Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 11–20
At the Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival, after greetings by Soka Gakkai President Eisuke Akizuki, Shin’ichi Yamamoto took the microphone.
Expressing his deep appreciation to all the performers and guests, Shin’ichi spoke of the Soka Gakkai’s commitment to peace.
“Peace is the wish of all humankind. Based on the correct teaching and principles of Nichiren Buddhism, we have worked with a single-minded commitment for peace, and will continue to do so in the future.
“Even if we encounter slander and criticism, we must rise above them, and each continue to forge ahead as a drop in the mighty river moving powerfully toward the realization of the most important goal of peace, the cherished wish of all people. My young friends, I entrust you with this task.”
After voicing his hope that the youth would continue to make great contributions in their workplaces and communities, he called out: “I would like the Soka Gakkai to become an organization that is even more appreciated and trusted than it is today!”
Shin’ichi also presented the Kansai youth with the following poem:
The skies clear, the earth illuminated—
one hundred thousand
champions of peace
have created history!
The First Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival came to a close amid an explosion of joy and celebration. It was like the sun dawning on a new day of peace built through the efforts of ordinary people.
Nichiren Shoshu High Priest Nikken Abe was among the many guests who attended the festival. A couple of days later, there was a message from the priesthood summoning Shin’ichi to come immediately to the head temple. Shin’ichi changed his plans to visit Kyoto and Shiga, two prefectures in the Kansai area, and traveled with Akizuki to the temple on March 25.
A furious-looking Nikken awaited them and launched into an imperious tirade.
He was enraged about a passage that had been used by the youth division in their declaration for peace at the culture festival that read: “We pledge to elevate Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism far and wide so that it becomes the spirit of the age and the spirit of the entire world.” It was utterly disrespectful, he asserted, for them to speak of “elevating” a teaching that was already as lofty as the Daishonin’s Buddhism.
In fact, he was splitting hairs over semantics. It was obvious to anyone hearing these words that they were a vow for peace and kosen-rufu based on spreading the principles of Nichiren Buddhism widely and making them the spiritual foundation for the age and the world.
In the mirror of a warped mind, everything appears distorted.
Nikken also demanded to know why Shin’ichi had referred to him as the Most Honorable Nikken Shonin, and not His Holiness the High Priest, in his remarks at the Kansai Youth Peace Culture Festival.
Nikken had attended and watched that spectacular culture festival, but instead of even thinking to thank the youth, he had summoned Shin’ichi and Akizuki to the head temple specifically to berate them in this way.
They were simply stunned by his arrogant, high-handed attitude. Whether out of jealousy or just showing his true colors, he seemed intent on flaunting his authority.
Despite this, Shin’ichi’s stance of maintaining harmony between the priesthood and laity for the sake of kosen-rufu didn’t change in the slightest.
“Now is the time to make new creative efforts for culture and peace!” It was with this spirit that the First Chubu Youth Peace Culture Festival was held on April 29 at the Gifu Prefectural Stadium. Some 70,000 youth gathered for this event commemorating the 30th anniversary of kosen-rufu in the Chubu region.1
Contrary to forecasts of cloudy weather with rain, clear blue skies stretched overhead.
The festival began with the United Nations Flag, the Soka Gakkai Peace Flag, and the Chubu Soka Gakkai Flag being paraded onto the field and raised. Then, a dazzling pageant of human harmony unfolded, featuring beautiful dances celebrating youth; joyful, rousing music; and many other performances brimming with the passion and energy of young people united in a common purpose.
UN Information Center Vice Director Nobuaki Oda, one of the guests who spoke at the festival, said: “Through today’s culture festival, I have strengthened my conviction that peace isn’t something created in some distant part of the world, but something we must work to build right here in our immediate environment. I have witnessed firsthand the spirit behind SGI President Yamamoto’s support of the United Nations, and I am deeply inspired.”
Noting that the UN General Assembly would soon convene a special session on disarmament (June 7–July 10, 1982), he said the UN welcomed the Soka Gakkai youth peace culture festivals being held at this important time.
As the German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) proclaims with his “Solidarity Song,” unity is the ultimate key to victory.
