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Staking His Life on a Battle of the Pen

Ikeda Sensei waged a lifelong battle as an author and poet, employing the power of words to inspire change.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6

Writing Prolifically, Driven by Passionate Faith

The front page of the Nov. 18, 2023, issue of the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, Seikyo Shimbun, carried Ikeda Sensei’s poems commemorating Nov. 18, Soka Gakkai Founding Day. A few days later, the Nov. 20 issue published Sensei’s message to students of the Soka schools, and the Nov. 21 issue carried an installment of his series “Toward a Hope-Filled Future With the Daishonin’s Writings.” He continued writing until the very end of his life, issuing words that resonate like a lion’s roar in the hearts of his fellow members and friends.

Writing as ‘Shin’ichiro Yamamoto’

“Words are life. They are light; they are hope. I will continue to pour every ounce of my being into speaking and writing until the last moment of my life!”[1] Inspired by his profound Buddhist faith and practice, Sensei wrote prolifically, pouring his entire being into encouraging friends and fellow Soka Gakkai members. His desire to meet with one person after another drove him to use the power of the pen to encourage as many as possible.

While there are limits to what a person can do, the written word has no such limits. Sensei resolved to leave a written record of the universal philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism and the truth of his mentor, Josei Toda.

He began his struggle of words as a youth under the tutelage of Mr. Toda.

Sensei started work at Mr. Toda’s publishing company, Nihon Shogakkan, on Jan. 3, 1949, just a day after he turned 21. That May, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the Boys’ Adventure magazine (later renamed Boys’ Japan). He strove to make it the best boys magazine in Japan.

Working out of the publishing company’s small office in Nishi-Kanda, Tokyo, he was involved in all aspects of the magazine’s production, from planning and contacting writers and illustrators to laying out pages. When articles fell through, he would step in, using the pen name Shin’ichiro Yamamoto[2] to write essays on figures such as the educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi or physician and scientist Edward Jenner.

But Mr. Toda’s publishing company faced setbacks due to the financial upheavals caused by changes in economic policies following World War II. He pivoted, closing the publishing company and starting a credit union.

During these difficult times, Mr. Toda said to Sensei:

Daisaku, why do you think it is that Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples were able to overcome the persecutions they faced for their beliefs? …

The Daishonin wrote letter after letter to encourage his disciples. That is why they were able to remain undefeated in the face of all adversity in both their personal lives and in society. Daisaku, let’s create a newspaper that fully embodies this spirit of the Daishonin![3]

Because of Sensei’s arduous efforts behind the scenes, his mentor found a way out of his financial difficulties, and, on May 3, 1951, Josei Toda was inaugurated second Soka Gakkai president. Just days earlier, the first issue of the Seikyo Shimbun had been published on April 20, 1951. Mr. Toda penned the main front-page article titled “What Is Faith?” as well as the column Suntetsu (Epigrams).

Sensei also took up his pen. He honed his writing skills under the strict training of Mr. Toda, who would critique his work, saying: “This will not move people!” “Your point is unclear!”[4]

With Mr. Toda’s compassionate direction, Sensei not only developed his abilities as a champion of kosen-rufu but also learned how to skillfully wield a mighty pen.

Pen Names That Express the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple

President Toda wrote his novel, Human Revolution, under the pen name Myo Goku. The protagonist in the novel is Kutsuo Gan, whose storyline reflects the author’s life. The novel covers the protagonist being imprisoned alongside his mentor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, and ends with his realization in prison: “I am a Bodhisattva of the Earth!”

The question became who would write the sequel to Mr. Toda’s novel? It would need to cover notable events such as Mr. Toda’s emergence from prison and his powerful resolve to avenge his mentor’s death in prison by calling forth 750,000 Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

Three exchanges with his mentor solidified Sensei’s determination to write the sequel. They took place in:

the spring of 1951, when Mr. Toda showed him the novel’s manuscript;

August 1954, when he accompanied Mr. Toda to his hometown of Atsuta Village in Hokkaido; and

August 1957, during the last summer he spent with Mr. Toda in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.

