Volume 30: Chapter 4, Bells of Dawn 41–50

Bells of Dawn 41

The next day, June 7, a commemorative general meeting took place as part of the training course. Here, too, Shin’ichi shared passages from Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and studied Buddhist principles with the participants.

He explained that all living beings possess the Buddha nature and that Buddhism, which teaches the value and dignity of life, has always been pacifist. He stressed that the history of the Soka Gakkai attested to this, citing how, during World War II, the organization had stood firm against oppression by Japan’s militarist authorities, who had sent the country to war with State Shinto as its spiritual pillar.

Shin’ichi went on to discuss how a Buddhist committed to peace should act in society: “I would like you to be ever mindful of the Daishonin’s teaching that ‘all phenomena are manifestations of the Buddhist Law’ (WND-2, 843) and, in your various countries, be good citizens and members of society, serving as role models for others.

“We absolutely reject violence. Based on that guiding principle, please respect the traditions and customs of your countries and build ties of trust with others in your communities and society at large. Forge heart-to-heart connections with members around the world and strive together for peace.”

Shin’ichi then spoke of the power of the Gohonzon, which embodies the Mystic Law, the fundamental Law of the universe.

“Nothing is as complicated or changes as subtly from moment to moment as the human mind. We attain fulfillment and happiness by cultivating strong and unwavering minds.

“There are times in life when we may ask why we find ourselves confronting seemingly inexplicable storms of karma. The aim of our Buddhist faith and practice is to develop a strong mind, a spirit that will enable us to overcome such challenges and remain undefeated by anything.

“The Gohonzon is the embodiment of the Mystic Law, the fundamental Law of the universe. Through the power of our faith and practice, our lives connect with the power of the Buddha and the Law embodied in the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to manifest a powerful life force that can open even the thickest iron doors of adversity.”

The French thinker and essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) declared: “Bravery does not consist in firm arms and legs but in firm minds and souls.”1

Bells of Dawn 42

Shin’ichi then went on to discuss the Buddhist concept of “arousing the aspiration for enlightenment.”

“To ‘arouse the aspiration for enlightenment,’” he explained, “means very simply to summon the desire to seek enlightenment, to set one’s mind on attaining Buddhahood.

“When we aim to lead better lives, we have to seriously consider such fundamental questions as ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my mission in life?’ ‘What is the true nature of my existence?’ ‘What value can I create to contribute to society?’

“To answer those questions, we engage in Buddhist practice and train ourselves as human beings, continually seeking the way and challenging ourselves—this is what it means to arouse the aspiration for enlightenment. Such efforts are an expression of our desire to improve and grow.”

Shin’ichi took great pains to explain Buddhist teachings and concepts in a way that European members could readily understand. The most profound teaching is of no use if people can’t comprehend it. Presenting Buddhism in contemporary terms is the way to make its supreme wisdom a spiritual treasure available to all the world.

The next day, June 8, the summer training course came to a close with a friendship and culture festival.

Members from the United Kingdom sang enthusiastically:

Heart close to heart,
united and free, facing our destiny.
The road that we travel is long,
but with hope in our hearts, we’ll go on.

Members from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden danced, their flower-print scarves trailing in the air as they whirled around. The performers from Spain ended their exuberant dance by throwing their black hats into the audience. Members from Belgium did an interpretive dance to “Song of Comrades.” Performances by members from West Germany, Switzerland, Greece, and other countries followed.

“We will not be defeated! We will win without fail!”—the hearts of all merged in their shared resolve for kosen-rufu as their voices echoed over Mont Sainte-Victoire—mountain of victory. The members of Europe were united as one. It was a union of the heart formed among people committed to making world peace a reality.

Bells of Dawn 43

At noon on June 9, Shin’ichi Yamamoto and his party visited Marseille. The square bell tower of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, set atop a low hill, soared skyward.

From the hill, Shin’ichi could see a small island with stone ramparts in the cobalt blue Mediterranean. It was home to the Château d’If, famous as a setting in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1802–70).

Originally built as a fortress, Château d’If was thought to be escape-proof and later served as a prison for political and religious dissidents. In the novel, the main character, Edmond Dantès is imprisoned there for 14 years, after which he goes on to assume the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo.

Shin’ichi’s mentor, Josei Toda had been imprisoned for two years during World War II. After his release, Toda firmly vowed to be like the Count of Monte Cristo, enduring all hardships to vindicate his mentor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who had died in prison for his beliefs. Pledging to prove his mentor’s righteousness and open the way to kosen-rufu, he set to work rebuilding the Soka Gakkai after the war.

