Skip to main content

Our History

Celebrating 70 Years Since the February Campaign’s Propagation Renaissance

Torrance, Calif.
Torrance, Calif. Photo by Yvonne Ng

In early 1952, the Soka Gakkai was still a fledgling people’s movement when second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda dispatched his young disciple Daisaku Ikeda, to Kamata Chapter to create a model for widely sharing the humanistic ideals of Nichiren Buddhism in a society still reeling from war.

That February, the young Daisaku led the chapter in welcoming 201 new members in a single month, a feat that electrified the Soka Gakkai membership and became the flashpoint toward actualizing President Toda’s lifetime goal of introducing 750,000 families to the practice.

While the February Campaign marked the first milestone in the Soka Gakkai’s path to becoming a global people’s movement, the way that Daisaku, at age 24, conducted the campaign offered profound lessons on the power of one person’s determination, fostering capable people and what can be achieved through the oneness of mentor and disciple.

To mark the 70th anniversary and in a year when the SGI-USA has initiated its own propagation renaissance, let’s review the Kamata Campaign and its timeless guidelines for advancing kosen-rufu and expanding our network of happiness.

Background of the February Campaign

On May 3, 1951, the Soka Gakkai welcomed a springtime of hope, when Josei Toda was inaugurated as the second Soka Gakkai president.

At his inauguration, President Toda sensed that the time had finally come to rapidly expand the Soka Gakkai’s membership. While there were just some 3,000 Soka Gakkai members, he declared that he would achieve a membership of 750,000 families before his death—a declaration that was met with confusion. Sensei recalls:

The majority of his disciples at that time dismissed this important declaration— giving voice to the great vow he would devote his life to—as little more than a fantasy. The Soka Gakkai’s newspaper, the Seikyo Shimbun, didn’t even report his statement. …

But I realized that the path of a disciple is to make the vision of one’s mentor a reality, no matter how challenging it might be. As Mr. Toda’s disciple, his vow became my vow, and achieving it became my personal mission. (Making the Impossible Possible, p. 1)

In January 1952, progress was slow. President Toda expressed his concern that, at this rate, kosen-rufu would never be achieved. He highlighted his hope to make a breakthrough in February, saying: “What should our pace be for next month? A dash is my answer” (The Human Revolution, p. 635).

At the time, the highest propagation result from a chapter in a given month was 100 new members. President Toda decided that it was time to dispatch the 24-year-old Daisaku Ikeda to Kamata Chapter to make a breakthrough.

POINT 1: Rooting the Campaign in the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple

On January 29, shortly after his appointment as advisor to Kamata Chapter, the young Daisaku Ikeda held a meeting for unit leaders. He gave deep thought as to how he could inspire everyone assembled. After announcing the goal for each unit to welcome two new members in February, he appealed to them, saying:

February is the month of [Nichiren] Daishonin’s birth, and February 11 is the day President Toda was born. While it goes without saying that it’s because of the Daishonin’s appearance in this world we could encounter this Buddhism, we also owe much to President Toda’s courageous, solitary struggle for kosen-rufu. We have all received great benefit and become happy. (Ibid., p. 12)

He called on the members to engage in propagation as a way to express their gratitude to both Nichiren Daishonin and President Toda during the month of their birth, while at the same time transforming their destinies.

Rather than simply pushing organizational targets on the members, Sensei gave the campaign a spiritual backbone rooted in the oneness of mentor and disciple that inspired members to willingly and spontaneously take action. He says of this:

The first step in any challenge is to set clear goals. If the goals are vague, people will find them difficult to relate to and take on as a personal challenge. … At the same time, it is important not to impose goals on others. Goals must be presented in such a way that everyone can accept them and be enthusiastic about realizing them. (Ibid., p. 17)

Sensei’s words inspired action, but more so, the members gained a deeper sense of their connection to President Toda and the great honor it was to engage in a shared struggle for kosen-rufu.

POINT 2: Trust New Members

In 1952, the most seasoned district and chapter leaders had been practicing Buddhism for just several years, while the unit leaders were brand new to faith. A view that had formed within many of the chapters was to entrust only the more seasoned leaders with propagating Buddhism, assuming new members wouldn’t grasp the meaning or spirit.

Daisaku Ikeda’s leadership approach was different. He seriously prayed and acted to empower all the members to engage in planting seeds of the Mystic Law, knowing that this was the direct path to them becoming happy. He wanted each unit leader and member in Kamata Chapter to stand up as a protagonist for kosen-rufu. He writes of that time:

I wanted the nearly one hundred unit leaders in Kamata Chapter to take the starring roles and to be victorious. Instead of one person advancing a hundred steps, a hundred people would advance one step forward. … The key to victory lies in uncovering fresh talent within the organization and pooling their abilities. (Ibid., p. 18)

He saw the members as precious Bodhisattvas of the Earth who emerged at this time with a vow to lead others to happiness. Sensei made detailed plans to uncover the capabilities of each member. As an example, he writes:

I encouraged the youth to have older members with solid, real-life experiences of the power of faith in the Mystic Law to assist them in their efforts to share Buddhism with others. The Kamata members all worked together as a team. When they heard of someone who was struggling, they went to talk to them about Buddhism. Discussion meetings were also held on an almost daily basis, seeking to relieve people of suffering and impart joy. (Ibid., p. 22)

We can envision the Kamata Chapter members working hand in hand to support one another in their propagation efforts, each advancing one step forward together.