Sensei resolved: “I am the only one who can record the truth of Mr. Toda’s life. That is his expectation for me and my mission as his disciple.”[5]

Following his May 3, 1960, inauguration as the third Soka Gakkai president, Sensei initiated all-out efforts to expand the Soka network in Japan and around the globe.

In April 1964, during the seventh memorial (sixth anniversary) of Mr. Toda’s death, he shared his resolve to write the sequel to his mentor’s novel. That same year, the Soka Gakkai accomplished Mr. Toda’s dream of 3 million households, signifying the organization’s growing momentum.

While making concrete progress toward further realizing his mentor’s vision for kosen-rufu, Sensei undertook the monumental task of starting his novel.

On Dec. 2, 1964, while visiting Okinawa, Sensei began writing The Human Revolution. On Jan. 1, 1965, the first installment of the serialized novel appeared in the Seikyo Shimbun, under Sensei’s pen name, Ho Goku.

Based on the principles of Buddhism, Myo (in Myo Goku, Mr. Toda’s pen name) signifies the mentor while Ho (in Ho Goku, Sensei’s pen name) indicates the disciple. This was the start of a beautiful story of mentor and disciple written across more than 50 years.

Amid Intense Struggles

Sensei noted, “Writing a serialized novel is extremely demanding work.”[6] Yet he undertook the task amid his already busy schedule of traveling to cities throughout Japan and the world for the sake of kosen-rufu and peace. Wherever he was, he always made time to take up his pen to plan and write his novel.

From around the end of November 1969, what came to be known as the Freedom of Speech Incident[7] began. Sensei stood tall, ready to take on a barrage of criticism.

On Feb. 2, 1970, the Seikyo Shimbun began publishing installments of “The Seventh Centennial” chapter of The Human Revolution, volume 6. The original plan was to begin these installments on Feb. 11, Josei Toda’s birthday. But to respond to eager calls from readers, the newspaper decided to start publishing installments as soon as possible. Also in response to readers’ requests, the series began running six days a week—in every weekday edition as before and now also on Saturdays.

Moving ahead at full steam, Sensei strove to steer the great ship of the Soka Gakkai through stormy seas while continuing the “extremely demanding work” of writing the novel for the sake of his fellow members.

On days when he was so fatigued or unwell that he couldn’t even hold a pen, he would dictate his manuscript into a tape recorder. Other times, he would have his wife, Kaneko, help him. On the upper corner of a handwritten manuscript for the “Spark” chapter, Sensei noted, “Because I’m quite tired, I’ve asked my wife to transcribe this.”

Despite his resolute efforts to keep writing, there was a long pause in the novel’s publication. In April 1979, he stepped down as third Soka Gakkai president. Ill-intentioned Nichiren Shoshu priests colluding with a corrupt lawyer plotted to purge the spirit of mentor and disciple from the Soka Gakkai. This led to a restriction of Sensei’s activities; and his words and writings, including his novel, were no longer published in the Seikyo Shimbun. This left many Soka Gakkai members longing for the inspiration and guidance he had regularly provided.

He thought that if things continued this way, the members would be the ones to suffer. Despite the restrictions placed on him and the pressure it might invite, he resolved to begin writing The Human Revolution again to rouse the members’ courage.

In July 1980, after a two-year pause, he began writing volume 11. Often his health was so poor that he had no choice but to lay down and rest. Even then, he pressed on, dictating the novel to a Seikyo Shimbun reporter overseeing the serialization.

Each word forged through such struggles became a spark of hope for his fellow members and ignited in them the flame of courage to keep advancing in their efforts for kosen-rufu, no matter the obstacles.

Eternally Leading the Way

The Human Revolution serialization concluded in the Seikyo Shimbun on Feb. 11, 1993, on what would have been Josei Toda’s 93rd birthday. That same year, the paper’s Nov. 18 issue carried the first installment of the novel’s sequel, The New Human Revolution.

Sensei had begun writing this sequel on Aug. 6, 1993, in Karuizawa, Japan.

In the introduction, he wrote:

I have taken writing The New Human Revolution as my life’s work. In it, I am determined to continue to record, to the limits of my ability, the diamondlike, genuine path of mentor and disciple, and depict the grand portrait of glory created by the precious children of the Buddha as they have advanced with the dream of worldwide kosen-rufu, just as Nichiren Daishonin taught.[8]

In addition to writing this new novel, in January 1998, he also began a new essay series titled “Thoughts on The New Human Revolution.”

