Skip to main content

Ikeda Sensei

Fostering the Youth Is Fostering the Future

Photo by Molly Leebove.

The following address by Ikeda Sensei was delivered at an executive leaders conference commemorating Soka Gakkai Founding Day, held at the Shinano Culture Center in Tokyo, on November 18, 2006, and was originally published in the November 24, 2006, issue of the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, Seikyo Shimbun.

What’s the greatest threat facing humanity? “Both our greatest threat and our greatest hope are to be found in the human heart,” observed the noted Indian philosopher and human rights activist Dr. N. Radhakrishnan. I am currently [in 2006] conducting a dialogue with Dr. Radhakrishnan, who is dedicated to perpetuating the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi. One of our central themes is the great hope and expectations we have for the youth.

Dr. Radhakrishnan declared: “The SGI gives young people, who today often can find no role to play, a place to develop and create new values by struggling with the task of self-reform. … The future rests on the shoulders of the young. I am happy to be able to join you [Ikeda Sensei] in the struggle to sow and cultivate in young hearts the seeds of hope.”

Believing in the youth, being their friend, their big brother or sister and treasuring them as if they were one’s own children—that, I am convinced, is the key to fostering capable young people. Our vital and dynamic organization for kosen-rufu that continues to produce an endless stream of talented youth of lofty mission is a source of immense hope for the world. More than ever, we must give highest priority to fostering the members of the youth division and future division.

With the Heart of a Lion King

Nichiren Daishonin made incredible efforts to foster young people in order to ensure the perpetuation of the kosen-rufu movement. One such person was Nanjo Tokimitsu, who is said to have met Nichiren at a young age. Nichiren warmly watched over his growth from a boy into a young man.

The life of Tokimitsu, a true and loyal disciple of Nichiren, was a series of daunting adversities. As a child, Tokimitsu had lost his father, a local steward, and then later his beloved younger teenage brother who had practiced Nichiren Buddhism alongside him. Tokimitsu also encountered persecution and slander on account of his faith. [Because of his support of Nichiren,] the government levied heavy punitive taxes on his estate, causing him and his family to live for a time in crushing poverty.

It was Nichiren’s compassionate and rousing encouragement that enabled his young disciple to remain undaunted in the face of unending adversity—oppression by the authorities, the loss of loved ones, financial hardship and illness. He repeatedly stressed the importance of faith to surmount obstacles, teaching his disciple to strive with the heart of a lion king. In one letter to Tokimitsu, he writes:

When those who are vital to your interests [that is, people who are important to you] try to prevent you from upholding your faith, or you are faced with great obstacles, you must believe that the king Brahma and the others will without fail fulfill their vow [to protect the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra], and strengthen your faith more than ever. … If people try to hinder your faith, I urge you strongly to feel joy. (“The Source of Aniruddha’s Good Fortune,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 566)

And in another letter, he says:

Whatever happens, however, you must not despair. Be firm in your approach, and if things should not go as you wish with regard to your lands, then determine to be more contented than ever, adopt an attitude of indifference, and if you like, come here. (“On Polished Wheat,” WND-2, 576)

Also, on learning that someone in Tokimitsu’s family was ill, Nichiren offered this warmhearted encouragement:

Is it true that there is illness in your family? If so, it cannot be the work of demons. Probably the ten demon daughters are testing the strength of your faith. … Persist in your faith with the firm conviction that both Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra are free from any falsehood. (“The Two Kinds of Faith,” WND-1, 899)

The Daishonin is saying in effect: “You have no need to worry. Hardships only strengthen your faith. Don’t be defeated! If your faith is strong, you will attain happiness in the end.” This message of the Daishonin serves as powerful encouragement to us even today.

It is especially important that we instill confidence and courage in the youth and show them the way to a bright and hopeful future.

Embracing the Spirit of Our Mentor

Receiving such guidance from the Daishonin, Tokimitsu, a youth of around 20 at the time of the Atsuhara Persecution, rose up as an intrepid champion of kosen-rufu, actively protecting Nichiren and his fellow practitioners. In a letter to Tokimitsu at the height of this government crackdown, Nichiren writes:

My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow.[1] … In the end, no one can escape death. The sufferings at that time will be exactly like what we are experiencing now. Since death is the same in either case, you should be willing to offer your life for the Lotus Sutra. Think of this offering as a drop of dew rejoining the ocean, or a speck of dust returning to the earth. (“The Dragon Gate,” WND-1, 1003)

“Since we must live out our life in any case, let’s dedicate it to the noble cause of kosen-rufu!”—this is the rousing cry of our noble mentor, Nichiren Daishonin.

