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Unsparing Encouragement for the Triumph of the People

As third Soka Gakkai president, Ikeda Sensei offered unforgettable encouragement to members throughout Japan—from Hokkaido in the north to the islands of Okinawa in the south.

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

The Emergence of a Young President

Just past 10:30 a.m. on May 3, 1960, Ikeda Sensei exited the car in front of the Nihon University Auditorium in Ryogoku, Tokyo. He wore a black morning coat, a keepsake from his mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda.

The inauguration ceremony for the third president started at noon. Sensei entered the auditorium as the Brass Band performed Soka Gakkai songs that reverberated throughout the room. He stopped, gazing at the portrait of President Toda hanging above.

In his speech, Sensei declared:

Though I am young, from this day I will take leadership as a representative of President Toda’s disciples and advance with you another step toward the substantive realization of kosen-rufu.[1]

More than 20,000 people attended both inside and outside the hall. The members’ applause echoed like thunder. Members across Japan had been eagerly awaiting this moment—the appointment of the 32-year-old Soka Gakkai president.

At the meeting, Sensei called on the members to accomplish Mr. Toda’s final wish: to reach a membership of  3 million households by the seventh memorial (sixth anniversary) of his passing, some four years away.

Accomplishing 3 million households became the definitive goal of what came to be known as the fifth of the Seven Bells.

The Seven Bells

Sensei presented the concept of the Seven Bells one month after Mr. Toda’s passing. It describes the rhythm of kosen-rufu’s progress over seven consecutive seven-year periods.

Until then, Sensei alone had been thinking deeply about how to give hope to the members wrought with grief over their mentor’s death.

In his diary, he wrote: “Thought about what the Gakkai will be like 20 years from now. Felt concern, anguish.”[2]

Then, on May 3, 1958, he presented his vision of the Seven Bells.

He had arrived at this idea in response to President Toda’s words “Let’s sound a bell every seven years to mark our progress toward kosen-rufu. Let’s aim to strike seven bells!”[3]

The first bell began when the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Society for Value-Creating Education) was founded in 1930 and ended with its formal establishment in 1937.

The second bell was the next seven-year period leading up to the death of founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in 1944.

The third bell lasted until 1951, when Mr. Toda became the second Soka Gakkai president.

The fourth bell rang out until 1958, when Mr. Toda passed away having achieved his lifetime membership goal of 750,000 households.

This concept was a declaration that the Soka Gakkai would continue to follow a rhythm of marking its progress every seven years. It was a way to look to the future, move forward with courage and conviction toward the fifth and sixth bells, and fight until the seventh bell’s final ringing 21 years in the future.

This grand blueprint gave members the strength to strive onward.

The Soka Gakkai accomplished its goal for the fifth bell—to achieve a membership of 3 million households—in 1962. During the sixth bell (which ended in 1972), the organization achieved its goal of 7.5 million households, and the seventh bell (ending in 1979) marked the completion of the foundation for kosen-rufu in Japan.

Treasuring Each Encounter

“How has [the SGI] grown into this influential worldwide organization?” asked a leading thinker.[4] Sensei replied that it was because we prize every individual.

Indeed, Sensei gave his life to treasuring each person.

He established the rhythm of kosen-rufu for the future and gave his all to offering hope to members so they could lead lives of happiness and victory. He initiated an era of ordinary people triumphing in life and society by forming connections with each person rooted in a shared struggle for kosen-rufu as mentor and disciples of Soka.

On March 22, 1965, after a district leaders meeting in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Sensei’s hands were red and swollen after two hours spent greeting and shaking hands with about 600 members. The pain was so acute that he couldn’t hold a fountain pen.

Another district leaders meeting in Nagoya was scheduled for eight days later.

Sensei wanted to create encounters that members could cherish forever. So, instead of shaking hands with the members, he decided to take commemorative photos with them.

Later, he wrote:

If it were possible, I would have liked to shake hands with and personally encourage all those serving as the mainstays of their districts—the local leaders of the men’s division, women’s division, young men’s division, young women’s division and student division. But that was physically impossible. That is why I came up with the idea of taking commemorative group photos as a way of personally encouraging members.[5]

According to a Seikyo Shimbun reporter, over a period of eight years and three months beginning in 1965, Sensei took commemorative group photos with more than 718,000 people.

But he did not simply pose for pictures. Between photos, Sensei talked with people and listened to each person’s worries, thinking that he may never have the opportunity to meet with that person again. Often, the frequent camera flashes stung his eyes. Even then, he sought to personally encourage as many people as possible.

On July 14, 1972, at the Iwate Prefectural Gymnasium, he took 12 commemorative photos with 3,600 people in total. Due to complete exhaustion, Sensei could not eat. Even so, when the time came, he would rise up with vigor and meet with the next group.

After the photo session, Sensei headed for the Soka Gakkai center in Morioka (the capital of Iwate Prefecture) to fulfill a promise he had made to elementary school students there. This meeting came about because Sensei had received letters from the children about their dreams for the future. He responded, “Let’s meet when I come to Iwate.”

