Volume 30: Chapter 6, Vow 91–100
Colombian President Gaviria welcomed Shin’ichi Yamamoto warmly, and presented him with the country’s Order of San Carlos in the Grade of Grand Cross.
That day, Shin’ichi also attended the opening ceremony for the “Eternal Treasures of Japan” exhibition, during which he received a medal honoring his contributions to culture from the general director of the Colombian Institute of Culture, a division of the Ministry of Education.
On February 9, Shin’ichi flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
An elderly gentleman had been waiting at Rio de Janeiro International Airport since two hours before Shin’ichi’s arrival.
He had a thick mane of white hair and his face was etched with wrinkles that told of the courageous struggles he had fought. Because of his advanced age, his step was slightly unsteady, but his resolute appearance, belying his 94 years, was reminiscent of a dauntless lion. He was Austregésilo de Athayde, president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, a leading bastion of thought and culture in Latin America and one of the institutions that had extended an invitation to Shin’ichi to visit Brazil.
After graduating from law school in Rio de Janeiro, then Brazil’s capital, Mr. Athayde had become a journalist. In the 1930s, he fought against Brazil’s ruling dictatorship. He was imprisoned, and even forced to live in exile for three years. After World War II, he represented Brazil at the third United Nations General Assembly meeting (in 1948), playing an important role together with human rights champion Eleanor Roosevelt, French Nobel Peace laureate René Cassin, and others in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He continued to wage a battle against discrimination as a newspaper columnist, and even after being appointed director of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, carried on his activism through his writing.
Mr. Athayde learned about Shin’ichi from a friend living in Europe. Through reading Shin’ichi’s writings and speaking with SGI-Brazil members, he developed a strong interest in and sympathy with Shin’ichi’s thoughts and actions, and very much wished to meet him in person.
At the airport, Mr. Athayde was eagerly waiting for Shin’ichi’s arrival.
Concerned for Mr. Athayde’s health, an SGI leader suggested he sit down and rest for a while. But Mr. Athayde simply said: “I have waited, and been waiting, for 94 years to meet President Yamamoto. Therefore, another hour or two is nothing.”
Shin’ichi Yamamoto arrived at the airport in Rio de Janeiro at 9:00 p.m. on February 9. Brazilian Academy of Letters President Austregésilo de Athayde and those waiting with him greeted Shin’ichi and his party with warm smiles.
Born in 1898, Mr. Athayde was a contemporary of Shin’ichi’s mentor Josei Toda, who was born in 1900. Mr. Athayde reminded Shin’ichi of Mr. Toda, and he felt as if his mentor were standing there welcoming him.
Upon greeting, Mr. Athayde and Shin’ichi grasped each other’s arms in a friendly embrace.
“You are one of the defining figures of this century, President Yamamoto. Let us work together to change the history of humankind!”
Shin’ichi was humbled by Mr. Athayde’s all too generous words of praise. He sensed that they expressed his fervent wish and hopes for the future that the human rights of all people would be protected.
Shin’ichi responded: “You are my comrade! You are my friend! You are a treasure of the world.”
Walls of discrimination were rising around the world and human rights were being degraded and violated by authoritarianism, economic power, and brute force. To make the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality, humanity had a long, arduous road ahead. Mr. Athayde was no doubt earnestly seeking people to whom to pass the baton of that undertaking.
The following day, February 10, Shin’ichi attended an SGI-Brazil Rio de Janeiro representatives conference held in the city. The day after that, February 11, would mark the 93rd anniversary of Josei Toda’s birth, and with that in mind he cited his mentor’s guidance in addressing how to apply Buddhism to daily life and society: “Mr. Toda said: ‘There are those who have the simplistic idea that because they have the Gohonzon, they’ll definitely receive benefit even if they don’t put any thought or effort into how they conduct their business. This is a big mistake, and must be categorized as slander of the Law [because it goes against the teachings of Buddhism].’”1
Toda stressed that Nichiren Buddhism does not call on us to believe in or depend on a higher power. Rather, he said, it teaches us to actively create value by drawing forth our inherent wisdom and strength through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo before the Gohonzon, and to continue challenging ourselves while positively putting that wisdom and strength to work.
