Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 111–120
At the Soka Family Gathering, all the members joined in singing the famous Chilean song “Si vas para Chile” (If You Go to Chile), and Shin’ichi Yamamoto clapped along:
Peasants and people of the village
Will come out to greet you, traveler,
And you will see how in Chile, they love
Friends from abroad.
The members sang passionately, their faces glowing with happiness, with a vow to be a model for the rest of the world in achieving great progress in their movement for kosen-rufu.
This day became a new starting point for SGI-Chile.
At noon on February 25, Shin’ichi met with President Patricio Aylwin at the presidential offices in the Moneda Palace. The two had last met in November the previous year (1992), when the Chilean leader was visiting Japan.
At that time, they had enjoyed a lively conversation on various subjects—the need for leaders to serve the people, the dramatic process of democratization unfolding in Chile, and the role of cultural exchange between Chile and Japan in opening a new pan-Pacific age. The 15 minutes allotted for their meeting had stretched to 45.
As they parted, President Aylwin said: “I very much hope this is not our first and last meeting. Next time, let’s meet at the presidential offices in Chile.”
Now, that proposal was being realized.
The Chilean leader said that, after their meeting in Tokyo, he had read Shin’ichi’s dialogue with Arnold Toynbee, Choose Life, and he expressed his happiness at their reunion.
This time, they discussed the power of culture, environmental problems, and many other subjects. Shin’ichi also presented Mr. Aylwin with a poem he had composed as a tribute to the Chilean leader’s achievements as a champion of democracy as towering as the Andes. It contained the lines:
The power of reason surpasses military might!
The power of the spirit surpasses the power of the sword!
Callous, unscrupulous power,
no matter how fiercely wielded,
in the end brings only temporary, illusory victory,
for the power of reason and the spirit
will finally, through understanding and joy,
broadly enrich the earth of the people.
In July 1994, four months after finishing his term as president, Mr. Aylwin visited Japan with his wife, Leonor, and gave a lecture at Soka University.
Shin’ichi’s meeting with Mr. Aylwin during that visit marked their third. Based on their conversations and other exchanges (from 1992 to 1994), a book of their dialogues was published in Japanese under the title Dawn of the Pacific in October 1997. The publication coincided with the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between Japan and the Republic of Chile.
On the evening of February 25, 1993, Shin’ichi arrived in São Paulo, Brazil, from Chile. During his stay, he attended the 16th SGI General Meeting along with representatives from 32 countries and territories, at the SGI-Brazil Nature Culture Center.
In his speech on that occasion, Shin’ichi described Soka Gakkai members as the pioneers of the unprecedented endeavor of worldwide kosen-rufu, and he called on those present to always take pride in being the direct heirs of Nichiren Daishonin. He also urged each of them to strive to shine their brightest as individuals and illuminate their families, communities, and society with the light of their humanity. He encouraged them to continue to advance joyfully and energetically along with him on the SGI’s great path of humanism, forging and spreading countless ties of friendship among people.
On March 8, he went to Miami, Florida, where he attended a training session with SGI-USA members and other events. After that, he flew to San Francisco, where he met with the scientist Linus Pauling for the fourth time, and then met and encouraged members, before returning to Japan on March 21.
In May 1993, Shin’ichi visited the Philippines and Hong Kong. From September through October, he traveled once more to the United States and also visited Canada. During this trip, he gave his second invitational lecture at Harvard University, “Mahayana Buddhism and the Twenty-first-Century Civilization.”
From January to February 1994, Shin’ichi traveled to Hong Kong, China’s Shenzhen Province, and Thailand. From mid-May, he embarked on a trip of more than one month to Russia and several countries in Europe. Every day and every moment was devoted to building the foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu.
Failing to act when action is called for, failing to do what must be done when the time is right, leads to eternal regrets. For Shin’ichi, the present moment was everything.
On January 1, 1995—designated as the Year of Glory and Advancement—Shin’ichi Yamamoto started his activities for the year by leading a New Year’s gongyo meeting at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters.
