Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 31–40
During his conversation with Shin’ichi, President Gorbachev shared his honest feelings: “As far as I’m concerned, no topic is out of bounds. Please freely say what you wish to say. I’ll do the same.
“In the past, most of my discussions with Japanese have been rather stereotyped. But I believe that if we begin to work together in a spirit of cooperation, any problems that we have can be resolved. When representatives of two great peoples gather, but only focus on preconditions or issuing ultimatums to one another, nothing will be achieved.”
In these words, Shin’ichi sensed President Gorbachev’s commitment to dialogue.
Dialogue is fruitful when both parties set aside the trappings of power and position to discuss various problems in depth and frankly and openly express their viewpoints. They should never go in to any discussion having concluded in advance what the outcome will be. By discussing matters thoroughly, with flexibility and perseverance, a new way forward will open.
The conversation between President Gorbachev and Shin’ichi lasted about 70 minutes.
News of their meeting was sent immediately around the world. It was also prominently reported in the Soviet Union by Radio Moscow, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda, and the official government newspaper Izvestia.
President Gorbachev’s announcement that he would visit Japan signified a new ray of light in Soviet-Japan relations, which had been at a stalemate for many years.
From that evening, the news of the two men’s meeting and President Gorbachev’s upcoming visit to Japan was reported on NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting network, as well as other television and radio stations. All the national newspapers gave it front-page coverage.
In April 1991, the following year, President Gorbachev made his promised trip to Japan.
Shin’ichi paid a courtesy call on the Soviet leader at the State Guesthouse in Tokyo. Delighted by their reunion, they engaged in a lively conversation. Shin’ichi sincerely praised President Gorbachev for his courage in sacrificing his personal comfort to wage the difficult struggle of perestroika for the sake of the Soviet Union and humanity. Both expressed their strong hopes for enduring friendship between their two countries, a friendship now dawning as a brilliant sun to illuminate the future.
On October 31, 1990, the area in front of the Seikyo Shimbun building in Tokyo resounded with the cheers of some 500 youth. On that day, Shin’ichi Yamamoto, together with youth division representatives, welcomed Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement and deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC), and engaged in a dialogue with him.
Mr. Mandela, a champion of human rights, had been imprisoned for 10,000 days—more than 27 years—but, in the end, had triumphed in his struggle against discrimination. The following year (1991), he became ANC president, and, in 1994, was elected president of South Africa in the country’s first election open to all races.
“I welcome you with profound respect as a hero of the people!” Shin’ichi said to Mr. Mandela as he stepped out of the car.
The South African leader smiled warmly and replied: “I am honored to meet you. I had been thinking that, if I visit Japan, I must meet you.”
As their conversation began, Shin’ichi expressed his gratitude that Mr. Mandela had come to see him, and sincerely praised the ANC leader for his struggle. He said: “You have demonstrated that justice triumphs in the end. You have given courage to people all over the world.”
While in prison, Mr. Mandela organized a system through which prisoners could teach one another their special knowledge and skills. And he fought against countless obstacles, successfully expanding the right of political prisoners to learn while incarcerated. In this way, he won a victory over what he described as the prison’s tendency to undermine the human spirit, negate intelligence, and create mindless, robot-like inmates.1
Touching on the subject of Mr. Mandela’s struggle in prison, Shin’ichi said: “I think the fact that you transformed prison into a place for learning, a ‘Mandela University’ of sorts, is particularly noteworthy. I am deeply struck by the passion with which you have always promoted education wherever you are and persisted in striving to elevate yourself.”
For people with an unflagging commitment to self-improvement, anywhere can be a place of learning.
In response to Shin’ichi’s praise of his achievements, Mr. Mandela responded: “Thank you for your warm welcome. You are internationally renowned, Mr. Yamamoto, and well known in my country as well. Your role as the leader of an organization creating lasting value for humanity and using that value to bring people together is very important in the world.”
He added with a smile: “I’ve wanted to meet you ever since I first learned about you and the SGI, and now that I am in Japan, I couldn’t leave without seeing you.”
His eyes shining, he said: “My meeting with you is a source of illumination, strength, and hope.”
Great leaders value dialogue, using all it has to offer as fuel for further growth and development.
Thanking Mr. Mandela for his kind words, Shin’ichi praised the South African leader for his travels around the world since his release from prison to rally international support for the anti-apartheid movement. Mr. Mandela had visited as many as 30 nations in Africa, Europe, and North America and met with their leaders. Now, he was doing the same in Asia and Oceania.