With a strong wish for the members’ happiness, Shin’ichi said: “Referring to the Daishonin’s words, ‘When one knows the Lotus Sutra, one understands the meaning of all worldly affairs’ (WND-1, 376), Mr. Toda declared it a grave mistake to interpret this passage to mean that we can attain benefits without any effort on our part.
“He added: ‘People who fail to notice the weaknesses in their business or consider ways to improve it should seriously reflect on themselves. It’s vital that you keep studying and learning about your business and strive to do better. My wish is that you, my dear fellow members, will come to “understand the meaning of all worldly affairs” as quickly as possible in the context of your own work and lead secure lives.’2
“Mr. Toda’s wish is also my wish. Today, the winds of economic recession are blowing fiercely around the world. We mustn’t simply lament the situation, but should instead summon powerful wisdom and life force through our Buddhist practice and use it to brilliantly overcome difficult circumstances. That is what makes us ‘one [who] understands the meaning of all worldly affairs’ (cf. WND-1, 376).
“To have the easygoing attitude that things will somehow work out simply because we have faith in the Mystic Law is a mistake. It is because we practice Nichiren Buddhism that we must chant earnestly about how to resolve each problem before us and then take action to do so. That earnest resolve and challenging spirit produces unparalleled wisdom. And making use of this tremendous power of wisdom generated by faith is the key to victory in all things.”
On February 11, the anniversary of Josei Toda’s birth, the final installment of The Human Revolution, Shin’ichi’s 12-volume novel describing his mentor’s actions for kosen-rufu, was published in the Seikyo Shimbun.
Shin’ichi had begun writing the novel in Okinawa on December 2, 1964, and its serialization commenced in the Seikyo Shimbun on January 1, 1965. Over the years, there were occasional extended breaks in the novel’s publication due to Shin’ichi’s overseas travels or ill health, but he had completed his writing on November 24, 1992, and the final, 1,509th installment was printed on February 11, 1993. At the end of that installment, he wrote: “Dedicated to my mentor, Josei Toda.”
The Human Revolution embodied the vow for kosen-rufu of the disciple, Shin’ichi Yamamoto, and was an expression of his gratitude to his mentor.
On February 11, Shin’ichi Yamamoto attended a ceremony at which he was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
In his acceptance speech, he mentioned that it was the anniversary of Josei Toda’s birth, and spoke about his mentor’s philosophy: “My mentor taught me the philosophy that all people, no matter who they are, can equally reveal the supreme treasure inherent in their lives. He entrusted me with the royal road to peace, that is, to continually engage in sincere dialogue and expand solidarity among people. I also inherited his view of the nature of human beings—that when we devote ourselves with a compassionate commitment for people’s happiness, limitless wisdom will well forth from within us.
“Soon after World War II, my mentor urged young people to adopt the ideal of global citizenship. At the time, his vision went unacknowledged, but the world today, racked by intensifying ethnic conflicts, is now beginning to seek this path to harmonious coexistence.”
Shin’ichi wanted to convey Josei Toda’s greatness to the world. He also wished to dedicate the honorary doctorate he had received to his mentor, who had fostered and instructed him.
The next day, February 12, Shin’ichi visited the Brazilian Academy of Letters in Rio de Janeiro. There, he met and spoke with the academy’s president, Austregésilo de Athayde. During their conversation, they agreed to go ahead with a proposal they had previously discussed to publish a dialogue together titled Human Rights in the Twenty-first Century.
They decided that, to begin the process, Shin’ichi would prepare several written questions and send them to President Athayde.
