with a determination to bring everlasting happiness to the islands of Okinawa—to make each one a Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. They also renewed their vow to spread from Okinawa, the gateway to Asia, Nichiren Daishonin’s philosophy for realizing genuine peace and prosperity.

The members from throughout Asia also strengthened their commitment to work closely with their fellow members, forge ties of friendship and trust with people in their communities, and thereby build the foundations for promoting friendly, peaceful relations.

During the peace music festival, the young men’s division leader of Bharat (India) Soka Gakkai read the SGI’s “Asia Declaration” in English:

We, the SGI members in Asia, affirm the following three points:

First, to respect the culture and traditions of our countries and show actual proof of the principle that “faith manifests itself daily life” in order to contribute to the flourishing of our societies.

Second, to engage actively in international cultural and educational exchange based on a global vision.

Third, to support United Nations–centered efforts to build a new, peaceful world order.

The declaration was unanimously adopted with resounding applause.

The Okinawa Music Corps and Fife and Drum Corps then played a fanfare titled “The Dawn of Asia.” This was followed by uplifting song and dance performances led by SGI members from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, many of whom were dressed in traditional national costumes. The atmosphere overflowed with youthful vitality and the vibrant joy that comes from dedicating one’s life freely to kosen-rufu.

For the finale, a 200-member chorus—the majority of whom were 20-year-olds born in 1972, the year that Okinawa returned to Japan—took the stage and sang “The March of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth” and “Our Beautiful Islands of Okinawa.” Some people stood up and started dancing the traditional Okinawan kachashi dance in rhythm with the music.

When Shin’ichi Yamamoto heard that most of the chorus members were 20 years old, his eyes sparkled.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “Young people are all treasures. As long as young people enthusiastically strive in faith, the future is assured.”

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Shin’ichi Yamamoto continued speaking to the Okinawa leaders [while watching the performances]: “You need to value young potential and warmly support each person so that they can develop and grow. You can’t help people grow if you leave them on their own.

“We should do activities together with younger or newer members, such as chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, going on home visits and introducing others to Nichiren Buddhism. We must thoroughly teach them the basics of faith, practice and study. It’s important that we diligently and patiently devote attention to fostering their growth.

“And, just as with this music festival, give young people a chance to take center stage so that they can learn to think for themselves and act on their own initiative, thereby confidently giving full play to their abilities and potential.

“Their example will be a model for the future of the Soka Gakkai organization in Okinawa.

“Truly great leaders are those who steadily foster youth to be even more capable than they themselves are. By earnestly nurturing young people now, and making it a tradition, you will assure a strong Okinawa in the 21st century.”

The members of the audience stood up one after another until all were on their feet dancing the kachashi in rhythm with the young performers’ singing that overflowed with passion and energy.

The members at the general meeting came from countries with different histories and cultures, but they were united by their shared concern for Asia and their commitment to peace.

Shin’ichi went to the microphone and began his speech: “There are lovely flowers here; there is the beautiful sea and brilliant sunlight. The Okinawa Training Center is awash in the colors of spring.” The members applauded warmly.

Shin’ichi’s words perfectly resonated with the immense joy they all felt now that the Soka Gakkai had cast off the chains of an authoritarian priesthood and begun a bright new journey.

In his speech, Shin’ichi announced plans to build a training center in the Philippines and establish a Soka kindergarten in Singapore, in addition to the one that was scheduled to open in Hong Kong. The announcements all brimmed with hope.

Shin’ichi also mentioned Okinawa’s historic role as a bridge linking nations and declared that this SGI Asia General Meeting in Okinawa marked the start of an age of great exchange in the spheres of philosophy, culture and peace, leading into the 21st century.

As he spoke, Shin’ichi thought how overjoyed his mentor, Josei Toda, would have been to see this general meeting, knowing how he had wished for all the people of Asia to enjoy happiness and peace.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Okinawa brims with respect for life and a spirit of generous, openhearted friendship—illustrated by two famous Okinawan expressions “Nuchi du takara” (Life is a treasure), and “Ichariba chode” (Once we meet, we are brothers and sisters).

As the great Okinawan leader Saion (1682–1761) put it: “A person’s life must be considered his most important treasure, and he must guard it and nourish it.”[1]

During World War II, however, Okinawa was the site of a bloody land battle, in which countless residents lost their lives.

Whenever Shin’ichi Yamamoto thought of Okinawa, he strongly sensed the need to change the destiny of these islands so that they would exemplify Nichiren Daishonin’s vision of peace through the humanistic ideals of Buddhism.

