Volume 30: Chapter 4, Bells of Dawn 21–30

Bells of Dawn 21

Shin’ichi and his party left Sofia International Airport at 3:20 p.m. on May 25 for Austria’s capital, Vienna.

While on the plane, Shin’ichi thought: “I’m sure the seedlings of cultural exchange and friendship we planted on this visit will take deep root, grow tall, and spread branches reaching into the skies of the 21st century. In the light of the Daishonin’s writings, the time will come when a steady stream of Bodhisattvas of the Earth will emerge in Bulgaria, too. Times change. The dawn of kosen-rufu in Bulgaria is sure to come!”

Three years after this visit, in October 1984, Soka University and Sofia University signed an agreement for academic and student exchange. Since then, students from Soka University have studied at Sofia University, and faculty and students of Sofia University have taught and studied at Soka University.

In April and May of 1992, Shin’ichi’s photo exhibition “Dialogue with Nature” (sponsored by the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum) was shown at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, with Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev attending the opening.

In November 1999, Shin’ichi’s dialogue with Sofia University Professor Axinia Djourova, an eminent Bulgarian scholar, was published in Japanese under the title Utsukushiki Shishi no Tamashii (The Beauty of a Lion’s Heart). A Bulgarian translation came out the following year.

The dialogue was an exchange between two cultures, one founded in Buddhism and the other in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Shin’ichi took part with the wish to build a new spiritual Silk Road linking Eastern Europe and Japan.

Of special note is the fact that in 2001—the dawn of the 21st century and 20 years after Shin’ichi’s first visit—an SGI chapter was established in Bulgaria commemorating May 3, Soka Gakkai Day. The new chapter leader had been one of the first Soka University students to study at Sofia University.

“Can there be any doubt that . . . [the Law] will be spread far and wide [Jpn. kosen-rufu] throughout . . . Jambudvipa [the entire world]?” (WND-1, 550). The times were shifting in accord with this prediction of the Daishonin.

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Beautiful green fields stretched out below and the blue Danube wound its way through tree-lined banks.

At 4:00 p.m. on May 25, Shin’ichi and his party landed at Vienna Airport.

Shin’ichi had last visited Austria 20 years earlier on his first trip to Europe (in 1961). There had been no members in the country at that time, but now there was a chapter, and chapter leader Yoshiharu Nagamura and others welcomed the group at the airport.

Nagamura was 39 and worked at a printing company. Born in Japan’s Niigata Prefecture, he had studied design at a technical school in Tokyo and then found a job at a paper craft company. He joined the Soka Gakkai in 1962. Striving actively as a young men’s division member, he introduced 20 people to Nichiren Buddhism. At 27, he decided to dedicate himself to worldwide kosen-rufu and made his way to Austria via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Six months went by without him finding a job. On the eve of his final day to do so before being forced to return to Japan, he stayed up all night in his apartment chanting intensely to fulfill his wish of working for kosen-rufu in Austria. It was the thick of winter, and the temperature was minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dawn came. He packed his belongings and prepared to leave his apartment, disappointed at the prospect of returning to Japan. As he stepped outside, a middle-aged man emerged from the apartment next door, and their eyes met.

Out of nowhere, the man asked him: “Have you got a job? Do you want to work for me?”

He went on to explain that he ran a gas station and that his young employee, who lived in the apartment next to Nagamura’s, had fallen ill, leaving him understaffed.

Nagamura’s predicament had been solved, and this convinced him that through strong prayer, he could always find a way forward.

In 1972, Nagamura visited Japan and met with Shin’ichi, presenting him with a decorative card signed by four members living in Vienna. He had taken a solid first step toward establishing kosen-rufu in Austria.

Responding to one’s mentor with action and actual proof is the path of the disciple.

Nagamura married a Japanese young women’s division member, and together they vowed to become the cornerstones of kosen-rufu in Austria.

Whenever Shin’ichi visited Paris, Nagamura would make the 18-hour train ride to see him. For the organization to grow in Austria, he believed, it was vital that he as a leader seek out his mentor, absorb as much as possible from him, and strive in his personal growth.

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Greeting Nagamura at Vienna Airport, Shin’ichi said: “I have come to see you. You have been striving so very hard as my disciple. I will support you in any way I can.”

Shin’ichi’s visit coincided with the music festival season in Vienna, when people from all over the world flocked to the city.

On May 26, Shin’ichi met at his hotel with sociologist Bryan Wilson of Oxford University, engaging in discussions to finalize the publication of their dialogue, Human Values in a Changing World.

That evening, about 20 local members gathered in a conference room at the hotel for an informal meeting with Shin’ichi. Responding to their questions, he spoke about the ideal way to develop the kosen-rufu movement in Austria.

