Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 121–130
In pursuing humanitarian action, it is essential that we cooperate with others and transcend the boundaries of religious affiliation. This is most crucial for us as human beings and in fulfilling our social mission as people of faith who wish for the happiness of humankind.
Working together on shared initiatives requires respect for each other’s personality, beliefs, and cultural background.
The original wish of the founder of every major religion has been to realize peace and happiness for the people and bring them relief from suffering. It is that spirit that we need to respect.
People often view Nichiren Daishonin’s criticism of the Pure Land (also known as Nembutsu), Zen, True Word, and Precepts schools of Japanese Buddhism as demonstrating an intolerant, self-righteous attitude. But the Daishonin did not reject the scriptures that were the basis of these other schools. In his writings, he quotes from a wide variety of Buddhist sutras as he explains the true nature of human existence.
The Lotus Sutra is a teaching that opens the way to enlightenment for all people. It is the perfect and complete teaching, “the king of sutras,” that expounds the true reality of life. In contrast, the other sutras do not teach that all people can attain Buddhahood. They fail to describe life in its entirety, presenting only partial views. The established Buddhist schools of the Daishonin’s day misguidedly regarded scriptures that presented only partial truths as complete and absolute, while denying and rejecting the Lotus Sutra, which teaches the complete and universal truth. The Daishonin highlighted and exposed this fundamental error, using the clearest possible language.
And to clarify which teaching accorded with Shakyamuni’s true intent, he requested opportunities for dialogue and debate with the other Buddhist schools. This was solely motivated by his concern for relieving the sufferings of the people. However, enjoying cozy relations with the Kamakura military government, the priests of those schools rejected his requests for discussion. Instead, they spread false rumors and accusations, prompting the authorities to take action against the Daishonin, which led to him being persecuted and almost killed.
Despite of all this, the Daishonin declared: “I pray that before anything else I can guide and lead the ruler and those others who persecuted me” (WND-1, 402). In other words, he wished to guide to Buddhahood, first of all, the nation’s leaders and priests who persecuted him. This exemplifies the way of life of a genuine practitioner of Buddhism, one overflowing with compassion and tolerance.
This spirit of wishing to relieve people of suffering and help them become happy is the basis of all our actions as SGI members.
It is perfectly natural for people of faith to have confidence and pride in their religion and share their beliefs with others. But, in doing so, they must always possess humility and a spirit of self-improvement—a willingness to listen to different ideas and points of view, learn from them, and keep striving to become better. Religion must not become a source of hatred and conflict among fellow human beings.
The greatest mission and responsibility of people of faith today is to strengthen their commitment to building a world free of the scourge of war and bring people together based on the shared goal of realizing peace and happiness for all humankind. To achieve that aim, people of different faiths must work together in a cooperative and collaborative spirit. At the same time, they should engage in what first Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi called “humanitarian competition,” inspiring each other to improve and contribute all the more to the welfare of humankind.
Having clarified its mission to realize world peace with its new Charter, the SGI went on to make further great strides as a truly humanistic global religious movement.
The following year, 1996, Shin’ichi Yamamoto continued his travels for peace, visiting Hong Kong in March and then North and Central America from late May through early July.
On June 8, during his trip to the United States, the University of Denver in Colorado presented him with an honorary degree of Doctor of Education.
On June 13, Shin’ichi delivered a lecture at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. In it, he defined a global citizen as a person of wisdom who recognizes the equality and interconnectedness of life; a person of courage who respects others’ differences; and a person of compassion who empathizes with others. The bodhisattva in Buddhism, he argued, is a model of just such a person, and education is the work of the bodhisattva, who brings benefit to self and others.
The next day, Shin’ichi visited the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and exchanged views over lunch with United Nations Under-Secretary-General Yasushi Akashi and UN ambassadors from various nations.
From June 24, he was scheduled to visit Cuba at the invitation of the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
Shin’ichi acted boldly. Action opens a new era.
With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Cuba had lost its most powerful supporter, the Soviet Union. As a result, it found itself increasingly isolated and facing harsh economic and political challenges. In February 1996, an incident occurred in which the Cuban air force shot down two U.S. civilian airplanes, prompting the United States to pass a congressional act (The Helms-Burton Act) strengthening its economic sanctions against Cuba, a development that further heightened tensions.
Shin’ichi resolved in his heart: “That is precisely why, as a person who wishes for world peace, I must go to Cuba. Because there are people there . . . . I want to contribute somehow to promoting educational and cultural exchange with Cuba!”