In order to realize the grand ideal of peace, we must rally the passion and power of youth.
Taking the microphone as the final speaker, Shin’ichi praised the festival as brimming with “the brilliance, sounds, and power of peace,” and expressed his sincere appreciation to the guests for attending, including the governors of Gifu and Aichi prefectures. He then conveyed a few brief points.
“To lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, it’s important that we continually return to the basics and consider the direction we should be heading. This means thinking about such questions as ‘How do I best live my life?’ ‘What is my life’s true purpose?’ ‘What are the key principles for realizing peace?’ In other words, having the foundation of a solid philosophy is crucial.
“I wish to state that we, the members of the Soka Gakkai, are working to achieve the ideal of peace as we discuss these questions with many friends and practice such a sound philosophy together each day.”
Applause resounded, echoing out to nearby Mount Kinka, where Gifu Castle stands.
He continued: “Since ancient times, religions that genuinely empower people have been subjected to groundless slander and criticism. However, I hope all of you—who are striving to usher in an age that values life and to create lasting peace—will boldly set forth toward the 21st century, courageously overcoming all obstacles along the way.
“Please be reliable and trustworthy people in your workplaces, schools, homes, and communities. That is one way to demonstrate the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism, and will pave the way to peace.”
Rain began to fall now, as if it had been waiting until the Chubu Youth Peace Culture Festival drew to a close.
As he watched the young people participating vibrantly in the festival that day, Shin’ichi was confident that an indestructible golden castle of Soka had been built in Chubu. Establishing an invincible fortress for kosen-rufu in Chubu, a region located halfway between Tokyo and Kansai, was a vow that Shin’ichi and his mentor, Josei Toda, had shared.
In his youth, Shin’ichi had presented Toda with the poem:
Now is the time
for valiant youth to rise
and strive resolutely
to build the golden castle,
the strong fortress of Chubu!
Toda had immediately responded with a poem of his own:
Now is the time to advance!
The forces of the Buddha
The strong fortress of Chubu—
how I look forward to seeing it stand!
The wish of mentor and disciple had now been splendidly achieved.
The culture festival was a triumphant, history-making event.
On September 18 and 19, 1982, the Second World Peace Culture Festival, with the theme “A Renaissance of Peace,” was held at the Seibu Lions Stadium in Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture.
The First World Peace Culture Festival had been held a little over a year earlier, in June 1981, at the Rosemont Horizon Arena near Chicago.
The Second World Peace Culture Festival was a nighttime outdoor event involving 40,000 youth division members—of whom 3,000 were from 37 countries and 3 territories outside Japan.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto attended the festival on September 19.
Before an audience of 30,000, including 12,000 invited guests from various fields of society, the performers put on a spectacular display of light and sound that was both a celebration of world peace and an expression of their vow to make that dream a reality.
It had been raining intermittently since morning, sometimes heavily and sometimes lightly.
A little after 4:30 p.m., about an hour before the festival was to start, Shin’ichi, wearing a suit, went down onto the rain-misted stadium field. He wanted to convey his heartfelt gratitude to the many performers, event staff, and spectators gathered, especially the youth in the stands who were participating in the card art presentation.
He began to walk around the perimeter of the field without an umbrella as it continued to drizzle. Cheers resounded through the stadium. He waved as he walked by, stopping several times to bow deeply in appreciation.
One of the event staff handed him a microphone, and Shin’ichi addressed the youth: “Thank you for all your efforts despite the rain! Please do what you can so that you don’t catch a cold. Thank you all so very much!”
Shin’ichi spoke without any pretension, his words like those of a father voicing concern for his children.
Naturally, it was important for the festival to be a success. Everyone involved had been practicing for months toward this day—striving throughout the rainy season and the hot days of summer. And Shin’ichi had also chanted earnestly for the event’s success. But far more important to him was that the youth not become ill or be involved in accidents. For they were the precious successors who were the treasures of the Soka Gakkai and flag bearers for world peace.
