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Our History

An 80 Year Tradition of Fighting Injustice

Photo by Fabrice Nerfin / Unsplash

November 1941—Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi is met by several officers of Japan’s special higher police at the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai’s Kyushu General Meeting. One blocks his path, shouting: “Isn’t it strange how the nation is praying to the Sun Goddess and you won’t even accept the talisman? You’re no patriot!”

Composed, Mr. Makiguchi responds, saying that through Buddhism one can live a life of great good.

This was typical for Soka Kyoiku Gakkai meetings from 1941 until Mr. Makiguchi and his disciple Josei Toda were arrested in July 1943. Despite constant surveillance by militarist authorities for not supporting the state Shinto religion, they boldly carried out efforts to spread Nichiren Buddhism.

Ikeda Sensei writes how Tsunesaburo Makiguchi revitalized Nichiren Daishonin’s spirit of selfless dedication to propagating the Mystic Law:

Throughout his persecution at the hands of the military authorities during World War II, President Makiguchi remonstrated with the state. He urged it to renounce the erroneous teachings it had embraced. On a bitterly cold autumn day, he died in prison for his beliefs at age 73, bringing to a close a life of selfless dedication to the Law. He revitalized the spirit of “not begrudging one’s life” to spread the correct teaching in modern times. His selfless and noble spirit ensured that Nichiren Buddhism, once on the brink of total obliteration, will continue to shine on forever. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 2, revised edition, p. 126)

Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda’s commitment to spread Nichiren Buddhism reflects this passage from Nichiren Daishonin’s writings:

Summon up the courage of a lion king and never succumb to threats from anyone. The lion king fears no other beast, nor do its cubs. Slanderers are like barking foxes, but Nichiren’s followers are like roaring lions. (“Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 997)

This July 6 marks 80 years since Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda’s arrest in 1943 for refusing to renounce their faith amid Japan’s war of aggression. Let’s learn from the spirit of the founding Soka Gakkai presidents to battle devilish forces by rousing one’s faith in the Mystic Law and standing up with an undefeated vow for kosen-rufu.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi centers a discussion meeting in Tokyo, 1942. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Skirmishes With Authorities

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was no stranger to fighting injustice. In 1919, a politician campaigned to oust him as Taisho Elementary School principal because he refused to give special treatment to the child of an influential family. That same politician also got him removed in 1920 from his post at Nishimachi Elementary School for not paying the politician a visit when he moved schools. Mr. Makiguchi, in fact, moved schools several times because he refused to compromise with officials on his educational theory, in which he prioritized the happiness of all students.

November 18, 1930—Josei Toda publishes the first volume of The System of Value-Creating Education, which details Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s educational principles for the humanistic development of young people. This date was later designated as the founding of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, the forerunner of the Soka Gakkai.

This was a precarious time to begin a religious movement dedicated to peace. Five years earlier, in April 1925, the Peace Preservation Law was enacted to suppress ideas or organizations that were perceived as a threat to the “national essence” of Japan, which taught that the nation was ruled by the divine emperor who descended from the Sun Goddess. Initially this law was aimed to round up communists. But as Japan increased their invasions of other nations, it was used to suppress anyone who did not support the nation’s imperialist direction.

Then, in March 1941, the law was revised, requiring all religions to make State Shinto their core belief and to accept the Shinto talisman, a paper or wood block object often inscribed with the name of the Sun Goddess, representing the divine nature of the emperor. Each religion was forced to make prayer for the victory of imperial Japan a primary tenet.

As pressure on the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai intensified, instead of relenting, Mr. Makiguchi increased his activities, determined to spread Nichiren Buddhism. In fact, from May 1941 to July 1943, he attended 240 discussion meetings. He also designated every Tuesday through Friday for offering faith encouragement to members.

Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda began a monthly journal called Kachi sozo (Creating Value) in July 1941.

Their spirit to strive harder in faith amid intense challenges is the foundation of the Soka Gakkai.