On January 15, Coming-of-Age Day in Japan, he held a conference with representatives of the women’s division and Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, and spoke of the kind of leaders needed for the 21st century: “What will be required of our leaders from here on? In a word, it is nothing but sincerity. They must be committed to humbly serving the members. Honesty, kindness, responsibility, conviction, and approachability—these are the human qualities that everyone wants from a leader. There’s no need for you to pretend to be other than who you are. The important thing is that you continue to grow as a human being, in your own way, based on faith.”
For the sake of the future, Shin’ichi wanted to give clear, accessible guidance about leadership.
“The aim of Nichiren Buddhism,” he continued, “is to relieve people’s suffering. This cannot be done through ideas alone. It requires real wisdom and concrete action. From our perspective, this means ‘substituting faith for wisdom,’ that is, using our Buddhist practice to tap the ‘wisdom of the Buddha’ within our lives. That’s why in everything, we must start by chanting, and keep chanting and taking action until we achieve a clear result.
“Both Shakyamuni and Nichiren Daishonin were people of action, and we want to be the same.”
Two days later, at 5:46 in the early predawn hours of January 17, a major earthquake struck west-central Japan. The most serious damage occurred in Kobe, Awaji Island, and other parts of southern Hyogo Prefecture, with areas in Osaka and Kyoto also affected. The earthquake toppled sections of the area’s elevated expressway and destroyed many homes and buildings. Widespread fires broke out in its aftermath. Some 6,400 people died and about 44,000 were injured in the disaster. This became known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake (also, the Kobe earthquake of 1995).
When Shin’ichi heard the news, he immediately took steps for the Soka Gakkai to mobilize all of its resources to support rescue and relief efforts.
He was scheduled to fly to Hawaii to visit and deliver a lecture at the East-West Center, a leading academic institute in the Asia Pacific region, but he delayed his departure and concentrated on doing everything in his power to assist those affected by the earthquake.
Relief coordination centers were set up right away in Tokyo, at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters, and also in Kansai. Shin’ichi conferred with top Soka Gakkai leaders and also attended a meeting about response efforts.
In the areas affected by the Great Hanshin Earthquake, Soka Gakkai facilities became both temporary evacuation centers and relief centers for collecting, storing, and distributing emergency supplies.
Many roads were blocked due to the collapse of sections of the expressway and from the debris of destroyed buildings, and those roads that remained open were incredibly congested. Soka Gakkai members quickly formed a motorbike corps, riding through the rubble-filled streets and delivering emergency supplies to the distressed areas.
It pained Shin’ichi deeply to think of all the people who had lost loved ones, homes, and workplaces. He wanted to rush personally to the affected areas and encourage everyone, but the day of his lecture at the East-West Center in Hawaii was drawing near. Soka Gakkai President Eisuke Akizuki and a group of leaders, including the national women’s division leader and youth division leader, were about to make their way together to the disaster area.
Shin’ichi said to them: “I would like you to pour your entire beings into encouraging everyone on my behalf. Some of our members will have lost loved ones who were also practicing Nichiren Buddhism. Please convey this message to them:
Though everything else might be destroyed, the good fortune and benefit we accumulate in our lives through our Buddhist practice will endure eternally. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that if we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo even once, we can attain Buddhahood. Our members who have lost their lives, therefore, have most certainly transformed their karma in this existence, and will be able to embrace the Gohonzon again in their next existence and lead happy lives.
In accord with the principle of “changing poison into medicine,” we can positively transform everything through faith in the Mystic Law. The Daishonin writes: “When great evil occurs, great good follows” (WND-1, 1119).
No matter how painful things may be now, please believe that you will absolutely become happy. Indeed, please become happy without fail. I am praying and hoping that you will rebuild your lives splendidly, with inner strength and fortitude.
Akizuki and the others arrived in Kansai on January 24, and began visiting and encouraging members in the stricken areas.
On the evening of the following day, January 25, Shin’ichi left Japan for Honolulu, Hawaii.
On January 26, after visiting the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he went to the adjacent East-West Center.
There, he delivered a lecture in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations, titled “Peace and Human Security: A Buddhist Perspective for the Twenty-first Century.”