Shin’ichi felt that the indomitable spirit of the Count of Monte Cristo had also been alive in the French Resistance, which fought and eventually triumphed over Nazi oppression.

The name Count of Monte Cristo is synonymous with a person of courage, fortitude, conviction, and perseverance. People with such qualities make kosen-rufu possible. That’s why we must never retreat in the face of difficulties, no matter how daunting, but keep moving forward with tenacity and determination until we achieve our goal. What blocks our way are self-limiting thoughts—telling ourselves that we’ve done enough, can’t do any more, or have reached our limit. But the sun of victory shines when we dispel such thinking, summon forth our inner strength, and press on resolutely.

Calling to mind the youth in France and the rest of Europe and envisioning the 21st century, Shin’ichi wished and prayed: “May many Soka ‘Counts of Monte Cristo’ come forth! With your hands, ring the bells of dawn announcing a new century of human harmony!”

The sea shimmered silver in the sunlight.

Bells of Dawn 44

Kosen-rufu always starts anew. It is a journey of fresh challenges, brimming with hope.

A little after 3:30 p.m. on June 10, Shin’ichi and his party departed from Marseille. About 50 local members saw them off on their seven-hour train ride to Paris.

The stage of Shin’ichi’s ceaseless efforts shifted to the beautiful City of Light.

On June 11, Shin’ichi attended a reception to celebrate the publication of the French translation of Choose Life, his dialogue with the late eminent historian Arnold J. Toynbee.

The following day, June 12, he met with the art historian and Académie Française member René Huyghe. They talked about such topics as the French edition of their dialogue, La nuit appelle l’aurore (The Night Seeks the Dawn),2 which had been published the previous September, and the great writer Victor Hugo.

On June 15, Shin’ichi visited Alain Poher, president of the French Senate, at his official residence. It was their first meeting.

Beforehand, President Poher had kindly arranged for Shin’ichi and his party to be given a tour of the Senate, located in the historic Luxembourg Palace. Viewing the room Hugo had used during his time as a member of the Senate, Shin’ichi was drawn to a bust on the wall, showing the author with a full beard and a resolute expression.

The magnificent Senate chamber also housed the seat that had been Hugo’s, which bore a plaque inscribed with his name in tribute to his immortal legacy. Shown to that seat, Shin’ichi felt as if he could hear Hugo’s stirring oratory calling for educational reform, the eradication of poverty, and the abolition of the death penalty.

Hugo was an unparalleled literary genius, receiving the prestigious Legion of Honor at age 23. He entered politics in 1845, when he was 43, unable to overlook the real problems, such as poverty, afflicting the French people. While a man of literature, he was also a man of action—undeniable proof of his great humanity.

Bells of Dawn 45

Hugo faced the threat of persecution by the increasingly autocratic French president Louis Napoléon (Napoleon III; 1808–73), and was forced into exile. He published Napoleon the Little and Les Châtiments (Castigations), scathingly denouncing the authoritarian leader. During his exile, Hugo also completed his masterpiece Les Misérables—just as Dante had completed his Divine Comedy while in exile from Florence.

Hugo and Dante’s powerful resolve to fight injustice no doubt played a vital role in their producing such great literary works under the most challenging conditions.

Those who battle injustice with their entire beings develop the keen perception to distinguish clearly between right and wrong, good and evil, and truth and falsehood. Outrage against wrongdoing fills their hearts with a burning passion for justice.

Hugo finally returned to France 19 years later, after the fall of Napoleon III. He was 68, but his creative output only increased. He had the spirit of a youth.

Growing old is not a matter of age. Our spirits wither the moment we give up hope and abandon our ideals. Hugo wrote: “This is my thought: Constant progression.”3

As Shin’ichi looked around the Senate chamber where Hugo had left his mark, he felt he could sense a fresh breeze of renewal.

He thought at that time: “I would like to contribute somehow to preserving the legacy of Hugo’s heroic life and achievements, perhaps by establishing a museum or something similar in his honor.”

Ten years later, in June 1991, that idea became a reality. With the support and assistance of many friends, the Victor Hugo House of Literature opened in the Château des Roches, which Hugo had visited several times, in Bièvres, a suburb south of Paris.

Open to the public, the museum displayed Hugo’s handwritten manuscripts, personal artifacts, memorabilia, source materials, and other precious items. It became a lofty citadel of literature, sending forth the light of Hugo’s humanism for future generations.

