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Vow

Vow
Volume 30, Chapter 6 (1–10)

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

The door to a new era is opened by young people. A steady stream of talented young people emerging and fully displaying their potential is essential to the ongoing development of organizations, societies and nations. For that reason, Shin’ichi Yamamoto had always focused his attention and energies on fostering youth.

The most vital requirement for young people to grow as successors for kosen-rufu is to gain unshakable conviction in faith, and to develop themselves and forge their character based on an awareness of their profound mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth. It is extremely important, therefore, that they achieve personal growth by developing such qualities as the spirit of challenge, persistence and a sense of responsibility. To provide opportunities for young people to do that, Shin’ichi had proposed holding youth-centered culture festivals on the prefectural and regional levels.

Soka Gakkai culture festivals are celebrations of the triumph of ordinary people, giving expression to the joy and vitality gained through their practice of Nichiren Buddhism. They are microcosms of human harmony, showing the beauty and strength of unity arising from trust and friendship. They are festivals of hope, proclaiming a vow for the realization of kosen-rufu, or world peace.

Kansai was the first region in Japan to hold such a culture festival in this period when the Soka Gakkai was making fresh strides in its development toward the 21st century. On March 22, 1982, the First Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival was held at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka.

In 1966, another historic gathering had been held in Kansai, which had inspired many people throughout Japan and around the world. That event, held outdoors at the Koshien Stadium despite heavy rain, came to be proudly known as the “Kansai Culture Festival in the Rain.”

At the time, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai instructed close aides tasked with studying the Soka Gakkai to view filmed footage of that festival. One of those individuals was Lin Liyun, who would serve as the interpreter at Shin’ichi’s 1974 meeting with Premier Zhou. She later remarked: “Seeing the young people performing joyfully in the rain and mud was truly inspiring … I got the sense that the Soka Gakkai was an organization with a solid base among the ordinary people. I deeply felt that it was an important organization for building friendship between China and Japan.”

The Kansai youth division members were strongly determined to make this latest culture festival even more inspiring than the first in terms of the artistry of the performances and their power to convey the Soka Gakkai spirit.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

In November 1981, a few months before the First Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival, Shin’ichi Yamamoto had traveled to Osaka to attend the Third Kansai General Meeting. At that time, the Kansai youth told him: “We’re going to make next year’s Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival in March an event that will show the world that the Soka Gakkai is here and that the Soka bond of mentor and disciple is strong!” “One hundred thousand youth are waiting for you!”

Shin’ichi felt their youthful passion, which radiated with sunlike brilliance.

The culture festival was originally scheduled to be held over two days—on March 21 and 22, 1982—but the session on March 21 was cancelled due to heavy rain. Arriving in Osaka that evening, Shin’ichi dropped by an event staff meeting to encourage the youth, who were no doubt deeply disappointed.

At the culture festival, the Kansai youth were going to attempt to build a six-tier human pyramid, a very difficult gymnastic formation. While a team of young men from Koto Ward had succeeded in building one at a Family Friendship Gathering of members from areas in downtown Tokyo, held in April 1981, this would be the first time for a six-tier pyramid to be attempted at a culture festival.

Aware of this, Shin’ichi said to the event staff: “I’m sure you’re all very disappointed by today’s cancellation, but attempting to achieve the extremely challenging feat of a six-tier human pyramid two days in a row is just too much for all involved. An accident could easily happen. The rain might have been a blessing in disguise. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s festival!”

Safety and no accidents are the golden rules for culture festivals. The Kansai youth were keenly aware that any accident could have devastating consequences. When it had been decided to include a six-tier human pyramid in the event program, they resolved that there would be no accidents. They took various steps and precautions to that end, studying the best and safest way to form the pyramid, and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together earnestly for its success.

In selecting participants for this performance, they gave priority to those experienced in gymnastics and implemented a program of physical training. Day after day, the members went through rounds of running, pushups and other exercises to strengthen their backs, legs and core muscles.

When the team members held practice sessions outdoors, local men’s and women’s division volunteers worked to clear the ground of stones and small pieces of broken glass beforehand so that no one would be injured.