On Aug. 6, 2018, Sensei completed the sequel, and on Sept. 8, the final installment of volume 30 appeared in the Seikyo Shimbun. The installments of The Human Revolution and The New Human Revolution total 7,978 (surpassing 200,000 handwritten manuscript pages), the highest number of installments of any serialized novel ever published in Japanese newspapers.

In the last chapter of The New Human Revolution, Sensei writes about the headquarters leaders meeting in November 2001, where he proclaimed:

I would like you, my young friends of the youth division, to staunchly carry on the solemn spirit of the first three Soka Gakkai presidents, who are eternally linked by the bonds of mentor and disciple. Those who do so will be the ultimate victors.[9]

Sensei conveyed this vision to the youth at the Tokyo Toda Memorial Auditorium. This is the same castle of mentor and disciple where his memorial was held on Nov. 23, 2023.

Sensei began writing various essay series in 1998 and continued writing essays for 25 years, until November 2023. His final essay appeared in the Seikyo Shimbun’s Nov. 15 issue, the day of his passing (and appears on pp. 1–3 of this issue).

He concludes that essay, writing:

The foundations for our youthful Soka Gakkai worldwide are rock solid.

Rallying the passion and power of young Bodhisattvas of the Earth more than ever, let us build great castles of capable people and cultivate ever-growing gardens of peace to create value leading to happiness for the entire global family![10]

Making the Seikyo Shimbun a Bastion of Justice

The following dedication by Sensei is engraved in a monument at the World Seikyo Center:

With the Seikyo Shimbun as the main stage in my struggle of words, I have wielded my pen tirelessly to record the truth of Soka mentors and disciples for posterity and to convey messages of encouragement to each of my fellow members.[11]

The Seikyo Shimbun was made possible by Sensei. Not only did he write for the paper, but he also poured his energies into raising capable reporters.

A sociology of religion scholar in Japan once said, “Every time I read the Seikyo Shimbun, I can hear President Ikeda’s voice, spurring the staff to greater effort by demanding, ‘Will our members be convinced by this report? Will it please and satisfy them?’”[12]

Sensei writes about the mission of the Seikyo Shimbun, and there are scenes throughout The New Human Revolution in which he encourages and instructs its reporters.

For instance, he emphasizes, “Above all, … accuracy is the lifeblood of a newspaper.”[13]

He encouraged not only the writers but instilled the same spirit in photographers, those selling ads, logistics managers, newspaper deliverers and indeed everyone who supported all aspects of the newspaper.

What is the essence of the Seikyo Shimbun? Sensei writes:

First of all, it is a newspaper dedicated to kosen-rufu. It should fill its readers with a desire to stand up and work for the happiness of others and for peace. …

Second, it must be a newspaper that helps people understand the correct teaching of Buddhism. …

Third, it must serve as a letter of encouragement that gives hope and courage to its readers.[14]

Today, the online Seikyo Shimbun is accessible in 220 countries and territories. And many of its articles are translated and published in sister SGI publications around the world. Hence Sensei has realized Mr. Toda’s dream to “enable people throughout Japan and throughout the world to read the Seikyo Shimbun.”[15]

In accord with our mentor’s instructions, the Seikyo Shimbun and its sister publications, such as the World Tribune and Living Buddhism in America, will continue to deliver words of inspiration as publications dedicated to people’s happiness. They will convey the truth of Sensei and will forever remain publications of the oneness of mentor and disciple that impart courage and hope to everyone.

Encouraging One Person

In addition to writing novels and essays, Sensei composed many poems, both short and long. He says he wrote poetry—tailoring it as much as possible to his recipients—out of an earnest wish to support members in overcoming their difficulties, growing in their own ways and living powerfully with confidence.

In July 1976, he committed himself to writing one Soka Gakkai song after another.

For instance, he wrote “The Song of Human Revolution” when the media and Nichiren Shoshu priests were attacking the Soka Gakkai. It became the song with which members vowed to unite with him in the shared spirit of mentor and disciple.

