Volume 30: Chapter 4, Bells of Dawn 51–60

Bells of Dawn 51

Kosen-rufu is accomplished through the power of unity. To achieve unity, each person’s attitude toward others is very important. Shin’ichi decided to discuss unity based on the Buddhist view of the human being that everyone has a unique mission.

“Though you all equally possess a mission for kosen-rufu, your individual roles differ. For example, in building a house, some people work on the foundation, some do the carpentry, some finish the interior, and so on. They each have their own responsibilities, and working together they build a fine house.

“Likewise, the great undertaking of kosen-rufu is carried out by people with many different responsibilities teaming up and working together. They each exercise their individual qualities and talents in their own positions and areas of responsibility. Though their positions and specialties may differ, that doesn’t make any of them superior or inferior.

“Members should respect one another’s personalities and unique traits, encourage one another, strengthen their solidarity in faith, and continue to advance together. This is the unity taught in Buddhism—the united spirit of ‘many in body, one in mind.’

“Like other groups, the Soka Gakkai has an organization, but this is only for the functional purpose of coordinating our activities effectively. A leadership position in the organization, therefore, is just a role; it is not a measure of a person’s worth.

“But organizational positions come with responsibilities. Leaders have to work harder than most members. For that reason, it’s important for members to respect, cooperate with, and support leaders who are working earnestly for everyone’s happiness.”

Shin’ichi also discussed some points on leadership: “Leaders should always try to remain calm and composed, accepting and supporting members, and never letting themselves be carried away by their emotions. If leaders are on edge, stressed out, or feeling overwhelmed, they won’t be able to guide members with a sense of joy, which will only cause everyone to suffer.

“Tolerance and warmth are qualities leaders will need to have above all from now on. How much you can improve your character will demonstrate the power of faith in Nichiren Buddhism. I hope each of you will develop your state of life by reflecting on yourself and resolving to achieve personal growth through earnestly chanting daimoku and striving hard in your Buddhist practice.”

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Shin’ichi stressed the importance of small gatherings: “Please maintain a steady pace of small meetings. If there are members who do not attend, it’s important to keep reaching out to them and building ties of friendship and trust by warmly encouraging them. If they have doubts or questions, discuss them together until they are fully satisfied.

“If you continue holding small meetings month after month and year after year, persisting like waves that turn rock into sand, it will steadily forge unity and come to serve as a driving force for development. The lifeline for victory in all things lies in making such consistent efforts in ordinary, inconspicuous areas.”

He went on: “You are all familiar with the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation. I would like you now to mount a resistance, based on the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, against the negative functions and lazy tendencies in your own lives. In addition, please engage in a Buddhist resistance movement to transform the misery in the world to happiness.

“I call on each of you to demonstrate the brilliance of your character in your personal lives, in a real and substantial way. Become pillars of your communities who are liked and trusted by all. Please do this for the sake of your beloved France!”

In the month since Shin’ichi had arrived in Europe from the Soviet Union on May 16, he had held informal meetings about faith and wholeheartedly offered encouragement and guidance to members wherever he went. He knew that was the sure way to open a new era of kosen-rufu in Europe. Building the future starts with fostering capable individuals.

Because Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching for all humankind, Shin’ichi strongly felt it vital to create a growing momentum around the globe for the progress of kosen-rufu in the 21st century.

On the morning of June 16, an old acquaintance, Alphonse Dupront, honorary president of Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV), along with his wife, visited Shin’ichi at his hotel, where they discussed European culture and university education.

That afternoon, Shin’ichi and those accompanying him departed from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport for New York.

The journey of kosen-rufu is a path of blazing new trails, always forging ahead with a fresh fighting spirit. It is a path of challenge, of charging ever ahead toward new goals. It is a continuous struggle that leaves not a moment for hesitation or standing still.

Shin’ichi saw a hope-filled new horizon of kosen-rufu stretching into the 21st century, sparkling in the sun.

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Having crossed the Atlantic, Shin’ichi Yamamoto and his party arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York just before 3:00 p.m. on June 16, 1981. It was Shin’ichi’s first visit to New York in six years.

The chief priest of the local Nichiren Shoshu temple had for some time been making suggestive statements to malign the Soka Gakkai, and individuals swayed by his rhetoric were sowing discord, hampering the organization’s unity. Shin’ichi was therefore determined to meet with as many members as possible while in New York. He wanted to communicate thoroughly to each the conviction and pride of the Soka Gakkai, which was dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

Also, Los Angeles and the West Coast had led the way in the kosen-rufu movement in America thus far. But it would be important from here on to bolster the organization in New York and the rest of the East Coast. To that end, Shin’ichi wished to foster capable people.

