Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 21–30
Nichiren Daishonin was dedicated to the happiness of the people who were struggling with hardships and suffering. And he aspired to achieve kosen-rufu not only in the country of Japan, but throughout the entire world—that is, to realize happiness and peace for all humankind. When we base ourselves on this spirit of the Daishonin, we will quite naturally come to believe in the importance of living together in harmony with all people and working for the common good of humanity.
In February 1952, during a time of intensifying East-West tensions in a world split by the United States and Soviet Union, Josei Toda advocated the concept of a global human family. This, too, was an expression of the ideals of Nichiren Buddhism.
As practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, Soka Gakkai members embrace a life philosophy that views everyone as precious, equal, and deserving of happiness. When they see others suffering, they empathize and take compassionate action to encourage them out of a wish that they become happy. Broadening understanding and support for this way of thinking and living is the key to building a solid grassroots movement for peace that can unite people around the world.
In April 1982, war broke out between the United Kingdom and Argentina over control of the Falkland Islands (known as Islas Malvinas in Spanish) in the South Atlantic Ocean. Fighting continued for several weeks, but in mid-June the Argentine military surrendered, and the war ended. It was not until February 1990, however, that diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored. Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the war, with more than 900 killed in all.
Leaders of SGI-UK and SGI-Argentina, including their respective general directors, knew each other from participating together in various training courses in Japan. While war was being fought between their two countries and hostility grew among their people, the SGI members in Britain and Argentina started chanting together for peace. Thinking of fellow members in the other country, each prayed fervently for the war to end.
American humanitarian and social activist Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) declared: “If peace is going to come about in the world, the way to start is by getting a better understanding between individuals. From this germ a better understanding between groups of people will grow.”1
Trust between human beings is the cornerstone of peace.
In November 1983, the year after the Falklands War, SGI-UK General Director Raymond Gordon spoke about that time in an interview featured in the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper: “Virtually every member in the UK chanted earnestly to the Gohonzon for the war to come to an end as soon as possible. When I called a leader in Argentina [SGI-Argentina General Director Kazuya Okida] to see on how everyone was doing, I learned that he and the members there, like us, were chanting for peace.
“Hearing this, I felt that though our two countries were separated by a great distance and sadly embroiled in a military conflict, we shared the same wish for peace. We were definitely united by warm human bonds and a genuine commitment to peace.”
Gordon prayed for his country Britain to change its karma.
In May 1982, while the Falklands War was still under way, Gordon visited Japan and accompanied Shin’ichi Yamamoto to the Peace Park in Nagasaki. There, he laid a wreath at the base of the Peace Statue, praying for the repose of the atomic bomb victims and the realization of lasting world peace, including an end to the war in the Falklands.
Fortunately, the war ended the following month, without it spreading any further.
In March 1983, a little less than a year after the conflict, SGI-UK held an audio-visual peace exhibition in London, titled World Peace Exposition and with the central theme of “Choose Life.” Television and radio stations, including the BBC, as well as leading newspapers, covered the event and praised it highly.
When a philosophy of respect for the supreme dignity and preciousness of life becomes deeply rooted in the hearts of people all around the world, it will be possible for humanity to come together in the cause of peace. At the most fundamental level, building peace means firmly establishing this philosophy and tirelessly expanding the circle of those who embrace and support it.
In March 1986, representatives of SGI-UK and SGI-Argentina participated in a joint training session at the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Tokyo. They were all members who had continued chanting together for peace. Any initial tension that might have existed was swiftly dispelled. The members pledged to keep fighting together as champions of peace until war no longer exists in the world.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto believed that steadily carrying out activities for kosen-rufu, a movement deeply rooted in the lives of ordinary people and dedicated to spreading the Buddhist philosophy of peace and humanism around the world, was the key to building an unshakable foundation for lasting peace. The power of the people and grassroots efforts are essential for creating a sound public consensus against war and nuclear weapons and are also the driving force for uniting people around the world.