Buddhism is reason. In one of his writings, Nichiren Daishonin lauds a disciple for his “usual prudence” (“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1000). Taking precautions and being well prepared are the keys to success.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Uplifting blue skies stretched out across ever-victorious Kansai. At 1:30 p.m. on March 22, the Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival began with a “procession of peace” by 10,000 newly joined youth division members.

These new members had embarked on the path of Soka, seeking a positive way to spend their youth and lead their lives. On this day, they marched together proudly into the stadium.

The sight deeply moved the members who had earnestly spoken with them about Nichiren Buddhism and introduced them to it, which they had done amid continuing criticism and harassment by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.

The fresh energy of new people is the driving force for creating a new future.

After the United Nations Flag and the Soka Gakkai Peace Flag were carried in and raised, a chorus of 2,000 members sang “Youth, Scale the Mountain of Kosen-rufu of the 21st Century”—a song adapted from a poem that Shin’ichi Yamamoto had presented to the youth division—as young women in flowing white dresses took the field and performed a ballet that they had created and choreographed.

Many other beautiful and inspiring performances followed: a parade by the young women’s and future division fife and drum corps, the emissaries of peace; rhythmic calisthenics by high school division members; a dance performance by the young women’s division; a dance by young men’s student division members dressed in traditional Japanese hakama; a presentation chronicling the 30-year history of the Kansai Soka Gakkai, combining music, grandstand card art, and narration; gymnastics by junior high and elementary school division members; another ballet by the young women’s division; a marching band performance by the Music Corps; and a powerful “Ever-Victorious Taiko” drum performance.

Finally, it was time for the young men’s division gymnastics event.

With a great roar, 4,000 young men ran onto the field. To the accompaniment of a medley of Soka Gakkai songs such as “Song of Crimson” and “Challenge New Frontiers,” they made one formation after another—including a sea of rolling waves and flying “human rockets.” Next, they formed eight individual five-tier human pyramids. Finally, in the center of these, they began to build a grand six-tier pyramid. The first tier comprised 60 members; the second, 20; the third, 10; the fourth, 5; the fifth, 3; and the sixth, 1.

The young men on the first tier positioned themselves standing. The remaining 39 young men readied themselves to climb onto their shoulders. If the first level didn’t hold firm, it would not support the upper levels. The second-tier members took their position, forming a circle in a crouching position on the shoulders of the first, while the third-, fourth- and fifth-tier members followed in succession, doing the same on the shoulders of the level below. Then, the final member climbed to the top, sixth tier.

“Let’s go!” That call signaled the start of a drama of breaking through limitations.

Each team member possessed a confidence forged through intense training and practice.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

The youth on the second tier of the human pyramid straightened up from their crouching position, bearing the weight of the 19 young men on their shoulders. Their feet dug into the shoulders of those standing on the first tier. Unless the second-tier members stood up in solid alignment, those above them would lose their balance and fall. They gritted their teeth and pushed themselves upright.

Next, the youth on the third tier, and then the fourth tier, stood up in turn in the same manner. Their bodies shook and strained.

A helicopter with a film crew covering the event circled overhead, its blades chopping loudly and creating unexpectedly strong gusts of wind. The pyramid, not yet complete, swayed from side to side, everyone straining together to keep it steady. The members surrounding the pyramid’s base chanted in their hearts, and at last, the helicopter moved away.

The young men on the fifth tier then stood up, as the drums of the Music Corps resounded in the background.

The final young man, who alone would form the sixth tier, made an attempt to stand, but he couldn’t gain his balance. Bending down again slightly, he put his hand on the shoulder of a youth below him to steady himself.

The audience gasped and held their breath, all eyes on the top of the pyramid.

The young men in the tiers supporting him cried out in their hearts: “Stand up! We’ve got you!”

“You can do it!” came cries from the audience.

The young man took a deep breath, looked up at the sky, and then stood up in one smooth motion.

Atop the pyramid, he stretched his arms skyward.

Cheers and thunderous applause erupted throughout Nagai Stadium. One of the stands was transformed into a card art display reading in vivid colors “The Kansai Spirit.”

Shin’ichi Yamamoto applauded vigorously.

The young man at the top of the pyramid shouted something. It was a cry from the heart, but no one heard it, his words drowned out by the cheers and applause. What he said was “Koji, we did it!”