Sensei went with members to meet their friends and assist them in explaining Buddhism. He recalls:

When a member was having trouble sharing Buddhism with others, I took them with me when I spoke to others about our Buddhist practice, hoping they would learn from my example. And instead of doing all the talking myself, I’d ask other members present to relate their personal experiences in faith or explain the basics of Buddhism to the person we were talking to. This enabled everyone to develop confidence and deepen their conviction. (Ibid., p. 21)

Here, we learn that Sensei’s aim was not simply to achieve a membership goal but to help all the members deepen their faith, thereby experiencing the benefits of spreading the Mystic Law. His example shows that propagation and raising capable people occur simultaneously.

POINT 3: Personal Action Creates Waves of Inspiration

The young Daisaku had one predicament going into the campaign. At 24 years old, he was younger than the other leaders in Kamata Chapter. He realized that the only way he would truly inspire his fellow members to rise to action was to lead by example. He writes:

I was the youngest among the Kamata Chapter leaders at the time. If I had called meetings and acted self-importantly, who would have listened to me? My only option was to do the actual work myself, going out and personally meeting people and walking alongside the members in the cold winter wind.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into every discussion meeting I attended, every home visit I made, every letter of encouragement I wrote. I regarded each activity as if it were a decisive battleground. (Ibid., pp. 20–21)

As a result of these determined and concentrated efforts, many others were spurred to action. They couldn’t help being inspired by the spirit of this youth working so diligently to teach others about Buddhism. Sensei recalled how happy he was when he saw older members, who were initially reserved, joyfully engage in propagation.

Sensei provided three guidelines to help members take concrete action: 1) Let’s start with chanting daimoku; 2) Let’s treasure our neighbors; and 3) Let’s share our experiences in faith. These were points he personally implemented, which inspired others to do so as well. Regarding the first point, he describes how he learned how to pray with intensity when helping President Toda’s company through difficult times, applying the passage from Nichiren Daishonin: “Praying as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” (“On Rebuking Slander of the Law and Eradicating Sins,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 444). He also mentioned how he made a point to greet fellow residents in his apartment building and tell them about Buddhism. And finally, he explained how he often relayed his experience about using his practice to overcome illness.

Sensei says of the resulting momentum from these ripples of action:

No one could sit still; everyone was spurred to take action. Even members who had never before spoken about their Buddhist practice to those around them, and newer members who hadn’t felt confident enough to talk to others, were able to take a courageous step forward. (p. 21)

Here, we learn the power of one person’s determined action to inspire others.

Create Our Own Ripples of Dialogue for Lasting Peace

When he initiated the campaign in Kamata Chapter, the young Daisaku was not handed favorable circumstances. The leaders were at an impasse, and the members were new in faith. He chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo powerfully and wracked his brain to create a wave of propagation based on his vow to help President Toda achieve his lifetime goal of 750,000 members.

The ripples from the February Campaign turned into billowing waves of propagation throughout Japan. Inspired by Kamata Chapter’s example of “one hundred people taking one step together,” chapters throughout Japan began breaking their own barriers, and welcoming 200 or more new members a month became the norm. Ultimately, this campaign created unstoppable momentum for the Soka Gakkai’s expansion, leading to the achievement of 750,000 members households by December 1957.

The effects of the February campaign went beyond Japan. Sensei recalls how SGI-USA Executive Advisor Danny Nagashima’s family decided to join the Soka Gakkai during that campaign, at the home of Mrs. Ikeda’s family (see sidebar), which was a base of activities for Kamata Chapter.

Today, in a time of increasing isolation, discrimination and mistrust, now is precisely the time to inspire hope, happiness and courage in the hearts of those around us by sharing this empowering practice. Sensei writes:

It [is] all the more imperative for us to engage in dialogue for the sake of lasting peace, trusting in the limitless potential of all human beings, in the spirit of the Daishonin’s treatise, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.” We need to unite in that cause in order to dispel the sense of stagnation that pervades society, believing in each other’s possibilities and working together to bring forth those capabilities. (April 13, 2012, World Tribune, p. 8)

Learning from Sensei’s example 70 years ago and his protracted actions to reveal the greatest potential of humanity, let us embark on our own journeys to send ripples of happiness and lasting peace in our communities through courageous dialogue.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Ikeda!

This month we celebrate the 90th birthday of SGI Honorary Women’s Leader Kaneko Ikeda on February 27. Mrs. Ikeda began her journey of faith at age 9 in 1941, when her family joined the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai. In her book, Kaneko’s Story, she conveys fond memories of meeting founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi at the train station to walk him to her family home for discussion meetings.

Through her 81 years of faith, Mrs. Ikeda has witnessed the development of kosen-rufu worldwide. She has supported Ikeda Sensei behind the scenes these last 70 years, ensuring that he could freely take the lead in building the Soka Gakkai’s vision for the peace and happiness of humanity. Thank you very much, and happy birthday Mrs. Ikeda!

Forging a Legacy of Value Creation

Our World to Make