“I am delighted,” said Mr. Athayde, “to be able to engage in a dialogue with you, President Yamamoto, a person who so deeply understands matters of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well have been issued, but you are the one who is translating and spreading that spirit most clearly in terms of concrete actions. Your achievements surpass those of the declaration’s drafters. Action is key. So is a sound philosophy. Let’s complete our dialogue!”
Shin’ichi renewed his resolve, determined to respond to Mr. Athayde’s high expectations.
Speaking quietly, but in a tone conveying intense feeling, President Athayde said to Shin’ichi: “I am nearly 100 years old, and this is the first time in my life I have wanted to meet anyone as much as I’ve wanted to meet you.
“You are a person with a great mission. You are a person of insight and humanity, and you are a spiritual leader.
“Everything in your life has been meaningful. The destiny of the world has gradually yet significantly begun to improve through your actions. You are a person who is changing the history of humankind.
“I am deeply impressed by how you have concretely realized your ideals through your own efforts.”
Shin’ichi felt that President Athayde’s great expectations for him were an expression of his strong desire to see the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights become a reality.
Looking intently at Shin’ichi, President Athayde said: “A new century will soon be here. I believe this will mean the dawn of a new age for Brazil and Japan, and for the entire world.”
“That’s right,” Shin’ichi responded. “And you have fought to create this new age. I have also. Our goal is to usher in a new age in which all people can live in happiness.”
President Athayde smiled at Shin’ichi’s words and said with vigor: “The Latin for ‘word’ is verbum, also meaning ‘God.’ Let us carry on our struggle using noble words as our supreme weapon!”
The spirits of the two men resonated powerfully and intensely.
After his meeting with President Athayde, Shin’ichi attended a ceremony inducting him into the Brazilian Academy of Letters as a foreign associate member.
The academy was established in 1897—after the country had transitioned from a constitutional monarchy to a republic—with the founding vision to shine as a beacon of intellect and wisdom for Brazil. It is composed of 40 Brazilian members and 20 foreign associate members, all of whom are appointed for life.
Among the foreign associate members inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Letters as “great custodians of culture and literature” were such intellectual giants as Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, French novelist Émile Zola, and British sociologist Herbert Spencer.
Shin’ichi Yamamoto was the first Japanese and the first Asian to be named a foreign associate member.
The induction ceremony was attended by Minister of Culture and presidential representative Antônio Houaiss and other leading figures from Brazil’s cultural and literary circles. Brazilian President Itamar Franco also sent a congratulatory message.
During the ceremony, Shin’ichi was additionally presented with the Machado de Assis Medal. Named after the first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the medal was the academy’s highest honor, reserved for “cultural figures whose achievements are of global significance.”
As a part of the ceremonies, Shin’ichi delivered a lecture titled “The Dawn of Hope for Humanistic Civilization.”
In it, he noted that scientific and technological advances continued to accelerate the pace of globalization, creating a need for religion that cultivates and elevates human spirituality while providing the foundation for building a new harmonious universal order. Such religion will form the backbone of global civilization in the 21st century, he suggested.
Journalists from major Brazilian newspapers attended the event and reported on Shin’ichi’s appointment as a foreign associate member and on his lecture.
Shin’ichi regarded all of the honors bestowed on him in Brazil, including those from the Brazilian Academy of Letters, as a brilliant testament to the victory of the SGI-Brazil members, who had been making positive contributions to society and working successfully to promote understanding of the Soka Gakkai among their fellow citizens.
In the past, misunderstanding and prejudice against the Soka Gakkai had resulted in Shin’ichi being denied a visa to enter the country, but now he had received the highest tribute and expression of trust from Latin America’s premier intellectual institution and been appointed a foreign associate member.
Our daily inconspicuous efforts can change society.
Shin’ichi wanted to sincerely praise each member and call out: “Viva Brazil!”
On February 14, Shin’ichi Yamamoto left Rio de Janeiro to make his first visit to Argentina.