While most religious groups accepted State Shinto, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai did not, prompting officers of the special higher police to monitor its meetings. The family of Kaneko Shiraki (who later married Ikeda Sensei) hosted discussion meetings soon after they took faith in July 1941 when she was 9 years old. She recalls:

When [Mr. Makiguchi] spoke at our group meetings, his dignified presence was accentuated by his perfectly upright posture and sonorous voice. This was during the war, and I recall one occasion when three members of the Special Higher Police (also known as the “thought police”) came and sat in the hallway to observe the meeting. While Mr. Makiguchi was talking, they would often interrupt, yelling out: “Stop there! Disband the meeting!”

Even in my childhood innocence, I was worried about this. My mother calmed me by saying: “Mr. Makiguchi is right. He is brave and firm in his beliefs, so there is nothing to be afraid of.” (Kaneko’s Story, pp. 18–19)

The grip of Japanese nationalism tightened in 1942. Threats from the special higher police intensified at discussion meetings. But Mr. Makiguchi, then in his 70s, traveled even more extensively throughout Japan to encourage members and introduce people to Nichiren Buddhism. Even outside of Tokyo, he started meeting resistance from the authorities.

In May 1942, Kachi sozo was labeled as treasonous and forced to cease publication.

One would expect the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood to protect the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, which was actively propagating Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the Gohonzon, fulfilling Nichiren’s mandate of kosen-rufu for the first time in over 600 years. The priesthood, in fact, did the opposite, bowing down to the authorities.

Refuting the Cowardly Actions of the Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood

“Shinto absolute, the Buddha transient”—this was a theory promoted by Nichiren Shoshu priest Jimon Ogasawara. Within the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, Ogasawara and others led the charge to distort Nichiren Buddhism, propagating the idea that Shinto gods are the true object of devotion, whereas the Buddha is simply a transient manifestation of Japanese ancestral gods. Fearful of government persecution, Nichiren Shoshu increasingly leaned toward placing State Shinto at the center of its teachings and distancing itself from the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai.

By 1940, Nichiren Shoshu’s high priest Nikkyo was expressing support for Japan’s military regime and eventually altered key aspects of its doctrine in this direction. In the January 1942 issue of the Nichiren Shoshu monthly publication Dai-Nichiren, Nikkyo erroneously stated:

Myo also signifies that His Majesty’s splendor envelops the world, and ho the fundamental decree [of the Sun Goddess bestowed upon her descendants to reign over Japan] as long as heaven and earth exist. … We must fulfill the mission to spread His Majesty’s splendor throughout the world and display our sincere dedication to the service of the nation at the risk of our lives.

They proceeded to alter the silent prayers in gongyo to pray for the prosperity of the Japanese empire. In addition, they deleted 14 passages from Nichiren’s writings that they feared could be interpreted as disrespecting Shinto.

“It’s time for the Gakkai to cast off the transient and reveal the true,” said Mr. Makiguchi in spring 1943, as he steeled himself for confrontations with the priesthood and the government. As he approached his fateful arrest, he continued propagating Buddhism with “the same mind as Nichiren” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” WND-1, 385).

June 1943—Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda are summoned to Nichiren Shoshu’s head temple. On June 27, they meet with high priest Nikkyo, who had completely turned his back on Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

It was then that Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda were strongly urged in front of the high priest, “In the presence of the high priest, they were strongly urged, ‘Why don’t you in the Soka Gakkai also accept the Shinto talisman, at least for appearances’ sake?’ (NHR-2, revised edition, 130).

Mr. Makiguchi flatly refused, side by side with Josei Toda. Mr. Makiguchi, however, feeling he should have taken a stronger stance against the priesthood’s position, went back on June 28 to demand another audience with Nikkyo. When they met, the high priest was seated behind a screen. Mr. Makiguchi explained that, based on his theory of value, not standing up to evil is the same as committing evil. Based on this logic, he urged Nichiren Shoshu to reject State Shinto and that together they remonstrate with the government. His request fell on deaf ears. He returned to Tokyo, and in the days leading up to his arrest, continued taking action for kosen-rufu.

On June 29, the same day several Soka Kyoiku Gakkai directors were detained, he discussed Buddhism with a college student who decided to take faith that day.

On July 1, he welcomed members to his home, including the college student who had taken faith just two days earlier, and offered guidance.

On July 2, he traveled by train to Shimoda, some 120 miles south of Tokyo. There, he met with a member, Kishiko, whom he had encouraged to begin practicing that March. He wanted to encourage her and introduce her friends and family to Buddhism.

