"In a thirty-year period, one generation is replaced by the next; the order of things requires the emergence of a new, youthful generation. Herein lies one of the reasons why I heartily desire that SGI-USA, at this milestone of the thirty-year anniversary of its founding, make a truly fresh start for the future."The following is the text of the speech President Ikeda gave at the first SGI-USA Executive Conference on February 21 at SULA.
Congratulations on the thirtieth anniversary of SGI-USA! With persistent efforts, you have by now laid a firm and lasting foundation for SGI-USA and created a brilliant history. I hope that this year you will set out to build anew on this foundation.
We have gathered today for the SGI-USA Executive Conference. Conferences of this kind are held in each territory and prefecture of Japan to provide leaders with a forum for discussing and planning activities in a democratic fashion. Various rules and procedures are also defined and approved at these conferences. All of this serves to ensure the solid and eternal progress of our movement.
It seems to me that SGI-USA has now entered a phase in which the rules and procedures of the organization must be further defined so as to enable members to take confident action.
It is important for leaders to be fair and impartial and to hear out opinions that differ from their own. Having the broad-mindedness to consider others’ views will win you the respect of your juniors. If you have the humility to treasure members who offer good suggestions, you will be able to raise many capable people. By giving sincere consideration to diverse opinions, you can develop a broad, flexible outlook and make stable progress.
Discussing all things openly as siblings or members of a family, please proceed hand in hand, step by step, toward construction and growth. In this sense, the world of Buddhism must be a model of democracy.
Soka Gakkai Vice President Eiichi Wada was appointed executive advisor to SGI-USA. In this post, he will help SGI-USA advance in a steadier and more pluralistic manner, enabling members to carry out activities more effectively.
Mr. Wada worked at my side in establishing the widely respected organization in Kansai (an area centering on Osaka, Japan’s second largest city). He is a leader of fine character and sincerity. I hope that, giving him your unreserved trust and discussing various matters with him, you will realize still further growth in a spirited and enjoyable manner.
Without personal growth, a leader loses his appeal. Not only are the juniors of such a person affected, but he will himself arrive at an impasse. People will not follow him, and as a result he will try to control them by weight of authority. Such arrogance, however, can only drive people even farther away. It is a vicious circle.
One of the Fourteen Slanders mentioned in the Gosho is that of shallow, self-satisfied understanding. This does not merely mean possessing shallow knowledge, it indicates the condition of those who have lost their seeking mind and ceased to make efforts to deepen their understanding. This signifies backsliding in faith.
If leaders make constant efforts to study hard, grow, and maintain a sense of freshness, the organization will advance and be filled with dynamism. An organization will change and develop only to the extent that leaders change and develop themselves. The advancement of kosen-rufu in the community and country proceeds likewise.
In this sense, I hope that leaders continually work to polish their intellect. It is out of this desire that in my speeches, for instance, I always try to discuss broad-ranging matters pertaining to faith and society. Today also, I would like to speak on a number of such points.
In his book, The Cycles of American History, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., discusses the theory that American society undergoes change at intervals of thirty years. Not to go into a detailed discussion of his ideas, let it suffice to say that, in his view, the coming decade of the 1990s will hark back to the 1930s and 1960s in important respects.
In the 1930s, America challenged itself to realize the country’s founding ideal of equality, as symbolized by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Incidentally, Dr Armand Hammer, in our meeting the other day, told me he felt that President Roosevelt was the greatest of the U.S. presidents whom he had met.
In the 1960s, there was an effort, based on concern over human rights and a new pioneering spirit, to prove that America was the foremost champion of the ideals of humanity, as symbolized by the New Frontier espoused by President John F. Kennedy. At the same time, there was an upsurge of counter-cultural movements across the country, most visibly in the form of the student protests. It was a period of great change.
It is impossible to predict whether the 1990s, like the thirties and sixties, will be characterized by a resurgence of idealism in American society. However, the observation that America has tended to return to the prime point of its founding ideals at intervals of thirty years is deeply thought-provoking. In human terms, thirty years correspond roughly to one generation.