On July 16, 1960, two and a half months after he was inaugurated as third president of the Soka Gakkai, Shin’ichi made his first visit to Okinawa. He chose July 16 because it was the date on which the Daishonin had submitted his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” in 1260. He wanted the members in Okinawa to rise to the challenge of building a beautiful realm of lasting peace and prosperity, and thus lead the world in realizing the Daishonin’s ideal of “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land.”

On his first trip to Okinawa, Shin’ichi visited a number of World War II battle sites in the southern part of the main island. He listened to members’ accounts of their horrendous experiences during the war. Pained by their heartbreaking stories, he made a profound and resolute vow to strive together with the Okinawa members to transform their islands into places brimming with happiness and the brilliant development of kosen-rufu.

In light of the teachings of Buddhism, those who have suffered the most deserve to enjoy the greatest happiness.

One expression of Shin’ichi’s determination was choosing Okinawa as the place to start work on his novel The Human Revolution on Dec. 2, 1964. It opens with the words: “Nothing is more barbarous than war. Nothing is more cruel.”

The novel’s theme is that “a great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.” It encapsulates the principle for creating peace set forth by his mentor, Josei Toda.

Then, in 1977, the Soka Gakkai opened its Okinawa Training Center. It was built on a former U.S. Mace B missile launch site, which had missiles pointed at targets in Asia. Shin’ichi had come up with the idea of turning the site into a base for transmitting the message of peace to the world.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

The original plan for the Okinawa Training Center had been to remove the missile launch complex from the grounds. But when Shin’ichi Yamamoto heard this, he suggested: “Why don’t we leave it in place as a historical reminder of humanity’s foolish obsession with war, and make the training center a symbol of world peace?”

Now [at the time of Shin’ichi’s visit in February 1992], the grounds of the training center were beautifully landscaped. The missile launch complex had been transformed into the World Peace Monument topped with six statues of youth looking to the future, becoming a place where people made a pledge to work for lasting peace. More than a hundred varieties of plants adorned the center’s grounds, including cherry trees, bougainvillea and hibiscus. The former U.S. Mace B missile site was reborn as a center where members gathered to reaffirm their commitment to kosen-rufu and world peace.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds” (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4). He is declaring that one land is not essentially different from another; we can change the place where we live into the best possible environment through our own inner resolve and outlook.

The inner transformation of human beings, who are themselves the agents of all change, is key to actualizing a peaceful and prosperous society.

The Daishonin dedicated his entire life to the goal of establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land. “Establishing the correct teaching” means establishing the ideals of Buddhism—such as respect for the dignity of life and compassion—in people’s hearts through our efforts to widely spread the teaching of the Mystic Law. “The peace of the land” is the realization of a flourishing society and lasting peace that results from establishing the correct teaching.

Our religious mission as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism is “establishing the correct teaching,” or kosen-rufu, which leads quite naturally to efforts to fulfill the social mission of actualizing “the peace of the land.”

Without establishing the correct teaching, it is not possible to achieve true peace. And without contributing to peace, our efforts to establish the correct teaching will not fulfill their purpose.

We, the members of the Soka Gakkai, filled with pride in our mission and firmly grounded in reality, continue our gradual yet steady advance to actualize Nichiren’s vision for peace by reaching out in dialogue to one person after another. Here, we find the path leading to the true victory of the people.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

[At the SGI Asia General Meeting on Feb. 27, 1992,] Shin’ichi Yamamoto addressed the members from Okinawa and throughout Asia gathered at the Okinawa Training Center, as well as members across Japan who were watching by satellite broadcast: “Our Soka family will always advance in solidarity based on sincerity, equality and trust, transcending national boundaries and ethnic differences, and free of any kind of discrimination. I am confident that nowhere else in the world exists such a beautiful global family joined by humanistic ideals. As first-rate global citizens, let us set forth onto the great stage of a new renaissance, a new religious reformation.”

He added powerfully: “The road ahead in the coming new era of kosen-rufu is also bound to be filled with trials and challenges. We cannot obtain victory or accomplish brilliant achievements unless we are wise and determined.

“Buddhism is a win-or-lose struggle. So is life and, indeed, everything. Therefore, we of the Soka Gakkai must win. Winning is the only way to protect our members and defend what is right.

“I want you to become determined, victorious leaders who resolutely protect our members and enable them to become happy!”

Pledging in their hearts to do just that, the audience broke into loud applause.

After visiting Okinawa, Shin’ichi traveled to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu. It was his first trip there in 10 years. Attending the prefectural general meeting, he led the members in a Soka Gakkai song.