The heart of the mentor is characterized by a great wish and vow for kosen-rufu. Making this heart of the mentor our own is the path to attaining enlightenment.

The spirit of the mentor is characterized by selfless dedication and action for the sake of the Law. Embracing this spirit of the mentor is the path to achieving kosen-rufu.

For the Sake of the Next 50 Years

In the final year of Nichiren’s life, Tokimitsu, then still in his early 20s, contracted a serious illness. Though the Daishonin himself was ill, he roused himself to write an encouraging letter to his youthful disciple expressing his hopes that he would recover soon.[2] Nichiren’s encouragement and prayers helped Tokimitsu overcome the “devil of illness” and regain his health and strength. Enveloped in the immense compassion of the Buddha of the Latter Day, Tokimitsu lived for another 50 years to a hearty old age. Also, after Nichiren’s death, when the five senior priests betrayed their mentor, it was Nanjo Tokimitsu who rigorously defended Nichiren’s legitimate successor Nikko Shonin and opened the way for the eternal perpetuation of the Law.

Making efforts to encourage and foster young people is making efforts for the future 50 years hence.

Fostering our future division members is fostering the Soka Gakkai’s future.

Ensuring the growth and development of the youth division is ensuring the advancement and victory of kosen-rufu.

Let’s make a renewed effort to foster and train our young members—each an infinitely precious capable person—at every opportunity, starting with our discussion meetings.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the future division leaders, the men’s and women’s leaders who are responsible for supporting the future division, and the student division leaders who are offering guidance and advice to youngsters about higher education.

Darwin and His Pioneering Work

As you know, the very first academic honor of the 200 I have received [408 as of November 2023] was the honorary doctorate bestowed on me by Moscow State University, which has also honored such great intellects as the German literary giants Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. Another individual to receive an honorary doctorate from this prestigious Russian university was the pioneering English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–82).

It was on November 24, 1859—almost 150 years ago this month—that Darwin’s great work On the Origin of Species, presenting his theory of evolution, was published in London. Darwin’s thought has had a tremendous impact on the modern world. In 1990, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum held an exhibition of precious books and manuscripts from the collection of the Bodleian Library, one of Oxford University’s most hallowed institutions. A first edition of On the Origin of Species was among the items on display at that time. I was deeply moved to view this rare edition of Darwin’s groundbreaking work. I had read the book in my teens, jotting down quotes in my notebook, and it had left a deep impression on me. The renowned scientist Dr. Linus Pauling (1901–94) told me he had also read this book when he was only 9 years old. I fondly recall discussing Darwin’s theory of evolution when Dr. Pauling and I talked about the origins of life in one of our discussions.

The publication of On the Origin of Species caused a sensation, and the book quickly became a bestseller. At the same time, Darwin, as an advocate of the new idea of evolution that overturned established notions, became the target of vicious attacks from various sectors of society. Who was among the first to enter the fray? An anatomist whom Darwin had admired and had in the past defended against those who spoke ill of him. In his autobiography, Darwin wrote: “After the publication of the Origin of Species he became my bitter enemy, not owing to any quarrel between us, but as far as I could judge out of jealousy at its success.”[3]

The human heart is a frightening thing. What is envy? It is the true nature of the spiteful and malicious, and it is the cause of slander, betrayal and divisiveness. [Second Soka Gakkai President Josei] Toda declared that Devadatta, who betrayed and attempted to kill Shakyamuni, was driven by a destructive male rivalry stemming from jealousy. We must fight tirelessly, he declared, against envious traitors of Devadatta’s ilk.

Our Fundamental Attitude Determines Everything

During World War II, the Soka Gakkai was persecuted by the Japanese militarist authorities, and many of its top leaders were imprisoned. [Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo] Makiguchi remained true to his beliefs to the very end and died in prison. Mr. Toda struggled for two long years behind bars before finally being released. But all of the other top Soka Gakkai leaders abandoned their faith. One of them was a university professor. He discarded his faith because his wife implored him, saying she wanted him to get out of prison as soon as possible.