That evening, and on July 3 and 4, he held discussion meetings with local members at the Nakada Hotel, where he was staying, inviting hotel staff and others in the community.

On July 5, he met with Kishiko’s father to discuss Buddhism in the town of Suzaki and, after a long talk, was invited to stay overnight at their home.

At one of these final discussion meetings, Mr. Makiguchi declared: “The Lotus Sutra is like the sun” (February 2, 2001, World Tribune, p. 4). Mr. Makiguchi staked his life on propagating Nichiren Buddhism for the happiness of the Japanese people and the world.

The next morning, July 6, 1943, two detectives from the Shimoda Police Station arrived at Kishiko’s home, demanding to see Mr. Makiguchi. Sensei describes what happened next in The Human Revolution:

Makiguchi appeared at the entrance, with a dignified bearing. His eyes were keen, and he spoke in a calm voice. “What is it?”

“Just come to the police station and you’ll understand.” …

“Now, at once?”


“Then please wait a moment. I have to get ready.” …

Belying his age, Makiguchi walked in a stately manner, his chest thrust out. Using his umbrella as a staff, he strode along the stony road in clogs. As he stopped once in a while to look up to the sky, he seemed to enjoy the fine scenery around him. He paid no attention to Kishiko or the detectives. He was silent throughout the walk. There was not the slightest hint of fear or strain in his face. (pp. 300–01)

On this same day, Josei Toda was detained by police in Tokyo along with other Soka Kyoiku Gakkai leaders.

Vows Grow Stronger in Prison

For more than two months, Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda were subjected to harsh interrogation and tactics to force them to recant their beliefs. Of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai leaders arrested, only they remained true to their vow for kosen-rufu, withstanding unspeakable cruelty at the hands of the authorities.

Mr. Makiguchi was well known for explaining Nichiren Buddhist principles to his interrogators. For example, when asked how the Soka Gakkai gained new converts, he explained that they shared the organization’s publications and engaged in one-to-one dialogue.

Throughout his time in prison, Mr. Makiguchi persisted in having dialogues on Buddhism with fellow inmates and correctional officers. He also continued writing letters to his family, indicating his untrammeled state of life and complete fulfillment. He wrote in one letter:

When I reflect on how I was able to produce the “Theory of Value”—a theory that scholars for the past 100 years had sought in vain—and, moreover, to connect it to faith in the Lotus Sutra and enable several thousand people to realize actual proof, I am surprised in spite of myself. Therefore, it is only natural that the three obstacles and four devils should have assailed me; it is just as the sutra states. (February 2, 2001, World Tribune, p. 5)

And on Saturday, November 18, 1944, just after 6 a.m., with the demeanor of a Buddha, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi died a martyr to the cause of kosen-rufu—14 years to the day since he had founded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai.

Josei Toda did not immediately learn of his mentor’s death. The last time they had seen each other was in September 1943, before they were transferred to the Tokyo Sugamo Detention Center. They passed by one another guided by officers, and spotted one another. Sensei describes the moment:

In September of the year of their arrest, they passed each other on the second floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Mr. Toda just had enough time to call out, “Sensei, please take care of yourself!” and President Makiguchi could only nod in response. That was their final parting. This moment signified the passing of the baton of kosen-rufu from mentor to disciple. (NHR-25, 82)

Sensei explains Mr. Toda’s state of mind during his imprisonment:

Toda regarded being imprisoned along with his mentor as the highest of all honors. He had no fear of the authorities. Even in prison, he fervently prayed each morning and evening that he would bear the brunt of all charges and that Makiguchi would be released as soon as possible. (NHR-22, 189)

During his time in prison, Mr. Toda had two awakenings that solidified his conviction in the power of the Mystic Law and his mission to achieve kosen-rufu. The first was his realization that the Buddha is life itself and the second was that he was present at the ceremony in the air and tasked as a Bodhisattva of the Earth with the mission to achieve kosen-rufu. Toda’s enlightenment in prison served as the spiritual foundation for restoring the Soka Gakkai as the organization to propagate the Mystic Law after his release from prison. He renamed it Soka Gakkai as an organization extending beyond education to revolutionize all realms of human endeavor.

