First President Makiguchi Dies in Imprisonment
At 12:08 AM, on March 10, 1945 (Japanese Army Day), arrays of B29s, often called the “fortress in the heaven,” suddenly appeared in low altitude flight over the Bay of Tokyo, and dropped the very first bomb over the Shinonome district in Koto District, Tokyo. These arrays of 325 B29s, as planned, dropped a cascade of incendiary bombs, a total 1700 tons of them, over areas that stretched from downtown Tokyo all the way to uptown Tokyo. Thus, a real hell emerged in Tokyo. War justifies cruelty. War deprives all living beings of their peace and gives them ultimate suffering. In this sense, there are neither winners nor losers in any war.
Many had to escape from this inferno of hell. Many had to search for missing loved ones in fire. Flame imprisoned people. Too many people lost their precious lives in agony. On this day alone, 83,793 people were killed. Many of them were reduced to ashes by the fires.
Josei Toda, who later became Second President of the Soka Gakkai, and who was then General Director of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value Creation Education Society), was in a solitary cell of the second quarter of the Tokyo Prison in Sugamo. In this prison, he was, on that day, listening to earth-pounding noises while observing the reddish skies that were reflected in his cell’s stained window glass.
His cell was very quiet until bombings started. However, he began to hear distant thunder-like noises, and he could see through his window that the Tokyo night skies grew ominously more tainted in red. Before this emergency situation took place in Tokyo, General Director Toda was lying on the bed with his leg toward the window and his head toward the door in his small three tatami-mattress-sized room in his prison. But now with his body straight up, he was observing these ominous signs, trying to figure out what was happening outside.
Two years earlier, at the end of June 1923, Toda and his mentor, Soka Kyoiku Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, refused to follow Nichiren Shoshu High Priest Nikkyo Suzuki’s guidance and direction at Taiseki-ji. At that time, High Priest Nikkyo urged the two leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai to accept the Shinto talisman, following the military government’s decree, saying “Why don’t you tell your members to accept the Shinto talisman, anyway.” (excerpted from Josei Toda’s “The History and Conviction of the Soka Gakkai,” Toda Josei Zenshu, volume 1)
Rejecting the high priest’s order, President Makiguchi insisted that Nichiren Shoshu stand up to remonstrate with the Japanese government. Nichiren Shoshu, however, did not accept his strong contention.
Mr. Makiguchi responded, “I’m not concerned about the collapse of one religious sect. But I am truly concerned about the destruction of one entire nation.” (ditto)
The Chinese character that signifies “nation” usually consists of two elements, that is, “territory” and “king.” However, Nichiren Daishonin used another Chinese character that also signifies “nation,” which comprises “territory” and “people.” In his thesis, “Rissho Ankoku Ron,” he mostly (editor’s note: 56 times out of 71) used the latter Chinese character, demonstrating his care for people. In the same spirit as Nichiren Daishonin, President Makiguchi wanted to avoid a situation where people lose their homes and find themselves in incessant suffering.
On July 6, 1943, President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and General Director Josei Toda were arrested on account of their disobedience to Japan’s Peace Preservation Law. On November 18, 1944, President Makiguchi died in the Tokyo prison at the age of 73. On the night before his death, Mr. Makiguchi walked from his solitary cell to a prison infirmary. On his way to the infirmary, President Makiguchi fell down once in the hallway, and the prison staff member accompanying him extended his hand to help him up. But Mr. Makiguchi stood up on his own, resuming his walk to the prison infirmary.
Early the next morning, on November 18th, President Makiguchi passed away.
The temperature in the jail was extremely cold. General Director Toda devoted himself to chanting daimoku in the ultimate hunger and coldness of his prison life. He wrote:
“On January 10, I was struck with something awesome deep in my life. Since then, I became very healthy, and even gained some weight. My body became warmer. In this way, I am strengthening my body and mind. I will return home with a sound body and mind.” (Excerpted from his letter to his wife, dated February 8, 1944, Wakaki Hi no Shuki(Accounts in My Youthful Days—Memoirs in Prison)
At that time, General Director Toda was pondering over the meaning of the verse of thirty four negatives expounded in the Muryogi Sutra, a harbinger sutra for the Lotus Sutra. Through this deep contemplation and through his continual practice, he enlightened himself to the point where he understood that the “Buddha” means nothing other than one’s life.