Firmly declaring that the professor had betrayed their mentor, President Makiguchi, and the Soka Gakkai, Mr. Toda adamantly refused to excuse his behavior. He was infuriated by the man’s action. He condemned this betrayal with such vehemence that one might be tempted to accuse him of overreacting, but this, said Mr. Toda, was a manifestation not of personal anger but of true compassion for the man.

After the war, there were other top Soka Gakkai leaders who lost sight of faith and betrayed their fellow members. Mr. Toda resolutely denounced them, insisting that if he failed to do so the organization would be severely imperiled.

And later, at the time of the first priesthood incident (late 1970s), there were certain individuals who, motivated solely by envy, attacked the Soka Gakkai and betrayed their fellow members to whom they were so indebted. These scheming individuals began spouting malicious lies and plotted to sever the noble mentor-disciple bond that pervades the Soka Gakkai. Their offense is grave indeed. Unfortunately, however, some of our leaders decided to be passive bystanders as this great wrong was taking place; they pretended not to see what was happening.

Of crucial importance is our fundamental attitude, what we are thinking about in our innermost hearts. Are we really determined to fight for the cause of our mentor, for the Soka Gakkai, or are we just going through the motions while really thinking only about ourselves? There is a tremendous gap between these two attitudes.

A Beautiful Realm of Friendship

Organizations and societies where envy is rampant are filled with conflict and turmoil. They do not grow or flourish.

In the ancient Chinese literary work Chu ci (Songs of Chu), the poet Qu Yuan, who had been defamed by malicious rivals and banished from his homeland, lamented: “For the world is impure and envious of the able, / And eager to hide men’s good and make much of their ill.”[4]

We must never allow deviousness and envy, secret backroom dealings and backstabbing, to take root in the Soka Gakkai. The Soka Gakkai must always be a bright, inspiring and hope-filled realm where everyone is united in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind” for the sake of kosen-rufu.

As Nichiren Daishonin writes: “When the pine flourishes, the cypress is overjoyed; when grasses whither, orchids weep. Even insentient plants and trees share as one a friend’s joys and sorrows” (“Reply to the Honorable Konichi,” WND-2, 964). How much stronger, then, are the ties that link fellow Soka Gakkai members who are striving together for the unparalleled goal of kosen-rufu. Nothing can surpass them. The Soka Gakkai is a realm of beautiful friendship and camaraderie.

Harboring jealousy and ill feelings toward fellow members extinguish one’s benefits and disrupts the harmonious unity of the organization for kosen-rufu. It is important to sternly condemn any manifestation of this behavior. Never forget the Soka Gakkai spirit.

In any event, for the sake of the eternal growth and development of the Soka Gakkai, we must not condone the actions of those who would harm our movement. We should show such people the door. I want to reconfirm this important point with you all today.

Indestructible Conviction

Let me return now to Charles Darwin. The English scientist was showered with a mixture of praise and abuse to the end of his days. His studies were also marked by successes and failures. But whatever happened, he said to himself: “I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.”[5] And he writes that he could remember thinking: “I could not employ my life better than in adding a little to natural science. This I have done to the best of my abilities, and critics may say what they like, but they cannot destroy this conviction.”[6]

Envious people may persecute us, but as long as we have the spirit to let nothing defeat us, we can stay on the path to attaining Buddhahood. Mr. Toda taught me this truth, and I have practiced it all of my life. This is my greatest source of pride.

Though it was not widely known, Darwin in fact struggled with constant ill health throughout his life. His son wrote of his father: “His life was one long struggle against the weariness and strain of sickness.”[7] For Darwin, carrying out his research was truly a life-and-death struggle. Darwin himself proudly declared: “At no time am I a quick thinker or writer: whatever I have done in science has solely been by long pondering, patience and industry.”[8] Battling countless hardships, the great scientist pressed ahead with tireless dedication and perseverance on the path of his mission that he had chosen in his youth. In the end, his theory came to be recognized as one of the most revolutionary concepts in the history of science.

What can we do as individuals? We can do our best. We can strive with all our might, challenge ourselves wholeheartedly, just as we are, in our present circumstances, and in our own way, unfazed by the vagaries of praise or blame. We can advance in high spirits, proud that we’re giving our all. If we can keep this up throughout our lives, we are certain to be victorious in the end.