With the intent of offering sustained support to the anti-apartheid movement, Shin’ichi made a number of suggestions. These included welcoming students from the African National Congress, young people who would shoulder Africa’s future, to study at Soka University and inviting South African artists to perform in Japan under the auspices of the Min-On Concert Association. He also proposed holding a comprehensive exhibition tentatively titled “Apartheid and Human Rights” that, with the cooperation of the appropriate international organizations, could also be shown around the globe. He further proposed holding in Japan an anti-apartheid themed photography exhibition as well as human rights seminars on apartheid and other topics.
His suggestions arose from his strong conviction that it was important not only to foster friendship between Japan and South Africa through educational and cultural exchange, but also to raise people’s awareness about apartheid and expand in Japan and around the world support for protecting human rights.
Changing people’s awareness is essential to ushering in an age of human rights.
Shin’ichi said that Mr. Mandela’s actions marked him as a great humanistic educator in the broadest sense, and that Soka University wished to confer upon him its Award of Highest Honor in recognition of his efforts. The Soka University president, who was also at the meeting, then presented Mr. Mandela with the award.
Shin’ichi went on to note that South Africa is a rich treasure trove of flowers, and that the Cape region is home to more than 7,000 plant species. He introduced the beautiful term “human flowers” that appears in the Lotus Sutra, which he explained is the king of all Buddhist scriptures.
“Human flowers” are mentioned in “The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs” (5th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra (cf. LSOC5, 142). In that chapter, living beings with their differing qualities and capacities are likened to the great variety of plants, while the Buddha’s teachings are likened to rain that falls impartially to nourish them all, enabling them equally to bring their Buddha nature into full flower.
As exemplified by the Lotus Sutra, Buddhism since its inception has opposed discrimination in any form. It rejects discrimination based on caste or social class, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, profession, or background. As a result, Buddhism underwent numerous persecutions by the established institutions and authorities.
Nichiren Daishonin called himself the “son of a chandala family” (WND-1, 202). Identifying himself with those of the most marginalized classes, who are the target of discrimination, he fought to spread the Buddhist philosophy of absolute equality.
Shin’ichi stressed that the SGI, reflecting Buddhism’s history and ethos of fighting for human rights, was promoting a movement for peace, culture, and education based on Buddhism that was open to all people. He added that it was clear from the long-term perspective that the cause of a nation’s development is education. The reason being, he said, that as knowledgeable and aware individuals increase in number, more people are able to see the reality of their society and clearly distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil.
Shin’ichi also presented the South African champion of human rights with a poem he had composed expressing his respect and admiration, which read in part:
Let me offer the highest praise,
for the great power of your spirit,
for the indomitable strength of your convictions.
With profoundest respect, I declare you
my comrade in spirit,
who walks the way of humanism
as the proud Conscience of Africa.
When the interpreter had finished reading the poem, Shin’ichi stood and firmly shook the hand of the human rights warrior.
Mr. Mandela appeared deeply moved as they clasped each other’s hands. Shin’ichi said to him: “Never forget that you have comrades in Japan, and all around the world. And their numbers will grow in the future.”
He told him that he had been deeply impressed by the closing words of the statement Mr. Mandela delivered immediately after his release from prison in February 1990. They were words originally spoken by Mr. Mandela at his trial 26 years earlier (on April 20, 1964). Shin’ichi read them aloud:
“I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”2
“Your spirit is distilled in this statement. I, too, have been walking the path of a warrior for peace, human rights, and justice, which is why these words continue to resonate so deeply in my heart.”
Mr. Mandela replied: “The great harvest we have reaped here today are your words of wisdom. Medals may be destroyed; award certificates may be burned. Words of wisdom, however, are imperishable. In this sense, today, we have received a gift exceeding any medal or award. Hearing your words, we will leave here as better people than when we arrived. I will never forget you.”
“The gratitude I feel is even more profound,” said Shin’ichi.
Genuine dialogue is a source of mutual inspiration and illumination.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto and Mr. Mandela’s animated conversation continued, and the 50 minutes scheduled for their meeting flew by in no time. As they walked together after the meeting, Shin’ichi said: “All great leaders experience persecution. This is a constant of history. Overcoming such persecution and triumphing in one’s struggle is what makes a person great. You will no doubt continue to be the target of insidious attacks, but true justice will be demonstrated 100 or 200 years from now. Please take good care of yourself!”
In a way, Shin’ichi was also addressing himself. The hearts of these two men, both fighting for the happiness of humanity, resonated warmly with one another.
