Volume 30: Chapter 4, Bells of Dawn 1–10

Bells of Dawn 1

Germany is home to the religious reformation that marked a new age in European history.

At the beginning of the 16th century, as the clergy grew more corrupt, as Christian teachings devolved into empty formalities, and as the Church became more secularized, the Pope in Rome authorized the sale of indulgences in Germany. It was announced that by purchasing these indulgences sold by the Church, believers would have their sins forgiven.

Martin Luther (1483–1546), a monk and theologian, questioned this practice. He insisted that salvation could not be bought but came only through faith. He issued his Ninety-five Theses in protest, which sparked the Christian Reformation.

Luther was excommunicated by the Pope, but he remained firm in his convictions. Believing that the Bible should be the sole authority in Christian faith, he translated it into German. He also declared his doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, asserting that all human beings are equal before God.

Shin’ichi Yamamoto renewed his determination: “More than four centuries have passed since the Reformation launched by Martin Luther. As we approach the 21st century, a religion that exists for people’s happiness, a religion that can free all humanity from suffering, must flourish.”

At 8:30 p.m. on May 16, 1981, envisaging the development of kosen-rufu in Europe, Shin’ichi arrived at Frankfurt Airport. It was his first visit to West Germany in 16 years.

The following day, May 17, Shin’ichi met with Professor Emeritus Gerhard Olschowy and Professor Josef Derbolav of the University of Bonn, the latter accompanied by his wife, Rita. Dr. Olschowy was known for his research on environmental protection, while Dr. Derbolav was an authority on pedagogy and Greek philosophy. Shin’ichi also met separately that day with Professor N. A. Khan of the Free University of Berlin. Dr. Khan, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, was born in India and had a deep interest in religion. They were all old friends of Shin’ichi’s and everyone enjoyed the reunion. Shin’ichi welcomed them at the hotel in Frankfurt where a friendship exchange meeting was scheduled to be held that afternoon to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the kosen-rufu movement in Germany.

The challenges facing humanity today are complexly interlinked and wide-ranging. That’s why Shin’ichi sought to deepen his ties with leaders in every field, build a solid network of wisdom for the sake of peace and prosperity for all humankind, and generate a groundswell to shape the times.

Bells of Dawn 2

During their conversation in Frankfurt, Shin’ichi and Dr. Derbolav decided to publish a dialogue together.

Their conversations over the ensuing six years became the source material for the text. Dr. Derbolav, it is said, was overjoyed upon receiving a draft of the manuscript and kept it by his bedside.

The dialogue was published in Japanese in April 1989,1 but Dr. Derbolav, unfortunately, had died in July 1987 at age 75 and never saw the finished book.

Shin’ichi continued to hold dialogues with people in various fields, putting a special effort into publishing them. Behind this was his deep-seated determination. He knew that the ultimate aim of all areas of learning and all spheres of endeavor, such as politics, economics, education, and the arts, is human happiness, social prosperity, and peace.

Nichiren Daishonin argued that every area of human activity, from government to daily living, accords with Buddhism, quoting T’ien-t’ai where he says: “No worldly affairs of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality” (WND-1, 905). Shin’ichi wished to shine a light on that undeniable reality through his dialogues with various experts.

Moreover, to fundamentally solve the many problems confronting humanity—environmental destruction, education, nuclear weapons, war, discrimination, poverty, and so forth—would require a transformation in human beings themselves. That is why Shin’ichi wished to show how necessary it is to spread the supreme life philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism and make it the guiding spirit of the age. By exchanging ideas and learning from the insights and wisdom of leading figures in different fields, he sought perspectives and practical means for solving all those problems.

He was aware that his dialogues might produce only a limited number of concrete proposals or ideas for solving various problems, but he was hopeful and confident that his initiatives would inspire many young people to follow his lead and light the way forward for humanity.

Passing on an uplifting philosophy and way of thinking is to light a beacon that illuminates the future.

Bells of Dawn 3

A refreshing breeze wove through the trees. The friendship exchange meeting took place in the hotel’s garden on the afternoon of May 17, with some 800 members from eight countries. Representatives from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Austria, and Italy, as well as a delegation from Japan, joined with the German members in reaffirming the vow they shared for the global spread of Nichiren Buddhism.

A stage had been set up, and a series of musical performances ensued. These portrayed the struggles of the Japanese youth who had relocated to Germany with the wish to contribute to worldwide kosen-rufu and who, while working in coal mines, opened the way for kosen-rufu there.

Most of these young men had no experience as miners before coming to Germany. The backbreaking work left them exhausted, and they often found such local staples as rye bread unpalatable. But they spurred themselves on and did their best to carry out Soka Gakkai activities.

