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Essays On Buddhism By Josei Toda

Mr. Ikeda (left) and Mr. Toda (right)

Sometimes a single meeting can change the course of one's life. For me, my encounter with Josei Toda, in August 1947, was such a meeting.

It was a hot and muggy evening. Tokyo still bore the fresh scars of war. Like a vast burned-out plain, the desolate landscape was scattered with hastily built shacks and old air-raid shelters.

It was a time of dire economic deprivation and confusing change.

Our schoolteachers who had so passionately spoken of the greatness of the emperor all of a sudden began to praise the greatness of democracy. There seemed to be nothing left worth believing in.

In such an environment, it was essential to find something to hold onto. Some 20 young people in my neighborhood got together and formed a reading circle, desperately searching for answers in literature and philosophy. I joined them, and together we tried to find some kind of meaning or direction for our lives.

Each bringing whatever books had survived the flames, we would feed our hunger for the written word. We would share our impressions, discussing and debating without end. Having been so viciously betrayed by Japan's militarist leaders, we felt that there was nothing, no one, who could be trusted. If anyone could be trusted, it would only be someone who had opposed the war, even going to prison for that cause.

One day, I was invited by an old friend to attend a meeting on "the philosophy of life" being held at a nearby home. My curiosity sparked, I set out for this gathering.

There I saw a man in his 40s. His voice was rather hoarse, but he gave the impression of being completely at ease. The thick lenses of his eyeglasses caught the light. At first, I couldn't grasp what he was talking about, something to do with Buddhism. But then he also made penetrating comments on different topics, from the burning questions of daily life to contemporary politics.

This was clearly not a traditional religious sermon, nor was it a lecture on philosophy. His words were concrete, and he was using commonplace events and examples to explain profound truths. The room was filled with people in shabby clothes, but there was energy and excitement in the air.

related articleThe Poor Woman's LampIn a letter Nichiren wrote 700 years ago in appreciation of the sincere offerings made by a devout woman named Onichi-nyo, there is a passage which reads: "A poor woman cut off her hair and sold it to buy oil [for the Buddha], and not even the winds sweeping down from Mount Sumeru could extinguish the flame of the lamp fed by this oil." Mr. Toda was unlike anyone I had ever met. He spoke in simple, almost rough language, yet radiated warmth. I felt that I somehow knew him, that he was an old friend.

When he had finished speaking, the friend who had brought me introduced us. He looked intently at me, his eyes sparkling from behind the lenses of his glasses. He broke into a warm and welcoming smile as he asked:

"Well, how old are you now?"

"Nineteen,"I responded, prompted by a strange sense of familiarity. He said nostalgically that that was how old he had been when he first came to Tokyo.

I found myself asking him questions about the nature of life and society that had been bothering me.

His responses were completely frank and straightforward, suggesting the working of a very sharp mind. For the first time in my life I felt that the truth was very close at hand. He radiated conviction. When I learned that he had spent two years in jail for opposing Japan's war of aggression, remaining true to his beliefs through everything, I knew that this was someone in whom I could put complete trust.

My chance encounter with Mr. Toda turned out to be a decisive moment in my life. Ten days later I became a member of the Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist organization devoted to bringing a practical message of hope and self-empowerment to ordinary people which Mr. Toda led. The organization had been nearly crushed by wartime oppression.

Starting in January 1949, I also began working at the publishing company that Mr. Toda ran. The work was hard and the hours were long. Japan's economy, shattered by war and defeat, was marked by fierce waves of inflation. For a small company, the effect was devastating.

"I may have been defeated in business, but I haven't lost in life," he said, as many of his former colleagues deserted him. I will never forget the sound of his voice at that time--it seemed to issue from the depths of his life.

related articleGlobal Citizenship—Tracing the Infinite Extent of Our Relationsby  Daisaku IkedaWhat makes a global citizen? SGI President Daisaku Ikeda outlines what he considers to be the essential qualities of global citizenship and the role of education in nurturing these values. He calmly continued to put all his effort into encouraging men and women struggling to rebuild their lives with the help of Buddhism. I know there are tens of thousands of people who were personally encouraged by him, and who found the strength to face whatever difficulties seemed to block their way.