“As Buddhists who wish for the happiness of others,” he said, “I hope you will be people of action who work to protect the dignity of life and safeguard culture and peace. Remember that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the driving force behind all your efforts, and courageously rise to every challenge you face, day after day. That is the key to a life of joy, hope, and fulfillment.

“You are all shouldering our movement for kosen-rufu, so please take care of yourselves and your families. It’s important for you to be good citizens, liked and respected by those around you, and contribute to your communities and society. Buddhism does not exist apart from daily life.

“Each of you being healthy in body and mind, earning respect for your character, and demonstrating shining actual proof of your Buddhist practice in society will further kosen-rufu.

“There is no need to rush things. With your sights set on the 21st century, please steadily develop a network of trust and build the foundation for tremendous future growth.”

At the meeting, a long-awaited Austria Headquarters was established, with two chapters and Nagamura as headquarters leader, marking a fresh start for the organization.

On May 27, Shin’ichi visited the Vienna State Opera and met with its director, Egon Seefehlner. He wished to express his thanks for the opera company’s tour in Japan the previous autumn, at the invitation of the Min-On Concert Association, which he founded.

Sincerity is the heart of friendship.

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That same day (May 27), Shin’ichi visited the Ministry of Education and the Arts and met with the minister, Fred Sinowatz, who was also Austria’s vice chancellor—later, becoming chancellor.

During their conversation, too, the subject of the Vienna State Opera’s performances in Japan came up. Shin’ichi expressed his commitment to world peace, saying he wished to continue contributing to that cause through cultural and educational exchange.

Afterwards, Shin’ichi went straight to Yoshiharu Nagamura’s apartment in Belvederegasse, just a few minutes from the State Opera. The room used for meetings was about 25 square meters (270 square feet) and also served as the center for members’ activities in Vienna. Nagamura lived in the apartment with his wife, seven-year-old son, and four-year-old daughter.

The room was modest, but it was the cradle for the emergence of capable individuals who would shoulder the kosen-rufu movement in Austria, creating a new history of the people bright with happiness and peace.

Solemnly, Shin’ichi did gongyo with the Nagamura family and other members gathered there. He prayed for their health and growth and the development of kosen-rufu in Austria, with the deep wish that everyone would make a triumphant song of happiness resound far and wide.

After taking a commemorative photograph with them at a nearby park, Shin’ichi visited the Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt. Here the great composer is thought to have lived for a time and, despairing over his encroaching deafness, written a will and testament addressed to his brothers. Known for this reason as the House of the Heiligenstadt Testament, the small museum occupied just two rooms on the house’s second floor.

An elderly woman who had taken care of the museum for 35 years gave Shin’ichi a guided tour. A reproduction of the testament was on display.

Losing his hearing as a musician plunged Beethoven into hopelessness, and he considered taking his own life. In the testament, he wrote: “Only one thing, Art, held me back. Oh, it seemed impossible to me to leave this world before I had produced all that I felt capable of producing.”1

An awareness of one’s mission has the power to conquer all trials. When we dedicate our lives to our mission, we can tap limitless courage.

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Shin’ichi took his time viewing the items on display at the Beethoven Museum. He also viewed the room where the composer, struggling in anguish, produced several great works. Beethoven’s portrait hung on the wall.

When composing, Beethoven obsessively pursued perfection. Sometimes he would labor over a single bar, revising and rewriting it more than a dozen times until it was just right. He was also acclaimed as a pianist. Eschewing elegance, his playing was filled with power, energy, and emotional intensity.

The wood-grain piano in the museum looked very sturdy.

Beethoven aimed to compose music not for the nobility but for ordinary people, for all human beings. He cherished a wish that his work might someday “be exhibited only in the service of the poor.”2 It was this unwavering resolve that made him a virtuoso.

When we dedicate ourselves to a noble cause, we can bring forth the strength that resides within us.

After visiting the museum, Shin’ichi chatted with members over dinner at a hilltop restaurant as they celebrated the start of the new headquarters organization in Austria.

Shin’ichi said to Yoshiharu Nagamura, the new headquarters leader: “Thank you for everything you have done for us during our stay. Kosen-rufu is a long struggle. If you overdo things, you can’t keep going. Be sensible, get plenty of sleep, and take care of your health.”

Shin’ichi knew that after accompanying them around Vienna each day, he was returning to the office at night to work. But Nagamura never once mentioned it. With such a dedicated leader, Shin’ichi thought, the SGI organization in Austria was sure to grow.

Buddhism teaches the law of cause and effect that governs our lives. Over the long term, those who are sincere and dedicated win—in both life and kosen-rufu.