The many inspiring performances at the World Peace Culture Festival included a lively, upbeat dance titled “Sparkling Eyes” by young women’s junior high and high school division members; group gymnastics with the theme “Soaring Flight” by young men’s junior high and high school division members, brimming with the energy of young people moving dynamically toward the future; and a young men’s division card art display that emblazoned the words “Waves of Peace” across the stadium field, giving expression to their vow to build lasting peace.
The boys and girls division members performed a delightful dance in which they tossed giant balloon-like balls in the air, expressing their boundless hopes and dreams for the future. The young women’s division’s “Dance of Torches” began with the light of a single torch, followed by another and yet another, until 600 beautiful lights of peace bobbed and twirled around the field.
There was also a parade by SGI members who had traveled to Japan from around the world to perform in the festival. Everyone marched together singing and smiling, including members from Ireland and the United Kingdom, whose countries were embroiled in a bitter dispute over fishing rights.
As the lines in the SGI song “March toward the 21st Century” declare:
The road that we travel is long,
but with hope in our hearts, we’ll go on.
Marching forward to victory,
in the 21st Century.
UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, whom Shin’ichi had met the previous month, on August 24, also sent a message to this culture festival, which read in part:
In these difficult times, when division and disorder characterize international life, it is vital that we renew our dedication to the ideals enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. We have at our disposal the international machinery capable of maintaining security and promoting disarmament. But such machinery can only be effective if we are committed to its use and to strengthening the organization’s authority. Otherwise, we may find ourselves moving towards a global catastrophe without the institution to prevent it.
He further noted that NGOs such as the SGI have an extremely important role to play in helping generate public support for the United Nations and in furthering its goals of peace and disarmament. He said he was confident that the present culture festival would help sustain the international momentum toward disarmament.
Shin’ichi was determined to expand the international grassroots network for peace that the SGI had forged and make even greater efforts to support the United Nations, a parliament of humanity.
Soka Gakkai peace culture festivals were held not only on a regional level, such as those in Kansai and Chubu, but also in each prefecture throughout Japan, providing a new forum for fostering awareness of the value and importance of peace.
For the Soka Gakkai, 1982 was an unprecedented year for launching bold new initiatives in its movement for world peace.
Youth peace lectures were sponsored by both the Youth Peace Conference and Student Peace Committee, and a lecture series was organized by the Women’s Peace Committee. The second showing of the “Women and the Pacific War” exhibition was held, and numerous exhibitions highlighting the war experiences of different regions were put on display as part of the Soka Gakkai’s local grassroots efforts for peace. These included the “Civilians and the Battle of Okinawa” and “The War and the People of Tokushima” exhibitions.
In April, the Soka Gakkai Youth Peace Conference and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) jointly sponsored a fund-raising campaign to assist Asian refugees, which was conducted in some 650 locations around Japan. The youth division, together with the UN Information Center, also mounted an exhibition titled “The United Nations and Us,” which was displayed at the Nagasaki City Peace Hall.
On June 7, the UN General Assembly’s second special session on disarmament began at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. To support that event as a UN-affiliated NGO, the Soka Gakkai sent a 50-person delegation to New York. The group, which included 30 atomic bomb victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cosponsored a forum, where the bombing survivors shared their experiences. It also held an exchange meeting with American antinuclear NGO representatives.
In addition, the exhibition “Nuclear Threat to Our World” (later renamed “Nuclear Arms—Threat to Our World”), organized by the Soka Gakkai in cooperation with the UN Department of Public Information and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was displayed in the public lobby of the General Assembly building, beginning four days before the start and continuing through to the closing of the special session on disarmament.
The world’s people are largely unaware of the terrible consequences of an actual nuclear attack. Since Japan was the only country in the world to have suffered this fate in war, directly experiencing the horror and tragedy of the atomic bombings, and the resulting catastrophic loss of life, it had a vital mission to work to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The Nobel Prize–winning physicist Albert Einstein voiced his firm conviction: “If we have the courage to decide ourselves for peace we will have peace.”2
Only the human will has the power to free the world of war.
The “Nuclear Threat to Our World” exhibition was divided into three sections: “Atomic Destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki”; “Factual Information on Nuclear Capabilities”; and “Disarmament and Development.”
