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Makiguchi's Philosophy of Education

(From a lecture given at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, USA, on June 4, 1996)

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was born in 1871 in a small village on the Sea of Japan in Niigata Prefecture. The name of the village was Arahama, which might be translated as "beach of rough seas."

Makiguchi proudly referred to his humble origins, his birth in an impoverished fishing village. The poverty of his family, and the need to support them, forced him to give up further study after elementary school. Nevertheless, he utilized every opportunity for reading and learning and showed great talent for teaching. Because of his scholarly disposition, a small sum of money was contributed by those with whom he worked so that he could go to a teachers' college, from which he graduated at age twenty-two.

Makiguchi poured his youthful energy and passion into the task of expanding educational opportunity for his underprivileged students. Many of those who were taught by Makiguchi have left grateful descriptions of his efforts as a teacher.

The Pursuit of an Individual's Rights and Liberty Are a Sacred Undertaking

It was during Makiguchi's days as a young teacher that Japan began pursuing a national policy expressed by the slogan "national wealth and military strength" (Jp. fukoku kyohei) –the path of imperial expansion. In the field of education, highest priority was likewise accorded to national aims, and all efforts were made to instill a blind, unquestioning patriotism.

Makiguchi, by contrast, expressed this view: "What then is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?"

Makiguchi's focus of interest was never the state, but always people, individual human beings. This reflects his strong sense of human rights, which inspired him to declare, in an era when the priorities of state sovereignty were being forcefully emphasized, that "the freedom and rights of the individual are sacred and inviolable."

In 1903, at the age of thirty-two, Makiguchi published his thousand-page work The Geography of Human Life. This publication came on the eve of the Russo-Japanese war. The tenor of the times is symbolized by the fact that seven of Japan's most famous scholars from Tokyo Imperial University petitioned the Government to take a hard-line stance against Russia, heightening public enthusiasm for war. In contrast, Makiguchi, an unknown school teacher, was promoting an awareness as global citizens who, while rooted in the local community, avoid the pitfalls of "narrow-minded nationalism."

At age forty-two, Makiguchi was appointed principal of an elementary school in Tokyo. For the next twenty years, he served in this capacity, developing some of Tokyo's most outstanding public schools.

One of the important influences on Makiguchi's thinking was the American philosopher John Dewey, whose philosophy he sought to use to create change in the Japanese educational system. An outspoken advocate of educational reform, Makiguchi found himself under the constant scrutiny and pressure of the authorities. Among his controversial proposals was a call for the abolition of the system of official inspection through which representatives of the central bureaucracy could directly interfere in the running of local schools.

He also refused to give in to the prevailing custom of granting special treatment to the children of influential families. This eventually resulted in the involvement of a leading national politician, who lobbied for Makiguchi's ouster. Students, teachers and parents all rallied to Makiguchi's defense and sought to have the transfer order stayed, even staging a boycott of classes. At the school to which Makiguchi was transferred he met with similar harassment. This time, he was able to make the educational authorities renovate a playground as a condition for accepting the transfer.

Makiguchi's endeavors bring to mind the great love of humanity demonstrated by his contemporary, the extraordinary Jewish-Polish educator Janusz Korczak, who fought to the very end to protect the lives of his students, dying together with them in the Holocaust.

In 1928 Makiguchi encountered Buddhism. Buddhism, in that it recognizes and seeks to develop the wisdom inherent in all human beings, can be considered a philosophy of popular education. Makiguchi felt that in Buddhism he had found the means by which to realize the ideals he had pursued throughout his life--a movement for social reform through education. Makiguchi was already fifty-seven when he embraced Buddhism--an event that commences the dramatic final developments of his life.

Two years later, on November 18, 1930, together with his disciple and fellow teacher, Josei Toda, Makiguchi published the first volume of The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, and it is from this day that we date the establishment of our organization.

"Soka" is Japanese for "value creation." From Makiguchi's viewpoint, the most fundamental and central value is that of life itself. Taking into account Dewey's pragmatism, he stated, "The only value in the true sense is that of life itself. All other values arise solely within the context of interaction with life." The fundamental criterion for value, in Makiguchi's view, is whether something adds to or detracts from, advances or hinders, the human condition.

