Volume 30: Chapter 4, Bells of Dawn 31–40

Bells of Dawn 31

Shin’ichi was delighted above all by the remarkable development the Italian organization had achieved over the previous 20 years.

A slightly built Japanese man rushed about the venue as a member of the event staff. His name was Yasuo Kojima. Fourteen years earlier, Shin’ichi had encouraged him while riding the elevator at his hotel in Rome. At that time, Kojima had been an art student. According to Headquarters Leader Kanemitsu, Kojima was now working hard in Rome, supporting the members as one of the key leaders in his local chapter.

People who strive tirelessly outside the limelight to support others, encouraging new young members, are very important. How many such individuals work behind the scenes, assisting the central leader, is key to the organization’s strength and development. Ultimately, kosen-rufu is a team effort, one requiring unity.

Shin’ichi walked onto the stage and took the microphone.

“Single drops of water come together as streams in the distant Alps and flow through Italy, join the Po River, and eventually pour into the Adriatic Sea. Our movement for a renaissance of life may just be starting to flow down from the mountains, but I assert that in 30 or 50 years it will become a mighty river, a strong new current of peace for humankind.

“For that to happen, you must each take responsibility for kosen-rufu and stand alone, without depending upon others. Day after day, steadily press ahead, one step at a time, with all your strength. The accumulation of such small actions, such small triumphs, will result in a historic victory.”

In closing, he said, “Stay cheerful, chant earnestly, attend to daily life, and take care of your health.” He called on everyone to “join hands with youth around the world and advance courageously for world peace.”

That evening, Shin’ichi talked with members. It was his wish that they generate a tide of interfaith dialogue from Italy and create a new history of human harmony.

Bells of Dawn 32

On the morning of June 1, Shin’ichi met at his hotel with Aurelio Peccei, president of the Club of Rome. Dr. Peccei had returned from London just the previous day and had left his home in Rome early that morning to make the four-hour drive to Florence. Though 72 years old, he showed no signs of fatigue. Shin’ichi was astounded by his energy and vigor. People actively committed to realizing high ideals are always youthful.

The two were engaged in an ongoing dialogue scheduled for publication. That day, they shared their views on the subject of leadership and also discussed the book’s overall structure.

After this meeting, Shin’ichi went to Dante’s House Museum (Museo Casa di Dante) with several Italian youth. It was a four-story stone building, and a bust of Dante gazed out from its mount on the outer wall.

Born in Florence in 1265, Dante Alighieri was one of the greatest Italian poets and thinkers of medieval times. At the age of 30, wishing to serve his native city, he became and soon distinguished himself as a political leader. Caught in a whirlpool of political strife and jealous rivalries, however, he was falsely accused of crimes and forced into permanent exile.

Dante’s heart burned with anger and a fierce resolve to rectify the perverse situation where falsehoods, fabrications, and intrigues painted right as wrong and wrong as right. He began to pen The Divine Comedy, which depicts the realms of the afterlife based on the medieval Christian view.

In the vision presented in that work, people’s pretentions and lies had no currency. All received their due reward or retribution according to their deeds in life. Those who had committed grave offenses—whether a popular political leader, eminent scholar, decorated general, or high-ranking cleric—were judged with uncompromising strictness and condemned to hell.

By portraying the afterlife in this way, Dante hoped to make people think about how they lived.

Buddhism teaches the law of cause and effect operating throughout the three existences of past, present, and future. As Soka Gakkai members who day after day walk the path of highest good that is kosen-rufu in accord with this law, we cannot fail to secure an eternal state of indestructible happiness.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “When he was alive, he was a Buddha in life, and now he is a Buddha in death. He is a Buddha in both life and death” (WND-1, 456). The life state of joy we attain through our dedication and unflagging efforts to fulfill our mission is eternal; our lives will radiate joy even after death.

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In The Divine Comedy, Dante depicts the terrible consequences awaiting those who, after death, are judged as guilty of jealousy, deceit, arrogance, violence, lying, and treachery. His epic poem is an impeachment of the evils that cause human beings misery and suffering.

No matter the status, fame, or wealth people may gain, without addressing the issue of death, they will not be able to live correctly or enjoy true happiness. Many of the problems facing the world today stem from the fact that people avoid the all-important question of death and instead seek to fulfill only immediate desires.

Shin’ichi was convinced that if people awakened to the great teaching of the eternity of life taught in Buddhism, society would experience a new renaissance of life.

After visiting the Dante museum, Shin’ichi went with the group of youth to a hillside spot in Fiesole, a short distance from the center of Florence, and spent some time talking with them.

“Buddhism values dialogue,” he said. “This is the exact opposite of demanding people’s obedience through religious power or authority. Shakyamuni also used dialogue as a means of teaching, and Nichiren Daishonin, too, placed the highest importance on dialogue. Our Soka Gakkai discussion meetings have inherited that spirit. If there’s anything you’d like to ask me, please, go ahead.”