The first section was comprised of photo panels depicting the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombings; a model of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings left standing at ground zero; and some 30 artifacts and other items from the blasts, including burnt and tattered clothing worn by bomb victims and roof tiles melted by the intense heat. There was also a corner portraying a scenario of what would happen if a nuclear bomb were detonated over New York City.
Nothing can give people a more deeply personal appreciation of the terrifying nature of nuclear weapons than hearing the stark firsthand accounts of A-bomb survivors who have lived with its painful aftereffects, or seeing the consequences of the blasts by viewing video footage or artifacts of the aftermath. Helping people recognize this threat not only intellectually, but viscerally and existentially, is essential to building greater solidarity for peace and opposition to nuclear weapons.
The Soka Gakkai’s exhibition at the UN drew a very positive response. It was viewed by more than 200,000 people, including Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and other top UN officials, numerous ambassadors and diplomats, and representatives of various NGOs.
A bookstore owner from New Jersey shared her impressions after viewing the exhibition. She said that she couldn’t believe human beings had perpetrated something so horrifying; the very thought sickened her. If a megaton bomb were detonated over New York, she noted, her town would also be wiped out. She declared it imperative that nuclear war be prevented at all costs.
The UN General Assembly’s second special session on disarmament decided to initiate a World Disarmament Campaign. As a part of that initiative, the “Nuclear Threat to Our World” exhibition was held at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva the following year, 1983.
The exhibition subsequently traveled to India, Canada, China, and the Soviet Union. And, by the time of the UN General Assembly’s third special session on disarmament that opened on May 31, 1988, it had been shown in 25 cities in 16 countries, including 7 cities in Japan. Viewed by more than 1.2 million people, it played a significant role in raising people’s awareness of the importance of peace.
The driving force behind this achievement was the youth of the SGI, whose dedicated efforts expressed their commitment to peace as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism.
Josei Toda once told Shin’ichi that it was important to make concrete proposals toward the peace of humankind and to take the lead in seeing them realized. He added: “Even when such proposals are not fully or immediately accepted, they can serve as a ‘spark’ from which a movement for peace will eventually spread like wildfire. Theorizing that is not grounded in reality will always remain a futile exercise. Concrete proposals provide a framework for the transformation of reality and can serve to protect the interests of humanity.”
Shin’ichi had put this guidance of his mentor into action.
On the occasion of the 1982 UN General Assembly’s second special session on disarmament, he issued his “Proposal for Disarmament and the Abolition of Nuclear Arms.” On June 3, a few days before the start of the special session, a visiting Soka Gakkai delegation hand delivered the proposal on Shin’ichi’s behalf to UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar.
In it, Shin’ichi voiced his belief that NGOs whose goals and character are transnational can be instrumental in helping bring about disarmament. He also called on the General Assembly, through the consensus of non-nuclear weapons states, to pass a resolution requiring a firm commitment from the nuclear powers, especially the United States and Soviet Union, not to carry out a preemptive nuclear strike. In addition, he proposed that the UN create a special committee to work on the establishment of peace-preserving organizations in nuclear-free regions with the aim of creating a global network of peace.
On the occasion of the UN General Assembly’s first special session on disarmament in May 1978, as well, Shin’ichi had made a 10-point proposal for nuclear disarmament and abolition. He could not sit by while nuclear weapons continued to threaten humanity with annihilation.
And to commemorate the SGI’s eighth anniversary on January 26, 1983, he issued the first of his annual peace proposals, which was titled “A New Proposal for Peace and Disarmament.” In it, he called for the early realization of a summit meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union and an agreement on freezing nuclear arsenals at their present levels. He also proposed establishing a “Nuclear War Prevention Center” and that the United States and Soviet Union hold an international conference on freezing military spending.
From 1983 onward, Shin’ichi continued to make proposals each year on SGI Day, sharing them with the world in order to set in motion a new momentum toward peace.
Our voices have the power to move people’s hearts and to change society and the world. A new step forward begins when we speak out.