In a thirty-year period, one generation is replaced by the next; the order of things requires the emergence of a new, youthful generation. Herein lies one of the reasons why I heartily desire that SGI-USA, at this milestone of the thirty-year anniversary of its founding, make a truly fresh start for the future.
Equality and human rights are the ideals of America. At the same time, it is in fact Buddhism that places the greatest importance on these fundamental values and seeks their practical application.
All people are equal. There are absolutely no distinctions of superior and inferior among human beings. Differences of position in an organization are temporary and provisional. They are no more than an expedient means for enabling all members to practice joyfully and become truly happy.
Therefore, a leader in an organization is not someone who stands above others but one whose role is to serve and support everyone else. This is something that the second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda used to explain by saying, "Leaders are servants of the members." In a sense, a true leader of kosen-rufu is one who is determined to sacrifice himself for the sake of the members.
If leaders are under the illusion that they are somehow great or superior to others because of their position, their attitude goes against the Buddhist spirit of equality.
In this connection, I would like to emphasize the importance of fostering an atmosphere where members feel free to speak their minds to leaders and say what they feel has to be said — for we are all equally good friends — (zenchishiki) who are dedicated to the same cause.
Buddhism teaches that, "He [who is willing to reprimand and correct the offender] makes it possible for the offender to rid himself of evil, and thus he acts like a parent to the offender" (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 2, pp. 211-212). From the standpoint of faith, to keep silent when one sees something amiss is tantamount to lacking mercy. Although to criticize and censure someone out of petty emotionalism is of course incorrect, it is necessary that constructive and valuable opinions be aired. If a leader is broad-minded enough to listen with a sense of appreciation, both he and the person sharing his views can expand their state of life.
A leader may sometimes have occasion to call something to a member’s attention in the interest of his or her growth. That is an act of compassion. But to scold someone out of emotionalism is a sign of arrogance. Leaders should never reprimand members without good cause. The human mind is infinitely delicate.
Men and women are equal. People who ignore this in their behavior cannot be called civilized. It sometimes happens that if women blindly follow male leaders, both will wind up suffering in the end. Rather, Buddhism teaches that women and men should complement one another like a bow and arrow. In order that the arrow may proceed along the correct path, a correct direction for the bow must be set, and time to time corrective adjustments made.
In his guidance to the wives of the Ikegami brothers, Nichiren Daishonin states, "If both of you unite in encouraging their [your husbands’] faith, you will follow the path of the Dragon King’s daughter and become the model for women attaining enlightenment in the evil latter Day of the Law" (MW-1, 146). This passage reflects the Daishonin’s strict and yet compassionate advice to his female followers. I hope that you will take it deeply to heart.
Buddhism places highest value on human rights and seeks to ensure that human rights are respected. In caring for a single person, one tries to thoroughly protect and do everything he can for that person. One who respects and embraces the children of the Buddha in this way is a true capable person and a true leader.
This year, which marks the thirtieth anniversary of the start of the American kosen-rufu movement, is precisely the time for you to take the next great step forward. Where will the energy for this step come from? The new vitality of American society is produced by returning to the starting point — to the ideals on which your country was founded. Similarly, you should also reconfirm the fundamental path of faith, practice, and study, and make a fresh departure based on the unity of itai doshin — the starting point of our movement. This is the key to the reconstruction of SGI-USA as a model organization.
In more concrete terms, united behind the great objective of realizing kosen-rufu and viewing everything from the standpoint of faith, you should forge ahead with conviction and open the way to victory. A person or an organization that does this will enter the path to limitless happiness.
In making a phone call, if you misdial just one number, your call will not go through as desired. If even a single wire is misplaced in a sophisticated machine, it will fail to operate. How much more true is this in our practice of Buddhism, which reveals that each phenomenon, without exception, strictly possesses all of the 3,000 realms and factors of life. Unless a person embraces the correct Law, maintains correct faith, and carries out a correct practice, he will eventually lead many astray. This is an extremely serious offense, and those who follow such a leader are to be pitied.