On June 16 and 17, he held a number of informal discussions with central leaders of Northeast Territory, to which New York belonged, and offered guidance.

“America is the land of freedom,” he said, “so it’s important to respect each person’s autonomy. As leaders, you mustn’t impose your opinions on others. Please be sure to discuss things fully, with frank exchanges of view, before taking a course of action.

“If you have a difference of opinion, never become emotional or hostile to one another. Always return to the starting points of the Gohonzon and kosen-rufu, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with unity of purpose.

“The Daishonin teaches us that ‘Buddhism is reason’ (WND-1, 839). When setting activity guidelines and the like, it’s essential to explain the intent so that everyone will be happy to support them. That is, always speak reasonably. Reason has the power to convince people. That’s why I hope you will deepen your understanding of the Daishonin’s teachings.

“When each of you firmly base your lives on the Gosho, the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, you will be able to work together harmoniously, without disrespect, resentment, envy, or hostility.

“The Gosho is a guide for us and a mirror reflecting the way we live. Before criticizing others, we should look at our own words, actions, and thoughts in the light of the Gosho. That is the spirit of genuine practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism.”

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Because many leaders in the Soka Gakkai organization in the United States were of Japanese descent, Shin’ichi decided to discuss points for them to bear in mind in carrying out activities.

“In particular,” he began, “I hope leaders of Japanese descent will be careful not to view things from the standpoint of Japanese society. America is a multi-ethnic nation, with many different values and ways of thinking. It’s therefore essential that you thoroughly discuss and confirm with the members even the most basic points of faith and practice, and work toward a common understanding. You can easily cause misunderstandings if you think that, like in Japan, everyone will just naturally understand your intent without much discussion or explanation.”

Shin’ichi also stressed the importance of uniting in spirit to advance worldwide kosen-rufu: “Members in the U.S. and in all countries need to conduct their activities harmoniously while observing and respecting the local customs and laws of the land as good citizens. The Daishonin teaches: ‘If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people, they will achieve all their goals’ (WND-1, 618). It is important for members to unite in a shared commitment to accelerate the flow of worldwide kosen-rufu and ensure that it continues forever.

“The Soka Gakkai spirit of mentor and disciple is the driving force for kosen-rufu. As leaders, your aim is not to make members dependent on or loyal to you, it’s to guide everyone so that they can walk the great path of mentor and disciple together.

“To do that, you yourselves, as leaders, need to stay connected to the main current of Soka, the path of mentor and disciple, with a fresh seeking spirit. Being self-centered is like being a puddle separated from the pure main current, that will eventually stagnate and dry up. If that happens, you will be unable to guide members to the great ocean of happiness and peace.

“You need to stay in synch with the movement of kosen-rufu, or you’ll stop moving forward. If you’re not in synch, even if you remain active, you’ll just end up spinning your wheels.

“That’s why it’s crucial to remain connected to the main current, to stay in synch and in tune. Make this your spirit as leaders of worldwide kosen-rufu.”

The time was coming when the Soka Gakkai would develop dynamically as a global religious movement. Shin’ichi thus felt it imperative that the members forge unshakable unity in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind” based on faith dedicated to kosen-rufu.

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At noon on June 18, representing the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s newspaper, Shin’ichi visited the Associated Press headquarters in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center. After a tour of the offices, he met with AP’s president, Keith Fuller and others. They discussed many topics, including race relations and the role and responsibilities of the media.

Shin’ichi expressed his view that providing accurate information to people around the globe about world events is the best means for advancing peace, and he commended the AP for its work and initiatives in that area.

He also noted that in times of growing economic and social uncertainty, people tend to prioritize short-term gains over high ideals and allow emotion to predominate over reason. There was a danger, he went on, that this could lead to a closed, isolationist society. Shin’ichi observed that religion should play a key role in enabling people to gain genuine self-mastery and not be swept away by emotionalism, thereby heightening their awareness and desire to contribute to society and to peace. To this, Mr. Fuller nodded his agreement.

After leaving the AP offices, Shin’ichi visited the New York Community Center on Park Avenue South, also in Manhattan.

On the building’s ground floor, the center had a seating capacity for only around 80 people. When members heard about Shin’ichi’s visit, so many gathered that the room was packed to overflowing.

“Good afternoon!” Shin’ichi said in English, before continuing in Japanese: “I am happy to see you all here. Let’s do gongyo together for the development of kosen-rufu in New York, your health and happiness, and the prosperity of your families.”

Shin’ichi prayed deeply with the wish that all the members in New York would continue practicing throughout their lives and forge a state of indestructible happiness, while at the same time grow into pillars of trust in society.