A short time after their meeting, President Athayde of the Brazilian Academy of Letters fell ill, but this didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for continuing his dialogue with Shin’ichi. When he recovered somewhat in mid-June, he recorded his verbal responses to the questions and thoughts that Shin’ichi had sent him. As if waging a battle with the limited time left to him, he summoned forth his remaining strength to say what he wished to communicate. He devoted his life to the very end to a struggle for human rights for the age to come.
Shin’ichi and President Athayde’s dialogue continued through correspondence, focusing on the subjects they had agreed upon during their meeting in Rio de Janeiro. President Athayde made his final response in mid-August. Several days later, he was hospitalized and, on September 13, 1993, just before his 95th birthday, the remarkable life of this towering champion of human rights came to a close.
After the dialogue was serialized in the Soka Gakkai–affiliated magazine Ushio, it was published in Japanese in book form on February 11, 1995, under the title Nijuisseiki no Jinken o Kataru (Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century).
On February 15, the day after Shin’ichi arrived in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, he met at his hotel with Alberto Kohan, former secretary-general of the presidency, and then attended an SGI-Argentina representatives conference being held in the city.
Among those attending were energetic, suntanned young men and women who were preparing for the 11th SGI World Youth Peace Culture Festival to be held on February 18.
The youth division members in Argentina, too, had achieved splendid growth, boundlessly opening the way for the future of kosen-rufu.
The evening of February 15 in Argentina was in Japan the morning of February 16, the birthday of Nichiren Daishonin. Shin’ichi spoke powerfully to the gathered members: “When the sun rises in the eastern sky, its great light illuminates the entire world. In the same way, while the Daishonin was born in Japan, his Buddhism of the sun will brightly illuminate the lives of all people on our planet with the great compassionate light of the Mystic Law. Your activities here in Argentina brilliantly demonstrate the global and universal nature of Nichiren Buddhism.”
Shin’ichi Yamamoto’s voice rang with energy: “Argentina and Japan are on opposite sides of the globe, separated by a vast distance, but today we are celebrating Nichiren Daishonin’s birthday together here in Argentina. I’m sure the Daishonin would be delighted by this.
“An Argentine proverb says that the sun shines for everyone. The Daishonin’s Buddhism of the sun is the Buddhism of equality. The Daishonin expounded his great teaching for everyone—for all people of the ten thousand years and more of the Latter Day of the Law. It is free of intolerance and discrimination, making no distinction between people according to whether or not they practice Nichiren Buddhism.
“I hope that, with big hearts and a spirit as bright as the sun, you will spread the light of hope throughout Argentina, and to all people.”
Shin’ichi continued to encourage the members with the spirit that now was the last moment of his life (cf. WND-1, 216). He introduced the words of the renowned Argentine poet Almafuerte: “Sometimes a great destiny sleeps to be awakened by anguish.”3
“Buddhism teaches that suffering is the springboard to enlightenment. No one is free from problems and worries—nor is any family or region.
“Life is a struggle against problems. What’s important is how we solve the various sufferings and problems that weigh down on us. We need to call forth all our wisdom and make repeated efforts to overcome those problems and reach the victory that lies beyond them.
“Dreaming about what life might be like if only you didn’t have any problems is just an escape from reality into a fantasy realm. It only leads to defeat in life. People who are always making positive efforts, thinking about how to overcome each problem and transform it into a source of value and victory are the winners in life.
“Your resolve determines your life. I hope you will all be great actors in your own dramas of victory, brilliantly proving this truth, and be people who encourage and impart self-confidence to everyone around you.”
Shin’ichi wanted each member in Argentina, without exception, to be a dauntless victor.
At noon on February 16, Shin’ichi Yamamoto met with Argentine President Carlos Menem at the presidential residence in Buenos Aires.