Bells of Dawn 46

After visiting the Senate, Shin’ichi met with the Senate president at his official residence.

President Poher said that he had a strong interest in the Soka Gakkai and had wanted to meet and speak with Shin’ichi for some time. He also acknowledged Shin’ichi’s recent visits to countries with different political systems, such as the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, his meetings with their leaders, and his efforts to promote peace and culture based on pacifist ideals and respect for all human beings.

Exchange with nations with political systems and cultures different than our own is important for peace, but most people avoid such encounters, which is why Mr. Poher had taken note of Shin’ichi’s actions.

Shin’ichi briefly explained his commitment to peace: “Some talk about peace and valuing life in order to promote their reputation or just in the abstract for the sake of discussion. But people who genuinely wish for peace, along with pure-hearted young people, see through that facade.

“What matters is what one actually does, the real actions one takes. I take action with that conviction. Otherwise, I will not be able to generate real momentum for peace for the youth who will be tomorrow’s leaders. I am seriously committed to this.

“Japan’s militarist authorities harshly persecuted the Soka Gakkai during World War II. This resulted in our first president, Mr. Makiguchi, dying in prison for his beliefs, and our second president, Mr. Toda, also being imprisoned along with many other leaders. And on a more personal level, I lost my eldest brother in the war and experienced firsthand the misery it causes. That is why I embrace the life-affirming teaching of Nichiren Buddhism and work to realize its pacifist ideals, determined to build a world without war.”

Their lively conversation continued with Mr. Poher sharing his own experience of fighting in the French Resistance. Over the course of three hours, they covered many topics, ranging from the personality of former French president Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) to the best way to live one’s life.

We must help those less fortunate than ourselves—this was Mr. Poher’s creed.

Once again, hearts resonated in a shared commitment for peace.

Bells of Dawn 47

In addition to holding dialogues with officials and leading thinkers in Paris, Shin’ichi put great energy into encouraging the members.

On June 11, the day after arriving in Paris, he participated in an informal discussion about faith with young French members. On June 12, he visited the Paris Community Center in Sceaux, where he encouraged members at a gongyo session and also later held an informal discussion. On June 13, he attended a friendship and culture festival at the center, a ceremony to unveil a plaque commemorating 20 years of kosen-rufu in France, and a commemorative gongyo session. On June 14, he attended the France Executive Conference and other events.

Shin’ichi also took many group photos with members and visited some at their homes. To ensure the dynamic development of kosen-rufu in the 21st century, he was determined to communicate the basics of faith and the Soka Gakkai spirit to the members, especially the youth.

On the morning of June 14, Shin’ichi walked from his hotel along the avenue in front of the Tuileries Garden next to the Louvre. He was on his way to take the subway and train to the Paris Community Center, which he had also done the previous day. He wanted to experience how local members got around as they carried out their activities for kosen-rufu.

After descending the subway stairs and entering Tuileries Station, he said to the leaders accompanying him: “Today is the 1st Youth Division Representatives Conference. I would like to present the youth with a poem to mark their fresh departure. Could one of you here write down what I say?”

Shin’ichi wished to make the most of every spare moment for kosen-rufu.

On the platform, he dictated the following lines:

You have now risen
as pioneers
of the great and noble movement
of kosen-rufu,
widely spreading the Law
into the eternal future.
You have risen,
holding high
the banner of justice,
the banner of liberty,
the banner of life.

The twenty-first century belongs to you.
The twenty-first century is your stage.

Bells of Dawn 48

Shin’ichi continued dictating his poem on the subway, as the notetaker worked frantically to keep up.

At Châtelet Station, the third station from Tuileries Station, the group transferred to the RER B line. Shin’ichi kept up his flow of words even as he rode the moving walkway and waited on the platform:

Now society,
waning like the setting sun,
has entered an age of chaos.
So now is the time for us,
bright as the rising sun,
to play new songs, new music
of peace and culture.
Expanding our circle to embrace
many new friends,
brightening the hearts of all,
reviving the joy of all—
the aged, the suffering,
the seeking, and the sad—
we move forward,

Shin’ichi envisioned the youth striving proudly for kosen-rufu in the new century:

A new world eagerly awaits
your arrival,
each astride a gallant steed,
compassion in your right hand,
philosophy in your left.

Shin’ichi finished the poem soon after they boarded the train. It had taken about 10 minutes altogether.