The Danube River flowed quietly under the twilight sky, as if making its way toward the 21st century.

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The dazzling sun shone in the blue sky. Having completed their trip to Vienna, Shin’ichi and his party arrived at Pisa International Airport at 3:00 p.m. on May 28.

“Benvenuto!” (“Welcome!”)

A large group of Italian young men and women with sparkling eyes and sunny smiles greeted Shin’ichi.

Twenty years earlier, on his first visit to Italy in October 1961, only a Japanese couple had welcomed him at the airport in Rome—the husband having been transferred there by his company. Now, seeing so many exuberant young people on hand to meet him, Shin’ichi sensed that a new age of worldwide kosen-rufu had arrived, and he was filled with hope and excitement.

On the way to their hotel in Florence, Shin’ichi and his party stopped to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The next day, May 29, Shin’ichi presented poems to representative members and talked with the youth one after another.

Then, on the afternoon of May 30, he attended a meeting held at a member’s home to commemorate two decades of the kosen-rufu movement in Italy. The gathering brimmed with youthful energy. Present were many students from the University of Florence, whose fields of study included medicine, philosophy, literature, and economics.

Some members had made their way from Sicily, taking the ferry to the mainland and then traveling 16 hours by train. Others had come from Naples and Sorrento in the south and from the economic hub of Milan in the north.

After a solemn gongyo led by Shin’ichi, an informal discussion was held. Turning to the subject of the Renaissance, he said: “I always longed to visit the green city of Florence. It was here in a stifling age dominated by the Church that the windows were thrown wide open and a new wave of thought was generated that led to the Renaissance. As you know, renaissance means ‘rebirth,’ and it is translated into Japanese as either ‘cultural revival’ or ‘human revival.’”

Shin’ichi wished to explain the significance of kosen-rufu within the larger context of human history. The true meaning of the Soka movement for human revolution—for transforming human lives and reviving the people—becomes clearer with a broad historical perspective.

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Shin’ichi spoke to the young people with the thought of entrusting the future to them. A new age is created when youth can exercise their power freely.

“The Renaissance brought freedom, liberating humanity. It was an awakening to the idea that human beings are central, and as such established a truly new age.”

The Renaissance was created by poets, thinkers, and artists centered in Florence, led by the poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), who played a pioneering role, and later Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–75), Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475–1564), and Raphael (1483–1520), among many others.

The Renaissance’s influence spread to Rome and other cities of Italy, as well as to France, Germany, England, and the rest of Europe, leading to the Reformation.

With its call for a return to antiquity, to the classics, and to the human being, it liberated people from the shackles of Church authority and led to a brilliant flowering of human potential. This was unquestionably a victory for humanism and a triumph of personal liberty.

Shin’ichi’s voice grew stronger: “But did people attain true freedom? Did they become the protagonists of history?

“Unfortunately, I think we must say no. Instead, they became enslaved by political systems and ideologies or by science and technology. In addition, moral laxity and the clashing of oversized egos led to the evils of dictatorship and fascism—and this is something that our societies today must also be concerned about.

“In other words, liberated by the Renaissance, people made their minds their master. This, however, put them at the mercy of their desires and emotions on the one hand and under the restraints of external forces that sought to repress those impulses on the other. In this way, they created an age very far from the happy one they hoped for.”

A Buddhist sutra teaches: “Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you” (WND-1, 486).

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Shin’ichi went on to note that many eminent thinkers were now calling for a new humanism and a revolution in humanity in order to realize the ideals of the Renaissance in modern times. They were deeply interested, he said, in the idea of human beings achieving their own inner transformation. Unless people change fundamentally, they will be unable to become the protagonists of the age and society or to attain true happiness. And key to such change, he stressed, is understanding the fundamental Law of life, which opens the way for self-mastery and the creation of limitless value.

“That Law,” he said, “is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, which fully elucidate the essence of human life. This Law provides the means for the inner human transformation these thinkers advocate. This great Law of life in fact holds the key to a brighter future for humanity.”

Many at the meeting were youth, in particular, university students. In his mind’s eye, Shin’ichi could see a hope-filled future stretching ahead for kosen-rufu in Italy. He continued speaking with the fervent wish that all would stand up as the new flag bearers of a Century of Life.

“For the sake of your own future and for the future of kosen-rufu, please concentrate on your studies now. Studying hard as a student constitutes your Buddhist practice for this period of your life. Of course, Soka Gakkai activities are also important, but if you neglect your studies now, you’ll regret it all your life. Faith equals daily life, and for students, faith equals learning. I want to be very clear about this.”

Next, Shin’ichi spoke about the significance of leadership positions within the Soka Gakkai organization.

