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Daily Life

On Fostering Successors

Illustration by Charles Harker / Getty Images.

To do anything that would … deprive [young people] of their vigor is equivalent to casting one’s treasures into the sea.[1]

—Ikeda Sensei

In October 1990, Nelson Mandela traveled to Japan the same year he was released from prison. He had been paying close attention to Daisaku Ikeda, whose works he had read in confinement.

Ikeda Sensei addressed Mandela candidly about the future: “Even though your country has in you an unprecedented and great leader, unless there are many excellent people behind you, your job will never be accomplished. …

“One tall tree does not make a forest. Unless other trees grow to the same height, you cannot have a large grove.”[2]

We can say that societies and even civilizations have ebbed and flowed based on how much they succeeded in fostering capable successors to carry on their ideals and vision.

In the Soka Gakkai, underpinning our extraordinary lineage of Buddhist humanism is the desire to relieve human suffering on the most fundamental level. Thus, kosen-rufu is the effort to build a solid network of empowered individuals awakened to the dignity of their own and others’ lives, working to eliminate misery and misfortune from the world. Because we cannot achieve this broad vision in a single lifetime or generation, we must focus intently on fostering successors to our kosen-rufu movement.

To foster capable Soka successors is to plant the saplings of worldwide kosen-rufu, of world peace.

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda often described children as emissaries of the future and asked the members to inspire them with high ideals, to respect them as full-fledged individuals. When cherished and developed from the youngest age, young people will mature to become great, humanistic leaders. Take the example of the boy Virtue Victorious who offered a mud pie to Shakyamuni and later was reborn as King Ashoka; in the end, he became a Buddha.[3]

Conversely, Nichiren Daishonin explains that Buddhist temples, art and clergy are mere relics without people who embody the same heart as the Buddha to relieve the sufferings of others: “Even when … [Buddhist] priests set out from Japan to take some sutras [back] to China, no one was found there who could embrace these sutras and teach them to others. It was as though there were only wooden or stone statues garbed in priests’ robes and carrying begging bowls.”[4]

Sensei explains:

Without people who embrace and transmit its teachings, all that will remain of Buddhism is “wooden or stone statues”—in other words, Buddhism will become ossified and lifeless. The only way to truly “make certain the Law will long endure” is to call forth genuinely courageous practitioners who will strive for that purpose in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law.[5]

The idea of “making certain the Law will long endure,” comprises an integral aspect of Buddhist practice. It indicates that, as Buddhist practitioners, we bear the mission to transmit the Mystic Law to future generations to make certain we realize our dream of world peace.

President Josei Toda said of this vision:

We must engage in our struggle now, for 100, 200 years hence. Two hundred years from now history will have proven the correctness of the Soka Gakkai’s path. Posterity is certain to bear witness to it.” To foster capable Soka successors is to sow the seeds and plant the saplings of worldwide kosen-rufu, of world peace. It is building a future in which all humanity can truly enjoy happiness.[6]

Will we perpetuate the cycles of violence, oppression and environmental degradation that have marred our history? Or will those who come after us experience the beauty of our diverse humanity, appreciate the bountiful gifts of nature and continue striving to deepen peace and harmony among living beings and the environment? By equipping young people with the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the spirit of our three founding Soka Gakkai presidents to fight for the happiness of humanity, we are making the most direct cause for a hope-filled future.

There is no shortcut to fostering capable people. The starting point is our determined prayer.

Fostering successors in the SGI goes beyond teaching young people Buddhist principles and encouraging them to participate in activities. The heart of raising successors lies in our profound determination for them to become happy, overcome their sufferings and gain confidence in their unique mission and infinite potential. Sensei explains how nothing brought Nichiren more happiness than the growth of young people, a spirit embodied in the many letters of encouragement he wrote to his young disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu:

Tokimitsu lost his father while still a young boy, but, together with his mother, he carried on his father’s conviction in faith and grew into a fine young man.

Later, the Daishonin expressed his joy at Tokimitsu’s inspiring growth, writing: “It is said that Ueno, your deceased father, was a man of feeling. Since you are his son, perhaps you have inherited the outstanding qualities of his character. Blue dye is bluer even than indigo itself, and ice is colder than water.”[7]

The expression bluer than the indigo is also used to describe how disciples grow to become capable people, surpassing even their parents, seniors and mentors.”[8]

There is no shortcut to fostering capable people. The New Human Revolution details Sensei’s enduring efforts to encourage members one-to-one and engage in activities with them. While this is certainly one way Sensei developed countless successors throughout the world, he created memories with youth, even going camping, listening to music and playing games like ping-pong with them. At the same time, they talked about their lives and the future. Reflecting on memories he created with young people, he writes:

I would invite them to my home and serve them rice and curry, explaining that Mr. Toda had taught me how to make it.

I showed them literary works by authors such as Goethe and Tolstoy that I had on my bookshelf, and shared with them the life lessons I had learned through discussing those writings with Mr. Toda.

I fondly remember going with members to the public bath after Soka Gakkai activities, or eating bowls of ramen together at a street stall.

Through these informal, openhearted interactions, I came to understand their feelings and was able to convey to them my own thoughts about my mentor and the Soka Gakkai.[9]

We can teach others most effectively about Buddhist faith and the mentor-disciple relationship by building a bridge from our hearts to theirs.