In his lecture, Shin’ichi Yamamoto noted that, until now, guaranteeing security had been discussed in terms of institutions and policies. However, the lesson of the 20th century, he said, was that as long as we focus solely on enhancing the structures of society and the state while avoiding the key issue of inner change in human beings themselves, efforts for peace could even be counterproductive.
Efforts to reform society, he proposed, must start from inner transformation, or human revolution, and for that to happen a fundamental shift in the thinking of humankind was required—from knowledge to wisdom, from uniformity to diversity, and from national sovereignty to human sovereignty.
At the East-West Center, Shin’ichi was reunited with Harvard University professor emeritus John Montgomery, University of Hawaii professor emeritus Glenn Paige, and the founder of peace studies, Johan Galtung.
While in Hawaii, Shin’ichi participated in the World Peace Youth Culture Festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and the SGI Pan-Pacific Peace and Culture Conference. On February 2, he returned to Japan, taking a direct flight to Kansai.
In Kansai, he attended a meeting of Soka Gakkai leaders from both Tokyo and Kansai to discuss the organization’s response to the devastating January earthquake, as well as a memorial gongyo service for those who lost their lives in the disaster. He gave his all to encouraging the members.
At the memorial gongyo service, Shin’ichi said: “I am praying for the speediest possible recovery for Kansai. The entire world is warmly supporting your efforts. Please stand up courageously as a model for the rest of the world. Our fellow members who have died in the disaster will soon rejoin the ranks of ever-victorious Kansai.
“Nichiren Daishonin writes: ‘One will . . . without hindrance attain the highest level of rebirth, rebirth in the Land of Tranquil Light. Then in no time one will return to the dream realm of the nine worlds, the realm of birth and death’ (WND-2, 860). We attain the world of Buddhahood, described here as the supreme Land of Tranquil Light, and, after death, are quickly reborn, returning to the realm of the nine worlds [the saha world], where we can again take an active part in kosen-rufu.
“On behalf of all our departed fellow members as well, let us keep pressing forward—cheerfully, filled with hope, and vibrantly chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. That is the way, based on the principle of the ‘oneness of life and death,’ to create a powerful resurgence of brilliant good fortune here in Hyogo and all of Kansai.
“Please convey my sincerest good wishes to all those in the areas affected by the earthquake and its aftermath.”
From the end of October 1995, Shin’ichi Yamamoto traveled to four countries and territories in Asia. This included his first visit to Nepal, the birthplace of Shakyamuni—the 51st country he had traveled to on his journeys for peace.
On November 1, 1995, Shin’ichi met with King Birendra of Nepal at the royal palace in Kathmandu. On November 2, he was the main guest at the commencement ceremony of Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, held at the International Convention Center in that city. There, he delivered a commemorative speech titled “Homage to the Sagarmatha1 of Humanism: The Living Lessons of Gautama Buddha.”
In it, he discussed the spiritual legacy of Shakyamuni, a great teacher of humanity, from the two perspectives of his radiant wisdom and boundless compassion. He went on to assert that people united in their humanistic ideals and committed to happiness for themselves and others will be a force for building prosperity in each country and will light the way to a brighter future for all humanity. He also voiced his hope that the graduating students, who have a profound mission as leaders of the next generation, will spread their wings of wisdom and compassion and soar majestically into a 21st century of peace and respect for the dignity of life.
On November 3, Tribhuvan University conferred on Shin’ichi an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters. The honor was presented by the minister of education, who also served as the university’s pro-chancellor.
In his acceptance speech, Shin’ichi described Nepal as “a land of great beauty and poetry,” and stated his conviction that “a country derives its richness from the richness of heart found among its people.”
Later that day, with members of SGI-Nepal acting as his guides, he traveled by car to a hill outside Kathmandu. He readily complied with their wish to show him the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountains.
Dusk was falling, and the Himalayas were blanketed in pearly white clouds. But when Shin’ichi and the others reached their destination, the clouds parted and for a brief moment, as if a veil had lifted, the snow-covered peaks made an appearance. In the light of the setting sun, the sky was tinged a pale pink. The mountains towered above magnificently, with awe-inspiring splendor.