Following his meeting with Nelson Mandela, Shin’ichi continued to pursue his citizen diplomacy for the sake of peace with even greater vigor. Each encounter was an earnest effort to spark mutual inspiration through communication at the deepest level.
In November 1990, a month after his meeting with Nelson Mandela, Shin’ichi met in quick succession with a number of other African leaders, including former Nigerian President Yakubu Gowon and Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda. That same month, he also engaged in dialogues with Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev and Turkish President Turgut Özal. In 1991, the following year, he met with Philippine President Corazon Aquino, German President Richard von Weizsäcker, British Prime Minister John Major, and other leaders.
Talking together, sharing hopes for peace, and forging heart-to-heart ties—such dialogue constitutes a voluntary, gradualist approach to solving problems. Genuine dialogue continues until it bears fruit, which is why it requires such perseverance and spiritual tenacity.
In contrast, those who adopt an extremist approach that brooks no questions often resort to aggression because of inner weakness. It is in fact a declaration of the defeat of their humanity, leading to a dependence on violence and other forms of coercion to attain given ends.
Uniting people’s hearts through dialogue is a force that creates a network for peace.
Shin’ichi met not only with the presidents and prime ministers of various nations, but also with leading figures in academia, the arts, and education from all over the world—Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Africa.
Among those he met during the period from December 1990 to mid-1991 alone were Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) Director Sverre Lodgaard, University of Montreal Vice Rector René Simard, Harvard University Professor Emeritus John Montgomery, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor Zaragoza, University of the Philippines President José Abueva, Chinese University of Hong Kong Vice-Chancellor Charles K. Kao, and Argentina’s University of Palermo Rector Ricardo Popovsky.
Further, in his effort to forge genuine bonds with leaders and thinkers around the world, Shin’ichi not only engaged in friendly dialogues, but also presented many of them with poems he composed to convey his thoughts and express his admiration.
In China, these included Buddhist Association of China President Zhao Puchu; Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairperson Deng Yingchao, wife of the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai; and Peking University President Ding Shisun. In the Soviet Union, he dedicated a poem to the late Moscow State University Rector Rem Khokhlov and presented poems to Valentina Tereshkova, chairperson of the Union of Soviet Societies for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries; Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev; and others. He also composed poems for such figures as Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi; former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Argentine President Raúl Alfonsín; Peru’s National University of San Marcos Rector Juan de Dios Guevara; and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
There are invisible “golden strings” within each person’s heart. Poetry can produce a deep resonance that eventually becomes an uplifting melody of friendship and peace.
The person who truly embraces ideals
will find that ideals are her ally.
The person who truly practices justice
will find that justice is her friend.
The person who truly protects the people
will find the people on her side.3
This is a passage from the poem “Shine Brilliantly! Crown of the Mother of the Philippines,” which Shin’ichi composed for Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who stood up for the people of her country, carrying on her husband’s cause after he was assassinated.
Shin’ichi also continued composing poems for his dedicated fellow members around the world to encourage and offer them guidance for their activities and lives as they strove tirelessly for kosen-rufu.
While visiting Europe and North America in 1981, he presented poems to the youth division members of France and the United States.4 That same year, during a guidance trip to Kyushu, including Oita and Kumamoto prefectures, he presented the poem “Youth, Scale the Mountain of Kosen-rufu of the 21st Century!” to the youth division members throughout Japan and the world. Subsequently, he went on to devote even greater energies to composing lengthy poems for members.
For example, in 1987 alone, he wrote “Arise, the Sun of the Century” (for SGI-USA), “The Flowers of Panama” (for SGI-Panama), “Eternal Current of the Amazon” (for SGI-Brazil), “Great Sun of the Caribbean” (for SGI–Dominican Republic), “Flower of Culture, Castle of Life” (for SGI-France), “Toll the Bell of the New Renaissance” (for SGI-Italy), “Across the Seven Seas and Beyond to the Century of Humanity” (for SGI-UK), “Symphony of Peace Resounding on the Rhine” (for SGI-Germany), and “A Rainbow over Niagara” (for SGI-Canada).
That same year, Shin’ichi also presented poems to the Japanese members, including “Winds of Happiness—The Skies of Chubu” and “Green Haven—An Ode to Shikoku.” Also, the following year, in addition to “Dome of Peace, Song of Triumph” for members in Hiroshima, he composed poems for Hokuriku, Okinawa, and Tohoku, and went on to present poems to every prefecture and region of Japan and each ward of Tokyo.
In “A Rainbow over Niagara,” dedicated to the members of SGI-Canada, he wrote:
Nichiren Daishonin states,
“The Law does not spread by itself.