In addition, he was deeply determined to continue engaging in dialogues with leaders of many countries and to work in tandem with the United Nations to create a global trend toward peace.
He had also decided to put a special effort into educational and cultural exchange with universities around the globe, so that the students who would shoulder the future could form broad-ranging bonds and networks of solidarity for promoting friendship and peace.
While the realms of government and politics tend to be swept along by the tumultuous shifting currents of the times, universities and other centers of learning possess a universality and permanence. The students who graduate from each country’s highest institutions of learning go on to become the next generation of leaders who will be responsible for the development of their societies. In addition, exchange and interaction among the youth of different countries are certain to become a new force for uniting the world in the age of globalization.
Shin’ichi poured all of his energy into his activities. To encourage members, he traveled even more extensively throughout Japan as well as overseas.
In May and June 1983, he visited the United States and Europe.
In February and March 1984, he traveled again to the United States, and also to South America. On that trip, he visited Brazil for the first time in 18 years and met with President João Figueiredo—who in May 1982 had sent him a personal letter inviting him to visit the country. Their meeting took place on February 21 at the Presidential Office in Brasília, the nation’s capital.
On his visit to Brazil 18 years earlier, Shin’ichi had been under constant surveillance by the military government’s political police. Some members of the government at that time had accepted spurious rumors claiming that the Soka Gakkai was actually a political organization masquerading as a religion. Such rumors were spread by certain Japanese Brazilians and others hostile to the organization due to misunderstanding and prejudice.
From that time on, SGI-Brazil members had launched into an all-out effort to promote public understanding of and trust in the Soka Gakkai in Brazil.
Misunderstandings can be created in a moment, but it takes years and decades of hard work to dispel them and build trust.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto had planned to visit Brazil in 1974, but his visa application was denied and the visit had not been realized. SGI-Brazil members regretted that they hadn’t been able to do more to dispel public misunderstanding about the Soka Gakkai. They vowed deep in their hearts to exert themselves even harder in their efforts to engage in dialogue and positively contribute to society. They were determined that, through doing so, they would promote understanding for the organization and its activities and create an age when the Brazilian government would actively welcome a visit by President Yamamoto.
A dauntless spirit fosters the causes for victory amid the mire of adversity.
Finally, in February 1984, Shin’ichi was able to visit Brazil and meet with President João Figueiredo.
During their meeting, President Figueiredo informed Shin’ichi that he would be making a visit to Japan in late May or early June that year. They also discussed such issues as scientific and technological cooperation between Brazil and Japan, the transition from military to civilian rule in Brazil, nuclear weapons, and prospects for the future. In particular, President Figueiredo expressed emphatic agreement with Shin’ichi’s suggestion that face-to-face discussions among the world’s leaders are the path to a world without war.
While in Brasília, Shin’ichi met with a number of top government officials, including the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of education and culture. He also took a group photo with 600 members. In addition, he visited the University of Brasília and made a donation of books to the university library.
On February 25, Shin’ichi visited Ibirapuera Gymnasium, an indoor sporting arena in São Paulo, where an open rehearsal for the 1st SGI-Brazil Grand Culture Festival was being held. After walking around the large circular stage in the center of the arena, his arms raised in the air in a gesture of greeting and congratulation as the crowd cheered, Shin’ichi took the microphone and said with deep emotion: “I am truly delighted to be able to meet you all, my dear friends and noble emissaries of the Buddha, in such happy circumstances after 18 years. This magnificent culture festival is certain to shine brilliantly in the history of Brazil and the annals of kosen-rufu.
“The incredible efforts you have made, the solid development you have achieved, and the beautiful heart-to-heart network of solidarity you have built over the years are truly amazing. With the deepest appreciation, and moved to tears by all you have done, I would like to wholeheartedly applaud and commend you, wishing that I could personally embrace and shake hands with each one of you.”