In their conversation, Shin’ichi stressed the importance of making the 21st century an age in which humanity comes together in unity and a global culture flourishes. He voiced high hopes for Argentina’s contributions to these aims through its vibrant cosmopolitan spirit as a multicultural and multiethnic country.
This trip to Latin America was marked by an uninterrupted succession of official events and meetings with the leaders of each country on his itinerary. The Spanish-language interpreters and translators who did such a wonderful job throughout were young women originally from Argentina.
They had grown up in Argentina as the children of Japanese immigrants. They learned the spirit of faith through participating in the fife and drum corps and other Soka Gakkai activities, acquiring a deep desire to dedicate their lives to kosen-rufu for the sake of people’s happiness.
They had studied at national universities in Argentina and at universities in Japan on Japanese government scholarships for overseas students. In addition to their chosen fields of study, they applied themselves diligently to honing their Japanese language abilities, later becoming official SGI interpreters.
The seed of a vow that takes root in a young person’s heart eventually grows into a towering tree of mission reaching high into the sky.
On the evening of February 16, Shin’ichi visited the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, the upper and lower houses of the Argentine legislature.
The National Congress, home to both houses, was a grand Greco-Roman–style building completed in 1906. It had been closed when the military dictatorship suspended the legislature, but when the dictatorship came to an end in 1983, it resumed its function and became a symbol proclaiming the dawn of democracy in Argentina.
The Argentine Senate presented Shin’ichi with a special certificate commending his “tireless endeavors for peace,” while the Chamber of Deputies likewise honored him for his “struggle for peace for the peoples of the world.”
Even here on the opposite side of the globe from Japan, people were listening to Shin’ichi’s words and observing his actions. This, too, was due to the constant efforts of local SGI-Argentina members to engage in sincere dialogue and build trust.
Shin’ichi wished to thank them deeply for their wonderful contributions and share with them the honors he had received.
While talking with Shin’ichi Yamamoto, the leader of the Argentine Senate told him that the legislature had passed a bill based partly on one of Shin’ichi’s peace proposals.
It had established a new “Peace Day” and provided for teaching about peace in elementary and secondary schools and instituting various peace-related events.
In the explanation for the new law, it stated that “A noted Japanese thinker summarized the challenges of the age in which we live as follows . . . ,” and then quoted from Shin’ichi’s 1983 SGI Day peace proposal, citing him by name:
“We must not allow war to destroy the bright futures of people whose period of greatest activity will be in the twenty-first century. If we wish our children to have any future at all, we the ordinary citizens of the world must make the wise choice of heeding the pacifist instinct in all peoples.”4
The new law went into effect in August 1985.
The leader of the Senate said: “Your insistence that peace is not simply the absence of war is, I believe, a message for building a world in which people are afforded the respect they deserve as human beings and live with dignity. Fortunately, the Cold War has ended, but war and conflict continue to rack many parts of the world. In your activities and those of the SGI, I believe we can find the guiding principles and values we need to resolve all those conflicts.”
People around the globe held very high hopes for the SGI. Those traveling with Shin’ichi felt deeply that their movement for peace based on the life-affirming philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism was what times were calling for.
The following day, February 17, Shin’ichi attended a ceremony where he received an honorary doctorate and honorary law professorship from the National University of Lomas de Zamora. It was announced on that occasion that the legislative assembly of Buenos Aires Province had adopted a resolution proclaiming Shin’ichi’s visit to Argentina an official event, and 10 cities in the province presented Shin’ichi with city plaques or the keys to their cities.
- *1Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei Zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), vol. 1, p. 161.
- *2Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei Zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), vol. 1, p. 162.
- *3Translated from Spanish. Almafuerte, Obras Completas (Buenos Aires: Editorial Claridad S.A., 1990), p. 62.
- *4Daisaku Ikeda, “New Proposals for Peace and Disarmament,” A Lasting Peace (New York and Tokyo: John Weatherhill, Inc., 1987), vol. 2, p. 147.