The following is a reprint of SGI President Ikeda's essay from the "Our Brilliant Path to Victory" series. It first appeared in the Oct. 14, 2011, issue of the World Tribune.

Together with millions of fellow members, I celebrate the anniversary of the day I joined the Soka Gakkai.

This Aug. 24 marks the 64th anniversary of the day on which I joined the Soka Gakkai (in 1947). I am happy to celebrate this occasion in good health amid the continued dynamic development of our movement, together with my fellow members, Bodhisattvas of the Earth who are vigorously and joyfully fulfilling their mission for kosen-rufu.

In one of his writings, Nichiren Daishonin describes the gathering of those who, at the assembly where the Lotus Sutra was preached, pledged to propagate the Lotus Sutra in the latter age after the Buddha's passing: "[Kneeling close to one another, they crowded] four hundred ten thousand million nayutas of worlds, like the grasses of Musashino Plain or

the trees covering Mount Fuji" ("An Outline of the ‘Entrustment' and Other Chapters," The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 911).

Today, mirroring this passage, many new capable people are energetically appearing and joining our ranks throughout Japan and the world. I can really sense that fresh talent and ability are burgeoning throughout our entire organization. The future division is moving ahead by leaps and bounds. The youth division is growing solidly. The women's division is vibrantly active. The men's division is striding forward in high spirits. Aug. 24, incidentally, is also Men's Division Day. The Many Treasures Group members, meanwhile, continue to exert themselves with youthful vigor.

Even in the most troubled times, our Soka family brims with an invincible fighting spirit as well as warm mutual encouragement and support.

I can hear the pleased voice of my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, saying: "I am so happy to have had such good and wonderful disciples. I am an eternal victor."

My heart dances with joy today again. How noble to dedicate one's youth to kosen-rufu!

In the summer month of August 1947, two years after Japan's defeat in World War II, I attended a discussion meeting in Tokyo's Ota Ward, large tracts of which were still burned-out ruins. It was there that I met Mr. Toda, who would become my eternal mentor.

"How old are you now?" he asked me. "I am 19," I said. Though it was our first encounter, he addressed me as if we were old acquaintances.

Actually, Mr. Toda had already heard about me sometime earlier from my friends who were local members. He knew that my eldest brother had been killed in the war, that my family's home had been destroyed in the wartime bombing, and that I was studying while trying to support my parents.

I fondly remember with deep gratitude those individuals who spoke to Mr. Toda about me. Now, whenever I hear good news about a member sharing Nichiren Buddhism with someone, I think of their earnest prayers and dedication, as well as the sincerity of everyone else involved in enabling the new person to begin practicing.

Our discussion meetings are truly gatherings that pulse with the Buddha's spirit.

Right around the time I met Mr. Toda, I was studying the book Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann with a group of friends. In it, I came across these words of Goethe: "It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal."

These words of the famous German writer and poet were certainly in my mind as I resolutely took my first step on the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple alongside Mr. Toda, who had firmly opposed Japan's wartime military authorities. In that sense, it could be said that Goethe was among those who encouraged me to take faith in Nichiren Buddhism.

I am presently engaged in a dialogue about Goethe with Dr. Manfred Osten, advisory board member of the Goethe Society in Weimar, Germany. Dr. Osten has said that he sees many points of commonality between Goethe's thinking and the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism. He also observed that human beings learn above all from role models. By "role models," here, he is referring to teachers or mentors.

Both Dr. Osten and Goethe deeply appreciate, as I do, the joy and pride that come from spending one's youth learning from and following the lead of an outstanding mentor.

On Aug. 24, 1947—a Sunday, 10 days after my initial meeting with Mr. Toda—I joined the Soka Gakkai. Looking at my diary from that time, it was a very hot day, reaching around 96 degrees. The gongyo ceremony, which was then very long, proceeded at a slow pace, and it was excruciating to remain seated on my knees in the traditional Japanese style for such a length of time. I still vividly remember that painful experience even now.

Nevertheless, I set forth on the path of faith, trusting Mr. Toda's character.

It was a tumultuous time in Japan. An article in the morning newspaper the following day reported the sobering results of a survey, which found that 90 percent of families couldn't make ends meet on their earnings alone. Two months later, the nation was shocked by the news that an upstanding judge at the Tokyo District Court had died of starvation, because he had strictly abided by food rationing and refused to eat anything purchased from black market sources. The country was also hit by a string of natural disasters—earthquakes, typhoons and the volcanic eruption of Mount Asama (which stands on the border of Gumma and Nagano prefectures on Japan's main island of Honshu).

