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Makiguchi's Lifelong Pursuit of Justice and Humane Values (Simon Wiesenthal Center, USA, 1996)

(Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, California, USA, June 4, 1996)

In January 1993, just prior to its official opening, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of Tolerance. The history of the Holocaust must be termed the ultimate tragedy wrought by human hatred and intolerance. Viewing the exhibits, I was powerfully moved. More than that, however, I was profoundly outraged. Exceeding either of these emotions was the intensity of the determination that welled up within me: the determination that we must never allow this tragedy to be repeated--in any age, in any country.

Taking to heart the words of Simon Wiesenthal, that "Hope lives when people remember," and with the unstinting support and cooperation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Soka University was proud to organize the exhibit "The Courage to Remember" (Japanese title: "Anne Frank and the Holocaust") at venues throughout Japan beginning in May 1994.

At the initial opening of the exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, Rabbi Cooper led a distinguished delegation from the Center, and we were honored by the attendance of U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale as well as diplomatic representatives from twenty countries.

On August 15 of last year, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the exhibition opened in Hiroshima. At that time Rabbi Hier represented the Center at an opening ceremony attended by many prominent figures. "The Courage to Remember" later traveled to Okinawa and to date has been shown in a total of nineteen Japanese cities.

The exhibit has had an average of five thousand visitors per day, and thus far has been seen by approximately one million Japanese citizens. Many of the visitors are children and teenagers, and we frequently see them moved to tears by the courageous example of their fellow teen Anne Frank, whose life is portrayed in the exhibit. There has also been an endless succession of parents visiting the exhibition with their children. I am gratified to report that "The Courage to Remember" is serving as a site of learning where people are being awakened to an invaluable sense of justice.

At the initial opening, I could not help but recall the words of my mentor, Josei Toda: "One must learn from the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people." Indeed, I feel that there is much to learn from the strength and courage that has enabled the Jewish people to overcome endless persecutions and tragedies over the centuries.

As they have risen above each of the trials that has beset them, the Jewish people have learned, have remembered, and have passed on their wisdom and spiritual strength to succeeding generations. The courage to remember is at the same time the compassion to teach. Hatred is learned; tolerance must therefore be taught.

Buddhism asserts that anger can function both for good and for evil.

Needless to say, anger that serves self-absorbed emotionalism or greed is of an evil nature. Anger driven by hatred brings only conflict and confrontation to human society.

Anger, however, that is directed at great evil, against the desecration of humanity and the abusive disregard for human life, is anger of great good. This kind of anger reforms and rejuvenates society, opening the way to a world of humanism and peace.

Indeed, the emotion which "The Courage to Remember" inspires in viewers is none other than this feeling of "righteous anger."

One of the most important issues facing humankind in the wake of the Cold War is that of how to bridge the chasms of mistrust and hatred between different peoples, cultures and religions. I was deeply struck by the following words spoken by Dr. Wiesenthal, when he addressed the 50th Session of the United Nations General Assembly last November, in a culminating event of the United Nations Year for Tolerance. He stated:

"Tolerance is the prerequisite for the peaceful coexistence of all people on this earth and the only alternative to the hatred that led to the horrible crimes against humanity. Hatred is the evil opposite of tolerance." 1.

It should be noted here that, like anger, tolerance also has its passive and its active modes, its helpful and its harmful forms.

The indifference and apathy that is so prevalent in modern societies could be cited as an example of passive tolerance. Earlier in this century, the Japanese tendency to confuse unprincipled compromise for tolerance created the spiritual conditions that led to the growth of militarism--and to the bitter historical experience that followed.

In contrast, active tolerance is inseparable from the courage to resolutely oppose and resist all forms of violence and injustice that threaten human dignity. It is a way of life based on empathy, seeing the world through other people's eyes, feeling their sufferings and joys as one's own.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center provides a model of positive tolerance, actively seeking to create opportunities for dialogue between cultures, promoting shared learning and mutual understanding. A person of true tolerance is at the same time a courageous person of action who works to encourage the bonds of empathy and appreciation among people.

It is an unparalleled honor to have this opportunity to speak about the life of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the teacher of my teacher and first president of the Soka Gakkai, here at the Simon Wiesenthal Center--a fortress dedicated to the noble mission of protecting peace and human rights. I would like to share with you the convictions for which Makiguchi gave his life, focusing on the two themes of "righteous anger" and "active tolerance."

The following quotes 2 from Makiguchi's writings will suffice to indicate the degree to which his thinking ran counter to that of Japanese militarism--the prevailing mood of his times.

"Rebuking and removing evil is part and parcel of embracing and protecting good."

"If you cannot be a courageous enemy of evil, you cannot be a friend to the good."

"One must not be satisfied with passive goodness; one must be a person of courage and mettle who can actively strive for good."

Makiguchi opposed Japan's role in World War II and the restrictions the military government imposed on freedom of religion. As a consequence, he was jailed, abused and died in prison at the age of seventy-three.

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." June 6, the day after tomorrow, will mark the 125th anniversary of his birth.

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.

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" (Jpn. 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?" 3.

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." 4.

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 development 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 that "The only value in the true sense is that of life itself. All other values arise solely within the context of interaction with life." 5 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." 6 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." 7 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."

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" 8 and with lese-majesty, 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, asking the other prisoners 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. 9 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. 10.

There is a famous Buddhist aphorism that if you light a lamp for another, your own path will be brightened. 11 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 12 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 fights. 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 fives 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.

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." 13 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.

This past April, a cherry tree was planted on the Tokyo campus of Soka University, an institution that takes as its founding spirit the philosophy of President Makiguchi.

Seeking to eternalize the memory of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who consecrated his life to the realization of Middle East peace, this tree was planted in a ceremony attended by Vice President Moshe Arad of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which has recently concluded agreements for academic and student exchanges with Soka University.

Prime Minister Rabin left us these unforgettable words. "There is no greater victory than peace. In war there are the victors and the vanquished. But in peace, everyone is a victor." 14.

I am profoundly confident that as each spring brings new and fuller bloom to the Rabin Cherry Tree, we will see new generations emerge committed to the same vision of peace which was his pursuit. Truly, education represents the light of hope and new life.

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 15 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. And I trust that I will have the pleasure and privilege of sharing that journey with our distinguished friends and colleagues gathered here today.

In closing, I would like to dedicate today's talk to President Makiguchi and to all those who have given their lives for justice and humane values, and to the youth of our world who live each day with a profound determination toward the future.

It is my belief-
- that a person, a people,
who embrace a noble philosophy,
people upholding sublime faith--
that only a person, a people,
who, amidst raging storms,
live out the drama
of reality and grand ideals,
subjected to and enduring
limitless persecution--
that only such a person,
only such a people,
will be bathed in the sunlight
of perpetual joy, glory and victory.

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