When the eminent British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) was a student and feeling very heavy pressures to succeed academically, his parents told him: “Just do your best. None of us can do more than that.”[9] In a later autobiographical account, he recalls how these words lifted a great weight from his shoulders.

The Fortune of Encountering Mentors in Life

And during my meeting with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she shared with me that her father imparted an important lesson to her that sustained her all her life: “Do your best. If you should fail, try again.”

In his final years, Darwin wrote an autobiography. Looking back on his life, he expressed especially profound gratitude to one particular individual: his former botany professor at Cambridge, John Henslow (1796–1861). Darwin also wrote: “[There was] a circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other. This was my friendship with Prof. Henslow.”[10] Darwin conversed with his professor on an almost daily basis—sometimes at the latter’s home, sometimes during long walks together—absorbing as he did so valuable lessons in botany, chemistry, mineralogy, geology and other subjects.

The youthful Darwin was not only impressed by Henslow’s broad knowledge but also by his fine character. It was also Henslow who had urged Darwin to take the journey on the ship HMS Beagle, during which the latter first conceived of his new theories. With deep gratitude and respect for his mentor, Darwin wrote:

His moral qualities were in every way admirable. He was free from every tinge of vanity or other petty feeling; and I never saw a man who thought so little about himself or his own concerns. His temper was imperturbably good, with the most winning and courteous manners; yet, as I have seen, he could be roused by any bad action to the warmest indignation and prompt action. … Henslow’s benevolence was unbounded.[11]

There is no greater good fortune than being able to encounter in one’s youth an individual selflessly dedicated to the truth and filled with wisdom and compassion.

To have a mentor who fills us with sincere gratitude; to have a mentor whom we are proud to tell others about—this is a truly happy life. And how fortunate also are mentors whose students or disciples work to keep their legacy alive. That itself is a victory for both mentor and disciple.

Take the Initiative!

As a youth, Darwin was very fond of the English poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850). Born some four decades before Darwin, Wordsworth had also studied at Cambridge. Wordsworth wrote:

Not caring if the wind did now and then
Blow keen upon an eminence that gave
Prospect so large into futurity.[12]

As we embark on a fresh departure, we need to cultivate a vision of great victory and take the initiative to realize it.

In fostering capable people, especially, we must never slacken in our efforts. The Soka Gakkai youth division needs to exert itself wholeheartedly from this point on to foster talented and able new people who will strive for kosen-rufu directly connected to their mentor. If people who haven’t been thoroughly trained become leaders, our members will only suffer.

Treasuring the Founding Spirit

The origins of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom can be traced back to the 12th century. I fondly remember visiting Cambridge (in 1972) soon after I founded Soka University. Wordsworth was at Cambridge in the 18th century, 600 years after the university was established. Wordsworth wrote a poem on the history of his alma mater, paying tribute to “the Wise and Just”—the eminent professors—who over the centuries had sought out “the Founder’s Spirit” and taught and fostered many outstanding students.[13]

Organizations that forget the founding spirit are fated to lose sight of their own reason for existing. Such organizations and institutions will be plagued by self-interest and are eventually destined to decline. In contrast, those organizations that value the founding spirit and keep it alive will continue to flourish and triumph.

Wordsworth wrote of his mission: “Be mine to follow with no timid step / Where knowledge leads me.”[14] Our mission, as members of the Soka Gakkai, is to follow the two ways of practice and study and devote ourselves bravely and vigorously to the great cause of kosen-rufu.

Transmitting the Fire

Last month (October 2006), China’s Huazhong Normal University sponsored an academic forum titled “A Harmonious Society and a Harmonious World—An International Symposium on the Thought of Daisaku Ikeda.” It was attended by some 70 leading scholars from 20 universities and academic institutions, including Peking University.

Among the speakers at the symposium was the eminent Chinese historian Professor Zhang Kaiyuan, who presented a paper titled “Different Paths, Same Destination: My Encounter and Friendship with Daisaku Ikeda.” Dr. Zhang and I are currently engaged in an ongoing dialogue on the themes of history, culture and education.