Furthermore, around November 1944, when President Makiguchi passed away, President Toda gained a great awareness. He wrote:
“Around the time when my mentor, Mr. Makiguchi, passed away, I had almost completed two million daimoku, attaining a wondrous life-condition, thanks to the compassion of Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.” (excerpted from his “The History and Conviction of the Soka Gakkai,” Toda Josei Zenshu, volume 1)
President Toda’s Enlightenment in Prison
Regarding the enlightenment he reached in November 1944, Mr. Toda vividly described it in the novel, The Human Revolution, which he wrote under his pen name Myogoku in June 1957. Gan-san, the chief character in this novel, denotes President Toda himself.
“‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo … Nam-myoho-renge-kyo …’ It was the middle of November. The skies were so blue like pure water. … One morning, the sound of daimoku that Gan-san was chanting was heard outside of his solitary cell. If somebody had heard his daimoku in the morning outside his iron-door cell, he or she must have sensed serenity, not fierceness, in his life. True, he was in agony day and night over one issue in those days. He was dead tired on that day, too. But apparently, he had cleaned up impurities in his mind and unhealthy elements in his body, as he vehemently dedicated himself to pondering and meditating over the Lotus Sutra.
“‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo … Nam-myoho-renge-kyo …’ The sun had arisen in the eastern skies and was shedding its light through the window of his solitary cell. The light’s radiance was reflected in Gan-san’s cheeks and nose. He was holding his unusual juzu that was made of a string of milk bottle caps. His glasses glittered from time to time when the sunshine hit them at an angle.
“At that point, the total number of daimoku that Gan-san had chanted from the beginning of the year amounted to more than 1.8 million.
“This morning, too, he was chanting daimoku as usual, conjuring up the image of the Gohonzon enshrined at Taiseki-ji. As he continued to chant, his heart began to experience a deep calm, just as snow piles up serenely in spring. Joy slowly emerged from within his life.
“‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ... Nam-myoho-renge-kyo …’ Gan-san’s mind was incomparably peaceful, just like a light and soft breeze going over a spring field. It was not a dream. It was not an illusion. It happened for a matter of a few seconds or a few minutes. There was no measuring how long it lasted, but he found himself chanting to the Dai-Gohonzon, which was glittering in golden color. He was up in the air, together with numerous people.
“He was conscious about being in the place exactly as expounded in the fifteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which reads:
’Each one of these bodhisattvas was the leader of his own great assembly, and each brought with him a retinue equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges. To say nothing of these who brought retinues equal to the sands of fifty thousand, forty thousand, thirty thousand, twenty thousand, or ten thousand Ganges. Or a retinue equal to as little as the sands of one Ganges, half a Ganges, one fourth of a Ganges, or as little as one part in a thousand, ten thousand, a million nayutas of Ganges. Or those whose retinue was only one thousand, ten thousand, million nayutas. Or only a million, ten thousand. Or only a thousand ten thousand, a hundred ten thousand, or just ten thousand. Or only one thousand, one hundred, or ten. Or who brought with them only five, four, three, two, or one disciple. Or those who came alone, preferring to carry out solitary practices. Such were they, then, immeasurable, boundless, beyond anything that can be known through calculation, simile or parable.
“’After these bodhisattvas had emerged from the earth, they each one proceeded to the wonderful tower of seven treasures suspended in the sky, where Many Treasures Thus Come one and Shakyamuni Buddha were. On reaching it, they turned to the two World-Honored Ones, bowed their heads and made obeisance at their feet. They also all performed obeisance to the Buddhas seated on lion seats underneath the jeweled trees. Then they circled around to the right three times, pressed their palms together in a gesture of respect, utilizing the bodhisattvas’ various methods of praising to deliver praise, and then took up a position to one side, gazing up in joy at the two World-Honored Ones.’ (The Lotus Sutra, pp. 213-214)
“Gan-san was one of those people in the air. He was in attendance at an eternally ancient meeting of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Daishonin writes in ’On the Three Great Secret Laws,’ ’Nichiren certainly received orally from Shakyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One and the Lord of the Teaching, these Three Great Secret Laws as leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth ….’ (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1023) This passage of the Gosho, as if it had been long engraved within his life, vividly emerged from within his mind.
“‘This is not a joke. I’m now in this ceremony in the air.’ When he was about to shout out, he only found himself sitting on a chair in his solitary cell and the sun was shining in the serene morning air.
