Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
Section four of thirteen of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal, “Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement.”
The SGI’s peace movement originates in the convictions of founding president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) and second president Josei Toda, who both waged a struggle of resistance against Japan’s militaristic regime during World War II. In The Geography of Human Life, written at the start of the twentieth century, Makiguchi expresses concern over the plight of the world’s people amidst the expansion of colonialism: “In seeking to seize control of others’ countries, [the imperial powers] do not hesitate to commit cruel atrocities.”
In 1930, as the increasing militarism of Japan began to gravely impact the education system, Makiguchi published The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, in which he argued that education should serve to enhance learners’ capacity to create value for the happiness of themselves and of society as a whole. He held fast to these beliefs and continued to strive to put his ideas into practice even as the militarist authorities tightened their grip on every aspect of life—from politics and the economy to culture and religion—under the National Mobilization Law and slogans such as “Obliterate the self and serve the state” (Jpn: messhi hoko). Strict in his critique of the regime, he maintained that “To void and empty the self is a lie. What is true is to seek genuine happiness both for oneself and for others.”
Makiguchi did not yield before the authorities and their ideological crackdown even when the movement’s publication was suppressed and the Special Higher Police intensified their surveillance of its meetings. He continued to speak out and as a result, in July 1943, he was detained on charges of violating the Peace Preservation Law and committing acts of blasphemy against State Shinto and the emperor. His disciple Josei Toda and other leaders were arrested with him.
Imprisoned, deprived of fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and religion, Makiguchi remained unwavering in his convictions to the final moment of his life, passing away while still confined at the age of seventy-three.
Nelson Mandela wrote that a new world will not be realized by passive bystanders, but rather that “honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who try over and over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation and even defeat.”
If we focus solely on the fact that Makiguchi died in prison, it may seem as though his ideals never came to fruition. However, his vision was kept alive by Toda, who endured the struggles of imprisonment alongside him.
When the Korean War erupted against a backdrop of escalating Cold War tensions, Toda was not preoccupied with questions of international politics, but instead expressed a deeply personal concern:
“It is not my purpose to debate matters of victory or defeat in war or the pros and cons of policies and ideologies; rather, I grieve at the thought that war causes countless people to lose their husbands or wives and leaves so many people seeking for lost children or parents. . .
“The people have nowhere to go. Nothing brings more misery than losing all hope for one’s beloved homeland.”
Like Makiguchi, Toda’s thoughts were constantly directed at the plight of the ordinary people.
related article Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a turning point for peace and disarmament efforts. So long as nuclear weapons exist, the quest for a world of peace and human rights for all will remain elusive, says SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, introducing his 2018 Peace Proposal. He maintained the same outlook during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 as well. While keenly aware of the political history that led to the uprising, his real focus was on the immense suffering of citizens. In this spirit, he declared: “It is my fervent wish to build a world free from such tragedy as quickly as possible.” His was a firm vow to generate a people’s movement that would have a truly transformative impact.
Toda expressed this conviction in his vision of what he called “global nationalism” (Jpn: chikyu minzokushugi)—creating a world where the people, whatever their nationality, would never find their rights and interests trampled on. He also insisted that nuclear weapons, which deny people their fundamental right to live, are an absolute evil that cannot be tolerated. Seven months before his passing, he made his declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons and entrusted the mission of forging a path toward their prohibition and abolition to the youth of my generation.
In its work for the realization of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the SGI’s continued emphasis has been on a human rights-based approach centered on protecting the right to live. This approach draws from the spiritual heritage of the mentors of our movement, Makiguchi and Toda, whose vision of world peace was not limited to efforts to ease interstate tensions or prevent war but whose abiding focus was on resolutely protecting the life and dignity of every person.
It is indeed significant that the TPNW, while a disarmament treaty, is at the same time infused with the spirit of international human rights law. One of its most remarkable aspects is its focus on the human and the suffering endured; the rationale for prohibition, for example, is based on the risk nuclear weapons pose to the “security of all humanity.”
In addition, the Treaty makes clear that its implementation will not depend solely on the actions of states and explicitly recognizes the important role to be played by civil society.
Looking back, the shift from viewing the individual as the object of concern to the subject of rights within international society was signaled by the UN Charter, which opens with the words “We the peoples,” and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enunciates the rights to be enjoyed by “everyone.”
The Preamble of the TPNW includes reference to the contributions of the hibakusha, who have continued to highlight the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons through their personal testimonies as victims of the atomic bombings. During the negotiating sessions, civil society representatives were seated at the back of the conference rooms. And yet in key ways it was civil society, most prominently the world’s hibakusha—victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the production and testing of nuclear weapons worldwide—who provided the impetus that led to the Treaty’s adoption. Their devotion, as one nation’s representative put it, “placed them at the forefront of respect.”
As part of this civil society network, the SGI has been deeply engaged with the Treaty process, collaborating with ICAN to create and organize exhibitions that raise public awareness about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons, for example, and submitting working papers to the negotiating sessions.
The ideals of peace and human rights cannot be achieved in a single leap. The legal and institutional protection of each individual’s rights is established and given substance through the expanding efforts of civil society, drawing on the deepest spiritual sources of law—the vow to let no one else suffer what one has endured.