Dr. Zhang told me that one of his favorite sayings is “The fire is transmitted by the firewood,” which derives from a passage in the ancient Chinese philosophical text Zhuangzi. The import of these words, he explained, lies in the fact that by burning away itself, the firewood allows the fire to be passed on. He then commented: “The Soka Gakkai, too, has been carried on through the first three presidents—passing from Makiguchi to Toda, and from Toda to Ikeda. This is an achievement that aptly reflects the saying ‘The fire is transmitted by the firewood.’ No doubt that magnificent fire will also be faithfully transmitted from Ikeda to his youthful successors.”

I wish to share these words with you just as they are because I’d like our youth division and all our future leaders to know the high hopes and trust that many leading thinkers around the world have for our movement.

Compassion Shines From Sincere Action

In October and November (2006), SGI organizations in 25 European countries have held or will be holding study exams, with more than 8,000 eager members participating. The exams are being conducted in many different languages, including English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Serbian. This is a truly noble form of Buddhist practice. I am sure Nichiren Daishonin would be overjoyed.

In Spain, our members have triumphed completely over the underhanded plots of unscrupulous priests and have been able to celebrate the anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding (November 18) in high spirits. I have heard that more than 300 members are sitting for the study exams in Barcelona, Majorca, Zaragoza, Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Marbella, Tenerife and Gran Canary.

In the spirit of praising and congratulating our victorious Spanish members, I would like to share with you the words of the Spanish poet and human rights activist Concepción Arenal (1820–93): “Words, which have been given to us to speak the truth and console sufferings, must not remain silent in the face of injustice, falsehood and disgrace;”[15] “Time employed in doing good is never wasted;”[16] and “Resignation is nothing other than becoming inured to suffering.”[17]

In closing, I’d like to present you with this poem:

My beloved comrades in faith!
How glorious this founding day
of resounding victory.

From the perspective of Buddhism, Soka Gakkai members are comrades who share life and death together. They are all more precious to me than my family. I hope our top leaders will also strive assiduously in the same spirit.

I have built a network of friendship and trust that extends around the world. I wish all our members to be well, joyful and happy—all my actions stem from that. It is with that aim that I have spoken out honestly about what is true and false. Ensuring that honest, decent people don’t have to suffer is my responsibility and the responsibility of all leaders of kosen-rufu. Leaders who forget this responsibility can fall into arbitrary, personal views that will distort and damage the ties between our members, who are united in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind.”

I hope all Soka Gakkai leaders will stay free from conceit and self-importance and strive with complete integrity and sincerity. Compassion, an expression of the life state of Buddhahood, also shines forth from sincere actions.

From the January 2024 Living Buddhism


  1. This means the vow to attain Buddhahood oneself and at the same time to lead others to Buddhahood. ↩︎
  2. “The Proof of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 1108–09. ↩︎
  3. Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809–1882, edited by Nora Barlow (London: Collins, 1958), pp. 104–05. ↩︎
  4. Ch’ü Yüan, “Li Sao,” Ch’u Tz’u: The Songs of the South, translated by David Hawkes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), p. 30. ↩︎
  5. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809–1882, p. 126. ↩︎
  6. Ibid. ↩︎
  7. Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, 1908), p. 103. ↩︎
  8. Ibid., p. 56. ↩︎
  9. Arnold Toynbee, Experiences (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 6. ↩︎
  10. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, p. 64. ↩︎
  11. Ibid., p. 65. ↩︎
  12. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind, edited by Ernest de Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), p. 402. ↩︎
  13. William Wordsworth, “Ode on the Installation of His Royal Highness Prince Albert as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, July, 1847,” Wordsworth: Poetical Works, edited by Thomas Hutchinson and revised by Ernest de Selincourt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 492. ↩︎
  14. The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind, p. 460. ↩︎
  15. Translated from Spanish. Quotes by Concepción Arenal, Sopena, frases célebres y citas (Sopena’s Famous Phrases and Quotes) (Barcelona: Editorial Ramón Sopena, S. A., 1989), p. 21. ↩︎
  16. Ibid., p. 20. ↩︎
  17. Translated from Spanish. Quotes by Concepción Arenal, Diccionario de frases célebres, compiled by Jorge Sintes Pros (Barcelona: Editorial Sintes, S. A., 1988), p. 851. ↩︎

We Youth

Highlights of the January 2024 Study Material