The ultimate goal of Soka, or value-creating, education is to foster people of character who continuously strive for the "greatest good" of peace, who are committed to protecting the sanctity of life, and who are capable of creating value under even the most difficult circumstances.

In 1939, what was in effect the first general meeting of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-creating Education Society) was held. Needless to say, this was the year in which World War II began with the Nazi invasion of Poland. Japan's armies were also on the move, committing horrible barbarities in China and Korea.

Deeply disturbed by these developments, Makiguchi launched a frontal critique of militarist fascism. At the time, most religions and religious organizations in Japan lent their support to State Shinto, which provided the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings for the prosecution of the war. Makiguchi, however, opposed this trampling underfoot of the freedoms of conscience and belief, refusing to permit his religious convictions to deviate from their orientation toward peace.

He was also outraged by the attempt to impose on the peoples of Asia belief in Japanese Shinto, writing "The arrogance of the Japanese people knows no bounds." His stern and uncompromising attitude in this regard stemmed from a profound spirit of tolerance toward the cultural and religious heritage of other peoples.

In December of 1941, Japan's forces made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, thus initiating the war in the Pacific. Five months later, the periodical of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, Kachi Sozo (Value Creation), was forced to cease publication at the order of the domestic security authorities.

Having deprived the Japanese people of their freedoms of conscience and religion, it was a simple task for the fascist military powers to suppress freedom of speech. By depriving people of their fundamental freedoms, the military authorities sought to create an obedient, sheeplike mass. Makiguchi expressed his firm conviction that "a single lion will triumph over a thousand sheep. A single person of courage can achieve greater things than a thousand cowards." Makiguchi's stance of squarely confronting all forms of evil and injustice made his thoughts a potent threat to the powers that be. He was considered a "thought criminal" and his activities were subject to constant surveillance by the "secret police."

Unwavering Conviction and the Courage to Speak Out

Nevertheless, Makiguchi continued to organize small discussion meetings where he openly expressed his religious and moral convictions. According to his written indictment, he attended over the course of two wartime years more than two hundred forty such meetings. In the presence of the police during these meetings, Makiguchi continued to criticize military fascism. Often his speech would be cut short by the police.

Where even the priests who professed to share Makiguchi's Buddhist faith capitulated to government pressure to pray to the Shinto talisman, Makiguchi refused to the very last.

In July 1943, Makiguchi and Toda were arrested by militarist Japan's equivalent of the Gestapo. They were charged with violations of the notorious "Peace Preservation Act" and with lèse majesté, disrespect for the emperor. Makiguchi was already seventy-two and spent the next year and four months, a total of five hundred days, in solitary confinement.

Makiguchi, however, never retreated a step. It is said that he used to call out from his solitary cell to the other prisoners. He would ask if they were bored, offering to engage them in debate about such questions as whether there is any difference between not doing good and actually committing wrong. 1 He was an unrestrained master of humanistic education who always sought equal and unqualified dialogue with others.

He even explained, patiently and clearly, the principles of Buddhism to his guards and interrogators. The official deposition records his view that a way of life in which one is "so sensitive to the praise or censure of society that one, while not doing evil, fails to do good" runs, in the final analysis, counter to the teachings of Buddhism.

There is a famous Buddhist aphorism that if you light a lamp for another, your own path will be brightened. Indeed, Makiguchi was to the very end an example of a life of positive contribution, bringing forth the brilliant light of hope for himself and for others.

Elsewhere in the record of his interrogations we find him declaring Japan's invasion of China and the "Great East Asian War" a "national catastrophe" brought on by the fundamental spiritual misorientation of the Japanese nation. At a time when Japan's invasions were described as a "sacred war" and the press and opinion-makers were vying to glorify this undertaking, Makiguchi's words reflect a singular courage and determination.

His prison letters to his family have survived and in them we find such passages as these:

"For the present, aged as I am, this is where I will cultivate my mind."

"I am able to read books, which is a pleasure. I want for nothing. Please watch over the home in my absence and don't concern yourselves about me."