The crowd roared with joy, and a lively cheer—Brazil’s victory chant—rose in the stadium: “É pique, é pique, é pique, pique, pique! . . . .”
On February 26, Shin’ichi attended the SGI-Brazil Grand Culture Festival, the theme of which was “Song of Peace for the World in the 21st Century.” During the festival, a message from President João Figueiredo was read.
In it, the president acknowledged SGI-Brazil’s efforts to promote culture, education, and world peace, as well as its broad-ranging contributions to the cause of nuclear weapons abolition and other peace-related issues. He also expressed his earnest hope that the organization would succeed in realizing its lofty ideals.
This was a striking difference from a decade earlier, when the government viewed the Soka Gakkai with intense suspicion and even rejected Shin’ichi’s application for a visa to visit the country. It was eloquent testimony to the success of SGI-Brazil members in building trust in society and their steadfast efforts to engage in dialogue with people from all walks of life and backgrounds. It was also an indisputable example of the kind of positive transformation described by the Buddhist principle of “changing poison into medicine.”
In Peru, the next stop on Shin’ichi’s itinerary, he met with President Fernando Belaúnde Terry at the presidential palace in Lima.
A world-renowned architect, Belaúnde became president in 1963, but a military coup in 1968 forced him into exile in the United States. Eventually, he returned to Peru, and was reelected to the office of president in the 1980 elections that restored the country to democracy.
In recognition of Shin’ichi’s important contributions to culture, education, and world peace, President Belaúnde presented him with the Order of the Sun of Peru in the Grade of Grand Cross.
That same day, Shin’ichi also visited the National University of San Marcos, one of the oldest universities in South America, and made a donation of books to the university library. The university had previously conferred an honorary professorship on Shin’ichi at the April 1981 entrance ceremony for the Soka Junior and Senior High Schools in Tokyo. The university president and other university officials had traveled all the way to Japan to present him with the honor.
Shin’ichi engaged in continuous efforts to solidify this path of educational exchange.
In 2017, the National University of San Marcos also presented him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contributions to peace and education based on humanistic ideals.
The path of exchange, once opened, must be traversed repeatedly to consolidate and widen it into a great road.
During his visit to Peru, Shin’ichi also attended the 1st SGI-Peru World Peace Youth Culture Festival (on March 3, 1984), where he addressed the gathering of some 10,000: “You have adorned your youth with victory. I would like to reach out to the hearts of each one of you and firmly shake your hands with utmost sincerity and affection.
“Culture is the flower of the nation. Cultural activities are equivalent to activities for peace, and ultimately bring happiness to blossom in people’s lives. Seeking no recognition or personal gain, and with the pure hearts of youth, you have overcome every challenge and difficulty to successfully conduct this marvelous culture festival, which will go down in the history of Peruvian cultural events. In doing so, you have qualified yourselves to lead lives of brilliant victory.”
Noting that a rainbow had graced the skies over Lima earlier that day, Shin’ichi expressed his conviction that it was “a symbol indicating that Peru and SGI-Peru will enter an age that shines like a beautiful rainbow.” And he said: “I am sincerely praying for the prosperity, peace, and brilliant future of my beloved Peru.”
Shin’ichi also attended three gongyo sessions held at the SGI-Peru Culture Center. In addition to praising the contributions of the late general director of SGI-Peru, Vicente Seiken Kishibe, he stressed that the teaching of the Mystic Law is the driving force for happiness, with the power to benefit the country and make it flourish. Those who have faith in the Mystic Law, he said, possess conviction and happiness throughout their lives and for eternity. His words were imbued with his wish that they would all strive with unwavering faith and become champions of happiness.
On his trip to the United States and Central America in February 1987, Shin’ichi also visited the Dominican Republic, known as “the pearl of the Caribbean.” He met with President Joaquín Balaguer, and also received the Order of Christopher Columbus in the Grade of Grand Cross, one of the nation’s highest honors.