The members in Oita had remained unshaken by the recent trouble with the Nichiren Shoshu priests (which later came to be known as the second priesthood issue). This could be attributed to the fact that, during the first priesthood issue (starting in the late 1970s), while enduring callous attacks by priests of the [anti–Soka Gakkai] Shoshin-kai, they had courageously stood up to proclaim the integrity of the lay organization.

They knew all too well the devious nature of the priests and the underhanded methods they used to attack the Soka Gakkai. They were also powerfully aware, in light of the Daishonin’s writings, that the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven were finally appearing, and they were determined not to be defeated.

Overcoming the challenge of the first priesthood issue had fortified their resolve to strive for kosen-rufu with the Soka Gakkai and strengthened their conviction in faith.

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “It is not one’s allies but one’s powerful enemies who assist one’s progress” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 770). The proud history of the Soka Gakkai has been one of achieving dynamic development by calling forth difficulties and opposition, battling them and overcoming them.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Shin’ichi Yamamoto exerted himself tirelessly for kosen-rufu. Now that the Soka Gakkai was free of the shackles of a dogmatic and authoritarian Nichiren Shoshu, he felt driven to build a magnificent solid foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu. “The time has come!” he told himself. “The hope-filled dawn of a new era has arrived!”

To finish laying the necessary groundwork for that goal by the year 2000—in other words, within the 20th century—he decided to travel around the globe as much as was physically possible. In 2001, the first year of the 21st century, he would be 73 years old. His plan was to complete the foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu by the time he was 80.

From early June through early July 1992, he made a monthlong trip overseas, visiting Germany, Egypt, Turkey and other countries.

In Frankfurt, he attended a historic joint conference of SGI members from 13 countries, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Russia.

In his speech, Shin’ichi told the members that Josei Toda had cherished a profound concern for the people of Eastern Europe and Russia. Especially, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he said, Mr. Toda grieved for the Hungarian people and the terrible hardship and suffering being inflicted on them.

Shin’ichi encouraged those present, saying: “In order to transform that tragic destiny of humankind, Mr. Toda called on us young people to establish a solid life philosophy and bring the world together through humanistic action. I have striven to realize each and every one of my mentor’s ideals and visions in that regard. And now, so many wonderful Bodhisattvas of the Earth have emerged in Hungary, the focus of Mr. Toda’s concern at the time, and the rest of Eastern Europe and Russia.”

Shin’ichi sensed that people in every country he visited had been waiting for the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism.

In October that same year, Shin’ichi made his eighth trip to China. During that visit, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences presented him with the title of Honorary Research Professor, the first time it had ever bestowed this honor.

On that occasion, Shin’ichi delivered a lecture titled, “The Twenty-first Century and East Asian Civilization.” In it, he spoke of the ethos of symbiosis, or harmonious coexistence, that characterizes East Asian civilization, and stressed the need for a new trend of thought that would promote harmonious coexistence among human beings and between humanity and nature.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Toward the end of January 1993, which the Soka Gakkai had designated “Soka Renaissance—Year of Victory,” Shin’ichi Yamamoto set off on an overseas trip lasting close to two months, visiting the United States and countries in South America.

At Claremont McKenna College in California, he gave a lecture titled “In Search of New Principles of Integration.”

In it, he suggested that the restoration of human wholeness is key in seeking new integrating principles for our world and, to accomplish this, open dialogue and gradualism based on tolerance and nonviolence are necessary. He also discussed the life states of bodhisattva and Buddhahood as taught in Nichiren Buddhism.

Dr. Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel laureate in chemistry and peace, served as one of the commentators after the lecture. He voiced his belief that the bodhisattva spirit presented by Shin’ichi in his lecture was vital for the happiness of humanity, and declared that the world was fortunate to have the Soka Gakkai because it embodies this spirit.

Shin’ichi also met with Rosa Parks, known as the mother of the American Civil Rights Movement, at the Soka University Los Angeles campus.

In 1955, Mrs. Parks protested the discriminatory seating policy of the buses [in Montgomery, Alabama] through an act of deliberate defiance. Her action sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ultimately led to the end of segregation.

Together with a group of young people, Shin’ichi welcomed Mrs. Parks, and in tribute to her selfless human rights struggle, greeted her with the words: “Welcome, treasure of humanity, mother of the world!” During their meeting, Shin’ichi and those present also celebrated Mrs. Parks’ upcoming 80th birthday with a cake that his wife, Mineko, had arranged for.