"Being in solitary confinement, I am able to ponder things in peace, which I prefer."

His letters are filled with concern and consideration for his family; in them one senses composure, even optimism.

"Even hell has its enjoyments, depending on one's outlook," he wrote in a passage scratched out by the prison censors.

The hell of the four walls of his stifling solitary cell, its heats and colds, took a steady toll on Makiguchi's aged frame. But he was never despondent; in his heart, the brilliant sun of his beliefs rose and remained high. Burning with righteous anger, Makiguchi continued his struggle against the forces of a state authority that refused to respect human rights. His anger, however, was never tainted with hatred.

Eventually, age and malnutrition brought the inevitable physical decline, and Makiguchi finally agreed to be transferred to the infirmary. Donning his formal clothes, he straightened his hair and walked there unaided, with frail yet determined step. The following day, on November 18, 1944, the anniversary of the founding of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi passed away peacefully.

Even the terror of death was unable to force Makiguchi into submission.

For human beings, nothing is perhaps more universally dreaded than the prospect of one's own demise. It could even be said that fear of death forms the basis for instinctual aggression. Yet Buddhism speaks of the indivisible unity of life and death, asserting that these are both integral aspects of an eternal continuum. For one who lives with just and unwavering conviction, and has a penetrating understanding of the essential nature of life and death, both life and death can be experienced as joys.

Confronting the Devilish Force of Authority

In the frigid confines of prison, Makiguchi proved the truth that by living with utter dedication to humane and noble ideals, it is possible to greet death without a trace of fear, regret or loathing. Unknown to anyone, he brought to completion the life he had made great by his actions and his spirit.

His quiet passing was at the same time a new start, a new departure.

Josei Toda spoke of the unbearable grief and outrage that seized him when, two months later, one of the judges bluntly informed him, "Makiguchi's dead." He spoke of moaning in solitude, of crying until his tears ran dry.

But from the depths of this despair a new hope was born.

Toda the disciple emerged alive from the prison where his mentor had died. Anger at the authoritarian forces that had robbed his mentor of life was transformed into a pledge and determination to create a new popular movement for peace.

In The System of Value-creating Pedagogy, Makiguchi wrote that, "Driven by their instinct for self-preservation, evil-minded people band together, increasing the force with which they persecute the good. In contrast, people of goodwill always seem to be isolated and weak. . . . There is no alternative but for people of goodwill to unite." This was his penetrating insight based on personal experience.

As a disciple sharing profound unity of purpose with his mentor, Josei Toda began, amidst the postwar devastation, to construct a movement based on the solidarity of ordinary citizens of goodwill. Again, his methodology was grassroots--one-on-one dialogue and small-scale discussion meetings.

Grounded on the principle of the sanctity of life as expounded in Buddhism, this is a movement that seeks to empower people, to awaken their inner wisdom, thus creating a world in which justice and humane values are accorded universal respect.

In his theory of value, Makiguchi states that the existence of religion is justified by the degree to which it relieves suffering and brings happiness to individuals (the value of gain) and to societies (the value of goodness). In his unalloyed humanism he asserted that people do not exist to serve religion; religion exists to serve people.

* * *

Makiguchi's life was an all-out struggle against fascistic authority, never retreating a single step. His message of courage and wisdom will continue to echo and resound, awakening people's conscience in the coming centuries. He realized that, no matter how noble the principle or belief, it can only be realized through a concerted, grass-roots effort. It is in this spirit that the SGI Charter calls for dialogue and cooperation among people of different faiths toward the resolution of the fundamental issues facing humankind. This spirit of first president Makiguchi lives on within the Soka Gakkai and takes concrete form in the activities of the SGI. We will always remain firm and unbending before any form of authoritarianism, and in this way will carry on Makiguchi's beliefs and convictions far into the future. It is our determination to continue to develop and expand a people's movement of peace, education and culture into the coming millennia, in accordance with the vision of Nichiren, the founder of the school of Buddhism we practice.

For my own part I am determined, for as long as I live, to act with courage toward the realization of an era of peace in the twenty-first century, for the peace that will signal victory for all.

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