In this connection, it should be pointed out that the "Law," not the "person," is to be regarded as the proper standard in all things. Putting the person first gives you an uncertain standard; it is to let that person’s mind become your master. At some point, relations based on such a standard will become like those existing between a paternal, godfather-like figure and those bound to him by personal loyalty.
In contrast, if you establish the Law as your standard, you will become the master of your mind. The great development that we have realized in Japan has been possible because we have exerted ourselves in the practice based on the Gohonzon and in accordance with the Gosho.
Nichiren Daishonin laments people’s approach to Buddhism, saying: "The people of our time — whether clergy or laity, nobles or commoners — all revere persons and do not value the Law. They make their own mind their teacher, and do not rely on the sutras" (MW-4, p. 44). If one makes his mind his sole standard, he will in due course become self-righteous. But if one carries out faith and practice based on the Law, he is a true leader of Buddhism.
Something that characterizes a true leader is that he or she is thoroughly dedicated to raising young people. When one puts all of his energy into developing the rich potential of youth, both he and the organization are rejuvenated. I hope that you will find and raise people with great potential, allowing them to steadily rise and fully engage themselves. If you create such a flow, the future will open up boundlessly before you.
Also, you should put energy into the development of the women’s division. An organization where the women’s division is able to freely conduct activities, and where its opinions are respected, is healthy and strong. Such an organization can make steady progress and it will seldom spin its wheels in vain. As you know, the women’s division has played a central role in the early development of American kosen-rufu.
The most important condition for leaders is sincerity. By contrast, an authoritarian air will only serve to alienate people, and intelligence alone may not produce anything of lasting value. Sincerity is what touches people’s hearts, forges bonds of trust, and imparts a sense of security. A person of sincerity creates a relaxed, almost springlike atmosphere about him.
A verse by Walt Whitman goes, "Now understand me well — it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary" ("Song of the Open Road"). SGI-USA, which has made the great land of America ring with the sound of the Mystic Law, has a history that is truly praiseworthy. However, just as this poem states, there is never a point at which one can sit back and become complacent with the current state of affairs. To do so goes against the very essence of life.
Change, unceasing change, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of America. Change occurs more rapidly here than it does elsewhere. This could be said to be an indication of the vitality that this country possesses.
The late U.S. statesman Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) once said: "There is a New America every morning when I wake up. It is upon us whether we will it or not."
Similarly, Buddhism holds that everything is in a constant state of flux. Thus, the question is whether we are to accept change passively and be swept away by it, or whether we are to take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. While conservatism and self-protection might be likened to winter, night, and death, the spirit of pioneering and attempting to realize ideals evokes images of spring, morning, and birth.
Furthermore, Buddhism expounds the principle of honnin-myo, or the True Cause. In terms of our attitude in faith, this can be understood as our spirit to always make a fresh departure from the prime point. In other words, we advance with hope and youthful vitality — the vital energy of spring, morning and life — throughout our entire existence. It is in enabling us to realize this limitless improvement in our lives that the greatness and brilliance of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism lies.
Each of you has worked very hard to promote American kosen-rufu. You will no doubt be able to bring your lives to a splendid consummation. I hope that you will cause the great flower of happiness and virtue to bloom luxuriantly in the rich soil of your life that you have worked so hard to cultivate until today. It would be only too sad if you were to somehow end up taking a false step, thus destroying your good fortune, after many years of practice. In a sense, you have now come to a crucial point in your journey of life.
Bearing this in mind, please continue striving to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime so that you will be able to enjoy, in one lifetime after another, a diamond-like state of life filled with overwhelming joy. I hope that, through living honorably, you will be remembered as champions of kosen-rufu whose names will forever shine in the annals of our movement.
I would like to conclude my speech at this First Executive Conference by expressing my hope that you will make a fresh determination to start anew toward the creation of a great new SGI-USA, based on the beautiful unity of itai doshin.