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The Pride of Being Josei Toda’s Disciple

Ikeda Sensei selflessly devoted his youth to spreading the Mystic Law—from meeting his mentor, Josei Toda, to his inauguration as the third Soka Gakkai president.

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

After 95 years, Ikeda Sensei’s sublime life came to a close on Nov. 15, 2023. Sensei exemplified the limitless courage, compassion and wisdom one can bring forth by living based on the noble spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple. He stands among the most outstanding leaders in the history of Buddhism, having spread the Buddhist philosophy of respect for the dignity of life across the globe and expanded the Soka Gakkai’s movement for peace to 192 countries and territories.

This special six-part series, “Ikeda Sensei’s 95 Years—The Boundless Power of Mentor and Disciple,” covering Sensei’s towering life and impact, was adapted from a series published in the Nov. 20–26, 2023, issues of the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, Seikyo Shimbun.

Seeking a Great Tree Unbowed by the Storm

An unprecedented people’s movement emerged from the principle that a single person’s human revolution contributes to the construction of global peace. One moment marks its beginning: the chance encounter of Daisaku Ikeda and Josei Toda on Aug. 14, 1947.

That evening, Daisaku Ikeda attended a Soka Gakkai discussion meeting in Tokyo’s Ota Ward at the invitation of former elementary school classmates. When he arrived, Mr. Toda was lecturing on Nichiren Daishonin’s seminal treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

Amid the devastation of postwar Japan, the 19-year-old Daisaku sought the correct way to live. Impressed by Mr. Toda’s character, and deeply moved by his fight against Japan’s militarism and subsequent imprisonment, Daisaku decided to stake his life on following this man.

At the discussion meeting, Ikeda Sensei stood up to express his appreciation with an impromptu poem.

Where do you come from?
And where do you go?
The moon has set,
And the sun has not yet risen.
In the darkness before dawn
I advance
In search of light.
To dispel the dark clouds in
my mind,
To seek a great tree unbowed
by the storm,
I spring from the earth.[1]

Listening, Mr. Toda recalled the bodhisattvas who emerged from the earth described in the Lotus Sutra and smiled. Ten days later, on Aug. 24, Sensei joined the Soka Gakkai. Thus began the drama of his inner transformation, or human revolution, that would lead to a global movement for peace.

Looking to the Future Amid Hardship

On Jan. 3, 1949, Sensei began work at Mr. Toda’s publishing company, Nihon Shogakkan. He edited the magazine Boys’ Adventure (which Mr. Toda later renamed Boys’ Japan) and, in May, became its editor-in-chief. But the postwar economic recession caused the magazine to cease publication, with its final issue appearing that December.

Hoping to revive his businesses, Mr. Toda established a credit union. But in August 1950, that, too, had to cease operations. Sensei wrote in his diary: “I, however, will advance with Mr. Toda toward our next effort. Nothing else matters. Forward. Eternally forward.”[2]

Then, on Aug. 24, 1950, Sensei’s third anniversary of joining the Soka Gakkai, Mr. Toda announced that he would step down as Soka Gakkai general director out of his concern that his business troubles might negatively affect the organization. While many abandoned and even vilified Mr. Toda in a complete turnabout, Sensei stood by his mentor and spared no effort to support him.

Amid their desperate struggles, Mr. Toda shared with Sensei his vision to establish a Soka Gakkai newspaper and a university (see pp. 18 and 21).

Starting that fall, Mr. Toda began to lecture on Nichiren’s writings to several members, the young Daisaku among them. Following that, he lectured on the classics of world literature. In addition, every Sunday he would personally instruct Sensei on various academic subjects. These “Toda University” lectures continued until 1957.

Sensei went on to receive academic honors from numerous universities and institutions. He expressed his deep appreciation for Mr. Toda, writing, “I credit this entirely to the training I received from Mr. Toda, and I dedicate all of these honors to my mentor.”[3]

Sharing Bonds of Hardship and Joy

Liquidating the credit union proved extremely difficult. Some of Mr. Toda’s creditors threatened to take legal action against him. But in February 1951, his circumstances turned around. The Ministry of Finance sent a notice stating that if all its members reached a consensus, the credit union could be liquidated.

