Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
On May 3, 1960, Daisaku Ikeda was inaugurated as the third president of the Soka Gakkai. He was 32 at the time. Ikeda had encountered the Soka Gakkai and its second president, Josei Toda, in August 1947, at one of the organization’s discussion meetings to which he had been brought by a school friend.
In the physical and spiritual chaos that followed Japan’s defeat in 1945, Ikeda was very consciously seeking a teaching—and, if possible, a teacher—to provide direction and guidance. For his part, Toda was actively engaged in sharing the confidence he had gained in the validity of Buddhism through his awakening in prison, and was seeking someone to whom he could entrust the sense of mission he felt in its entirety.
Starting from this meeting, Toda and Ikeda forged a profound collaborative relationship, one that conformed with the ideal described in Buddhism as the spiritual unity of mentor and disciple. Ikeda supported Toda across the full spectrum of his activities, eventually feeling compelled to stop attending college due to the demands on his time and energies. Toda instead tutored him one-on-one before the start of each workday and on weekends, sharing with the young man his vision of a peaceful society realized through the promotion of Buddhist practice and ideals. Ikeda proudly refers to these study sessions as “Toda University.”
In these early years of the Soka Gakkai movement, Toda consistently assigned the young Ikeda the most challenging tasks, such as supporting local groups whose morale and propagation efforts were languishing. Ikeda responded to his mentor’s expectations by producing concrete outcomes that had a transformative effect on the organization as a whole. These experiences honed his skills in offering personal encouragement, inspiring people to transform their lives through altruistic religious practice.
Starting from 1955, Toda began encouraging members to run for public office. Toda deemed this kind of engagement necessary in light of Nichiren Buddhism’s commitment to reflecting Buddhist principles, such as respect for human dignity, in the actual practices of society and politics. He was also motivated by the wartime experience of the organization, which had been violently suppressed by an ideology that fused militarist fascism and fanatical worship of the Japanese emperor. He saw the organization’s political involvement as necessary to protect freedom of religion. Following one election campaign in Osaka in 1957, Ikeda was held responsible for the acts of a few individual Gakkai members and was charged with violation of election laws by the authorities. After a drawn-out legal proceeding, he was found innocent of all charges in January 1962.
Following Toda’s death in 1958, a movement arose to nominate Ikeda as the organization’s third president. One of his first actions upon becoming president was to travel outside of Japan, making visits to North and South America in October 1960. In 1961, Ikeda traveled to Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, with visits to Europe, the Middle East and Oceania following in the next few years. At this time, membership outside of Japan was still very limited, consisting mostly of Japanese emigrants and businesspeople. In these travels, Ikeda was acting on his mentor’s often expressed conviction that the principles of Nichiren Buddhism were universal and could benefit people of all cultural backgrounds and worldviews.
In 1964, Ikeda began writing his serialized novel, The Human Revolution, which details Toda’s struggles to reconstruct the Soka Gakkai after his release from prison at the end of World War II. It opens with a scathing condemnation of war and militarism that offers a clear context for the movement’s objectives: “Nothing is more barbarous than war. Nothing is more cruel . . . Nothing is more pitiful than a nation being swept along by fools.” Ikeda has often described this and its sequel, The New Human Revolution, as his life’s work.
Under Ikeda’s leadership, the organization in Japan expanded rapidly, reaching a membership of 3 million households in 1962 and approximately 7.5 million in 1970. By this time, Ikeda was convinced that the foundations for the movement had been firmly established; it was also evident to him that an organization of this scale could not function in isolation from society at large. In a speech given on May 3, 1970, he proposed a series of changes that would reorient the organization and its activities. In particular, he emphasized the function of religion as a source of cultural creativity benefiting society as a whole.
related article Understanding Kosen-rufu SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses the concept of Kosen-rufu in this excerpt from Discussions on Youth—For the Protagonists of the Twenty-first Century. Education and other secular concerns were a natural focus for the Soka Gakkai given its origins as an organization of educators seeking to promote founding president Makiguchi’s philosophy of value-creating education. In 1967, Ikeda founded Soka High School in Tokyo, followed by a full range of nondenominational educational institutions including Soka University in 1971 and the four-year liberal arts college Soka University of America in 2001.
The organization’s youth division launched a number of important initiatives for peace in the 1970s. In 1974–75, for example, they collected more than 10 million signatures on petitions calling for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons; these were delivered to the United Nations by Ikeda in January 1975.
Ikeda had founded the Min-On Concert Association in 1963 and the Fuji Art Museum in 1973. With the full-fledged launch of peace activities by the youth membership in the 1970s, the three pillars of the organization’s activities—peace, culture, education—were all given concrete form.
The essence of the Soka Gakkai’s practice of Buddhist humanism under Ikeda’s leadership has been the promotion of the process of fundamental transformation—human revolution—in each individual, with the confidence that this has the power to change society in meaningful and positive ways.
Jan. 2 Daisaku Ikeda is born in Ota Ward, Tokyo, Japan, to a family of seaweed farmers.
Aug. 24 Ikeda joins the Soka Gakkai and begins practicing Nichiren Buddhism.
Jul. 8 The Soka Gakkai fields candidates in national elections for the first time, winning 3 seats.
Jul. 3 Ikeda is arrested and detained on suspicion of violating election laws in Osaka.
May 3 Ikeda is inaugurated as third Soka Gakkai president.
Oct. 2 As a first step to transform the Soka Gakkai into a global movement, Ikeda visits the US, Canada and Brazil.
Jan. 25 The Osaka District Court exonerates Ikeda of July 1957 election law violation allegation.
Jan. 27 The Institute of Oriental Philosophy (IOP) is established in Tokyo, to conduct research and promote dialogue among different civilizations and faith traditions.
Oct. 18 The Min-On Concert Association is established in Tokyo, Japan, to promote cultural exchange.
Nov. 17 The Komeito or “Clean Government” Party is established as an independent political party.
Dec. 2 Ikeda commences writing The Human Revolution, a novelized account of the Soka Gakkai’s history, in Okinawa.
Nov. 18 Tokyo Soka Junior and Senior High Schools are founded in Kodaira, Tokyo.
Apr. 2 Soka University is founded in Hachioji, Tokyo.
May 3 The Fuji Art Museum is founded.
Jan. 10 Soka Gakkai youth present the UN secretary-general with 10 million signatures supporting the abolition of war and nuclear weapons.