With sparkling eyes the young people asked Shin’ichi many questions, ranging from Dante and his writings to Buddhist principles such as the “oneness of life and its environment” and the “simultaneity of cause and effect.”

When they reached a pause in their questions, Shin’ichi looked at the city stretching into the distance. “The day is sure to come,” he said, “when the light of the Mystic Law will shine in the windows of many of the houses you can see from here. The time for kosen-rufu is at hand. Now is the moment for each of you to stand alone with courage.

“When Mr. Toda was inaugurated as second Soka Gakkai president, there were only around 3,000 members. But young people—awakened to the mission for kosen-rufu, the struggle shared by mentor and disciple—rose into action. And in less than seven years, the Soka Gakkai achieved Mr. Toda’s cherished lifetime membership goal of 750,000 households.

“This was a victory won with courageous dialogue. We had deep conviction in Nichiren Buddhism. We applied ourselves to studying its teachings and principles, and we were able to share them with others in a clear and logical way. We also had tremendous enthusiasm. Dialogue has the power to bring people together and create a new age.”

Bells of Dawn 34

On the afternoon of June 2, Shin’ichi boarded a train to Milan at Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Station. Around 100 members had gathered there to see him off.

Through the train window, he saw many of the young people looking sad at his departure. With his eyes, he called out to them silently: “I’m counting on you. This is your time.”

The train started to move, and the young people waved furiously. Many an eye glistened with tears. Shin’ichi waved back.

When youth stand up, the door to the future opens.

As he gazed out at the passing streetscape, Shin’ichi felt he could hear bells heralding the dawn of a new renaissance, a new Century of Life.

Those youth Shin’ichi met grew splendidly, and went on to make great contributions to Italian society. Thirty-five years later, in July 2016, an official accord known as an intesa, signed between the Italian government and the Soka Gakkai organization in Italy, came into effect, granting the latter full recognition as a religious organization. This was true testimony to the trust that Italian members had won.

On June 3, 1981, having arrived in Milan the previous day, Shin’ichi visited Superintendent Carlo Maria Badini of La Scala, an opera company with a rich history and tradition of more than two centuries. Mr. Badini accompanied Shin’ichi to Milan City Hall, located just across from La Scala, for a meeting with Mayor Carlo Tognoli, who presented Shin’ichi with a silver medal from the city.

La Scala would be giving a series of performances in Japan later that year, at the invitation of the Min-On Concert Association and other organizations. It would be an overseas production of unprecedented scale for the company, involving more than 500 artists and staff. Following a Japan tour by the Vienna State Opera the previous year, also under the auspices of Min-On, there was much anticipation for the upcoming tour by La Scala, the world’s greatest opera company.

Returning to La Scala, Shin’ichi engaged in discussions with Superintendent Badini, artistic director Francesco Siciliani, and others.

“We will make it a brilliant production worthy of both La Scala and Min-On, a great international music association,” said the superintendent, his expression conveying his extraordinary determination to make the tour a success.

Tradition is not measured just in years, but by noble, uncompromising efforts in the pursuit of excellence.

Bells of Dawn 35

In their discussion at La Scala, Superintendent Badini continued: “This upcoming tour would never have been realized without your efforts, President Yamamoto.”

Looking back, it had been more than 16 years since Min-On’s executive vice president Eisuke Akizuki had first visited La Scala and begun negotiations for a Japan tour. The opera company had never performed a full-scale production in Japan or anywhere in Asia. Hearing that Min-On wanted to invite La Scala, many in the arts in Japan laughingly dismissed it as a preposterous dream. They did not believe that Min-On or the Soka Gakkai would ever succeed in arranging a tour by such a world-renowned institution.

But Shin’ichi said to Akizuki: “Don’t worry. I sense a noble spirit of dedication to musical culture in La Scala. I am certain that the heirs to that proud tradition will be interested in Min-On, which is advancing a new movement of musical appreciation among ordinary people.”

Just as Shin’ichi believed, La Scala agreed to the tour, and a provisional contract was eventually signed. But progress stalled for some time after the death of the opera company’s superintendent and, shortly thereafter, his successor’s retirement due to illness.

Throughout, as Min-On’s founder, Shin’ichi had continued to support and facilitate the project from behind the scenes. Then, finally La Scala’s Japan tour was set for autumn 1981.

Persistent, wholehearted efforts to tackle each difficulty can lead to the realization of astounding achievements no one thought possible and the writing of a brilliant new page of history.

On June 4, Shin’ichi visited Mondadori, one of Italy’s largest publishers, and met with the head of the educational publishing division to discuss publishing an Italian edition of one of Shin’ichi’s dialogues with world thinkers.