The young man’s name was Hiroyuki Kikuta, and Koji was the name of his close friend and fellow young men’s division member Koji Ueno, who had passed away five days earlier. Ueno had worked at the same plumbing firm as he, and also been scheduled to participate in the culture festival as a member of the gymnastics event. But on March 17, he had died from a sudden illness.

Seeking to fulfill his friend’s wish for their success, Kikuta had challenged himself to the end.

The six-tier human pyramid built by the young men’s division members was also a beautiful and indestructible monument of friendship.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

It was on March 6 that Koji Ueno, who had been participating regularly in practice sessions with fellow members of the young men’s division’s gymnastics team, reported feeling unwell and was taken to the emergency room of a local hospital.

After seeing a doctor, he was sent home. When he started to become disoriented and confused, he was hospitalized. Though only half conscious, he kept repeating, “My best friend’s going to stand atop a six-tier human pyramid.”

A short while later, he lost consciousness completely and the hospital arranged to have him transferred to an emergency and critical care facility. Hiroyuki Kikuta rushed to the hospital, arriving just in time to be at Ueno’s side as he was being put on a stretcher. It was then that Ueno said faintly yet clearly, “We’ll make the impossible possible!”

These were the last words he spoke.

At the emergency medical center, Ueno was diagnosed as having suffered a serious stroke of a type known as a primary subarachnoid hemorrhage.

On March 13, he stopped breathing and was placed on a ventilator. He lived for another four days, making it to March 16, Kosen-rufu Day, before passing away peacefully the next afternoon.

Near his bedside hung the blue uniform that he would have worn for the gymnastics event at the culture festival.

At the medical center, Kikuta vowed to his departed friend: “Koji, I’ll do my best for you, too!”

On March 18, with a photo of Ueno in his breast pocket, Kikuta headed to a practice session in the gymnasium of the Soka Girls Junior and Senior High Schools[1] in Katano, Osaka. The gymnastics team had not yet succeeded even once in building a six-tier human pyramid, but that day they managed to achieve the difficult feat for the first time.

That same day, the young men at the Soka schools’ gymnasium and also their fellow team members practicing at other locations were informed of Ueno’s death, his invincible spirit, and his final words, “We’ll make the impossible possible!”

The hearts of the 4,000 young men blazed as one with fresh resolve.

Kikuta took Ueno’s final words deeply to heart. He challenged himself to the limits of his ability and put the crowning touch on a spectacular performance, actualizing his friend’s declaration “We’ll make the impossible possible!”

The Soka Gakkai presented Ueno with the posthumous title of honorary young men’s division headquarters leader.

His mother reflected: “When my son was in his second year of junior high, he nearly died from purpura.[2] Looking back, I feel that he had prolonged his life until now thanks to the benefit of faith in the Gohonzon.”

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

In a letter she sent to Shin’ichi Yamamoto, Koji Ueno’s wife wrote: “At the end of his battle with his karma, my husband died with a beautiful expression of almost childlike innocence on his face. He left for us an irrefutable testimony of faith. He taught us, through giving his all to the very end, what it means to practice Nichiren Buddhism, what it means to fight and win over one’s karma.”

When a collection of signatures and written resolutions by participants in the Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival was compiled, his teammates wanted to include Ueno’s name. In response, his wife wrote on his behalf: “Kosen-rufu is my life! —Koji Ueno, honorary young men’s division headquarters leader.”

Learning of this, Shin’ichi offered prayers in memory of Koji Ueno, and also chanted for Mrs. Ueno, praying that she would continue to dedicate herself to kosen-rufu for her late husband as well and lead a happy life.

Many of the young people who performed in the culture festival were of a generation that disliked intensive training and large group activities. They were also busy with work or school. For them, participating in the many rehearsals and practice sessions leading up to the culture festival was a battle—a battle not to be defeated by their own weakness and a battle with time. Throughout, they had chanted, continued to challenge themselves based on faith and encouraged one another not to give up.

As a result, they had each created a drama of human revolution and written countless stories of friendship. Through participating in the culture festival, they had learned the Soka Gakkai spirit of bravely confronting and battling hardships, and put that spirit into practice in their own lives. It was here that they inherited the invincible Kansai spirit of breaking through impossible barriers.

Where was the Kansai spirit born?