Shin’ichi also visited the SGI–Dominican Republic Community Center (in Santo Domingo) and attended a gongyo session commemorating the 21st anniversary of the start of the kosen-rufu movement in the country.
He wished to sincerely commend and encourage the pioneer members who had migrated there from Japan. Struggling against despair while working arduously to till the stony, uncultivated soil of their new homeland, they surmounted one hardship after another to build the foundations of kosen-rufu in the Dominican Republic.
Among those present at the gongyo session were noble pioneers of kosen-rufu in the Dominican Republic, their suntanned faces beaming. Addressing them with a smile, Shin’ichi said: “Through your trailblazing work for kosen-rufu, you are fully experiencing the immeasurable beneficial power of the Gohonzon, and leading good lives with fortitude and joy. That in itself demonstrates that kosen-rufu in the Dominican Republic contributes to society’s prosperity, and indicates that a magnificent, hope-filled future is in store.”
Further encouraging them, he said he was praying that they would all, without exception, enjoy happy, successful, and long, fulfilling lives.
Afterwards, Shin’ichi attended the First SGI–Dominican Republic General Meeting.
The next day (February 10, 1987), Shin’ichi visited the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. Rector Fernando Sánchez Martínez announced with a smile that, in recognition of Shin’ichi’s broad-ranging humanitarian activities as SGI president, the university had decided to present him with the title of honorary professor in its School of Law and Political Science. The conferral took place that same day.
On the day of his departure from the Dominican Republic, Shin’ichi laid a wreath at a memorial to the country’s founding fathers in Santo Domingo’s Parque Independencia (Independence Park), after which he took a group photo with more than 200 local members.
During his visit to Panama (February 17–20), Shin’ichi met with President Eric Arturo Delvalle, and was awarded the Order of Vasco Núñez de Balboa in the Grade of Grand Official, one of the nation’s highest honors.
Attending a commemorative gongyo session at the SGI-Panama Culture Center, Shin’ichi stressed the importance of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
While in Panama, he also visited the University of Panama and met with Rector Abdiel Adames. In 2000, the university awarded Shin’ichi an honorary doctorate.
All such honors were recognitions of the SGI’s efforts for peace, culture, and education, as well as affirmations of the praise and trust members of each country had won through their contributions to society.
Shin’ichi regarded receiving these awards on behalf of the SGI as a way of paying tribute to the great achievements of his predecessors, Soka Gakkai Presidents Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, as well as honoring the dedicated efforts of his fellow members. He hoped that these awards would be a source of joy and pride for the members as they forged ahead in their activities for kosen-rufu.
Shin’ichi poured his energies into meeting and talking with leaders of various countries. He believed it would help pave the way to realizing world peace and would promote understanding of the Soka Gakkai, thereby protecting the members in those countries.
In 1985, he paid a courtesy call on Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the State Guesthouse in Tokyo, when the Indian leader was visiting Japan. They discussed peace, fostering youth, and India-China relations.
In May 1987, Shin’ichi attended the opening of the “Nuclear Arms—Threat to Our World” exhibition in Moscow. In his remarks on that occasion, he spoke of the fervent wish of the world’s people for peace. He also met and spoke with Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov. In France, at the beginning of June, he met and exchanged views with Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and Senate President Alain Poher.
On a trip to Asian countries in February 1988, he met with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
While visiting Europe in 1989, he had the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson of Sweden, and President François Mitterrand of France. During this trip, he gave a lecture, as an invited speaker, on the subject “Art and Spirituality in the East and the West,” at the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France in Paris.
That same year, in Tokyo, he met with Chancellor Franz Vranitzky of Austria and President Virgilio Barco Vargas of Colombia. The Colombian head of state presented Shin’ichi with the Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit during their meeting.
In May 1990, during his seventh visit to China, Shin’ichi had frank and open discussions with Premier Li Peng and Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin.
In July that year, on his fifth visit to the Soviet Union, he had his first meeting with President Mikhail Gorbachev, at the Kremlin.