“Gan-san was temporarily beside himself. Waves of joy surged up in his entire being. An incredible upsurge of jubilation hit his heart with joyful tears flowing down his cheeks. Taking a handkerchief out of his sleeve pocket, he took off his glasses and wiped his eyes with it. But his tears came out ceaselessly. He continued to cry, shivering his robust shoulders.
In a short while, Gan-san, now standing on his feet, began to chant daimoku loudly. ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ...’ ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo …’ A clear awareness came out of his mind right after finishing chanting daimoku. ‘Oh! I’m a Bodhisattva of the Earth. I was honored to be present at the ceremony where Nichiren Daishonin received the heritage of the Law directly from the Buddha!’
“Opening his eyes widely behind his glasses, Gan-san, with his heart full of irresistible joy, walked around in his solitary cell. Soon after, he returned to his desk and opened the Lotus Sutra to reread the ’Emerging from the Earth’ chapter. He went on to read the ’Life Span’ and ’Entrustment’ chapters.
“‘Wow!’ Blinking his eyes several times behind his glasses, he so smoothly and precisely understoodd what is written in the Lotus Sutra, the most difficult sutra of all. He had tried many times to comprehend this sutra, but it remained a mystery until that day. What he experienced was just like remembering what he had learned about the Lotus Sutra in ancient times. It was a very mystic feeling. He was full of a deep sense of appreciation.
“‘OK! Now I’m clear about what I’ll do in this lifetime. I’ll spread this precious Lotus Sutra until the last moment of my life.’ China’s Confucius is reputed to have said, ’I had no more illusion at age 40, and I came to know my heavenly mission at age 50.’ ‘All right!’ Gan-san exclaimed. So saying, he stood up. Wandering in the cell, he said to himself confidently, ‘I’ve got no more illusion even though I’m five years behind him, but I’ve come to know my heavenly mission five years ahead of him.’ He was 45 at that time.” (excerpted from Ningen Kakumei [The Human Revolution] authored by Myogoku).
Second President Toda Released from Prison
In 1945, spring was just near the iron lattice window of the solitary cell, as President Toda overcame his second severe winter of cold and hunger. However, a major air raid by U.S. B29’s took place at the dawn of March 10, breaking apart his little peace, and burning numerous people and houses in Tokyo to ashes.
Tokyoites, although aware of the coming finale of the war in the form of their nation’s loss, were desperate to reconstruct their war-torn capital city. Before the dawn of March 11, one day after the major Tokyo air raid, the Yamate Line between Okachimachi and Shinbashi, which had been closed for some time, was fully reopened.
However, President Toda was in an extremely dire condition in every sense. He wrote to his family how he was in those days:
“1. I am concerned day and night because you are under threat of air raids. I believe I have lost all my companies including Shoji, Shueisha, Shikashobo, and Rokugeisha. Please come and see me. I don’t think you can handle these business matters without me. I am ready to consult with you about matters for your daily living.
“2. I am sorry to keep on asking for money. Please somehow get 100 yen. Give 20 yen to Ryozenkai out of it, and bring me the rest, 80 yen.
“3. My body is on the decline all of a sudden. Won’t you get me some tablets for nourishment? I’m beginning to feel like being with my deceased mentor, Mr. Makiguchi. I would like to buy a bento box and nourishing pills here for my health. Please hurry to get money for Ryozenkai and for my use here as well. I hope that this money will help me recover my health.
“4. Lack of money puts me in trouble here.
“5. A tiny gesture of warmth, when shown to me, easily makes me cry with appreciation.
“6. Can I bring me at least the Shukan Asahi or the Shukan Mainichi?” (excerpted from the letter that President Toda wrote to his wife’s father on March 23, Wakaki Hi no Shokan [Accounts of Youthful Days—-Memoirs in Imprisonment])
On the evening of July 3, 1945, Soka Gakkai second President Josei Toda (then General Director of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai) was released from the prison. About a week before his release, President Toda had been moved from the Tokyo Prison in Sugamo to the Toyotama Prison in Nakano.
President Toda, free at last, walked about 1,100 meters from the prison to Nakano Station (currently JR Nakano Station). On the way to the station, he had to take a rest by the roadside. Because he had been in the prison for about two years, his body was not accustomed to a strenuous walk of this length.
President Toda took a train from there to Meguro Station. Getting off at Meguro Station, he visited the remains of the burnt Jishu Gakkan, his own school. After spending some time there, he returned to his home in Shiroganedai. He was experiencing the joy of home life in summer for the first time in two years.
