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Ikeda Sensei

My August Rebirth

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The following essay from Ikeda Sensei’s series “Thoughts on The New Human Revolution” was translated from the Aug. 27, 2003, issue of the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, Seikyo Shimbun. 

In June 1989, I addressed the Institut de France in Paris, delivering a speech titled “Art and Spirituality in the East and the West.” I have always been very fond of the sharp observation of Jean de la Fontaine (1621–95), who was a member of the Institut: “A clever plot traps its maker, and the betrayer is often betrayed.”[1]

This summer [in 2003], I engaged in a meaningful discussion with youthful members at the Gunma Training Center. It was just after the anniversary of the end of World War II, and our conversation turned to the dark and painful events during the war. Whenever I think of those days, indescribable anger and sadness fill my heart.

When the Pacific War broke out in 1941, I had begun working at a military supplier that made diesel engines, located in Kamata (in present-day Ota Ward). Inflated reports of continuous Japanese victories were coming from the front, but as early as April 1942, the first air raid on Tokyo and other cities by U.S. forces took place. It started just after noon. 

The war situation turned against Japan, and the home front, which had previously escaped attack, now became the target of ferocious air bombardment. In the final days of the war, B-29s were flying overhead constantly, day and night. I will never forget their dark forms looming overhead. It is a sight engraved on my young heart that will never fade.

I lived in Kojiya in Kamata then, but after the devastating air attack on Tokyo in March 1945, my family was ordered to relocate. Our home was scheduled to be torn down to make it easier to fight the fires caused by the air raids. 

On the night of April 15, an air raid destroyed most of Kamata. My four elder brothers were all away at war, and I was supposed to be looking after my parents in their place, but I was separated from them and ended up seeking refuge in the opposite direction. They fled toward Ikegami, while I went toward the bay. I still recall that night with terrible regret. When I was reunited with my parents after the attack was over and the fires had died down, I remember how overjoyed I was; at the same time, I felt terribly guilty for leaving them to fend for themselves, even though accidentally.

My future wife’s family home, which was in Yaguchi, Kamata, burned to the ground in that air raid. Fortunately, one week earlier, Kaneko (13 at the time) had left Tokyo with her mother and brothers, thus escaping harm. Her father and older sister, who remained in the city, however, saw their home destroyed. 

My wife had evacuated to Gifu, the hometown of her parents, but three months later, in July, Gifu was bombed and their home there was also burned, forcing them to relocate once again.

In those days, it was simply impossible to avoid hearing stories about people who had died in the attacks. It was just as Nichiren Daishonin wrote in his “Letter from Sado,” which I read with great emotion in later years: “The most dreadful things in the world are the pain of fire, the flashing of swords, and the shadow of death” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 301). My life was surrounded by death. I myself was suffering from tuberculosis. But no matter how terrifying our situation was, I had to go on living.

On May 24, when we had just finished moving our remaining worldly possessions into a hastily constructed shelter on relatives’ property in nearby Magome, following our forced evacuation from Kamata, there was another massive air raid and our new home was burned to the ground. After all our effort moving, we were now forced to live in a barracks-style hut. But there was nothing for us to do but forge on as best we could, the monster of the war in hot pursuit; each day that we survived was like a miracle. 

Though I had an instinctive abhorrence for war, it was a time when a young man who wasn’t a soldier felt guilty. I believed that I, too, had to selflessly give my life for my country. After long thought, without telling my parents I applied to become a junior air cadet. If I had been accepted, I would probably have been mobilized as a member of the special attack force, from which the famous kamikaze fliers were recruited.

But my father found out about my application and opposed it vehemently, putting a halt to my plan. All the boys in those days wanted to be junior air cadets; my heart still torn, I went to visit an older friend who was a junior cadet at his training camp in Kasumigaura, Ibaraki Prefecture. He said to me with a serious expression that someone like me, who was physically weak, should give up on applying. He went on to say that being a junior air cadet was not as fine a thing as people thought, either.

His words only made me feel worse, but then one day I had an experience that changed my mind. I saw a young soldier with his girlfriend in front of Otorii Station in Kamata. Just then an officer happened to walk by. The soldier saluted smartly, but the officer turned and shouted rudely that he hadn’t greeted him with the proper respect and began to beat the soldier fiercely. The soldier’s girlfriend was reduced to tears of concern and shame. It was a time when, unfortunately, military men were automatically assumed to be superior to civilians, but observing the behavior of this officer, all I could think was: “So this is the kind of person who is protecting our country and our people? What a horrible, beastly world this is!” I was not just disappointed; I was angry.

