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Ikeda Sensei

Soka Gakkai Founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi

Photo by Seikyo Press.

Sincerity, earnestness, strictness, integrity—these are the words that come to mind whenever I see photographs of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, father of the Soka movement and first president of the Soka Gakkai. I always discern the penetrating gleam in his eyes. He was a strict mentor to his disciples, but he was even stricter with himself. His powerful, indomitable faith, which led him to fight resolutely against the oppression of the military authorities and, indeed, die for his beliefs, is unequivocal proof of this.

At this year’s [1998] headquarters leaders meeting commemorating May 3 Soka Gakkai Day, I introduced the little-known fact that Mr. Makiguchi had once taught an ethics class at the Tokyo Higher Technical School (predecessor of the Shibaura Institute of Technology). According to the recollections of a former student of that class, Mr. Makiguchi, who wished for world peace more than anything, denounced the widespread anti-Chinese attitudes among the Japanese at that time.

“Many Japanese maintain that the Chinese people are given to lying and deceit,” Mr. Makiguchi observed, “but that is not true. If it were, then how could their marvelous culture have flourished as it has for 5,000 years? That doesn’t make sense.” He further asserted: “If we trust others and communicate with them openly and honestly, they will respond in the same way. That is the theory of value.” These remarks were made at a time when the country was in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War. He wanted to break through the narrow-minded prejudices of his fellow compatriots.

A short time later, the former student who shared these reminiscences received his draft notice and was forced to interrupt his studies to go to fight in China. There, he met the Chinese people face to face and learned that everything Mr. Makiguchi had said was true.

Even after Mr. Makiguchi was arrested and imprisoned, he continued to speak out with confidence and conviction. During interrogations with the prosecutors, he boldly aired his views on correct and erroneous religious teachings. He even told his guard about the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism and persuaded him to embrace faith in the Gohonzon. Mr. Makiguchi never showed the least trace of fear or compromise. 

But prison life was harsh and eventually took its toll on the elderly Mr. Makiguchi’s health. He grew physically weaker and frailer with each passing day. Even his guard urged him to move to the prison infirmary, but Mr. Makiguchi steadfastly refused.

It was only the day before he died that he finally agreed. Seeing the terribly weak state Mr. Makiguchi was in, his guard offered to carry him on his back to the infirmary, but Mr. Makiguchi insisted he was fine and walked there on his own two feet. On the way, his legs folded under him and he collapsed on the floor, but he picked himself up again and, politely yet firmly refusing the guard’s helping hand, finished the trip unaided. To the very end, he faced his persecution for the sake of the Law unflinchingly, showing the courage of a lion.

Mr. Makiguchi’s daughter-in-law, Sadako, the wife of his son Yozo, learned these details directly from the guard.

Yet for all his steel will and rigorous self-discipline, Mr. Makiguchi was an infinitely warm and gentle person. When he was still just starting out in his career and teaching at an elementary school attached to Hokkaido Teachers’ College (present-day Hokkaido University of Education), he would go outside on snowy mornings to meet his students part way and walk them to school. He’d carry the little ones on his back and hold the hands of the older girls and boys. He was especially considerate of those children who suffered from weak constitutions or who were ill. If any of the children had frozen and badly chapped hands, he’d heat some water in the classroom and gently soak their hands in it until they were warmed.

When he was principal of Mikasa Elementary School in Tokyo, he would even provide lunches out of his own pocket for those students too poor to bring their own. He was aware of the situation of each child, and he tried to help them all. He was a very caring and loving teacher.

One winter evening, a woman who had come to him for guidance was about to return home, her infant bundled on her back. Mr. Makiguchi folded some newspapers and tucked them into the back of the child’s kimono. “If you do this, he’ll be as warm as if he were wearing an extra layer of clothing.” On another occasion, Mr. Makiguchi knelt down on a wintry, windswept train platform to repair the broken sandal strap of an elderly woman. What consideration and kindness he displayed! This rare combination of a courage so strong as to be fearless in the face of death and a loving concern for others that knows no bounds is true testimony to the greatness of Mr. Makiguchi’s character.

He had a tremendous love and compassion for people, which inspired him to boldly champion the cause of truth and justice, and fight with fierce determination against all that is evil and destructive. 

Indomitable faith and unflagging courage give us the capacity to embrace others with limitless warmth and compassion. True kindness to others must always be backed by inner strength. 

Ignoring injustice and failing to address it brings unhappiness to all. Such a society worries me deeply. 

Mr. Makiguchi’s life was based on the belief that to fail to do good is the same as doing evil. He lived a life of great moral good and service to humanity.

This month marks the 70th [now 96th] anniversary of Mr. Makiguchi’s conversion to Nichiren Buddhism, and June 6 is the 127th [now 153rd] anniversary of his birth.

Let us ever bear in mind that the Soka Gakkai spirit is passed on and perpetuated through our valiant efforts as champions of justice and humanism, just like Mr. Makiguchi before us, to fight the world’s wrongs and to warm and illuminate the hearts of our friends and fellow members with the radiance of our character. 

June 7, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 2–3

Be Wise Young People Who Respect and Treasure Others