After gongyo, he spoke about the very basics of faith—the tremendous power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the importance of chanting daimoku.

The fundamental practice of Nichiren Buddhism is chanting with focused prayer to the Gohonzon. The Soka Gakkai organization and its activities exist to teach this essential point. Each member chanting strongly based on deep conviction in the Gohonzon is key to drawing forth the energy to advance kosen-rufu, rising to the challenge of transforming karma, and developing solid unity.

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Shin’ichi then gave guidance based on passages from the Daishonin’s writings.

“Nichiren Daishonin states: ‘And when, while in these four states of birth, aging, sickness, and death, we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we cause them to waft forth the fragrance of the four virtues [eternity, happiness, true self, and purity]’ (OTT, 90). Some people’s lives are plagued by misery, shrouded by the dark clouds of their karma. In fact, this may be true for many. However, when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can sweep away all dark clouds of suffering with the fragrant breezes of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity.

“The Daishonin also says: ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys’ (OTT, 212). There are all sorts of pleasures in life, but the Daishonin declares that realizing that you are a Buddha and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys.

“The joy of getting something you want, or of attaining recognition and fame, is joy that comes from the outside. It is momentary and doesn’t last.

“In contrast, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo opens the great palace within your life itself, and causes supreme joy—‘the greatest of all joys’—to well up like a spring from the depths of your being. That spring of joy will never run dry, no matter what kind of trials or adversities you face.

“Further, the Daishonin writes: ‘The wonderful means of truly putting an end to the physical and spiritual obstacles of all living beings is none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’ (WND-1, 842). The heavenly deities and the Buddhas of the ten directions and three existences promise to protect those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting daimoku is, therefore, the ‘wonderful means’ for protecting us against obstacles of every kind and enabling us to enjoy lives of unsurpassed happiness.

“Confident that living with the Gohonzon and chanting daimoku is the way to a wonderful life of complete fulfillment, please exert yourselves in your Buddhist practice and polish your lives. Don’t be swayed by what others say or do. Just keep chanting and become a person who can declare: ‘I love daimoku!’”

Those who keep chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will have hearts as clear and bright as a sunny blue sky; they will be happy and filled with boundless joy.

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On the afternoon of June 19, Shin’ichi attended a Northeast Territory representatives meeting held in Glenn Cove, New York. Around 200 members gathered from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and towns near the Canadian border.

At the venue, the room where the Gohonzon had been enshrined for the occasion was quite small, so gongyo was done in several groups, with Shin’ichi leading each time.

Then, an informal outdoor gathering took place under the shade of the trees.

With perspiration on his brow, Shin’ichi mingled and spoke with members. Seeing a woman with a slightly sad expression, he encouraged her: “If you persevere in faith, you will definitely be able to dispel the darkness of all your sufferings and lead a life of happiness. If you chant earnestly and engage in Soka Gakkai activities, you will come to shine like the sun. You will be able to illuminate your family and your community. Tears don’t suit the sun. Please become a smiling, cheerful person.”

Afterward, Shin’ichi joined everyone in watching a musical performance.

New York is one of the cultural capitals of the world, and quite a few members were well-known musicians. A band formed by such members played “Kojo no Tsuki” (Moon over the Ruined Castle) and “Over the Rainbow.”

These musicians were also active on the front lines of Soka Gakkai activities, visiting members in their homes and even happily setting up chairs at meetings. Told this, Shin’ichi said: “That is very admirable. I am delighted to hear it. This is how the Soka Gakkai should be. Before the Gohonzon, our positions in the organization or things like social status or celebrity are irrelevant. There is no privileged class in Buddhist practice. Everyone is equal.

“The more efforts we make in our Buddhist practice, the harder we work for kosen-rufu, the more we can transform our karma and become happy. Also, respecting one another as equal children of the Buddha is the heart of the world of Soka.”

The Soka Gakkai is a true realm of human harmony.

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After the 1:00 p.m. representatives meeting, Shin’ichi joined a smaller group of about 30 members for an informal discussion, from shortly after 5:00.

“I’ve heard that New York State has the slogan ‘I Love New York,’” he said. “Loving your town, your community, is a wonderful thing. This spirit is also the starting point in promoting kosen-rufu in your local areas.”

Shin’ichi said he hoped the members would adopt another slogan, “I Love New York Soka Gakkai,” and work together with mutual respect and trust, which are key to creating the unity needed to advance our movement.

Next, Shin’ichi met and spoke with youth who had been serving as event staff that day. They asked him questions freely, sharing whatever was on their minds. At one point, someone asked if he could provide them with some concrete guidelines or direction. Shin’ichi was delighted to see the eager seeking spirit of these young people who would shoulder the next generation.