Saying that he was very pleased to meet him, Shin’ichi told Gorbachev with a touch of humor: “I have come to have an argument with you. Let’s make sparks fly, and talk about everything honestly and openly, for the sake of humanity and for the sake of Japan-Soviet relations!”
President Gorbachev responded to Shin’ichi’s remark with humor of his own: “I have heard a great deal about your activities, but I didn’t realize you were so passionate! I, too, like honest and open dialogue. I feel as if we are old friends—people who have known each other a long time and are overjoyed to be meeting today in person for the first time.”
Shin’ichi nodded and said in return: “I feel the same way. But you are a leader who is the focus of world attention, a statesman of conviction who is fundamentally concerned with peace for all humanity, a leader who possesses charisma and integrity as well as lively passion and intelligence. I am just an ordinary citizen. Today, I would like to become your student and ask your views on a variety of subjects—for the people of the world who are waiting to hear your message, as well as for posterity.”
With the broad smile that he was famous for, President Gorbachev said: “You beat me to the punch before I could welcome you properly! You could never be my student. As a champion of humanistic values and ideals, you are making tremendous contributions to humanity. I have profound respect and admiration for you. Your ideals resonate closely with me, and I have a deep interest in the philosophical side of your activities. The ‘new thinking’ that is part of our program of perestroika (reform) is like a branch of the tree of your philosophy.”
Shin’ichi shared his thoughts frankly: “I am also a supporter of perestroika and the ‘new thinking’ you seek to foster. They have much in common with my ideas—which is really only to be expected, since both you and I are focused on human beings. All human beings share a common humanity. You are a philosopher-statesman, for whom I have the highest hopes.”
Twenty-five years earlier, Shin’ichi had proposed the idea of a “humanistic socialism.” President Gorbachev, meanwhile, had raised the banner of reform to create a “socialism with a human face.”
When people base themselves on the universal standpoint of their shared humanity, it is possible for them to come together in harmony.
President Gorbachev spoke of Shin’ichi Yamamoto’s actions for the betterment of society and for peace.
“I have the highest regard for your intellectual and social activities and the movement for peace that you are leading, one reason being that there is a spiritual aspect to all your endeavors. We are now trying to gradually incorporate such spiritual elements as morality and ethics into government. While it certainly is a challenge, I think that if we succeed, the results will be remarkable. At present, people may not believe this is possible, but I would like to believe that it is.”
Shin’ichi and President Gorbachev also agreed on the importance of the alliance and integration of politics and culture. They also discussed a wide range of other topics, including Soviet-Japan relations, the present state of perestroika and its significance, and their hopes for youth.
In his meeting with President Gorbachev, Shin’ichi had one agenda item he hoped to accomplish. While nearly 45 years had passed since the end of World War II, no Soviet head of state had ever visited Japan, and many were wondering whether Gorbachev would be the first. But in a meeting with a delegation from the Japanese Diet two days earlier, he had made no mention of a trip to Japan.
Shin’ichi asked the Soviet leader: “Where did you go on your honeymoon? Why didn’t you visit Japan?”
With a smile, he added: “Many Japanese women are very much hoping that you will visit your neighbor Japan with your wife, Raisa—either in the spring when the cherry trees are in bloom, or in the fall when the autumn leaves are so lovely.”
“Thank you. I’ll put that on my schedule,” he replied without hesitation.
Shin’ichi repeated his invitation: “As a philosopher who loves Japan and Asia and who wishes for world peace, I sincerely hope that you will visit our country.”
“I most certainly will,” President Gorbachev declared. “I am prepared to engage in a dialogue on a wide range of topics. . . . If possible, I’d like to visit Japan in the spring.”
The doors to a new age were beginning to open wide.
- *1Eleanor Roosevelt, This Troubled World (New York: H. C. Kinsey and Company, Inc., 1938), p. 18.