On June 17, a week before his scheduled trip to Cuba, Shin’ichi Yamamoto met and renewed his old friendship with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in New York City. Dr. Kissinger offered his thoughts on improving relations between the United States and Cuba. Shin’ichi responded: “It is my belief that rather than allowing short-term public opinion and vested interests to stand in our way, we must act with firm conviction and vision for the future and build a bridge for peace in the 21st century.”
The two men spoke frankly with one another.
Before traveling to Cuba, Shin’ichi flew to Miami, where he visited the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center for the first time and attended the 21st SGI General Meeting, together with representatives from 52 countries and territories.
On the afternoon of June 24, he made his first visit to the Bahamas, a nation of 700 islands in the Caribbean. At the time, there were no direct flights from the United States to Cuba, and the only way to go there was to travel by way of a third country. This trip to the Bahamas brought to 52 the number of countries and territories Shin’ichi had visited.
Two members, a man and a woman, were waiting to greet him at the airport.
Shin’ichi only had a stopover of about four hours or so, but he encouraged the members wholeheartedly and presented them with a short message he inscribed: “Here, too, the SGI exists. Long live SGI-Bahamas!”
Shin’ichi Yamamoto and his party departed from the Bahamas aboard a Soviet-made jet the Cuban government had provided for his trip, and flew to José Martí International Airport in Cuba’s capital, Havana.
Arriving just after 5:30 p.m. on June 24, they were greeted by the minister of culture and his wife, and numerous other government officials.
Shin’ichi thanked them sincerely and said: “I am just a private citizen, but with courage and action, I would like to change the divisions between peoples and nations into unity. I wish to do my utmost to open the way to peace for the 21st century.”
Though he was only going to be in Cuba for three days and two nights, he had vowed deeply in his heart to forge bonds of friendship with as many people as possible. He put his whole heart and being into each event and each encounter.
At 4:00 p.m. on June 25, Shin’ichi visited the University of Havana. In a ceremony at the university’s auditorium, Culture Minister Armando Hart presented him with a national honor—the Order of Felix Varela, First Grade—for his contributions to cultural exchange. Calling Shin’ichi “a tireless activist for peace,” he said that the award was an expression of the “solidarity of people who wish for peace.”
Next, the University of Havana conferred an honorary doctorate of letters upon Shin’ichi, who then gave a commemorative lecture titled “Building a Great Spiritual Bridge to the New Century.”
In the midst of the ceremony, the clear skies quickly darkened and a torrential downpour ensued. Lightning flashed outside the auditorium windows and thunder roared. In the tropical heat of Cuba, rain brought cool relief, but this was a very sudden and violent thunderstorm.
Stepping to the microphone, Shin’ichi began: “What marvelous thunder! It is the music of the heavens, the resounding drum, the resplendent symphony of the skies, congratulating the progress of humanity toward the victory of peace.
“And what wonderful rain! The skies are telling us that we must not allow ourselves to be defeated by hardships! We must advance courageously through the storm of adversity!”
The audience applauded, and everyone smiled. A deep, shared feeling spread through the hall.
In his lecture, Shin’ichi Yamamoto said: “I am deeply convinced of the need to create a civilization of hope and harmony, based on respect for human dignity, in the new millennium that will begin with the 21st century.”
He proposed three “bridges,” or connecting pathways, for that purpose. The first was the restoration of the wholeness of life, achieved through cultivating a poetic spirit that links the individual, society, and the universe; the second was bringing people together through empathy for the suffering of others; and the third was building a bridge to a brighter future through efforts devoted to education.
That evening, Shin’ichi met with Cuban President Fidel Castro for about 90 minutes at the Palace of the Revolution, the presidential residence, in Havana. Though known for always wearing military fatigues, President Castro was dressed in a suit and tie when he welcomed him with a smile. Shin’ichi sensed his wish for friendship and peace.
Their conversation covered many topics, including leadership succession, fostering capable individuals, politics, life philosophies, and worldviews. In their discussions, they affirmed their shared recognition of the vital importance of the power of dialogue and culture in achieving peace in the 21st century.
Shin’ichi stressed that the future of Cuba, and indeed the world, rested on education. He explained that the SGI was an international movement for peace, transcending political systems and based on the human being, calling it the inevitable conclusion and concrete expression of the Buddhist philosophy that all people are equally precious and worthy of respect.
President Castro welcomed Shin’ichi and his party wholeheartedly and declared his wish to take positive steps to promote exchange between Cuba and Japan to foster mutual understanding.
After their meeting, President Castro was presented with an honorary doctorate from Soka University. In accepting the honor, he said that he regarded this visit of an SGI delegation to Cuba as being very important, in that it exemplified how humanism contributes to peace. Noting Japan’s remarkable growth and development despite its lack of natural resources, its small land area, and its susceptibility to typhoons and earthquakes, he declared that the Japanese people had demonstrated to the world that nothing is impossible for human beings.
