Josei Toda

Josei Toda (1900–58) was an educator, publisher and entrepreneur who, as second president of the Soka Gakkai, revived the organization after World War II, building it into a dynamic, popular movement.

Encountering his Mentor

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Makiguchi (right) and Toda (left), 1930 [© Seikyo Shimbun]

Arriving in Tokyo from the northern island of Hokkaido at the age of 19, Toda found a teaching post at the school where Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) was principal. Impressed by Makiguchi’s educational ideals, he soon became his protégé. In 1928, he followed Makiguchi in his decision to practice Nichiren Buddhism. The two later cofounded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Society for Value-creating Education), forerunner of the Soka Gakkai, with Toda becoming its general director. In this capacity, Toda supported Makiguchi and devoted his energies to promoting educational and religious reform.

Imprisonment

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Prayer beads Toda made from milk-bottle tops while in prison [© Seikyo Shimbun]

In 1943, as Japan’s militarist authorities tightened control over society and suppressed dissidents, Makiguchi and Toda were arrested and imprisoned for opposing the government’s policies. During his two years of incarceration, Toda devoted himself to the practice and study of Buddhism, gaining a profound grasp of its principles.

His efforts brought him to a clear realization that Buddhahood is a potential inherent in all life and deepened his confidence that all people can manifest this enlightened life condition through practicing Nichiren’s teachings. Through this profound spiritual awakening in prison, Toda developed unshakable conviction in Nichiren Buddhism and in his mission to spread its teachings.

Building the Soka Gakkai

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Toda lecturing on the writings of Nichiren [© Seikyo Shimbun]

On his release from prison toward the end of World War II, Toda began to reconstruct the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, renaming it the Soka Gakkai (Society for the Creation of Value).

Toda taught that through Buddhist practice and inner-motivated change, or “human revolution,” all people can change their destiny for the better. This message resonated powerfully among the many people suffering from poverty, illness and other challenges in the chaos of postwar Japan.

Moreover, Toda’s unshakable confidence in the power of Nichiren’s philosophy, together with his own ability to translate the profound concepts of Buddhism into practical guidance for daily life, reignited people’s hope and courage.

By the time of his death in 1958, Toda had achieved his goal of expanding the organization’s membership to 750,000 households and had laid the foundation for the dramatic spread of Buddhism in Japan and abroad.

Peace Legacy

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Toda calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons on September 8, 1957, at a meeting of 50,000 members of the Soka Gakkai’s youth division at Mitsuzawa Stadium, Yokohama [© Seikyo Shimbun]

Toda is also remembered for his uncompromising stance against nuclear weapons, which he condemned as an absolute evil that threatens people’s inalienable right to life. He urged the youth members of the Soka Gakkai at the time to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons. His 1957 Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons is considered the inspiration for the Soka Gakkai’s peace activities.

In honor of Toda’s ideals, in 1996, his successor, Daisaku Ikeda, founded the Toda Peace Institute (formerly the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research) in Tokyo. The institute brings peace researchers, policymakers and community activists together on projects related to peacebuilding and dialogue.

Read more on the Josei Toda Website

[November 2020]