And as the first priesthood issue came to a head in 1978 and 1979, Sensei wrote numerous songs for various groups and regions throughout Japan.

Infused with his spirit, these songs continue to inspire members as they advance kosen-rufu.

As a Poet Laureate

Sensei’s poetry touched the hearts of his fellow members and transcended national, racial and religious boundaries.

Sethu Kumanan, the chairman of Soka Ikeda College of Arts and Science for Women in India, says he came across Sensei’s poem “Mother” in a poetry book presented to him by Krishna Srinivas, founder and executive director of the World Academy of Arts and Culture.

The academy conferred upon Sensei the title of Poet Laureate in 1981. Professor Srinivas is also president of the World Poetry Society, which named Sensei World Poet Laureate in 1995.

Professor Kumanan says that reading “Mother” struck such a deep chord that he was inspired to make Sensei his mentor. The poem was the origin of his founding the Soka Ikeda College. Poets understand each other right away, he says, observing that Sensei’s poems instill power in anyone who reads them. He also notes that a mentor is someone who inspires strength and happiness in people when they are suffering the most.[16]

The decision to name Sensei Poet Laureate came on July 1, 1981. Within months of receiving this honor, he wrote lyrics for the “Song of Crimson” and composed the long poem “Youth, Scale the Mountain of Kosen-rufu of the 21st Century.”

He wrote these two works for youth living in regions of Japan where Soka Gakkai members were suffering at the hands of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. In them, he urges youth to “Rise up!” in unity with the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple.

 “Youth, Scale the Mountain of Kosen-rufu of the 21st Century,” written on Dec. 10, was originally composed to encourage youth engaged in a courageous struggle against corrupt priests in Oita Prefecture.[17]

Huddled in a room at the Oita Peace Center, five youth frantically transcribed it as Sensei dictated and revised verses. After that, he went to meet members while the youth stayed back to write out a clean copy in time to present it at a meeting later that evening.

Returning from his discussion with members, Sensei asked enthusiastically how the manuscript was coming along.

The plan was to introduce the poem at the Oita Prefecture Youth Division Leaders Meeting scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Time was running out.

Participants began arriving. And the start time was now moved up an hour to 6 p.m.!

Sensei worked hard to make revisions. As soon as he had dictated all the changes, the meeting began. Just in time, the youth finished transcribing the poem, and it was presented to everyone at the meeting, who responded with massive applause.

It is a battle to compose poetry, which is a cry of the spirit.

In a song based on the poem, Sensei writes:

To be a youth
To have hope
To know the truth
Means striving for kosen-rufu
and struggling to spread the Mystic Law to our friends
throughout our live[18]

The banner of kosen-rufu is now entrusted completely to us—placed in the hands of those who will shoulder the 21st century.

January 2, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 18–20


  1. The New Human Revolution, vol. 10, revised edition, p. 35. ↩︎
  2. Shin’ichiro Yamamoto: Ikeda Sensei’s first pen name. ↩︎
  3. May 8, 2020, World Tribune, p. 6. ↩︎
  4. Feb. 20, 1998, World Tribune, p. 13. ↩︎
  5. NHR-30, 127. ↩︎
  6. Sept. 11, 1998, World Tribune, p. 4. ↩︎
  7. Freedom of Speech Incident: A controversy that arose in 1970, when the Soka Gakkai defended itself against libelous claims. For further details, see the “Fierce Winds” chapter in NHR-14. ↩︎
  8. NHR-1, revised edition, xi. ↩︎
  9. NHR-30, 825. ↩︎
  10. Page 3 of this issue. ↩︎
  11. Dec. 20, 2019, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  12. May 24, 1993, World Tribune, p. 4. ↩︎
  13. See NHR-10, revised edition, 41. ↩︎
  14. Ibid., p. 54. ↩︎
  15. NHR-1, revised edition, 223. ↩︎
  16. From an interview published in the Nov. 17, 2023, Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎
  17. See NHR-30, “Cheers of Victory” chapter. To read the poem in full, see Dec. 3, 2021, World Tribune, pp. 6–8. ↩︎
  18. Tentative translation. ↩︎

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