On March 11 of that year, the credit union was successfully dissolved. At a Soka Gakkai special general meeting that day, Mr. Toda declared:

Now is the time for the kosen-rufu of all Japan. We have seen the signs of kosen-rufu in [Asia]. The time has finally come for the fledgling membership of the Soka Gakkai, charged with the Buddha’s mandate, to forge ahead on the front lines.[4]

Sensei was overjoyed at this lion’s roar from his mentor and, together with fellow members, rushed to share Buddhism with others and helped a friend join the Soka Gakkai. On May 3, Josei Toda was inaugurated as second Soka Gakkai president.

On the back of a commemorative photo, Mr. Toda composed a poem for his disciple:

What a mystic bond
To share with you the joys and sorrows
Both at present and in the future![5]

Proof as a Disciple

At his inauguration ceremony, Mr. Toda declared his vow to achieve a membership of 750,000 households. The membership at the time numbered around 3,000. Many perceived Mr. Toda’s goal as a pipe dream, with some leaders even wondering if he would live long enough to see it fulfilled.

Propagation lagged. In December 1951, only 466 households joined the Soka Gakkai nationwide. To have 750,000 households seemed a distant dream.

But Sensei broke through.

In January 1952, Mr. Toda appointed him advisor to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter, and in February alone, this single chapter welcomed an unprecedented 201 new households. The breakthrough electrified the members nationwide, and the Soka Gakkai advanced with increasing vigor.

From 1953, the Soka Gakkai’s growth accelerated even further, with a goal to reach 50,000 households by the end of the year—a goal the organization achieved. Sensei’s efforts were the driving force behind this expansion. In January, Mr. Toda appointed him leader of the young men’s division First Corps, which then grew threefold in one year.

In April, Mr. Toda assigned him as acting chapter leader for Tokyo’s Bunkyo Chapter. The chapter had lagged in growth but quickly became one of the top-ranking chapters in propagation.

After that, Sensei supported members in various locations, demonstrating how to achieve victory as a disciple.

In September 1955, he led a 10-day propagation campaign in Sapporo, expanding the membership there by 388 households, the most in the nation.

In May 1956, he led the historic achievement of welcoming into the Soka Gakkai’s Osaka Chapter 11,111 households. That July, a Soka Gakkai-backed candidate was elected for the first time in a National House of Councillors election in Osaka district. The outcome prompted a major Japanese newspaper to run the headline: “What Was Thought Impossible Has Been Achieved!”

Sensei then led Yamaguchi to a tenfold increase in membership, campaigning on the ground there for 22 days between October and January.

A Vow to Fight for Human Rights

The SGI’s movement of humanism to build peace and happiness for all people now encompasses the entire planet.

The source of this movement lies in the wartime struggles in prison of Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda and in Sensei’s vow to fight for human rights, a vow he made during the so-called Osaka Incident of 1957.

On July 3 that year, the authorities arrested Sensei and wrongfully charged him with election law violations in a House of Councillors by-election. On Jan. 25, 1962, at the end of a court case that dragged on for four-and-a-half years, he was fully exonerated and justice finally served.

In The Human Revolution, Sensei detailed the Osaka Incident, explaining its background and significance in the Soka Gakkai’s history. The serialization of that volume in the Seikyo Shimbun ended in October 1991. The next month, the Soka Gakkai achieved its spiritual independence from the corrupt and ossified Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. The Soka Gakkai designated the following year, 1992, the Year of Soka Renaissance, launching its flight as a global religion.

Sensei has said, “I deeply feel that the great river that became today’s Soka Renaissance began in the period of torrents coursing through small canyons that I wrote about in volume 11.”[6]

The events surrounding the Osaka Incident in 1957 paved the way for the Soka Renaissance that unfolded 35 years later and determined the course of kosen-rufu that has continued until now.

A Battle to Crush Evil

“Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons has arisen around the world, it is my wish to go further, to attack the problem at its root. I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons”[7]—Mr. Toda issued this fierce lion’s roar at a youth division festival at Yokohama’s Mitsuzawa Stadium on Sept. 8, 1957.

He continued, “I wish to declare that anyone who ventures to use nuclear weapons, irrespective of their nationality or whether their country is victorious or defeated, should be sentenced to death without exception.”[8]

At that time, the Cold War engulfed the world, and the arms race was escalating under the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear weapons tests occurred frequently.

Well aware that these weapons could destroy humankind in an instant, Mr. Toda presented his historic Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons as his final decree to the youth division.