Actually, since the morning of June 17, the day after his arrival, Shin’ichi had been working on a poem dedicated to the youth of America with the aim of providing them just such direction and inspiration for the future. After final revisions, he completed the poem on June 20, the very next morning after speaking with the event staff.

That afternoon, Shin’ichi visited the home on Long Island where the celebrated poet Walt Whitman (1819–92) was born.

On Shin’ichi’s arrival in New York from Paris on June 16, youth division members had presented him with a book of essays about Whitman, along with a Japanese translation. In their accompanying letter, they recommended a visit to Whitman’s birthplace. Shin’ichi was touched by their kind gesture and decided to follow their suggestion.

The house was set among large trees and surrounded by a lush green lawn. It was a simple, two-story structure that seemed to embody a down-to-earth pioneer spirit.

Shin’ichi immediately thought of Whitman’s “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”—a grand and sweeping poem reminiscent of the Soka Gakkai spirit of blazing new trails for kosen-rufu. It had always deeply encouraged him.

Great poetry inspires hope and gives us the strength to keep living.

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The house’s ground floor contained the room where Walt Whitman was born. There was also a guest parlor, and a kitchen filled with various utensils of the day, including a candle maker, a bread oven, a water bucket, and a carrying pole. All items called to mind the self-sufficient rural life of a bygone era.

The poet’s personal artifacts were displayed in rooms on the second floor. These included portraits, facsimiles of handwritten manuscripts, and Whitman’s diary from the terrible days of the American Civil War.

There was also a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson about Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s groundbreaking poetry was initially panned by critics; only a few understood what he was attempting. Emerson was one of those who took a keen interest in Whitman’s poetry and praised it highly.

For pioneers, the more innovative their ideas, the harder the road ahead and the more alone they are. People never find it easy to understand something completely new. Our efforts to realize kosen-rufu and the Daishonin’s ideal of “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land” signify a new religious movement never before seen in history. It is a movement dedicated to creating an age, a society by and for the people, based on human revolution, which holds the key to unlocking the infinite potential within each individual.

Naturally, this requires a long time to be correctly understood and appreciated. Kosen-rufu is a gradual process, achieved through persevering in dialogue, communicating the teachings of Buddhism, and steadily spreading the circle of support and friendship through each member’s behavior, way of life, and character. One must also be aware that fierce storms of criticism, abuse, and persecution arising from a lack of understanding will inevitably beset such a process.

Whitman sang: “Allons! through struggles and wars! / The goal that was named cannot be countermanded.”1 Shin’ichi recalled once citing these famous lines from Leaves of Grass to encourage a gathering of young men from Japan’s Shin’etsu region on the start of a fresh initiative for kosen-rufu. Whitman had been one of Shin’ichi’s favorite poets since his youth, and Leaves of Grass, one of his favorite books.

The lives of those who have weathered hard-fought battles shine like diamonds.

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Walt Whitman died from pneumonia in March 1892, at age 72. His funeral was conducted without the presence of clergy. Friends who gathered eulogized him and said their final farewells, reading short passages from the Buddha, Plato, and other traditions. Whitman himself had rejected a conventional religious service.

In the preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, he wrote: “There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done. . . . A superior breed shall take their place . . . . the gangs of kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order shall arise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be his own priest.”2

In March 1992, the centennial of Whitman’s death, the Walt Whitman Association of America invited Shin’ichi to attend a commemorative event. Unable to participate because of prior commitments, Shin’ichi instead composed and presented a poem dedicated to the poet of the people he so loved and admired. Titled “Like the Sun Rising,” it includes these lines:

No one is another’s master
no one another’s slave—
politics, learning, religion, art
all exist for the human being
for the sake of the people.
To undo the prejudice of race
to break down the walls of class
to share freedom and equality with the people—
it is for this that you sing
to the last limits of your strength.

Your songs—
the Declaration of Humanity
for a new age.

You are the greatest lover
of the common people,
are yourself one
of the proud uncrowned mass
throughout your life.3

Viewing Whitman’s birthplace, Shin’ichi thought of the American Renaissance of the 19th century. And he vowed in his heart: “While advancing kosen-rufu, a movement to create a new ‘renaissance of life,’ I will continue as long as I live to compose poems that give people inspiration, hope, and courage.”

  • *1Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader’s Edition , edited by Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley (New York: New York University Press, 1965), p.158.
  • *2Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader’s Edition , edited by Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley (New York: New York University Press, 1965), p. 727.
  • *3Daisaku Ikeda, “Like the sun rising,” in Journey of Life: Selected Poems of Daisaku Ikeda (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014), p. 220.