The impassioned call that Shin’ichi had made in his editorial “Youth, Become World Leaders!” in the August 1963 Daibyakurenge resounded in their hearts.

The efforts and hard work of these young men and other courageous pioneering members who joined them had borne fruit, and now many Bodhisattvas of the Earth had emerged in Germany.

It had been President Toda’s firm belief that “A new age will be created by the passion and power of youth.”2

Next, a group of children took the stage and sang of the joy of ushering in the hope-filled month of May. Everyone warmly applauded.

Dieter Kahn, the general director of the Soka Gakkai organization in Germany, then appeared on stage and declared with evident emotion: “Finally, finally, our dream for the past 16 years has been realized. President Yamamoto is here with us in Germany!”

The German members had heard that certain Nichiren Shoshu priests and others continued to unjustly attack and harass members in Japan. So they had forged ahead bravely, determined to accelerate the pace of kosen-rufu in Germany and open new horizons for the movement worldwide.

They were eager to take on all challenges and triumph.

Bells of Dawn 4

A number of guests also attended the friendship gathering, including Dr. N. A. Khan of the Free University of Berlin. In their greetings, all expressed high hopes for the peace movement grounded in Buddhist ideals that Shin’ichi was promoting.

Finally, Shin’ichi took the microphone. “We have a right to become happy here on earth,” he said. “We have a right to live in peace. We have a right to live in freedom. What, then, is the key to making this a reality? I would like to assert that it is the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin.

“Why? Because human beings are the starting point of everything, and life is the most precious thing of all. Nichiren Buddhism illuminates the true nature of life, teaches that all human beings possess the supremely noble and unsurpassed state of Buddhahood, and shows the way for each person to establish indestructible happiness and peace. And it is the Soka Gakkai that is putting this Buddhism into practice.

“Just as the sun illuminates every part of the world and its light benefits all, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin is a teaching that brings true happiness to all people, and is therefore called the Buddhism of the Sun.

“The personal experiences of our members around the world testify to this undeniable power. I hope that you will all be bathed in the light of this great Buddhism, revitalize your lives, and build indestructible happiness.

“A religion that cannot help people become happy and lead fulfilling lives cannot possibly realize world peace and free the world’s people from suffering.

“I hope that each of you, my friends, will remain steadfast in your practice of this Buddhism of the Sun and enjoy solid happiness.

“Our gathering today as fellow practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism may be modest, but please be confident that 30, 50, or 100 years from now, this day will shine in history as a landmark that set in motion a groundswell of kosen-rufu for happiness and peace.”

Shin’ichi wished to reaffirm that the aim of Buddhist practice is the happiness of each individual, which is also the aim of the Soka Gakkai’s activities for peace.

Peace is not the mere absence of war. Genuine peace exists when people can savor the joy of being alive and pursue lives full of true happiness and delight.

Bells of Dawn 5

On the afternoon of May 18, Shin’ichi visited the Frankfurt Community Center, where he took part in a gongyo meeting celebrating the 20th anniversary of the kosen-rufu movement in Germany. He also attended a commemorative tree-planting ceremony and joined in group photographs, to the delight of members who had worked so hard to open the way for kosen-rufu in Germany.

After the meeting, an informal discussion about faith was held with Shin’ichi, who expressed sadness that Germany remained divided into East and West. “As you know,” he said, “both capitalism and communism have reached an impasse. Mind you, our aim is not to criticize either system. Our activities as Buddhists begin by shining a light on the individuals who make up each society.

“The way to break the impasses the world faces today is for people to gain control over their never-ending desires, strive for their own and others’ happiness, and create the greatest value possible in their lives and in society. Any social system, whatever its ideals, will be incomplete and unworkable without the inner transformation of people themselves—that is, without human revolution.

“The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin elucidates the fundamental Law of the universe. Our faith in that Law enables us to draw out the life state of Buddhahood, the source of limitless creativity existing in all people.

“Amid the trouble and confusion of society, our Buddhist practice gives us the means to reveal our inner Buddhahood and brim with fresh life force. It gives us strength and direction to walk with confidence on the path of life, happiness, and peace.

“Furthermore, Buddhism teaches that rather than seeking happiness in some kind of heaven apart from this world, we can establish indestructible happiness right where we are, within the reality of our daily lives.”

Shin’ichi wished to drive home that, in these increasingly chaotic times, seeking the sound life philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism would bring immense hope to people’s lives and to the world.

Bells of Dawn 6

Shin’ichi next addressed the subject of divorce, one of the topics the German general director and other leaders had consulted him about.