Through their encounter, Shin’ichi and President Castro forged a strong bond of friendship.
After Shin’ichi’s visit, Cuba stepped up its cultural and educational exchange with Japan.
On January 6, 2007, SGI-Cuba was officially recognized as a religious organization by the Cuban government, and a special signing ceremony was held.
The United States gradually relaxed its economic sanctions against Cuba, and in 2015, diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored.
On June 26, 1996, following his trip to Cuba, Shin’ichi made his first visit to Costa Rica, located next door to Panama and known as the “green paradise of Central America.” It was the 54th country he had visited. Costa Rica was a nation that had enshrined in its constitution the abolition of its military, and proclaimed its “perpetual, active and unarmed neutrality.”
On June 27, Shin’ichi met with Costa Rican President José María Figueres Olsen at the presidential offices in the capital, San José, after which he attended a gathering with SGI–Costa Rica members and presented them with a poem:
here, too, are
friends who have emerged from the Earth.
May you lead lives
of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity.
On June 28, the opening of the first Latin American showing of the “Nuclear Arms—Threat to Our World” exhibition was held, attended by the Costa Rican president and first lady, as well as former president and Nobel Peace laureate Óscar Arias Sánchez and many other distinguished guests.
The exhibition site, the Costa Rican Center for Science and Culture, included a Children’s Museum, and the happy voices of children playing there could be heard by those attending the opening ceremony. Shin’ichi rose to speak and said with a smile: “The sight and sound of these youngsters, boisterous and full of vitality, are the very image of peace. It is here that we can find the power to stem the tide of nuclear weapons. It is here we can find hope. Children are symbols of thriving life, while nuclear weapons are symbols of death and destruction.”
Shin’ichi further spoke of developing the power of life into a force surpassing the power of nuclear weapons, and expanding the solidarity of ordinary people to outpace the spread of such weapons. This, he argued, is an important objective for humanistic education, for the education of all people.
In 1997, the year after his trip to North and Central America, Shin’ichi Yamamoto visited Hong Kong in February, made his 10th trip to China in May, and traveled to India in October. Every day was a race against time.
In February 1998, he visited the Philippines and Hong Kong, and in May traveled to South Korea, visiting the SGI–South Korea Headquarters for the first time.
In May 1999, he made his third trip to South Korea, visiting Jeju Island.
In 2000, he traveled to Hong Kong again in February, and visited Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong in November and December.
On November 23, he met with Singapore’s President S. R. Nathan at his official residence. The president was a warmhearted man of firm convictions.
In 1974, a group of four terrorists, including members of the Japanese Red Army, attempted to blow up an oil refinery in Singapore, taking five of its employees hostage. President Nathan had been the director of the Security and Intelligence Division of the Defense Ministry at the time. He led the negotiations during the crisis, showing clearheadedness and unwavering resolve throughout. The terrorists demanded safe passage to Kuwait and that officials of the Japanese and Singaporean governments accompany them. Mr. Nathan volunteered to fly onboard the plane as a hostage. The incident eventually came to an end without a single casualty.
The most important quality required of leaders is to be prepared to give their all and take full responsibility in a crisis.
Whether one’s top priority as a leader is protecting oneself or protecting the people, one’s fellow citizens, becomes clear at a crucial moment and with the passage of time. The world today, more than ever, calls for leaders of dedication and integrity.
At his meeting with Shin’ichi, President Nathan said: “Singapore is a small country. It is a new country. It is a country of diverse ethnic groups, religions, and languages. Amid various difficult circumstances, the people of Singapore have advanced together toward a common goal.”
In the sense of responsibility with which the president lived, Shin’ichi saw the spirit behind Singapore’s dynamic development.
In response to Shin’ichi’s request for a message to the young people of the 21st century, President Nathan offered unsparing praise for the Soka youth: “I have seen the performances of Singapore Soka Association members a number of times in National Day parades here, and they are truly wonderful. I have also seen the performances of Soka Gakkai Malaysia members. They are all beautifully coordinated and disciplined, and truly captivating. I am always surprised and ask myself how they are able to put on such wonderful performances.
“And these young people are participating voluntarily, under their own direction. Their performances embody the teachings of Buddhism. In Singaporean society, too, the qualities of human character are becoming all the more important. In that sense as well, the Soka Gakkai is making a wonderful contribution to our society and nation.”
Shin’ichi was delighted by the president’s words. He was especially happy to see that trust and expectations for the Soka Gakkai had spread to this extent in Singaporean society and that his young successors had won such praise.