Shin’ichi reflexively raised his camera and clicked the shutter.
Soon after, the Himalayas were enfolded in the gathering dusk, and a big silver moon appeared in the sky.
A group of about 20 children were looking at him curiously from a distance.
When Shin’ichi gestured to them, they approached shyly. Their eyes sparkled like gems.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto said to the children: “We’re Buddhists. This is the land where the Buddha was born. He grew up looking at the great Himalayas. He strove hard to become a person like those mountains. He made himself into a mighty champion. You are just like he was. You are living in an amazing place. You can become great people, too.
“You all have beautiful faces and seem very smart. When you get a little older, please come to Japan.”
Shin’ichi wanted to make the most out of this brief encounter. He wanted to wholeheartedly encourage the children and send a spring breeze of hope into their little hearts.
The following day, November 4, Shin’ichi attended the 1st SGI-Nepal General Meeting, held in Kathmandu, and took a group photo with the more than 100 members present. He encouraged them, saying: “Please advance together in harmony and friendship. I hope each of you will strive to become a shining presence as a good citizen and an upstanding member of your community.”
The majority of Soka Gakkai members in Nepal were youth. These hope-filled young people, like vibrant saplings watched over by the Himalayas, were growing with limitless potential.
After Nepal, Shin’ichi traveled to Singapore, where he attended the 3rd SGI Asia Culture and Education Conference and made his first visit to the Singapore Soka Kindergarten. He also attended the Singapore organization’s 1st Friendship Youth Arts Festival, held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Republic of Singapore’s founding.
Then, on the evening of November 10, he arrived in Hong Kong.
A British territory at the time, Hong Kong had long been scheduled to return to Chinese rule in 1997. But it was only after talks between China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1982 that the transfer of its sovereignty started to become a concrete reality.
It was difficult for Hong Kong residents, who had lived in a free market economy for so long, to imagine life under Communist rule, and many were deeply anxious about the future. At one point, the Hong Kong dollar declined steeply and the stock market was thrown into turmoil.
“This is precisely the time for me to go to Hong Kong! I must meet with everyone and encourage them!”
This resolve was what had prompted Shin’ichi to visit Hong Kong back in December 1983.
During his 1983 visit to Hong Kong, Shin’ichi Yamamoto energetically addressed the members: “I am sure some of you are worrying about what will happen to Hong Kong because of the so-called 1997 Problem. But I wish to state that there’s absolutely no need for you to worry. Please confidently live out your lives here in your beloved Hong Kong—with its spirit of freedom, peace, and culture and its ongoing development as an international hub—illuminated and protected by the Mystic Law.”
“After 1997, when the handover is scheduled, let us continue our exchanges with many times the energy and many times the enjoyment. Let us create a record of victory together that will endure forever!”
Through his discussions with SGI–Hong Kong members and with many informed people in Hong Kong society, he was confident that the key to Hong Kong’s tremendous growth and development was the boundless vitality of its people and the power of hope that pulsed in their hearts.
The words “many times the enjoyment” gave the Hong Kong members courage.
In December 1984, China and the UK issued a joint declaration stating that in 1997 Hong Kong would return to China and become a special administrative region in which, for 50 years after the handover, Communist Party policies would not be implemented. Hong Kong would stay a free capitalist economy, under a policy of “one nation, two systems.” Hong Kong residents continued to be deeply anxious, however, and hundreds of thousands emigrated to Canada, Australia, and other countries.
With Hong Kong’s future in mind, Shin’ichi met and spoke with numerous Chinese officials and remained in contact with successive Hong Kong governors.
On his present November 1995 visit to Hong Kong, he met with Jin Yong (pen name of Louis Cha), a famous writer and founder of the daily newspaper Ming Pao. Known for many years as a “beacon of conscience” and an opinion leader, Jin Yong was also a member of the committee drafting the Hong Kong Basic Law that would determine Hong Kong’s social system after the return to China.
In 1998, Shin’ichi and Jin Yong published a Japanese-language edition of their discussions, titled Compassionate Light in Asia: A Dialogue. It was based on their five meetings from 1995 onward, during which they discussed a broad range of topics, including the future of Hong Kong and the role of literature in life.