What occupied his mind at that time? President Toda wrote about how he felt in those days in a letter he wrote to the husband of his younger sister, shortly after his release from imprisonment:
“Josei (his new name) left the prison on the evening of 3rd. To recollect, I accompanied my late mentor, Mr. Makiguchi, to the prison three years ago. Through this experience, I went through the persecutions expounded in the Lotus Sutra. Going through indescribable hardships in the solitary cell, I was able to practice the Lotus Sutra there. Thanks to this experience, I was able to experience the very heart of the Lotus Sutra. As I delved into the depths of the Buddhist sutra, I was finally able to perceive the Buddha and the Law expounded in Buddhism. Thus, I have gained one great secret way to save Japan and the Orient. I came to a realization that modern science and the Law discovered by Nichiren Daishonin are in accord.” (excerpted from the letter that President Toda wrote to his wife’s father on March 23, 1946, Wakaki Hi no Shokan [Accounts of Youthful Days—-Memoirs in Imprisonment]).
Oneness of Mentor and Disciple Is Soka Gakkai’s Life
Furthermore, President Toda referred in the same letter to the depth of the relationship of mentor and disciple that he realized in the prison:
“I can explain about the persecution of the Lotus Sutra that I went through using the following passage of the Lotus Sutra. It reads, ‘Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers.’ (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 217)
“The Lotus Sutra teaches that a mentor and his disciple will be reborn at the same time, lifetime after lifetime, thanks to the beneficial power of the Lotus Sutra, and they will spend time together in living its teaching. So, all I did was to put into action this time-honored principle of the Lotus Sutra.
“My teacher, Mr. Makiguchi, and I are not merely a mentor and his disciple in this lifetime alone. When I was a mentor, he was my disciple. When he was a mentor, I was his disciple. We were always together in the past, and we will be together too in the future.” (excerpt from the letter President Toda wrote to his wife’s father on March 23, Wakaki Hi no Shokan [Accounts of Youthful Days—Memoirs in Imprisonment])
The Soka Kyoiku Gakkai was renamed the Soka Gakkai. President Toda turned to reconstructing the organization, with his deep sense of oneness of mentor and disciple. On the occasion of the memorial service for the third anniversary of the passing of President Makiguchi on November 17, 1946, President Toda remarked:
“Sensei, your compassion was so immense that you took me to prison. Because of you, I was able to live the phrase of Myoho-renge-kyo and experience the principle of oneness of mentor and disciple, lifetime after lifetime, through being born at Buddha’s lands together with you. Because of this benefit, I was able to perceive my true mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth and understand, though vaguely, the meaning of the Lotus Sutra. What a happy person I am!
“When the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai was prosperous, I hated to become your successor, first recommending Mr. Yozo Terasaka to succeed to you. Later on, I also recommended Mr. Takeo Kamio to carry on your theory, while thinking of Tatsuji Nojima as vice general director to supervise overall aspects of the Gakkai. In this way, I always tried to put myself out of the line of leadership in our organization. I was truly an inadequate disciple for you. Please accept my apology now for that. Although I am such a foolish disciple, I have made up my mind to dedicate my entire being to kosen-rufu, as I perceived the life of the Buddha through my two-year experience in prison. Please watch. I am determined to see you again at Eagle Peak and receive your praise there by carrying on your will and fulfilling the mission of the Gakkai.” (excerpted from Toda Josei Zenshu[Complete Works of Josei Toda], Volume 3)
The Soka Gakkai’s eternal mission is vividly described in this speech of President Toda’s. What is written here is the life, or soul, that chains the first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai.
Oneness of mentor and disciple: this lofty principle is the epitome of humanistic values. The great development of the Soka Gakkai after World War II originated from the determination that President Toda made in appreciation of his mentor, President Makiguchi’s, martyrdom. It was Nichiren Daishonin who gave such a glorious mission to President Toda, an ordinary individual. The origin of the Soka Gakkai is rooted in the compassion of Nichiren Daishonin who, standing up to save people, shared their sufferings seven hundred years ago. This flow of compassion originated in Nichiren Daishonin and transcends the vicissitudes of human history; it continues to exist forever. With Soka Gakkai Honorary President Ikeda, a man of perseverance, the life or soul of the Soka Gakkai will be changeless and imperishable. People have gathered as Gakkai members under the flag of justice. They are indeed the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.