Although my health and my personal financial situation were on the verge of collapse, I never left my mentor's side. I had decided that I would accompany him into the depths of hell if need be.

Since I couldn't continue my formal studies, Mr. Toda offered to teach me everything he knew. He was my personal tutor; our one-to-one study sessions continued for the next 10 years.

He patiently tutored me in law, politics, economics, physics and chemistry, astronomy and the Chinese classics, and was constantly grilling me about what I had read. He encouraged me to become an inspiration to those who are not able to attend school.

Needless to say, I have largely forgotten the specifics of what I learned. But the core elements--daily habits of thought, how to view things and make judgments--these have remained with me, burned into the back of my brain. He never simply offered knowledge, but always emphasized process, developing my understanding of how something came to be the way it is.

Only a truly and naturally gifted teacher is capable of the kind of education that develops the character of an individual. I was fortunate enough to encounter such a rare and gifted teacher in Josei Toda.

They were harsh times, and the path to creating a people's movement for peace was strewn with difficulties. But the strength and insights that I gained from working side by side with this great man have supported me in everything I have done since.

I carry Mr. Toda's photograph with me at all times, and I like to feel that he is always in my heart, like a strict but loving father, watching everything I do. With each passing year, my sense of appreciation and gratitude toward him only deepens.

--SGI President Daisaku Ikeda

An essay published in the SGI Quarterly, January 2010 issue.

─── other articles ───

On assuming the presidency, Toda applied himself to expanding the Soka Gakkai's range of journals and publications, which he regarded as an important factor for the concrete development of the organization.

The Seikyo Shimbun, 1957

One of the key publications was the Seikyo Shimbun newspaper, which was first published in April 1951. Toda was convinced that the Soka Gakkai needed to have an organ publication and that the press had the power to change the world: toward the end of the previous year, he had stated, "We need to found a newspaper, an organ newspaper. This is the age of the mass media!" Initially, the Seikyo Shimbun was published three times a month with a circulation of 5,000. The newspaper provided members with study materials on Nichiren Buddhism and gave encouragement through articles detailing individuals' experiences of faith. At the same time, it sought to share with society Buddhist perspectives on contemporary issues. Toda himself contributed articles for the front page, editorials and epigrams, as well as a novel, Ningen kakumei (Human Revolution), describing his experience and enlightenment in prison during the war, which was serialized from the first issue until August 1954.

Another key publication was the Daibyakurenge, which was launched in July 1949. Toda contributed an essay, "On Life," to the first edition, the first of many essays explaining the profound doctrines of Buddhism in an easily accessible way.

Foreign-language editions of The Complete
Writings of Nichiren Daishonin

Another of the projects Toda was devoted to was the publication of the Gosho zenshu (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin) in April 1952 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the founding of Nichiren Buddhism. This was the first accurate and complete collection of the writings of Nichiren, but preparing it for publication was extremely problematic. A definitive edition of the Gosho was essential in order to pass on the Buddhist teachings for future generations and to allow large numbers of people to study Buddhism on their own. Nevertheless, the priests of Nichiren Shoshu were reluctant to see its publication. Furthermore, as the dissertations and letters written by Nichiren amounted to an extensive number of pages, it was difficult to procure the required amount of paper in the postwar years when essential commodities were still in short supply. Nevertheless, Toda believed that unless the Gosho was published while high priest Nichiko, a scholar of rare attainment who had studied Nichiren's writings for 60 years, was still alive, the opportunity would be lost. It was Toda who saw the project to fruition, dealing with financial issues and leading the study division of the Soka Gakkai in compiling the Gosho.

Enhancing the range of publications and books for the study of Buddhism strengthened the foundations of the organization and underpinned its growth, while providing a source of inspiration and encouragement.

The magazine Daibyakurenge to which Toda contributed numerous essays

 


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