Five months before Hong Kong’s handover to China, Shin’ichi said to Jin Yong: “I am certain that Hong Kong will continue to prosper after its return to China.” He then went on to say that he believed that from now on there would be a new focus in Hong Kong, not just on economic development but on spiritual fulfillment as well.
Jin Yong responded emphatically: “I hope that SGI–Hong Kong and all SGI members will communicate the importance of spiritual values, sound human values, to many people.”
Both men’s thoughts were on the happiness and prosperity of the people of Hong Kong.
Shin’ichi had continued to stress to members that as long as they had dauntless faith they could make any place they were into a shining “treasure land of happiness.”
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “The place where they [disciples of Nichiren] live will become the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light” (WND-1, 420).
On July 1, 1997, the former British territory of Hong Kong was handed over to China in a historic ceremony. As part of the celebrations, the SGI–Hong Kong Golden Eagle Gymnastic Team performed with youthful energy. Several SGI–Hong Kong chorus groups also participated in the special music festival held that evening.
Shin’ichi sent congratulatory telegrams to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who was an old friend, and Tung Chee-hwa, new chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. SGI–Hong Kong members resolved to join together to make post-handover Hong Kong a harbor of peace and prosperity, and to soar into the 21st century, the start of the third millennium.
While visiting Hong Kong in November 1995, Shin’ichi had also gone to Macau. In addition to receiving an honorary doctorate of social sciences from the University of Macau, he made an official visit to the Macau municipal government offices. A Portuguese territory, Macau returned to Chinese rule in 1999, and SGI-Macau members, like SGI–Hong Kong members before them, made a fresh and hope-filled start.
On November 17, 1995, Shin’ichi returned to Japan from his trip to Asian neighbors, heading directly to the Chubu region, and then Kansai, to offer guidance to the members there.
On November 23, a Soka Gakkai Headquarters leaders meeting was held at the Kansai Culture Center, in conjunction with the Nationwide Youth Division Meeting and Kansai General Meeting.
At that gathering, the new SGI Charter was announced by SGI General Director Koichi Towada.
Soka Gakkai International was born at the 1st World Peace Conference held in the Pacific Ocean territory of Guam, on January 26, 1975. Since then, it had been steadily promoting the life-affirming philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism and developing a movement aimed at contributing to world peace and the happiness of all humankind. In the process, SGI organizations in various countries and territories had created growing trust in their communities, and many in society had high hopes for the members’ endeavors.
Following the SGI Standing Directors Meeting and SGI Board of Directors Meeting in 1995, the 20th anniversary of the SGI’s founding, a committee was formed to draft an SGI Charter as a vehicle for clarifying the SGI’s aims, ideals, and guidelines of conduct for its member organizations. An SGI resolution related to this was adopted at the SGI General Meeting held on October 17, and after further deliberation by the committee based on this, a charter was established with the approval of all SGI organizations.
The SGI Charter consisted of 10 articles, affirming the organization’s commitment to such aims as: contributing to peace, culture, and education based on Buddhism; respecting human rights and religious freedom; contributing to the prosperity of society; promoting cultural exchange; protecting nature and the environment; and promoting the cultivation of character.
Article 7 of the Charter states: “SGI shall, based on the Buddhist spirit of tolerance, respect other religions, engage in dialogue, and work together with them toward the resolution of fundamental issues concerning humanity.”
The key to realizing world peace and happiness for all humanity is for all people to join hands and strive together with an awareness that they share a common destiny. The greatest obstacles to this are self-righteousness and intolerance, whether religious, nationalistic, or ethnic. In order for humanity to live in harmony and peace, we need to return to the starting point that we are all fellow human beings and help one another, transcending all our differences.
At the time of the January 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the Soka Gakkai had poured all its energy into rescue and relief activities, and SGI organizations around the world also offered support and assistance in a variety of ways. The victims of the disaster and many others expressed their gratitude for those efforts.
The SGI had also been working with other religious groups and organizations in its movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
- *1Sagarmatha: The Nepalese name for Mount Everest, the highest peak in the Himalayan mountain range and in the world.