“Positions in the organization have nothing to do with power or authority. Nor are they a measure of faith. You should never judge people based upon their position or, if you’re a leader, think you’re better than your fellow members. I hope you will all strive in your Buddhist practice in a spirit of mutual respect, trust, and encouragement.

“To hold a Soka Gakkai leadership position is to bear responsibility for kosen-rufu. If you take on such a position, it’s bound to be a lot of work and very challenging. But at the same time, you’re guaranteed to accumulate immense benefit and good fortune.”

Shin’ichi poured all his energy into fostering the youth. Sincere, engaged effort is required to help others develop.

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The sky was blue and cloudless.

On the afternoon of May 31, Shin’ichi attended a friendship and culture festival commemorating two decades of the kosen-rufu movement in Italy. It was held in a large garden in Settignano, a village on the outskirts of Florence. In addition to 700 members from throughout Italy, a delegation of members from Japan attended, and everyone joined together in an exuberant celebration of Italian-Japanese friendship.

It was the first time the Italian organization would put on such a large event, and the members had been busy with preparations for days. Building the stage alone had been a major undertaking. Everyone worked hard on many tasks in preparation for the event and threw themselves into rehearsals for the performances.

On arriving at the venue, Shin’ichi immediately went over to the young people serving as event staff and offered them heartfelt encouragement.

“Let’s take a picture together!” he suggested.

After the photographs—one with the young men and one with the young women—he said: “In one of his writings, Nichiren Daishonin speaks of the principle of ‘emerging from the earth’ (cf. WND-1, 385). This refers to how the Bodhisattvas of the Earth emerge in ever-growing numbers to shoulder the mission of kosen-rufu and free people from suffering. You are these Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

“I am sure you all have your own hopes. You may also be dealing with serious problems or facing setbacks of some kind. Life might be called an ongoing struggle against hardships. But as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, all our hardships and sufferings exist so that we can overcome them and show proof of the incredible power of our Buddhist practice. In other words, triumphing over painful karma enables us to demonstrate the truth and validity of Nichiren Buddhism and spread the Mystic Law. This is how we fulfill our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

“In a sense, hardships and sufferings are indispensable for us to fulfill that mission. That is why Nichiren Buddhism teaches transforming karma into mission. No matter how fiercely the storms of karma assail us, we can never fail to win over them.”

The emergence of so many young members in Florence confirmed the principle of “emerging from the earth” for Shin’ichi and gave him great hope for worldwide kosen-rufu.

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Tall trees surrounded the garden and a pleasant breeze was blowing.

The stage’s backdrop pictured the sun shining on animals, trees, and flowers. The festival opened with a traditional folk dance by members from Naples, followed by numerous other songs and dances by members from cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan, Genoa, and Turin. An elderly singer gave a powerful solo. Members from Bergamo filled the stage to perform a lively dance accompanied by whistling and clapping.

Young women sang the Japanese song “Hoshi wa Hikarite” (The Stars Shine), which Shin’ichi had written and presented to the Byakuren Group in Japan. Women’s division members followed with the song “Kyo mo Genki de” (Ever in High Spirits),3 which they also sang in Japanese. The delegation from Japan joined in, as did many others in the audience, their voices echoing into the sky.

Members of the delegation also took the stage to perform a traditional Japanese dance known as the “Kochi Ondo” and sang “O sole mio” in Italian, to hearty applause.

Shin’ichi clapped enthusiastically at the end of each performance.

After their numbers, performers came over to where Shin’ichi was seated. He thanked and praised them and firmly shook their hands. A constant flow of people pressed toward him. One youth brought his parents, who were attending as guests. A couple brought their young daughter, who was blind.

Shin’ichi listened closely to what each had to say and put his all into offering them encouragement and guidance. Shin’ichi felt strongly that he must not let this opportunity pass him by, for another chance might never come. Each moment counted.

Hironobu Kanemitsu, the Italy Headquarters leader, spoke briefly, his eyes gleaming behind his glasses. On behalf of all the Italian members, he declared: “We are so happy to be able to welcome you, President Yamamoto!” Addressing everyone, he said: “Today signals a fresh departure for our organization in Italy. Let’s charge ahead toward kosen-rufu! Let’s challenge ourselves anew with courage! The time is now!”

  • *1Ludwig van Beethoven, Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, edited, translated, and introduced by Michael Hamburger (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), p. 49.
  • *2Ludwig van Beethoven, Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations, edited and translated by Michael Hamburger (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), p. 40.
  • *3This song debuted as a women’s division song at the women’s division meeting held in Tokyo, August 1968. The tune of this Soka Gakkai song was used for the English song “Forever Sensei.”