On the international scene, Cold War tensions were on the rise, and nuclear war seemed imminent.

Mr. Toda was giving a lecture on the Daishonin's treatise "On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land" at that first discussion meeting I attended. Just as he emphasized on that occasion, though still few in number, we, the members of the Soka Gakkai, walking the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple, were raising high the banner of the correct teaching of Buddhism in order to illuminate and dispel the darkness of Japan's postwar chaos and confusion.

By curious coincidence, according to the old Julian calendar that was used in Europe during that same time period, the Japanese date of the 16th day of the seventh month (July 16) of 1260—the day that Nichiren submitted "On Establishing the Correct Teaching" and remonstrated with the government—corresponds to Aug. 24, 1260.

Mr. Toda declared: "What matters most about a person are their principles and their actions. That's why Soka Gakkai youth, who uphold the world's supreme philosophy and are taking action for the happiness of others, should always have the courage, self-confidence and conviction to talk to anybody about their beliefs."

The struggle to establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land that I embarked upon from that Aug. 24, when I was 19 years old, became the purpose of my youth and my entire life.

In "On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings," the Daishonin warns: "From the very day you listen to [and take faith in] this sutra, you should be fully prepared" (WND-1, 391). This, he says, is because "once you become a disciple or lay supporter of the votary who practices the true Lotus Sutra in accord with the Buddha's teachings, you are bound to face the three types of enemies" (WND-1, 391).

When Mr. Toda went to prison together with founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi for standing up to the Japanese militarist authorities during World War II, he was filled with a deep sense of gratitude toward his mentor. With that in mind, I pledged that I, too, would give my life to following their solemn and noble example of the oneness of mentor and disciple. That is why, when Mr. Toda's businesses fell into crisis and all his other disciples abandoned him, my loyalty to him never faltered in the least.

On Aug. 24, 1950, the third anniversary of my joining the Soka Gakkai, Mr. Toda announced he would be resigning as the organization's general director [to prevent the Soka Gakkai from being embroiled in his business troubles]. I fiercely resolved to do everything possible to overcome this bitter adversity and ensure that he would be inaugurated as second Soka Gakkai president without fail.

It was also that Aug. 24 that Mr. Toda and I discussed the founding of a Soka Gakkai newspaper. This date, therefore, marks the starting point of the Seikyo Shimbun, our great "bastion of the pen" dedicated to opening the future of kosenrufu.

In any event, it is at the most challenging and difficult times that the greatest causes for victory can be created. This is the power of the Mystic Law, which enables us to "change poison into medicine"—that is, to positively transform even the most negative circumstances. In light of this profound principle of cause and effect, there can be no doubt that our members in Tohoku, who are making valiant efforts to rebuild their lives and communities in the areas devastated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, are certain to attain great victory.

As I write the newest chapter of my novel The New Human Revolution, "The Light of Happiness"—which centers on my 1977 visit to Tohoku—I am chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every day together with my wife, praying fervently for the happiness and welfare of all our members in Tohoku.

Recently, a prefecture young women's division leader from the Tohoku region brought a wonderful photo album brimming with sincerity to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters. It contained snapshots of numerous smiling young women, each taking a turn wearing the medal accompanying the Kayo-kai Laurel Award.

The prefecture young women's division leader had received the award at the July Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting in Tokyo. In her heart, she accepted the award on behalf of all her fellow young women's division members in her prefecture with whom she had shared joys and sorrows. After returning to Tohoku, she brought the medal along with her to the local broadcasts of the headquarters leaders meeting and other places she went, and took photographs of individual young women wearing it. Though many of these young women had lost their homes or beloved family members in the disaster, they had summoned the courage to rise above indescribable suffering and move forward in their lives. The images of these young women exuded a nobility and majesty, the medal shining both as a tribute to the inner brilliance of life and the strength of ordinary people.

Inside the album was written the pledge: "Through rebuilding our lives and communities— bringing them to shine with the light of happiness—we will continue to send hope and courage to people across the globe."

Herein lies the beauty of the world of Soka that I have built over the past 64 years together with my mentor and all my fellow members.