This becomes all the more so when treasuring the children of the SGI, our youngest successors. While many may not understand the significance of faith during their childhood, the warmth and care we show them will be etched in their lives and blossom at the right time. Sensei says:

When you happen to meet children or visit families with children, always make an effort to speak to those young people.

There are things that parents may have difficulty communicating to their children, but that their children may readily accept when voiced by fellow members …

Tell children about positive things their parents are doing, for example: “Your dad is working hard for everyone. He’s a wonderful person.” “I spoke to your mom and she gave me some advice that really helped me.” And they should also praise the children themselves, saying for instance: “Thank you for taking care of things at home when your parents are busy with activities. I know they really appreciate it.” This is because warm words from fellow members of our Soka family will sparkle as precious gems in the hearts of these youngsters for as long as they live.[10]

Raising successors is hard work, however, we will not only assure the future, but also grow spiritually younger in the process.

Young people learn by example.

When a young person shows interest in making a deeper commitment to Buddhist practice, our example is the quickest way to help them develop their faith. When others see us practice Buddhism in both good times and bad, and we show proof of our lives improving due to our efforts for kosen-rufu, they will be inspired to take similar action.

Sensei crystallized this process into four points for fostering successors, which he learned from Mr. Toda: 1) guidance, 2) education, 3) training and 4) support.

In The New Human Revolution, Sensei details this process by sharing the story of how a newer member, Megumi Saima, learned how to care for and encourage others in faith from a more experienced member, Haruko Taoka. He writes of the pair:

[Haruko] Taoka brought [Megumi] Saima along on some of her follow-up visits. Saima found that the initial visits had been remarkably effective, with nearly everyone having overcome their problems.

At first, she was amazed that the members were so willing to share their deeply personal, serious and complicated problems with Taoka. But as she continued to go along on these visits, she noticed that Taoka’s genuine empathy touched each person’s life profoundly. …

Saima wanted to become like Taoka. Learning from Taoka’s example, she chanted a lot and threw herself into encouraging and offering personal guidance to her members.

She made a practice of doing home visits each day, and as she continued, her fear of giving guidance and feelings of inadequacy gradually disappeared.[11]

It can be paralyzing to be expected to suddenly offer Buddhist guidance to others, but in Ms. Saima’s case, she gained confidence in her ability to encourage people by observing Ms. Taoka. In teaching younger members how to practice and encourage others, we can’t expect them to simply follow directions and know what to do. It’s important that we ask ourselves: What kind of example am I setting to teach this individual this aspect of Buddhist practice?  Sensei writes:

In Buddhism, fostering capable people does not entail pressing individuals into a mold, forcing them to fit some preconceived notion of an ideal capable person. The aim is to enable each person’s individuality to shine its brightest. The foundation of the SGI’s efforts to foster capable people is to enable all to demonstrate their unique inner potential to the fullest.[12]

Ultimately, fostering successors or capable people in the SGI lies in helping individuals become happy and discover their true selves. When young people develop confidence in their ability to discuss Buddhism with others and encourage them, their inner motivation to stand up for kosen-rufu will naturally grow.

Sensei elaborates on searching for such people:

First of all, you must find capable people. Just as a miner searches for gold ore in ordinary rocks, you have to look for members who possess great potential and then work to develop their ability with your heart and soul.

Prayer is most fundamental in raising capable people. You should pray earnestly to the Gohonzon that the person you have found will become an able person important to the SGI-USA. Then, with this prayer, you take the utmost care to help that person develop. …

You should sincerely respect capable people and raise them with the determination to make them even more outstanding and capable than you are yourself.[13]

To recap our key points: 1) Our commitment to fostering capable successors is akin to planting saplings of worldwide kosen-rufu. Such efforts ensure the perpetuation of the Law and the fulfillment of our dream of kosen-rufu. 2) There is no shortcut to fostering capable people; the starting point is our determined prayer. We must visit with those we are trying to foster as many times as it takes for them to stand up in faith. 3) The best way to foster successors is through our own example of practicing Buddhism and caring for others. In taking on the sacred task of fostering successors, we embark on the same path as Nichiren and the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents, and will, as a result, develop unshakable fulfillment and happiness.

—Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff


  1. Daisaku Ikeda, Glass Children and Other Essays, trans. Burton Watson (Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 1979), pp. 50–51. ↩︎
  2. June 1998 Living Buddhism, p. 42. ↩︎
  3. “The Span of One Kalpa,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 653. ↩︎
  4. “On the Buddha’s Prophecy,” WND-1, 401. ↩︎
  5. May 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 42. ↩︎
  6. Ibid., 41. ↩︎
  7. “Offerings in the Snow,” WND-1, 809. ↩︎
  8. September 6, 2019, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  9. June 15, 2018, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  10. May 2017 Living Buddhism, pp. 46–47. ↩︎
  11. The New Human Revolution, vol. 27, p. 319. ↩︎
  12. October 2014 Living Buddhism, p. 28. ↩︎
  13. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 7. ↩︎

Now Is the Time to Fulfill the True Purpose of the Buddhism of the People