Later, Mondadori published, to great acclaim, the Italian translation of The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra.

Publishing is a force for elevating culture by disseminating ideas and fostering spiritual dialogue.

Bells of Dawn 36

Late in the afternoon on June 4, Shin’ichi held an informal meeting with about 50 young people, including students, in a conference room at the hotel where he was staying.

He offered guidance and encouragement while answering their questions. He stressed that even when it comes to reforming society’s systems, our own inner revolution as human beings is ultimately the key to any fundamental change.

However wonderful a system or institution might be created, it will be run, after all, by human beings. Without the philosophy of human revolution to rein in egoism, society can never truly flourish.

Shin’ichi wanted the youth to stand up as flag bearers of human revolution who would usher in a Century of Life.

Shinichi also spoke about marriage. There were many young people in the Soka Gakkai organization in Italy, and he had been asked by some of their parents who were members, as well as their leaders, to address this subject.

“Naturally, marriage is a personal choice,” he said, “but it cannot be denied that young people often lack life experience and a certain degree of maturity. That’s why it’s important to seek advice from your parents and older people you know, so that when you finally marry, those who care about you will celebrate your decision.

“Marriage is a lifelong commitment to share each other’s joys and sorrows. We never know what kind of destiny we may confront or what challenges lie ahead. For couples to overcome such obstacles, it is of course important for them love and care for one another; but it is also important for them to advance with a common purpose based on a foundation of shared philosophy and core beliefs.

“When both partners practice Nichiren Buddhism, I hope they will strive to build a relationship of mutual support and inspiration in which each can polish their faith and character.

“If you get into a relationship that causes you to grow distant from the organization, lose your joy in faith, and stop growing and improving, only you will suffer.”

Nichiren Buddhism gives us the power to ride out life’s rough waves. The path to building indestructible happiness is found on the front lines of Soka Gakkai activities. Our dedicated efforts for kosen-rufu bring us precious good fortune, each step we take along the way enabling us to transform our karma and open the way to a life of happiness and joy. That’s why Shin’ichi stressed to the youth that they must never allow the flame of their faith to go out.

Bells of Dawn 37

“In recent years,” Shin’ichi continued, “there seems to be a global trend toward marriages ending quickly in divorce.

“But when someone who is practicing Nichiren Buddhism faces marital problems, I believe that, if they keep exerting themselves strongly in their practice, make a fresh determination in faith, and try hard to find a solution with their partner, they can, in many cases wisely overcome their difficulties. The key, at any rate, is to have firm faith.

“The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to lead good lives, become happy, and illuminate society with the light of hope.

“To that end, please nurture loving relationships as couples, create fine families, win the trust and respect of those around you, and be people who demonstrate the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism.”

That evening, at the invitation of Superintendent Badini of La Scala, Shin’ichi and Mineko attended a performance of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado, the program including the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was a wonderful performance, and Shin’ichi wished that every Japanese citizen had the chance to feel that same thrill. One reason he founded the Min-On Concert Association was to enable the Japanese public to experience the world’s best music and art. Art and culture should not be restricted to the privileged few.

Shortly after noon the following day, June 5, Shin’ichi and his party, seen off by local members, departed from Milan’s airport for Marseille, France.

Shin’ichi had been in Milan for only four days and three nights, but his visit made a lasting impression on the young members he met there. What particularly struck them was the sight of him conveying his gratitude, with equal respect and courtesy, to everyone from the hotel doormen, cooks, and drivers to company owners and eminent scholars. They sensed that his behavior embodied the Buddhist teaching that all people are equal, that all alike possess the Buddha nature.

The true value of a philosophy or religion is conveyed by people’s actions, by how they live their lives.

Buddhism comes alive in the joyous and dedicated efforts of its practitioners for the welfare of others and society.

Bells of Dawn 38

With the snowcapped Alps on its right, Shin’ichi’s plane flew toward Marseille, France’s second largest city, located on the Mediterranean coast.

Shin’ichi and his party landed in Marseille shortly after 1:00 p.m. on June 5. On arriving at their hotel in nearby Aix-en-Provence, they conferred about upcoming meetings and events.

Shin’ichi then headed for the European Training Center in Trets, a short drive away, to attend a European representatives conference at 6:00 p.m. Leaders from 13 countries had gathered to discuss various aspects of the kosen-rufu movement in Europe.

At the conference, a number of appointments were decided on to boost cooperation between European organizations so they could embark on a fresh, hope-filled phase of development. The general directors of the United Kingdom and Germany, Raymond Gordon and Dieter Kahn, were appointed vice chairpersons of the existing European Conference headed by Chairperson Eiji Kawasaki. Akihide Takayoshi, a former national high school division leader and senior vice young men’s division leader in Japan, was appointed its secretary.