Divorce had become increasingly common in Europe and other Western countries, and members sometimes sought guidance about it. The German leaders had asked Shin’ichi how they, as Buddhists, should deal with this.

Shin’ichi wished to reaffirm the basic attitude toward this issue.

“Divorce seems to be a common problem in society today, but I believe that we should avoid getting too deeply involved in such private matters, and refrain from any interference. This is an issue that each person must take responsibility to think about carefully for themselves.

“I can say, however, that to build one’s own happiness on the misfortune of others is not the Buddhist way.

“The important thing is for the couple involved to discuss things thoroughly. If they both practice Nichiren Buddhism, they should chant for a resolution, always bearing in mind such factors as their children’s futures. I hope they will make every effort to meet each other halfway and find the best solution. It’s worth remembering, too, that getting a divorce doesn’t mean you’ll change your karma.

“Leaders should always respect the character and rights of those who come to them for advice in this area and never divulge anything they are told. Never violate members’ privacy by talking about the situation with anyone, not even your family or friends. Please remember, should you fail in this, you not only hurt the parties involved but compromise the trust people have in you and the Soka Gakkai, disqualifying yourself as a leader.

“I wish to reaffirm that this is an iron-fast rule all leaders need to abide by, not just in Germany but in Japan and everywhere else.”

Shin’ichi wished to address members’ questions and concerns clearly, in a way that was easy to understand. For that reason, since his arrival in Frankfurt he had spoken with as many members as he could and listened to what they had to say.

Answering the questions on people’s minds is key to the joyful and dynamic development of kosen-rufu.

Bells of Dawn 7

Next, Shin’ichi spoke about why the Soka Gakkai organization was necessary.

“There may be some who feel that organizations and individual freedoms conflict. But groups of all kinds, including companies and nations, need a structured organization to achieve their aims. The Soka Gakkai, too, must have an organization as a means to enable everyone to engage in faith, practice, and study, and to promote our movement for kosen-rufu.

“You have all come to practice Nichiren Buddhism today because we have an organization. Also, an organization is necessary for many people to advance in an orderly fashion. Without an organization, we could easily become self-righteous and self-centered in our practice, or attached to our personal views or opinions. Were that to happen, we would veer from correct faith, practice, and study, and be unable to establish a correct way of life based on the Mystic Law.

“When people practice by themselves, they often lose sight of the way forward. To remain steadfast in faith, we need to unite with others. We need to encourage one another to live bravely, urge each other to keep striving in our Buddhist practice, and support one another in staying on the right path. From that perspective, I think it becomes clear how important the organization is.

“Please remember, however, that the organization is a means, and that the reason for its existence is to provide guidance and direction so that each member can strengthen their faith and become happy. The purpose of the Soka Gakkai organization is to help everyone attain absolute happiness and the life state of Buddhahood.

“Moreover, positions in the organization do not mean there’s a hierarchy among members. Leaders in the Soka Gakkai serve as cornerstones of unity.

“Therefore, I hope you all will respect, understand, trust, and encourage each other as fellow members of society and together lead victorious lives.”

The Soka Gakkai is a unique and unparalleled organization that is striving for people’s happiness and world peace—in other words, for kosen-rufu. That is why Josei Toda said that the Soka Gakkai organization was more important to him than his own life.

Bells of Dawn 8

After the discussion, Shin’ichi and his group visited the Goethe House in Frankfurt.

Just three days earlier, Shin’ichi had viewed the house where Tolstoy lived in Moscow.

As a youth during Japan’s tumultuous postwar period, Shin’ichi had devoured the writings of Goethe, Tolstoy, and other great authors, finding in their pages strength and hope for the future.

By visiting the homes of such literary giants and seeing the environment in which they lived, Shin’ichi sought to deepen his insight into their character and their works. He also thought that if the opportunity presented itself someday, he would like to speak to young people about such authors and their writings.

The Goethe House was a five-story building. It had burned down in 1944, during the bombing of the city in World War II, but it had been restored.

Shin’ichi and the others went from room to room, viewing the kitchen, dining room, living room, music room, and picture gallery. The Goethe family was reportedly one of the wealthiest in Frankfurt at the time, and the furnishings were grand and luxurious.

On the third floor was the study where Goethe had worked on The Sorrows of Young Werther and began his great masterpiece, Faust. There was a standing desk in the room. Goethe was said to have made a point of standing while he wrote. Here one could sense his youthful vigor.

Tolstoy and Goethe were quite long-lived for their times—both reaching the age of 82 and writing till the end. As if predicting the close of his own towering life, Goethe remarked that even in parting the sun is magnificent.3

Shin’ichi reflected that, at 53, he was still young. He told himself: “My life’s real struggle starts from now. To build the foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu and create a stage for our youthful successors, I must keep working and writing as long as I live!”