In May 1983, the SGI was registered as an NGO with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Also, on August 8, the same year, SGI President Shin’ichi Yamamoto received the United Nations Peace Award. UN Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Yasushi Akashi presented the award, comprising a letter of commendation from the secretary-general accompanied by the United Nations Peace Medal, in a ceremony at the Soka Gakkai’s House of International Friendship (now Tokyo International Friendship House) in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. UN Information Center Director David Exley and other UN officials also attended. In the letter, UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar enumerated the reasons for honoring the SGI leader:
“You have made ceaseless efforts to promote understanding and friendship among nations by mobilizing your wide constituency behind the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. You have made constructive proposals for the relaxation of international tension and for the promotion of disarmament, particularly nuclear disarmament, the most vital issue of our times. In addition, the contribution of the Soka Gakkai and the Soka Gakkai International under your leadership to the United Nations public information activities has been of great assistance to us in our endeavors to further public support for the aims and ideals of the world Organization.”
The road we travel is long, but we must press onward. Such tenacious, persevering efforts will give rise to an impetus toward peace that will spread throughout the world. If people around the globe raise their voices to demand the abolition of nuclear weapons, the times will definitely change.
In 1989, Shin’ichi received the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Humanitarian Award in recognition of his long-standing contributions to aiding refugees. In his acceptance speech on that occasion, he said: “This Humanitarian Award belongs not only to me. It is the result of the dedicated humanitarian efforts our youth division members have undertaken as Buddhists in conjunction with the activities of the Soka Gakkai’s peace committees and conferences. I accept this award as a sign of global recognition for our collective efforts.”
The origins of the Soka Gakkai’s peace activities can be traced back to Soka Gakkai founding president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s struggle against the oppression of the Japanese militarist government, which had adopted State Shinto as a spiritual pillar for uniting the population behind its war effort. Makiguchi adamantly refused the authorities’ demands to enshrine the mandatory Shinto talisman, and in July 1943, he was arrested and jailed, along with his disciple Josei Toda.
Openly refusing to accept the Shinto talisman, which the militarist government had made compulsory, meant taking a stand against the authorities and maintaining one’s freedom of belief under the wartime system of thought control. This was literally a life-and-death struggle for human rights. In fact, Makiguchi died for his beliefs behind prison walls in the bitter cold of late autumn, on November 18, 1944, a little over a year after his arrest.
All people have a fundamental right to freedom of thought and belief, and protecting those rights is the foundation of peace.
The Buddhist view that sees each person as a Buddha offers a solid spiritual foundation for securing human rights.
Makiguchi, as a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, which upholds this view, had no option but to take a stand against the militarist authorities who treated people as tools to serve their aims.
It was also inevitable that his disciple Josei Toda should feel compelled as a Buddhist to issue a declaration on September 8, 1957, calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and denouncing them as an “absolute evil” that threatened humanity’s very right to survival.
Nichiren Buddhism, on which the Soka Gakkai’s activities are based, is a teaching that finds supreme value in human life and does not view the nation or state as absolute. Nichiren Daishonin called the leader of the military government of his day “the ruler of this little island country” (WND-1, 765).
He also declared: “Even if it seems that, because I was born in the ruler’s domain, I follow him in my actions, I will never follow him in my heart” (WND-1, 579). These words were also included in a UNESCO publication titled Birthright of Man.3
The Daishonin’s message here was that people are not slaves of the state or the social system. No authority can shackle the human spirit. It was a human rights declaration that affirmed the universal value of human life, transcending the powers of the state.
Of course, nations and governments play indispensable roles, and it is important that people do their best to contribute to their country, because its condition strongly affects their happiness and well-being.
It is essential to remember that people do not exist for the sake of the nation or a small handful of leaders; the nation exists for the people.
- *1In the Soka Gakkai organization, Chubu comprises Aichi, Mie, and Gifu prefectures.
- *2Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, based on Mein Weltbild, edited by Cal Seelig, and other sources, and translated by Sonja Bargmann (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1982), p. 162.
- *3Birthright of Man: A Selection of Texts, a collection of inspiring quotes on human rights compiled to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1968.