He greeted the students as they arrived, saying, “Thank you for coming,” and presented them with books—on the backs of which he had written words of encouragement.

‘There Is No Need to Worry’

Amid the storm of the first priesthood issue, Sensei took full responsibility. On April 24, 1979, he resigned as Soka Gakkai president to protect the members and end the priesthood’s unrelenting attacks. Corrupt priests and co-conspirators betrayed the trust placed in them and schemed to drive a wedge between mentor and disciples. They imposed rules prohibiting Sensei from offering guidance at meetings or appearing in the Seikyo Shimbun. At the same time, they arrogantly attacked the Soka Gakkai, causing members to suffer.

One day that year, Sensei listened to a meeting at the Kanagawa Culture Center from outside the room. Then he quietly entered from a door near the front.

Members who noticed him cheered. When they did, Sensei put his finger to his mouth and said, “Sorry, I am not allowed to speak…” Then, he went to the auditorium’s piano, sat down and played several songs, including “The Three Martyrs of Atsuhara” and “Atsuta Village.” When he finished, he quietly left.

In those days, Sensei often encouraged members at the Kanagawa Culture Center in this way.

During the first priesthood issue, Oita was a place where malicious priests caused members the most suffering. At the temple, they would hear only slander of Sensei and the Soka Gakkai from the priests. The members just gritted their teeth and endured these attacks.

In 1981, Sensei launched an all-out counteroffensive. For the sake of these members who had suffered the most, on Dec. 12, he visited Oka Castle at Taketa in Oita.

“There is no need to worry anymore!” Sensei said.

Relief, then tears, showed on the faces of the members who rushed to his side in the parking lot.

A women’s division member had brought her husband. Though he hated the Soka Gakkai, he came that day because his wife had asked him to participate just that one time. He had it in his mind that a religious leader would be arrogant and overbearing. But after witnessing Sensei’s behavior, he decided to start practicing a few months later. 

The husband later recalled Sensei’s demeanor and said it was like someone diving into an ocean of ordinary people.

Sensei emphasized that while the people he could meet were important, those he couldn’t were even more vital. Sensing how they had prayed for his safety during his travels, he said he met them in his heart. Such noble individuals, he said, determined the Soka Gakkai’s victory.

Sensei’s heart always went out to those who suffered.

On Feb. 29, 2000, he visited the Nagata Culture Center in Hyogo and did gongyo with members there.  Among them were those who had lost parents or children in the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Some members had been buried in the rubble and were rescued, narrowly escaping death.

Sensei encouraged them:

Life is a struggle. It is a struggle to become happy. …

Please be cheerful! None are stronger than those who are cheerful. Please live with a spirit of fortitude to make it through all things.[6]

These words have given people the strength to move forward and have become a vow they share with their mentor.

The Great Undertaking of Achieving Kosen-rufu

Sensei, who took every opportunity to light the flame of hope for members across the country, looked ahead to ringing in the second set of Seven Bells beginning on May 3, 2001, at the start of the 21st century.

In May 1997, he spoke in Kansai of a grand new vision of the Seven Bells toward the second half of the 23rd century:

The first half of the 21st century will mark the second series of Seven Bells. I envisage this being a time for consolidating the groundwork for peace in Asia and throughout the world.

Looking further ahead to the latter half of the 21st century—with our aim of making it a Century of Life—I trust that respect for the dignity of life will be established as the underlying spirit of the age and of the world.

Now, feeling that I have a pretty clear vision of how kosen-rufu will develop in the 21st century, I am turning my attention toward the 22nd. During the first half of the 22nd century, I expect that an indestructible foundation for lasting world peace will be laid. And on that foundation, in the latter half of the century, I picture a brilliant flowering of human culture.

The midpoint of the 23rd century, meanwhile, will mark the millennial anniversary of Nichiren Buddhism [in 2253]. I conceive this as signaling the start of a brilliant new phase in our movement.[7]

Currently, we are advancing along the second set of Seven Bells, which will conclude with the Soka Gakkai’s 120th anniversary in 2050. On this point, Sensei writes:

I am filled with emotion when I think of that time and how the humanistic philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism will brightly illuminate the world and our wonderful Soka network will be regarded as a pillar of peace for all humankind.[8]

Just as Sensei has demonstrated through his own actions, the immense undertaking of kosen-rufu can be realized only by devoting ourselves to treasuring and encouraging each person.

January 2, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 9–11


  1. The Human Revolution, p. 1971. ↩︎
  2. A Youthful Diary, p. 393. ↩︎
  3. The Human Revolution, p. 1945. ↩︎
  4. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, revised edition, p. 102. ↩︎
  5. Aug. 27, 2010, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  6. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, revised edition, pp. 166–67. ↩︎
  7. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, revised edition, pp. 521–22. ↩︎
  8. July 13, 2018, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎

The Pride of Being Josei Toda’s Disciple

Establishing a Network of Peace Throughout the World