Many years ago, I composed a poem for the first graduating class of Soka Women's College. I would now like to dedicate it to the Ikeda Kayo-kai members, filled with fresh hopes and aspirations:

The morning sun of wisdom that rises in youth smiles even amid life's storms.

How admirable are you, my fellow members, proudly upholding the Buddha's decree as noble Bodhisattvas of the Earth endowed with an eternal mission.

An article I wrote in connection with the upcoming [Sept. 1, 2011] opening of the Soka Gakkai's new environmental exhibition "The Earth and Me" in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture in Japan, was published in the local newspaper, Sanyo Shimbun [on Aug. 19, 2011]. On the very same page was a dramatic image released by NASA of two galaxies in the early stages of colliding some 450 million light years from Earth. It was a picture, in other words, of a spectacular meeting of galaxies. When galaxies collide, the powerful shock waves produced can trigger the formation of new stars. It is believed that over the course of millions of years, these two galaxies will eventually merge into one.

The stars in the universe ceaselessly travel their respective courses through space. Releasing boundless energy, they are engaged in a magnificent, continuing cycle of life. I spoke at length about this great drama unfolding throughout the universe in my dialogue with the Brazilian astronomer Ronaldo Mourão. Dr. Mourão and I agreed that, just as the stars have their paths, so human beings have theirs. What is the truest path for human beings? Dr. Mourão maintained that it is the path of learning from the example of a teacher or mentor.

In his writings, Nichiren Daishonin describes the struggle he undertook to propagate the correct teaching of Buddhism year after year, saying, "I have not once retreated, but have continued to speak out all the more strongly—just as the moon waxes or as the tide rises" ("Letter to the Lay Priest Nakaoki," The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1006). It is the proud history of the mentors and disciples of Soka that, year after year, with Aug. 24 as an important prime point, we have built an ever-greater network of capable Bodhisattvas of the Earth, like a growing galaxy.

Incidentally, it was also on Aug. 24 in the year 2001 that the first entrance ceremony for Soka University of America, a towering citadel for fostering humanistic leaders for the new century, was held. The members of the Class of 2015, brimming with high hopes and aspirations, have begun their studies there this year [2011].

I was 19, and my mentor, Josei Toda, was 47 when I decided on Aug. 24, 1947, to follow his lead and embark on the struggle to propagate Nichiren Buddhism and realize peace for all humankind. Mr. Toda was in his prime at the time—a courageous man at the height of his powers. Our shared struggle as mentor and disciple could also be seen in today's terms as a shared struggle by a men's division member and a young men's division member. Mr. Toda's veteran ability and leadership, and my indefatigable youthful enthusiasm and energy— this sublime combination is what gave birth to the Soka Gakkai's invincible strength.

In view of this background, it is extremely significant that Aug. 24 is today designated as Men's Division Day. With this day as an annual milestone, men's division members throughout Japan and the world are moving ahead vigorously. Amid the present difficult economic times, our men's division members are facing many daunting challenges. Each day is filled with untold struggles and hardships.

Yet in spite of this, they continue to support and encourage their fellow members, regularly meeting and talking with them one-to-one. They are also actively involved in fostering the young men's division members and working alongside them to open wide the path to a new age. I wish to convey my deepest respect for their indomitable challenging spirit.

The American poet Walt Whitman (1819–92) wrote, "A man, a sure man, must have guts." These words echo the spirit of our men's division members.

When did Whitman achieve his greatest growth as a person and a thinker? According to professor Kenneth Price of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a leading Whitman scholar, this happened when Whitman spent two years in his mid-40s caring for soldiers wounded in the American Civil War (1861–65). Looking back on that time, Whitman recalled: "I did a lot of that work in the hospitals: It was in a sense the most nearly real work of my life." He was at the age of many of the younger members of the Soka Gakkai's men's division when he threw himself into the midst of ordinary people and devoted himself to helping those hovering between life and death.

Through that experience, Dr. Price says, Whitman found and confirmed his sense of the grandeur, and the capacity and potential of ordinary people; it was also as a result of this that his poetic style underwent a transformation.

Our men's division members are also striving tirelessly and valiantly among the people day in and day out. That is why they are able to polish themselves and demonstrate their true abilities as human beings and as Buddhists.

In tribute to the unflagging human spirit, Whitman sang, "Ever the undiscouraged, resolute, struggling soul of man." I would like to heartily applaud our men's division members, champions of humanity and the people, who epitomize this dauntless spirit.