Finding joy, pleasure, and hope in the growth of youth who will shoulder the next generation—in the victory of one’s disciples—is the heart of the mentor. Such is the nature of the mentor-disciple bond.
On the following day, November 24, Shin’ichi was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Sydney in Australia. The presentation of the honor took place at the graduation ceremony for international students from Singapore and neighboring countries who were studying at the Australian university. The venue was a hotel in central Singapore.
The University of Sydney is the oldest university in Australia. It has a large international student population of about 3,000, many of whom are from Asian countries, including Singapore.
The university held special graduation ceremonies in both Singapore and Hong Kong for its international students, out of consideration for their families and friends who would like to see them graduate. This sensitivity and warm concern were expressions of the university’s student-centered philosophy.
The belief that universities exist for the sake of students is the firm foundation for humanistic education.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto entered the room with the chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor, and other university representatives to a rousing fanfare, and the University of Sydney’s Singapore graduation ceremony got under way.
Chancellor Leonie Kramer and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Judith Kinnear were both renowned women academics. The chancellor was also highly respected for her wide-ranging contributions to society, and had been named one of Australia’s National Living Treasures.
Deputy Vice Chancellor Kinnear read the award citation, and Chancellor Kramer personally handed Shin’ichi the doctoral diploma.
Next, diplomas were presented to the 45 graduates, each coming forward as their names were called. The chancellor addressed them warmly as she handed them their diplomas: “What will be your next challenge?” “Please make a positive contribution to society!” “It’s important to enjoy life as you move forward.”
It was a heartwarming scene, reminiscent of a mother encouraging and expressing affection for her children. Shin’ichi sensed the great power of education that is rich in love and kindness.
In his acceptance speech, he shared that the founder of Soka education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, had referred to Australia in his book The Geography of Human Life, published in 1903. Makiguchi, he said, used the example of his jacket being made from Australian wool to illustrate that our lives are intimately intertwined with the labors of countless people around the world. He also spoke of Makiguchi’s death in prison as a result of persecution by Japan’s militarist authorities during World War II.
Shin’ichi further stated: “At a time when the ideology of imperialism was at its height, Makiguchi urged an awakening to the realities of global interdependence. He advocated a philosophy of altruistic contribution, setting forth a vision of creative coexistence and mutual prosperity that embraced all of humankind.
“He also maintained that humanity must move beyond reliance on what we would now term ‘hard power,’ that is, the use of military, political, or economic might to dominate others. Instead, he advocated that humanity must aspire toward a world in which the ‘soft power’ of culture, spirituality, and character inspires a mutual striving toward humanistic excellence and achievement.”
Shin’ichi believed that the 21st century must be an age when, based on humanism and consideration for others, we strive for harmonious coexistence that allows both ourselves and others to flourish.
On November 25, Shin’ichi Yamamoto visited the Singapore Soka Kindergarten. It was his second time to visit the kindergarten, but his first to the new Tampines campus.
Shin’ichi and his wife, Mineko, were presented with flowers by two of the children. Shin’ichi then shook hands with the kindergartners one by one, saying thank you to each of them. Some of them squealed with joy while others were shy.
“I am so happy to meet all of you,” said Shin’ichi. “Yesterday, I was shown an album containing your drawings. They were all very good!”
The children then gave a delightful choral performance, singing in Japanese while swaying side to side with the music. Shin’ichi clapped along as they sang.
“Your Japanese is great!” he said.
They beamed with pride.
The kindergarten principal, who observed this exchange, later said: “You could just see the children’s faces light up. They looked so happy to be showered with such affection.”
Cards with messages written on them in English were posted around the school: “Sensei, you are creating world peace. That’s why I want to become a pilot and fly people to many different countries.” “Sensei, you work too hard. Thank you. I will study my hardest to respond to your love.”
Shin’ichi said to Mineko: “How wonderful! They make me look forward to the 21st century!” He saw a rainbow of hope reaching into the future.
After visiting the kindergarten, Shin’ichi and those accompanying him went to the Singapore Soka Association Headquarters. It was his first visit. There, he attended a meeting commemorating 40 years of the SGI’s worldwide kosen-rufu movement.
In his speech at the meeting, Shin’ichi quoted Nichiren Daishonin’s words “Only the seven characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are the seed for attaining Buddhahood” (WND-2, 804). He then said: “Whatever happens, maintain faith in the Gohonzon and keep chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Just share all your joys and sorrows with the Gohonzon as you would with a caring mother or father. Pour out your whole heart. The Gohonzon will understand everything.”