Josei Toda declared his wish to rid the people of Osaka of poverty and sickness and enable all to become happy without exception. And to realize that wish, he sent his disciple Shin’ichi Yamamoto to Kansai on his behalf. Making his mentor’s spirit his own, Shin’ichi took the lead for kosen-rufu there, traveling throughout the region to encourage and inspire the members. And in May 1956, he and the members of Kansai’s Osaka Chapter achieved the record result of 11,111 new households joining the Soka Gakkai in a single month, achieving a resounding breakthrough for the victory of the people.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

In July 1956, the Soka Gakkai fielded candidates for the first time in the national House of Councilors (Upper House) election. Shin’ichi Yamamoto had led the campaign activities in the Osaka district to great success, with the candidate there being elected. It was a dramatic victory, overturning widespread public forecasts calling it impossible. In fact, a major newspaper announced the outcome with the headline: “The ‘Impossible’ Has Been Achieved!”

On July 3, 1957, Shin’ichi was arrested on trumped-up charges of election law violations in connection with campaign activities for a House of Councilors by-election in the Osaka district, held in April that same year. This became known as the Osaka Incident. It was an act of repression by the authorities, who feared the rise of a powerful new people’s movement. The members were outraged.

On July 17, the Osaka Rally was held at the city’s central public hall in Nakanoshima to protest the actions of the Osaka Prefectural Police and Osaka District Prosecutors Office. Thousands of members also filled the area outside the hall, unable to fit inside. Suddenly, it began to rain heavily, and lightning ripped through the sky. As they stood in the downpour, members listened intently to the words flowing from the speakers that had been specially set up for those outside. No one in the crowd, including women with infants strapped to their backs, made a move to leave.

They were indignant that Chief of Staff Yamamoto had been arrested on completely false charges. All he had ever done was work tirelessly for people’s happiness. He had ignited their courage. They could not condone the authorities’ malicious actions to persecute him.

The flame of justice burned brightly in the members’ hearts. The vow to be ever victorious was forged deep within them, and a great movement of awakened people began.

Now, the children carried by their mothers that day had grown to be fine young adults. Many had performed vibrantly on the grand stage of the youth peace culture festival, giving expression with all their beings to the people’s triumph and to their joy and vision of peace.

After finishing their work or studies that day, the youth had raced out of breath to the rehearsal venues and practiced wholeheartedly, determined to let nothing defeat them. The men’s and women’s division members who had worked so hard since the early days of the Soka Gakkai regularly stopped by to show their support and encourage them. Some would say to the grandchildren they brought along with them: “Take a good look! That all-out effort is the Kansai spirit, the Soka Gakkai spirit!”

The pioneer members felt pride and joy that these successors—all young lions—were growing splendidly and carrying on their spirit.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda had gone among the people of Osaka, having vowed to rid the world of misery and to help absolutely everyone become happy. That resolve was none other than the spirit of peace.

Making this spirit of his mentor his own, Shin’ichi Yamamoto put everything he had into actualizing those goals. The Kansai members had striven alongside him, undeterred by oppression by the authorities, and created a new page of history, bringing happiness and revitalization to countless people. Inheriting the Kansai spirit and Soka Gakkai spirit was to inherit the spirit of peace.

Next on the Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival program was a declaration for peace. Kansai Youth Division Leader Masashi Oishi took the microphone and powerfully addressed the audience: “Fellow disciples of third President Yamamoto, gathered 100,000 strong from throughout Kansai!” He then read the pledge for peace:

First, we pledge to elevate Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism far and wide so that it becomes the spirit of the age and the spirit of the entire world and, basing ourselves on the principles of respect for the dignity of life and humanistic pacifism, to advance our movement for lasting peace in accord with the ideal of “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land.”

Second, it will soon be 25 years since second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda issued his Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. The indomitable spirit of that declaration, carried on by the third Soka Gakkai president, Shin’ichi Yamamoto, has now become a global current, resonating in the hearts of many. We will step up the peace activities that have emerged from our profound commitment as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism toward the 21st century. We will continue to promote the penetrating insights articulated in President Toda’s declaration and work for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Third, the lifeline for building lasting peace is solidarity among the world’s people. We pledge, by rallying the wide-ranging power of youth who seek world peace, to shape global opinion for a new era in which humanity upholds the spirit of the United Nations Charter, and to make the 21st century the century of life and peace that all humanity longs for.