Because people propagate it,
Both the people and the Law are worthy of respect.”
This is why, my friends,
You must thoroughly polish your character.
Faith is manifested in your daily life;
Faith is reflected in your character.
We must show that
A person of strong faith is one
Whose well-rounded personality
Embraces all with compassion.
Only the brilliance of your character
Will make it possible to expand the circles
Of the Law forever wider.
Through his poems, Shin’ichi offered guidance and direction in life and faith, continuing to impart hope and courage to members.
In the decade since stepping down as third Soka Gakkai president (in 1979), Shin’ichi Yamamoto had traveled and spoken tirelessly to create a great tide of kosen-rufu with the wish that it would open the way to world peace.
Now, the world was approaching a major turning point—the end of the Cold War.
This division of the world into two camps or blocs—East and West, communist and capitalist—can be traced back to the Yalta Conference held in February 1945, a few months before the end of World War II. The Allied leaders—U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin—met in the city of Yalta, in the southern part of the Crimean Peninsula, where they discussed and reached agreements on plans for after the war, the establishment of the United Nations, the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Japan, and other topics.
This created the framework for the order of the postwar world, in which the countries of Europe were divided into the capitalist Western bloc, allied with the United States, and the communist Eastern bloc, allied with the Soviet Union. After the war, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in an ongoing nuclear arms race as they vied to achieve their goals. For the Soviet Union, that was to spread socialism around the world, and for the U.S., to bring the countries of the world under its sphere of influence.
Because no direct military engagement between the two nuclear powers took place, this conflict was dubbed a “cold war,” but there was the ever-present danger that it could escalate into a “hot war.”
As tensions mounted between the two sides, a wall was built in Germany in 1961, separating East Berlin from West Berlin, and citizens of the two zones were prohibited from traveling freely to the other zone.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 made the world painfully aware of the volatility of a situation that could erupt at any time into full-scale nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The conflict between the Eastern and Western blocs spread to Asia and other parts of the world, leading to tragic wars such as that which unfolded in Vietnam.
In addition, tensions rose within the socialist sphere between the Soviet Union and China, bringing even greater divisiveness and complexity to the overall conflict.
Division begets division, which is why it is so important to establish a unifying philosophy that returns to the universal common denominator of our shared humanity.
The world is in a constant state of turbulent change. No age is static; no society stands still. Even conditions that seem permanently frozen eventually thaw.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto was confident that human history would definitely move toward peace and unity, or rather, he was determined to do whatever he could to ensure that it did.
Eventually, the United States and the Soviet Union began taking steps to ease the tensions between them. In 1969, the two countries entered into Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). In the 1970s, they finally signed two treaties based on those talks, known as SALT I and SALT II. Although the latter was never ratified, the signing of these nuclear arms limitation agreements was nevertheless a historic event for the two adversaries and also for the world at large.
As these events unfolded, Shin’ichi was deeply concerned about the increasingly tense relations between China and the Soviet Union, a situation that could have serious ramifications for Japan, as a neighbor of both countries, as well as for peace in Asia.
At a student division general meeting in September 1968, Shin’ichi offered several proposals concerning China, including normalizing Japan-China diplomatic relations and admitting China to the United Nations. He did so not only out of a wish to promote enduring friendly relations between Japan and China, but from a conviction that if world peace was to be achieved, China must not be isolated from the international community.
Later, in his capacity as a private citizen, he directly urged the Chinese and Soviet leaders to pursue a path of reconciliation.
From May to June 1974, six years after issuing his original proposals at the student division meeting, Shin’ichi traveled to China for the first time and met with Vice Premier Li Xiannian. In September, he made his first visit to the Soviet Union and met with Premier Aleksey Kosygin, receiving from the Soviet leader a clear assurance that the superpower had no intention of attacking China. During his second visit to China in December, Shin’ichi conveyed that message to Chinese leaders and also met with Premier Zhou Enlai.
All of these efforts were motivated by his sincere wish that the conflict between the two countries could somehow be resolved for the sake of peace and the happiness of humanity.
Nothing can be achieved by giving up. Peace is a struggle against resignation.
- *1Barbara Hutton, Robben Island: Symbol of Resistance, edited by Josie Egan (Johannesburg: SACHED Books, 1997), p. 55.
- *2Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), pp. 121–22.
- *3Daisaku Ikeda, Journey of Life: Selected Poems of Daisaku Ikeda (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014), p. 195.
- *4This refers to the poems “To My Beloved Young French Champions of the Mystic Law” (tentative translation) and “To My Beloved Young American Friends—Youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth.”