photo
SHARE | PRINT | TEXT SIZE: | RSS

History of the Soka Gakkai--Part 1

[Part 2]   [Part 3]   [Part 4]

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Soka Gakkai. This issue of the SGI Quarterly features the first of a four-part series examining the history of the Soka Gakkai and its efforts to revitalize Buddhism by creating a global humanistic movement which can contribute to the happiness and empowerment of all people.

photo Toda, standing, and Makiguchi in 1930   [©Seikyo Shimbun]

On November 18, 1930, a relatively unknown Japanese elementary schoolteacher called Tsunesaburo Makiguchi published the first volume of The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, which outlined the child-centered educational philosophy he had developed through his many years of engagement in education. The publisher was listed as the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, and publication of the book is considered to mark the foundation of what later became the Soka Gakkai.

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was born in 1871 in present-day Niigata Prefecture on the west coast of Japan. When he was 13, he moved to Hokkaido. Working to support himself while he studied, at 18 he gained entrance to the local teacher training college. Upon graduation he began working at the elementary school affiliated with the college. He had long been interested in the teaching of geography, and in 1903 published his first major work, The Geography of Human Life, which emphasized the vital links between human beings and their natural environment. He later served as a teacher and principal in elementary schools around Tokyo.

photo Makiguchi's The Geography of Human Life   [©Seikyo Shimbun]

In 1928, at age 57, he encountered the Buddhist philosophy of Nichiren (1222-82), which he began to practice. Josei Toda, a young teacher from Hokkaido who had been working under Makiguchi since the early 1920s, also began practicing Nichiren Buddhism around this time.

Shortly after this, Makiguchi's concept of "Soka" education was formalized in the publication of The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. "Soka" means value creation, expressing Makiguchi's conviction that the authentic goal of education, and of life itself, lies in the pursuit of happiness. He held that the key to genuine happiness is the capacity to create value under even the most difficult and challenging circumstances. Nichiren Buddhism, which stresses the limitless potential of each individual, resonated with his humanistic approach to education and provided a practical foundation for his philosophy of value creation.

The Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society) originally comprised reform-minded educators who were dissatisfied with an education system that emphasized rote learning and the production of obedient subjects of the state. These teachers saw an effective alternative in Makiguchi's pedagogy which sought to develop independent thinking and critical judgment. The group's Buddhist emphasis steadily strengthened as it developed into a movement dedicated to the reform of society through the reformation of the inner life of individuals. By the early 1940s it had a membership of some 3,000 people, meeting regularly in members' homes.

A Gathering Storm

Japan's militarist government was by now steadily tightening controls on thought and expression as part of the war effort. Makiguchi and Toda refused to bow to pressure from the state-controlled war machine and as a result, the meetings organized by the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai came under the surveillance of the Special Higher Police, responsible for the suppression of "thought crimes."

photo The word "education" in Makiguchi's calligraphy   [©Seikyo Shimbun]

On July 6, 1943, Makiguchi and Toda were detained on suspicion of violation of the notorious Peace Preservation Law and accused of showing disrespect to the emperor. A total of 21 leaders of the organization were arrested. In prison, Makiguchi held fast to his beliefs, expounding the principles of Nichiren Buddhism to his interrogators. On November 18, 1944, Makiguchi died of malnutrition and the privations of his long imprisonment, a martyr to his convictions. He was 73.

Alone among the other leaders of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai who had been arrested, Toda refused to recant. While in prison, he intensively studied the Lotus Sutra, considered in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition to express the essence of Shakyamuni's enlightenment, and chanted its title, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo--the practice that is the core of Nichiren Buddhism.

Through his highly focused practice, he gained two critical insights. One was that what is described in the sutras as "the Buddha" is nothing other than life itself. The other involved an awakening to his own profound mission as a bodhisattva, to share the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism widely in society to build the foundations for a peaceful world.

On July 3, 1945, Toda was released from prison. He immediately dedicated himself to continuing the work of his mentor Makiguchi, rebuilding the organization that had been effectively destroyed by the authorities.

Toda often spoke of the awakening he had experienced in prison, and this, together with the immovable confidence he had gained in the validity of Buddhism, was a driving force for the postwar development of the organization. He revived the traditional format of the small group discussion meeting, which remains at the heart of the movement's activities.

photo Toda on September 8, 1957   [©Seikyo Shimbun]

On May 3, 1951, Toda, who had been general director of the organization under Makiguchi, became its second president, announcing his determination to achieve a membership of 750,000 households. This marked the beginning of vigorous propagation activities in Japan, but Toda's determination went far beyond mere numerical expansion. He declared that his most cherished wish was to eliminate misery from the face of the Earth, with the practice of Nichiren Buddhism as the means to achieve this. In this, he sought to awaken people to the reality that our individual happiness is inextricably linked with the happiness of others and the welfare of society as a whole. This message had great appeal for the most disempowered strata of Japanese society, the common people who struggled with economic, physical and psychological distress in the wake of defeat.

In 1951, Toda began to publish the serialized novel Human Revolution. The title expresses his conviction in the transformative power of Nichiren Buddhism. The concept of "human revolution," or inner-motivated positive change, expresses the traditional Buddhist concept of enlightenment in terms accessible to people living in the modern-day world.

In December 1957, Toda realized his vow of achieving 750,000 member households. On March 16, 1958, he entrusted the future of the movement to the youth of the organization led by Daisaku Ikeda, who later became the third president, at an event attended by 6,000 young people. On April 2, aged 58, Toda passed away having achieved his goal of rebuilding the organization and establishing a firm foundation for a people's movement for peace.

photo Early members of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai with Makiguchi (right) in 1941   [©Seikyo Shimbun]

Soka Gakkai History Timeline:

1871

June 6 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi is born in the village of Arahama (in present-day Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, Japan).

1884

Makiguchi leaves Arahama for Otaru in Hokkaido.

1893

Mar. 31 Makiguchi graduates from Hokkaido Normal School.

1900

Feb. 11 Josei Toda is born in present-day Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. His family moves to Atsuta in Hokkaido two years later.

1901

Apr. 24 Makiguchi leaves Sapporo for Tokyo.

1903

Oct. 15 Publication of Makiguchi's first major work, Jinsei chirigaku (The Geography of Human Life).

1913

Apr. 4 Makiguchi is appointed principal of Tosei Elementary School. He serves as principal of a variety of elementary schools in Tokyo until 1932.

1917

Toda begins teaching at Mayachi Elementary School in Yubari, Hokkaido.

1920

Early in 1920, Toda visits Makiguchi in Tokyo. Later, Toda is employed as a temporary substitute teacher at Nishimachi Elementary School, where Makiguchi is principal.

1928

Makiguchi converts to Nichiren Buddhism, followed shortly after by Toda.

1930

Nov. 18 Foundation of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai and publication of Volume I of Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy).

1943

July 6 Makiguchi and Toda are detained by the Special Higher Police.

1944

Nov. 18 Makiguchi dies in prison.

1945

July 3 Toda is released from prison.

1946

Mar. The Soka Kyoiku Gakkai is renamed the Soka Gakkai.

1951

Apr. 20 The Soka Gakkai's newspaper Seikyo Shimbun is launched.
May 3 Toda is inaugurated as second president of the Soka Gakkai. Initiates a vigorous propagation campaign in which Daisaku Ikeda (1928– ) plays a leading role.

1957

Sep. 8 Toda issues a Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

1958

Mar. 16 Toda entrusts the mission of spreading Buddhism to the Soka Gakkai's youth division.
Apr. 2 Toda dies, aged 58.

TOP