Takayoshi had received personal guidance and encouragement from Shin’ichi as a member of a training group since his high school days. After graduate school, he had joined the staff of the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. His appointment as secretary was made with the 21st century in view.

Shin’ichi said to the representatives: “The purpose of my visit this time is to ring in the dawn of a new age in Europe. If young people awaken to their mission to shoulder the next generation, embody in their actions the philosophy of respect for the dignity of life, and walk the path of contributing to society, they can unite people who are today divided and estranged. This is also where peace starts.

“That is why I am so committed to meeting and speaking with our young people. I want to inspire everyone through my actions and by forging heart-to-heart connections with them.

“When people who are genuinely convinced, moved, and inspired resolve to act and then take initiative, they will bring forth their fullest strength and ability. Genuine encouragement sparks such inspiration. It involves sincere, wholehearted dialogue and honest life-to-life interaction.”

Bells of Dawn 39

To the north of the European Training Center rose the towering form of Mont Sainte-Victoire, its limestone ridges glistening in the sunshine beneath clear blue skies. Cézanne, an influential figure in the development of 20th-century art, was fascinated by this mountain and painted it many times.

Just before noon on June 6, Shin’ichi, his wife Mineko, European Conference Chairperson Eiji Kawasaki, and others visited the Trets City Hall together, where they were welcomed by Mayor Jean Feraud and about 20 city council members.

Wearing a ceremonial sash of blue, white, and red—the colors of the French flag—the mayor rose to speak.

The city was honored to welcome President Yamamoto, he said, explaining that, through the SGI leader’s writings and dialogues, he was well acquainted with his invaluable initiatives for peace around the world and also the profound philosophy that informed his work. Acknowledging Shin’ichi’s tireless efforts to help avert a nuclear crisis amid the ongoing conflict between East and West, he lauded his dedicated commitment to pursuing dialogues with noted thinkers, working for peace, and deepening understanding between people as the leader of the SGI’s global peace movement. The mayor further voiced his appreciation for the fact that, of all the SGI’s many centers worldwide, Shin’ichi had come to visit the European Training Center in Trets.

Shin’ichi felt rather embarrassed to receive such lavish praise.

Mayor Feraud then raised his voice to proclaim solemnly: “We hereby welcome you, President Yamamoto—an ambassador of peace who has acted with sincerity and perseverance, integrity and passion, and incredible vitality and energy—as an honorary citizen of Trets.”

As everyone applauded, the mayor presented Shin’ichi with a medal and certificate of honorary citizenship.

Shin’ichi expressed his profound gratitude for the mayor’s deep understanding and generosity.

No doubt this honor that had been bestowed upon him was the result of members’ sincere efforts and dialogue.

Continuing to reach out and converse sincerely with others serves to promote understanding for our movement.

Bells of Dawn 40

On the afternoon of June 6, a summer training course commemorating the 20th anniversary of the kosen-rufu movement in Europe began at the European Training Center. Shin’ichi joined 500 representatives from 18 countries, including 100 from France, for this special occasion.

He solemnly led gongyo, praying for the happiness of all the participants and the development of kosen-rufu in Europe. Afterward, he took the microphone and made a proposal: “Today, June 6, not only marks the start of this training course, from which we take flight toward the 21st century, but is also the birthday of the Soka Gakkai’s founding president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. I would like to suggest that we designate this profoundly significant day as ‘Europe Day’ and make it a milestone we aim toward each year—a commemorative day on which we vow together to advance anew. What do you say?”

Everyone agreed by raising their hands, and June 6 officially became Europe Day.

Makiguchi had died in prison for his beliefs three years before Shin’ichi joined the Soka Gakkai. Shin’ichi had never met the founding president. But through his mentor, Josei Toda, he had become acquainted with Makiguchi’s character, commitment to faith in Nichiren Buddhism, actions to put theory into practice, and educational philosophy. He had also read and reread Makiguchi’s writings, finding in them valuable guiding principles for his life.

In one of those writings, Makiguchi envisaged that the path to peace would lie in moving beyond military, political, and economic competition to what he called “humanitarian competition.”

Shin’ichi resolved in his heart again in Europe: “Now more than ever, for the sake of world peace, we must create a substantive global trend toward ‘humanitarian competition’!”

At the summer course, a tree-planting ceremony was held, followed by several members sharing their experiences in practicing Nichiren Buddhism. A young woman from West Germany spoke of becoming more positive in her outlook and triumphing over illness, and a young man from Italy recounted how he was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician. Everyone was deeply moved. Each experience was a drama of transforming one’s state of life through courage and self-challenge.

Our Buddhist faith and practice give us the power to win out over despair and resignation, and to keep moving ever forward. Through our efforts to press on, we can polish ourselves and expand our state of life.