At that first meeting with Mr. Toda 64 years ago, I recited an impromptu poem to thank him. It contained the lines:

In the chaos of darkness before the dawn

Seeking the light, I advance . . .

Dr. Price says he sees this poem as expressing a clear hope for progression from one condition or state of being to a better one. When entering the fog or chaos, he says, you have a choice between fear and trust—between taking no step or moving forward—and that it hinges on your faith in your own capacities. If you believe that good will prevail over evil, you can take one step forward, he asserts.

I am honored and gratified by Dr. Price's profound and warm understanding of the sentiment I tried to communicate in that youthful poem.

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth appear in the Lotus Sutra. In a broader sense, they are hope-filled individuals who vibrantly emerge from the earth of the ordinary people—individuals who, even amid the darkest confusion and chaos, continue to believe in the positive potential of humanity and the ultimate triumph of truth and justice. Precisely because of the growing sense of powerlessness and deadlock that characterizes the present times, we need to awaken to and summon forth our inner life force as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

This June, the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, headed by Board President William Walter, presented me with its Walt Whitman Champion of Literacy Award. I wish to share this honor with my dear fellow members in the United States and all around the globe—with these heroic words of Whitman in my heart: "The trial great, the victory great."

I vividly recall an observation that Whitman once made to his young disciple Horace Traubel (1858–1919): "I have a great emotional respect for the background people—for the folks who are not generally included—for the absentees, the forgotten: the shy nobodies who in the end are best of all."

None are more admirable than the Soka Gakkai members—ordinary people who exert themselves wholeheartedly for the happiness of others, for Buddhism and for society, whether anyone recognizes their efforts or not; ordinary people who speak out tirelessly for truth and justice while expanding our network for peace one person at a time.

Whitman surely dreamed of a future in which the people would be victorious, a time when the people would sing a song of victory. And there is no doubt that his disciple Traubel shared that vision.

Whitman expressed his full and solid trust in Traubel [who served as his secretary and literary representative in the last years of his life], declaring, "I am disposed to trust myself more and more to your younger body and spirit, knowing . . . that you understand me and can be depended upon to represent me not only vehemently but with authority."

Traubel was about 15 years old when he met Whitman, who was in his 50s. As their friendship developed, he became Whitman's trusted assistant, doing anything he could to support and aid the older man's cause. When Whitman was criticized and misunderstood, Traubel stood by him and gave his all to making the poet's greatness known to the world. He regarded taking action for the sake of his mentor as his greatest pride and honor in life, and this commitment continued even after Whitman passed away.

On the centennial of Whitman's birth (May 31, 1919), when Traubel was 60 years old, he wrote a tribute to his mentor, in which he speaks of still striving together with him: "Yes, dear Walt, with you still sowing seed: sowing, sowing."

This is the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple. It is the way of a true disciple.

In the 64 years since I encountered Mr. Toda and became his disciple, he has never been out of my thoughts for a moment. I have walked straight ahead on the great path of the shared commitment of mentor and disciple, the path of singleminded devotion as a disciple. And now, disciples who are "bluer than indigo"— whose achievements will far surpass my own—are following in my footsteps.

This is the great and honorable path we walk, a path free of all regret.

Soka youth all across Japan right now are studying intensively for the upcoming Youth Division Advanced-level Study Exam at the beginning of October.

One of the study materials for the exam is the Daishonin's "The Selection of the Time," an important writing that I also studied soon after joining the Soka Gakkai. In it, the Daishonin states:

"When two people, three people, ten people, and eventually a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, and a million people come to recite the Lotus Sutra [i.e., chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] and transmit it to others, then they will form a Mount Sumeru of perfect enlightenment, an ocean of great nirvana. Seek no other path by which to attain Buddhahood!" (WND-1, 580)

In accord with this decree of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, I have striven with all my might to overcome every obstacle and vanquish the three powerful enemies in order to open the way for the magnificent future of kosen-rufu.

With an unchanging commitment to the vow I made when I was 19 years old, I am determined to continue chanting and taking action each day, based on the quintessential teaching that "Buddhism means winning," so that we can foster even more wonderful capable people, and so that all our noble members dedicated to kosen-rufu everywhere can achieve brilliant victories to their hearts' content.

The oneness of mentor and disciple is the key to victory in Buddhism— win resolutely, achieving victory after victory!