The peace declaration was adopted with the thunderous applause of the members who packed the stadium.

A peace movement needs a solid underlying philosophy. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that all people possess the Buddha nature. This principle fundamentally affirms that each individual is equally worthy of supreme respect and that everyone has the right to lead a happy life.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

The Soka Gakkai’s movement for peace is based on building the “defenses of peace,”[3] spoken of in the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution, by establishing in people’s hearts the Buddhist principle of respect for the dignity of life.

Nichiren Buddhism, which embodies the essence of the Lotus Sutra, shows us how to reveal the Buddhahood inherent in our lives; vanquish evil in the human heart and bring forth human goodness; and realize happiness for ourselves while helping others do the same.

Soka Gakkai members had been putting the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism into practice each day, challenging themselves in their human revolution and changing negative karma that was a cause of suffering. In addition, through playing an active role in contributing to the betterment of society, they had created a growing network of people who shared these life-affirming values.

Peace is not simply the absence of war. True peace exists when all people on our planet can live with a genuine sense of happiness and joy, free from fear and anxiety caused by the threat of nuclear weapons, hunger, poverty and discrimination. Soka Gakkai members exemplify such genuinely happy and joy-filled lives.

As representatives of the some 5,500 guests attending the Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki delivered greetings.

Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki cited Shin’ichi Yamamoto’s belief that, as the sole country to have suffered atomic bombings in war, Japan had the mission to lead the world toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. This, he said, advocated the need for making the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki known throughout the globe, and provided a guiding philosophy for taking action with the same commitment to peace as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He also passionately stated: “The establishment of lasting world peace, for which all humanity yearns, is nurtured and fostered by heart-to-heart interactions based on strong solidarity between the world’s people and through discovering the goodness that resides within each other. In that respect, he said, he sincerely applauded the efforts of the Soka Gakkai youth in carrying out activities to promote peace and the advancement of culture.

Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima expressed admiration and appreciation for the Soka Gakkai’s peace-building efforts over many years, since the time of second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda’s 1957 declaration against nuclear weapons. He cited such initiatives as publishing testimonies by survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a petition drive calling for nuclear weapons abolition.

Illustration by Kenichiro Uchida

Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima noted that Shin’ichi Yamamoto had held numerous dialogues with world leaders—including Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai—motivated by the wish to promote world peace and human happiness. These efforts, he stressed, were key to actualizing peace. He continued: “Let us pledge together to ensure that nowhere on our planet will a third nuclear bomb ever be dropped—that Nagasaki will remain the last place to suffer a nuclear attack in the world! … I ask that you please take the lead in activities for peace throughout Japan!”

In his greetings, Soka Gakkai Kansai Region General Leader Koichi Towada called the youth peace culture festival a fresh departure and proclaimed the organization’s determination to contribute to peace with the aim of realizing a world free of nuclear weapons and the tragedy of war. He also shared the message that United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar had sent SGI President Yamamoto on the occasion of the culture festival.

The secretary-general had written: “It is greatly encouraging to us to note the dedication of Japanese nongovernmental organizations such as Soka Gakkai to the promotion of world peace and disarmament . . . I deeply appreciate your efforts to better inform the peoples and governments of the world of the dangers of the arms race.”

In discussions between member states at the United Nations, it was often the case that each country gave precedence to protecting its own national interests. As a result, little progress had been made in international negotiations to reduce arms stockpiles or eliminate nuclear weapons. NGOs had an important role to play toward breaking through this impasse, by helping build grass-roots solidarity for peace and create a powerful momentum for change.

The previous year, 1981, the Soka Gakkai had been registered as an NGO with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Department of Public Information. Also, on January 26, 1982, the seventh anniversary of the SGI’s founding, the Soka Gakkai Peace Committee was established and began to undertake more extensive and substantial activities for peace.

Buddhism exists to protect human beings. As its practitioners, therefore, we have a mission to protect peace.

References

  1. From April 1982, the schools became coeducational and were renamed the Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High Schools.
  2. Purpura is a form of vasculitis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the small blood vessels in the skin, kidneys and intestinal tract. Symptoms include purple-spotted skin rash, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal upset, and inflammation, swelling and pain of the joints.
  3. The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

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