When my eldest brother was on leave and had returned home from China, he spoke to me with great seriousness: “There is no glory in war,” he said. “The Japanese military is arrogant. What we’re doing to the Chinese people is terrible.” If he had said this while in the army, he would have been in deep trouble, but he was in earnest. At this time, the war was being glorified as “a sacred struggle,” and war-mongering propaganda blanketed society like a black cloud. But the ugliness of Japan’s militarism gradually became apparent, even to an ordinary young man like me.

When Mahatma Gandhi learned of the brutal invasion of China by Japanese forces, he declared angrily that it was a terrible act of ingratitude for Japan to invade China, and before it Korea, both countries to which it owed such an enormous cultural debt.[2] I felt that Gandhi’s rage was just. He also said, “My goal is friendship with the whole world, and I can combine the greatest love with the greatest opposition to wrong.”[3]

Nationalism and militarism represent the exact opposite of Gandhi’s position. Nationalism twists and deforms the human heart. How many people has nationalism sucked into its maw and turned into mindless cogs in its war machine? How many has it brainwashed into unthinking mouthpieces for its lies and propaganda?

Nothing is more cruel or tragic than war, which robs human beings of their humanity.

On Aug. 15, “The Divine and Invincible Land of Japan” was laid low and utterly vanquished. At the same time, its people’s beliefs were deeply shaken. Yet those who had been proclaiming the glories of the “holy war” until just the day before suddenly began acting as if they had been at the forefront of opposition to war from the outset. Overnight these bloody militarists became champions of democracy and peace. What happened to all that arrogance, all that bluster, all that praise and support for militarism? Were their core beliefs, their most profound convictions, as ephemeral as smoke? The stupidity and weakness, the cruelty that had led to war—would it ever change? Where was the spiritual pillar that, like a mighty tree, could withstand the raging storms of circumstance? My youthful spirit cried out for answers to these questions, for truth and justice.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato said, “It is to [a sound nurture and education] that the overseers of our state must cleave and be watchful against its insensible corruption.”[4]

I met my mentor in life, Josei Toda, in the midst of this spiritual search, two years after the end of the war, on Aug. 14, 1947. He responded to my questions that evening with complete sincerity and clarity and not a trace of arrogance or condescension. Though he had been imprisoned by the military authorities under the worst circumstances during the war, he never wavered in his beliefs.

I saw in him a true model of what a human being should be, and I decided to make him my mentor and follow the path he showed me. That was my rebirth in this life.

Gandhi declared: “I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do unless I took part in politics.”[5] There can be no true peace unless we are fully engaged with our fellow human beings and society, unless we transform our very lives and develop our inner compassion and wisdom. To accomplish that, a religion of human revolution is imperative.

In Les Misérables, which I first read during the war, Victor Hugo proclaims: “Superstitions, bigotries, hypocrisies, prejudices, these phantoms, phantoms though they be, cling to life; they have teeth and nails in their shadowy substance, and we must grapple with them individually and make war on them without truce.”[6] We must fight against the insidious evil that writhes in the darkness within people’s hearts and in society. We must struggle to create a century of peace where humanity triumphs! This spiritual struggle has no end. It is an eternal one that we must keep fighting. That is why I lift my pen again today and, with all my might, carry on my struggle of words. 

July 21, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 2–3


  1. Translated from French. Jean de la Fontaine, Oeuvres complètes: Fables, Contes et Nouvelles (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), p. 155. ↩︎
  2. Translated from Japanese. Tomi Koura, Ahinsa wo ikiru: Tomi Koura jiden (Living a Life of Ahimsa: The Autobiography of Tomi Koura) (Tokyo: Domesu Shuppan-sha, 1998), p. 92. ↩︎
  3. Mahatma Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections (New York: Continuum, 1958), p. 110. ↩︎
  4. Plato: The Republic, Books I–V, translated by Paul Shorey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 331. ↩︎
  5. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers, p. 63. ↩︎
  6. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee (New York: New American Library, 1987), p. 514. ↩︎

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