After completing his itinerary in West Germany, Shin’ichi flew on to Bulgaria, departing at 1:00 p.m. on May 20.

Bells of Dawn 9

The Balkan Mountains, still capped with snow, glittered in the sunshine. About two and a half hours after leaving Frankfurt, Shin’ichi and his party landed at the airport in Sofia, the capital of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (now the Republic of Bulgaria), a communist country in Eastern Europe. It was Shin’ichi’s first visit, made at the invitation of the government’s Committee for Culture.

Sofia is a city filled with greenery and surrounded by mountains. At the airport, Shin’ichi and his party were welcomed by Milcho Germanov, first deputy chairman of the Committee for Culture, and others. That evening, Shin’ichi paid his respects to the committee and attended a welcome banquet held at a hotel.

The next morning, on May 21, Shin’ichi visited the mausoleum of Bulgaria’s first postwar prime minister, Georgi Dimitrov (1882–1949). He laid a wreath and offered prayers for the prime minister and for peace. The mausoleum was in Ninth of September Square (now Battenberg Square), named to honor Bulgaria’s socialist revolution.

Next, Shin’ichi met with Nacho Papazov, chairman of the Committee for Science and Technical Progress. The chairman was recovering from illness and there were ongoing concerns about his health, as he had not been seen at any recent official events.

“I have just come to offer my greetings on arriving in Bulgaria and won’t stay long,” Shin’ichi said to him.

“I’m fine now,” Mr. Papazov replied with a smile. “I have been looking forward very much to this day and to meeting you.”

The chairman had been Bulgarian Ambassador to Japan from 1967 to 1971. During that time, he said, he’d had the opportunity to hear Shin’ichi speak and had been very impressed. Recalling that Soka University was under construction back then, he asked if it had opened yet. “For a decade now,” Shin’ichi said, and Chairman Papazov smiled in delight.

Shin’ichi pledged to continue doing all he could to promote exchange between Japan and Bulgaria. Then, as he stood up to leave, Mr. Papazov reached out to stop him. “I deeply appreciate your concern for my health, but I have my doctor’s permission for today’s meeting. So please, do sit down.”

Shin’ichi sensed an urgency in the chairman’s voice.

An eager spirit to keep learning and growing always seeks dialogue.

Bells of Dawn 10

“I don’t want you to overtax yourself,” Shin’ichi said.

But Chairman Papazov again urged him to sit. He then spoke at length from the heart: “I have the highest regard for your actions. In particular, for your dedication, out of a wish for peace, to cultural exchange for the sake of mutual understanding. Since my time in Japan as ambassador, I have very much hoped that you would visit Bulgaria. Today that wish has come true, and I am overjoyed.

“As you know, Bulgaria, situated on the Balkan Peninsula, has long been a crossroads of civilizations. As a result, it has seen repeated battles and has fallen under the successive rule of the Macedonian, Roman, and Byzantine empires. The Mongols invaded it, and the Ottoman Empire ruled over it for some five centuries. Bulgarians also experienced bitter suffering during the First and Second World Wars.

“Because of that, the realization of world peace is my—no, all Bulgarians’—cherished wish. That is why I have such high hopes for your efforts for peace and pray that they will bear great fruit.”

His words overflowed with a fervent wish for peace.

“As the chairman of the Committee for Science and Technical Progress,” he continued, “I would be very happy if in the future Bulgarian universities could engage in exchange with Soka University, which you have founded.”

Expressing his concern again for the chairman’s health, Shin’ichi said: “Please take care of yourself for the sake of your country.” The two then firmly shook hands.

That afternoon, following a meeting with Education Minister Alexander Fol at the ministry offices, Shin’ichi visited the University of Sofia. Founded in 1888, it was the oldest national university in Bulgaria. Shin’ichi was to receive an honorary doctorate in education and sociology, and deliver a commemorative lecture. This would be the third academic institution to present him with an honorary degree, following Moscow State University and Peru’s National University of San Marcos.

Exchanges between universities, centers of learning, create networks for building peace that will endure into the future.

  • *1The book was published in English under the title Search for a New Humanity.
  • *2Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, “Seinen-kun” (Guidelines for Youth), Toda Josei Zenshu (The Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1992), p. 58.
  • *3Translated from German. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethes Gespräche: Gesamtausgabe (Goethe’s Conversations: Complete Compilation), edited by Flodoard Frhr. von Biedermann, vol. 4 (Leipzig: F. W. v. Biedermann, 1910), p. 445.