In her conversation with Shin’ichi, which reverberated with their shared love for humanity, Mrs. Parks mentioned a book titled Talking Pictures that was then being compiled. The idea was to have noted figures select a photograph that had influenced their life most deeply. She shared that she had been asked to contribute to the book and said: “At first, I thought I would select a photograph from the time of the Bus Boycott, but I changed my mind, realizing that my meeting with you, President Yamamoto, is sure to be the most impactful event of my life. I would like to embark on a journey with you for world peace. If you agree, I would like to include a photograph of our meeting together today as my contribution to the project.”

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Shin’ichi Yamamoto was humbled by Rosa Parks’ request to use a photograph from their meeting together as her selection for the book Talking Pictures.

Sometime later, a copy of the published book arrived and, true to her word, it contained a photograph of the two of them shaking hands during their meeting in Los Angeles. In the photo, the mother of the American Civil Rights Movement wore a beautiful, gentle smile.

An accompanying brief commentary by Mrs. Parks began: “This photograph is about the future, and I can’t think of a more important moment in my life.”[2] She also said that, in spite of different cultural backgrounds, people can come together, and that she regarded her meeting with Shin’ichi as a new opportunity to work for world peace.[3]

During this trip to the United States, Shin’ichi visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The museum featured exhibits on the Holocaust, the greatest atrocity in human history, as well as other instances of human rights oppression around the world. After touring the museum and being confronted with images of the cruel persecution inflicted on the Jewish people, Shin’ichi said to the museum representatives present: “I found the museum deeply moving. But more than that, it roused great outrage in my heart. And still more, it stirred in me a profound determination for the future, that such a tragedy must never be allowed to occur again, at any time or in any place.”

The devilish nature lurking in the depths of human life manifests itself in discrimination and oppression based on ethnic, ideological and religious differences, and is found at work in the human heart that accepts and condones such discrimination and oppression. Battling this devilish nature is the mission of practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism.

First Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi died in prison for his beliefs, having battled persecution by Japan’s militarist government, which was carrying out a policy of thought control so that the war effort could proceed without hindrance. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, who was imprisoned along with him, stood up after the war and advocated the ideal of global citizenship. The actions of these two, mentor and disciple, constituted a struggle against any form of intolerance that divides people.

Kosen-rufu is a process of building and expanding solidarity for human rights.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

On Feb. 6, Shin’ichi Yamamoto flew from Miami, Florida, to the Republic of Colombia. The visit, his first to the Latin American country, was being made at the invitation of President César Gaviria Trujillo and the Colombian Ministry of Culture. President Gaviria had been inaugurated in August 1990 as the nation’s youngest president at age 43, and was energetically engaged in fighting terrorism and the drug cartels.

Shortly before Shin’ichi and those accompanying him were set to depart from Miami, a car bomb had exploded in a busy commercial section of Colombia’s capital, Santafé de Bogotá (now Bogotá), killing and injuring many people. There had been a long series of drug cartel–led terrorist attacks, and a state of emergency had been declared.

In Colombia, Shin’ichi was scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of an exhibition featuring the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum collection of Japanese art, “Eternal Treasures of Japan.” The exhibition was being held in reciprocation for the “Colombian Gold Exhibition: Legendary Treasures of El Dorado,” which had been held at the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, three years earlier (in 1990).

The president’s office sent an inquiry to Shin’ichi asking whether he still intended to visit Colombia after the recent bomb blast. Shin’ichi replied without a moment’s hesitation: “Please don’t be worried on my account. I intend to visit Colombia as planned. I will act as a citizen of Colombia, whose people are so incredibly courageous.”

That was Shin’ichi’s vow.

Four years earlier (in 1989), he had received Colombia’s Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit from President Virgilio Barco Vargas during that leader’s visit to Japan. On that occasion, Shin’ichi said, “We are eager to make a positive contribution to your country in the spirit of compatriotas [fellow citizens].”

Shin’ichi believed that trust must always be repaid with trust, no matter what the circumstances, for that is the path of friendship and humanity.

On Feb. 7, the day after his arrival in Colombia, an SGI chapter was established there. Shin’ichi took a group photograph with members and encouraged them.

On Feb. 8, he met with President Gaviria and First Lady Ana Milena Muñoz at the presidential palace, known as the Casa de Nariño. He presented the president with a lengthy poem he had composed, praised the youthful leader’s courage and activism, and expressed his hopes that Colombia would enjoy a bright future.

References

  1. Edward E. Bollinger, Saion, Okinawa’s Sage Reformer: An Introduction to His Life and Selected Works (Naha, Okinawa: Ryukyu Shinpo Newspaper, 1975), p. 118.
  2. Talking Pictures: People Speak about the Photographs That Speak to Them, developed by Marvin Heiferman and Carole Kismaric (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1994), p. 198.
  3. Ibid.

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