As a Buddhist, Mr. Toda upheld respect for the dignity of life as a core belief and opposed capital punishment. Given its context, his call for the death penalty was in fact a condemnation, in absolute terms, of an absolute evil—namely, the ways of thinking that justify the possession and use of weapons powerful enough to obliterate humanity.

In November, two months after his declaration, Mr. Toda planned to visit Hiroshima. But on the morning of his departure, he collapsed at home due to his extremely frail condition. Sensei recalled of the time:

His feelings for Hiroshima, the site of the bombing, must have been powerful indeed, for he was ready to sacrifice his life to visit the place that had been destroyed by the “satanic claws” of a nuclear weapon. …

Mr. Toda had planned to attend a young women’s general meeting in Hiroshima focused on his Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. Instead, Sensei went on his behalf, calling on the attendees to inherit the spirit of their mentor’s declaration.

Through his dialogues with leading world figures and his peace proposals, submitted annually to the international community, Sensei devoted himself wholeheartedly to making the abolition of nuclear weapons a reality.

In 2017, 60 years after Mr. Toda’s declaration, 122 member countries of the United Nations endorsed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And as of 2023, 69 nations have ratified and put it into force.

The King of the Religious World

In March 1958, Mr. Toda said to Sensei, “Let’s conduct a ceremony that will serve as a trial run—a dress rehearsal—for kosen-rufu in preparation for the future.”[9]

The ceremony, a gathering of 6,000 youth from throughout Japan, took place on March 16. The prime minster of Japan had promised to attend but canceled due to pressure from someone close to him.

Over the phone, Mr. Toda angrily admonished him: “Are you going to break your promise to all of these young people?!”[10] Mr. Toda resolved to hold the ceremony for the youth, despite the prime minister’s absence.

His health had declined dramatically after fulfilling his lifelong goal of a membership of 750,000 households in December. Despite his physical condition, he declared: “The Soka Gakkai is the king of the religious world,” and entrusted everything to the youth.

After March 16, Mr. Toda emphasized to Sensei: “You must never let up in your struggle against evil!”[11]

This was Mr. Toda’s strict instruction never to retreat, even a single step, from forces seeking to interfere with or impede the Soka Gakkai’s progress. Sensei often spoke of this point as essential guidance for the youth division and the entire Soka Gakkai.

On April 2, 1958, at 58, Mr. Toda passed away, marking the end of a noble life dedicated to propagating the Law.

Sensei wrote in his diary on April 29:

Will fight to prove my mentor’s greatness to the world. Will advance, straight ahead. Will fight resolutely, riding over the violent waves of obstacles and devils. Have entered the essential part of my youth.[12]

With Hearts United as One

After Mr. Toda’s passing, many in the public maligned the Soka Gakkai, saying the organization would disintegrate.

The harsher the criticism, the stronger Sensei’s fighting spirit burned.

He wrote in his diary on July 6, 1958:

My entire life is dedicated to declaring and fighting to realize President Toda’s vision—his last will. This is my only mission in this world.[13]

After his mentor passed, Sensei assumed full responsibility for kosen-rufu, continuing to encourage fellow members, his heart united with his mentor’s.

On May 3, 1960, Sensei was inaugurated third president of the Soka Gakkai and began traveling the world to actualize his mentor’s dream of kosen-rufu. In any age, the most important spirit in the Soka Gakkai is the oneness of mentor and disciple. Of this, Sensei has said:

If all of you uphold [the mentor-disciple] spirit, outstanding leaders will definitely emerge. I am certain of such a future for the Gakkai.[14]

January 2, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 6–8


  1. May 2022 Living Buddhism, p. 59. ↩︎
  2. A Youthful Diary, p. 43. ↩︎
  3. April 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 20. ↩︎
  4. The Human Revolution, p. 554. ↩︎
  5. Ibid., p. 571. ↩︎
  6. Tentative translation from Japanese. From Sensei’s afterword to The Human Revolution, vol. 11. ↩︎
  7. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, revised edition, p. 476. ↩︎
  8. Ibid. ↩︎
  9. Kosen-rufu: Our Mission, vol. 2, p. 34. ↩︎
  10. Ibid., p. 35. ↩︎
  11. April 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 23. ↩︎
  12. A Youthful Diary, p. 393. ↩︎
  13. Ibid., p. 408. ↩︎
  14. Sept. 25, 2009, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎

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