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Ikeda Sensei

The Student Division, Champions of the Intellect

New century—Participants at the student division conference held at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, Weston, Fla., July 2023. Photo by Marina Inoue.

A Japanese chief justice once famously said, “It is a shame to be ignorant.” How true this is! Restated, “It is a shame to be unwilling to learn.” I have been fond of these words since my youth.

For those who eagerly study and learn, a bright future, hope and shining victory lie ahead. Those who are unwilling to learn, however, will lose their spiritual vibrance and will face a future shrouded by darkness. Eagerness to learn is one of the deciding factors for a life of victory and happiness.

Ours is an age of rapid changes. Nations, businesses and all types of organizations and groups are engaged in a fierce struggle for survival. At the same time, an endless series of politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders, who ought to be exemplars guiding others, are involved in scandals, crime and corruption. What is the purpose, then, in having leaders? Are there no leaders who set aside self-interest and carry out their responsibilities?

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “In this country, there may be many wise people, but they cannot utilize their wisdom because they are governed by foolish leaders” (“The Supremacy of the Law,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 614). These words are an eternal mirror of the Buddhist Law; they perfectly reflect today’s circumstances as well.

The quality of leadership has perhaps never been more vital than it is today. As the poet Walt Whitman (1819–92) wrote: “Is reform needed? Is it through you? The greater the reform needed, the greater the personality you need to accomplish it.”[1] How true his words are! Today’s political leaders should pay heed to them.

The people of Japan are earnestly longing for new, humanistic leaders of upright character and integrity. Herein lies one of the reasons for which the student division was founded.

All people seek to possess something. Some may wish for social status. Others may seek wealth. Human desires are complex and varied. Each person is of course free to make choices for themselves. However, Nichiren states, “Since the Law is wonderful, the person is worthy of respect” (“The Person and the Law,” WND-1, 1097). Therefore, the most important thing is to embrace the Mystic Law, the supreme Law that leads us to absolute happiness that is eternal and indestructible. This was the conclusion of both Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Daishonin. Let us never forget that it is only the Mystic Law that will forever guide us and our families along the great path of justice and happiness.

The student division was established 45 [now 67] years ago, on June 30, 1957. On that day, some 500 bright-eyed students gathered at the Azabu Civic Hall in Tokyo. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda was like a proud and happy father and encouraged them wholeheartedly, sharing his highest expectations. He called on half of those present to become outstanding scholars and the other half to become great leaders in their respective fields.

The student division was the last organization Mr. Toda founded. His health had already seriously deteriorated, and the guidance he gave that day became his final instructions to the student division.

I was in Hokkaido at the time and sent a lengthy telegram to be read at the inaugural meeting. I had rushed to Hokkaido to protect Soka Gakkai members from injustice at the hands of the local miners union in what came to be known as the Yubari Coal Miners Union Incident. Part of my telegram read: “Congratulations on the inaugural meeting of the student division, a gathering of talented youth who will shoulder the next century! Under President Toda’s leadership, please embark on your journey in high spirits.”

Soon after that, on July 3, due to the insidious machinations of the authorities, I was arrested and detained on trumped-up charges of violating the election law. This was the famous Osaka Incident. The forces of truth and justice always incur the hatred and jealousy of the arrogant, unscrupulous forces of authoritarianism; this is an unchanging pattern of human society. Since persecution is certain to occur in the course of propagating Buddhism, we should rejoice rather than lament when it happens.

The student division, with its mission to spearhead the way to future victory, was founded amid such persecution. Born amid persecution, and making its first appearance amid oppression—what a wonderful starting point for the student division!

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428–347 bce) lauded those “who always issued from the test pure and intact, like gold tried in the fire.”[2] Mr. Toda and I often discussed Plato and other great thinkers, and our talks are among my fondest memories. And we were in complete accord over the truth of these particular words of Plato.

Oftentimes intellectuals are cowardly. Many who possess fine-sounding academic credentials are cowards. In contrast, the so-called ordinary people are usually bold and brave.

Therefore, Mr. Toda and I reached the conclusion that only after securing a firm foundation built on the courage of ordinary people would we set about forming specific departments or divisions for intellectuals and scholars within the organization. In our discussions, we agreed that this would enable everyone to move in the most mutually beneficial and positive direction.

A well-known American educator who came to Japan, William Clark (1826–86), encouraged his students with the famous phrase: “Boys, be ambitious!” In a similar spirit, I would like to offer this encouragement to our student division members: “Youth, rise above the raging waves and be victorious!”

I once heard an unforgettable experience given by a leader who is currently striving valiantly for kosen-rufu in Hokkaido.

The young man had moved from Hokkaido to study at a college in Chiba Prefecture, which lies next to Tokyo. His father had left the family many years before. His mother worked hard to support her four children, despite a weak constitution and a persistent bloody cough. There were even days when the family of five had to share a single serving of noodles as their sole daily meal. But the young man wouldn’t give up his dream to continue his schooling, and through incredible effort over many years he finally managed to get into college.

On the day he was to leave for school, his mother handed him a letter. In it was the following poem:

Thoroughly polish
Your heart and mind,
And become a shining example
For society,
A person loved by others.

The earnest wish of this sincere, hardworking mother was for her son to contribute to society and the welfare of others.

It is noble mothers such as this who built the great Soka Gakkai that exists today. It is vital that you, the student division members, appreciate the depth of that spirit and devotion. All study and learning exist for the sake of people like these valiant mothers. I hope you will be aware of the fact that if you forget to have gratitude for this human realm, your lofty seeking spirit will also evaporate. Please never allow yourselves to degenerate into weak, vain, foolish and shallow-minded individuals.

Learning and education exist to build and elevate your character.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi used to say, “When the day arrives that education is based on this sense of purpose, all the lies and miseries of society will be brought to an end.”

On the first anniversary of the youth division, on June 30, 1958, I was appointed general administrator of the Soka Gakkai, in which position I alone took on the full responsibility for kosen-rufu.

June 30 is the day when the disciple stands up alone to realize the mentor’s ideals.

The year 2030 will mark the Soka Gakkai’s 100th anniversary. At that time, those of you who are currently student division members will be around 50, an age by which you will have become important and valuable leaders in both the Soka Gakkai and society at large. My heart leaps with joy when I envisage the heroic sight of all of you vibrantly active as people of outstanding ability in every sphere of endeavor and every nation in the world.

Members of the student division, great standard-bearers of the new century! Stand up with energy and joy, proudly waving your own individual banners! Advance victoriously, filled with exuberance and courage! Live each day of your youth fully, without regrets! That is the way to forge your own victory, as well as that of your friends.

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the father of American democracy, declared:

It cannot be but that each generation succeeding to the knowledge acquired by all those who preceded it, adding to it their own acquisitions and discoveries, and handing the mass down for successive and constant accumulation, must advance the knowledge and well-being of mankind, not infinitely, as some have said, but indefinitely, and to a term which no one can fix and foresee.[3]

I offer these inspiring words as my message to you, the leaders of the new century.

June 14, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 2–3


  1. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, edited by Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973), p. 390. ↩︎
  2. Plato, The Republic, translated by Paul Shorey (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 79. ↩︎
  3. Thomas Jefferson, Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1984), p. 461. ↩︎

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