The person taking the dictation quickly made a clean copy. Shin’ichi looked it over and wrote in some revisions.

Just then, someone called out: “Sensei!”

Three young French people stood before them. It turned out they were on their way to the Paris Community Center from Bretagne, several hundred kilometers away.

“Thank you for traveling so far. I hope you’re not too tired from your long journey,” Shin’ichi said.

These caring words came from his constant wish to treasure young people.

Youth are hope; they are society’s treasures.

Bells of Dawn 49

One of the three, a young women’s division member, said to Shin’ichi: “I started practicing a year ago. I’m the only one practicing Nichiren Buddhism in my town, and it takes me several hours to travel to a discussion meeting. I’m worried about whether, under such circumstances, I’ll be able to promote understanding of Buddhism in my community.”

“Don’t worry—your presence alone is enough,” Shin’ichi said without hesitation. “Everything starts with one person. Become someone who is loved by everyone in your community. That’s the key. If there is a single tall tree, people will gather under it to seek shade from the hot sun or shelter from the rain. Similarly, if people like and trust you, a person who practices Nichiren Buddhism, they will naturally come to view Buddhism in a positive light. This will lead to opportunities to share the teachings with them. Focus on growing into a tall tree, a fine tall tree for your community.”

By the time the train arrived at Sceaux Station, the closest station to the Paris Community Center, Shin’ichi’s poem was complete. He titled it “To My Dear Young French Friends Who Embrace the Mystic Law.” When he and the others arrived at the center, members there immediately set to work on translating it.

Gathering for a briefing with Eiji Kawasaki, the European Conference chairperson, and other leaders, Shin’ichi proposed: “Why don’t we make today, the occasion of the 1st Youth Division Representatives Conference, France Youth Division Day? Mr. Kawasaki, would you mind putting this suggestion to everyone?”

That day, at the Paris Community Center, the second session of the friendship and culture festival took place, as did the France Executive Conference. From 5:30 p.m., the French youth began their conference in high spirits.

Kawasaki told the members about Shin’ichi’s proposal to designate June 14 as France Youth Division Day, and everyone applauded enthusiastically in approval.

Then, a French young men’s division leader read Shin’ichi’s poem, his powerful voice resounding through the room. The members felt as if they were hearing a cry from Shin’ichi’s heart.

Bells of Dawn 50

The eyes of the French youth division members shone, their hearts brimming with determination to set forth on the journey to the new century.

You, my dear friends,
the two hundred youth gathered here today!
May you stand on the summit
of the second phase of kosen-rufu in France,
cheering loudly
and singing a song of victory!
Let your target,
the day you strive for,
be June 14, of the year 2001!

The reading concluded. After a moment’s silence, the room erupted in applause that expressed everyone’s deep emotion and vow.

On that day, the French youth engraved the year 2001 in their hearts as a goal for kosen-rufu and their own lives.

When we have a goal, the sun shines brightly and a beautiful rainbow of hope shimmers in the sky of our future. When we have a purpose in life, each step forward is filled with strength.

Shin’ichi joined all the participants in a group photo, celebrating the occasion and encouraging them on this fresh departure.

“First, set your sights on 20 years from now,” he said. “Steadfastly develop yourselves and strengthen your capabilities, so that you can contribute to people’s happiness and to peace. The key to winning in everything is not being defeated by yourself.”

“Only perseverance achieves the goal”4—writes the poet Schiller, highlighting a secret to success in life.

In Paris, too, Shin’ichi poured his energy into informal discussions about faith with members. He made a special effort to create opportunities to speak with the youth, talking to them about the basics of faith and the proper way to live as a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism.

Shin’ichi wanted to foster all of them into outstanding leaders of the 21st century, so he spoke in great earnest, giving of himself wholeheartedly.

During one discussion, he said: “Nichiren Buddhism teaches that you are all noble people who possess a mission for kosen-rufu, Bodhisattvas of the Earth. When you awaken to that mission, you will be able to display your potential to the fullest.”

  • *1Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, translated by M. A. Screech (London: Penguin Books, 1991), p. 238.
  • *2Published in English in 1991 under the title Dawn After Dark.
  • *3Victor Hugo, Ninety-Three, translated by Frank Lee Benedict (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 380.
  • *4Translated from German. Friedrich Schiller, “Spruch des Konfuzius” (A Saying of Confucius), Die Gedichte (The Poems), edited by Jochen Golz (Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1999), p. 475