January 8, 1945—Mr. Toda is summoned to an officer’s room and is urged once again to discard his faith. He refuses. The officer tells him that there is not a single Soka Kyoiku Gakkai member other than him. “No,” Mr. Toda responds. “It’s me and Mr. Makiguchi!” The officer coldly shoots back, “Makiguchi is dead!” Listless, Mr. Toda returns to his cell and weeps all night.

This harrowing experience moved Mr. Toda to make the following determination:

I will be like the Count of Monte Cristo! Should I ever leave this prison, I will avenge the death of Mr. Makiguchi. Striking a blow for justice against those who persecuted him, I will prove to all the world his greatness! (February 2, 2001, World Tribune, p. 5)

The Oneness of Mentor and Disciple—The Source of Limitless Advancement

Now, 80 years later, on the foundation that these two courageous men built, the Soka Gakkai has developed into a world religion through the leadership of their direct disciple Daisaku Ikeda. What was the driving force behind their efforts to protect and spread the Mystic Law some seven centuries after Nichiren’s passing? What can we learn as we approach the quarter mark of the 21st century?

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, unable to discover a mentor in any of the Nichiren Shoshu priests, made Nichiren Daishonin his mentor. Josei Toda, inspired by his principles and spirit, made Mr. Makiguchi his mentor. And Sensei, deeply moved that Mr. Toda had been imprisoned for his pacifist beliefs, sought him as his mentor.

Though the bonds of mentor and disciple had been formed from personal interactions between Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, and then, between Mr. Toda and Sensei, this wasn’t the case for Mr. Makiguchi and Nichiren. In discussing Mr. Makiguchi’s search for a mentor, Sensei writes:

Makiguchi always based himself on Nichiren’s writings. It was impossible for him to find a mentor among the cowardly ranks of the priesthood who, fearing government persecution, kowtowed to the authorities by changing the silent prayers in gongyo, deleting portions of Nichiren’s writings and ordering the Soka Gakkai to accept the Shinto talisman.

He rose up with faith directly connected to Nichiren Daishonin, from which he summoned the immense power he needed to launch a struggle to refute the erroneous and reveal the true, exactly as the Daishonin had taught. (NHR-2, 236)

In writing about his own relationship with Mr. Makiguchi, Sensei recounts in his novel The New Human Revolution, where he appears as Shin’ichi Yamamoto:

Shin’ichi never met Mr. Makiguchi in person, but Josei Toda thoroughly acquainted him with the founding president’s life, ideas, philosophy and conviction. A sharp, undistorted image of this late mentor, whom he had never seen, was vividly burned into his mind. …

“Although I lack ability, I would like to make today’s memorial service an opportunity to renew my commitment and determination to realize Mr. Makiguchi’s ideals, not begrudging any hardship or effort it may take.” (NHR-2, revised edition, 240–43)

Sensei learned about Mr. Makiguchi through Mr. Toda. In the same way, all of us have learned about the three presidents and Nichiren Daishonin through Sensei’s writings and our good friends in the SGI.

The beauty of the oneness of mentor and disciple is that it has nothing to do with physical proximity. As Nichiren has said, “Merely seeing each other’s face would in itself be insignificant” (“The Drum at the Gate of Thunder,” WND-1, 949). Uniting one’s heart with the mentors of Soka in our vow to achieve kosen-rufu is the power source for our eternal advancement. This is the deciding factor in living with the “same mind as Nichiren” (WND-1, 385). Sensei has conveyed the following about the oneness of mentor and disciple:

It is because of a profound karmic bond that persists throughout past, present and future. And Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda are the ones who led the way in teaching us the correct path of Buddhist faith and practice.

The joy of encountering a rare person of great character, an individual who awakens us to what we are seeking in the depths of our beings—this is the mentor-disciple relationship. The correct teaching of Buddhism is transmitted through such human bonds. (For Our Wonderful New Members, pp. 9–10)

By practicing Buddhism with the heart of the oneness of mentor and disciple in our daily lives, we are guaranteed to lead lives of complete happiness and fulfillment, making powerful contributions that move our community and the world that much closer to peace.

—Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff

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