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Daisaku Ikeda


It is a pleasure and privilege to have this opportunity to contribute a paper on the parallels between the life and thinking of the Japanese educator and activist Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) and the great American philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952).

Although I never had direct, personal contact with Makiguchi, he was teacher of my own teacher, Josei Toda (1900-58) and as such his philosophy and commitments have been a consistent presence in my life for more than one half century. During his long career as a primary school principal, he developed a unique theory of education that drew on his own teaching experience, his reading of contemporary educational theorists, including Dewey, and the Buddhism he embraced in the final years of his life.

During the final years of World War II, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (value-creating education society), the movement for educational, social and religious reform founded by Makiguchi and Toda, was violently suppressed by Japan's militarist authorities. Makiguchi and Toda were jailed and Makiguchi died in prison at age seventy-three. Toda, surviving the ordeal, rebuilt the organization as a populist movement, the Soka Gakkai, based on the ideals of Buddhist humanism expounded by Makiguchi. My mentor's profound outrage against what he termed the "demonic nature of authority"--which had deprived Makiguchi of first his freedom, then his life--has been impressed indelibly on my being. It has driven my own determination to work for peace, for inter-cultural exchange and understanding, and for education.

The desire to implement Makiguchi's student-centered educational theories inspired me to found the Soka school system, which now includes a four-year university, high schools and junior high schools, and elementary schools and kindergartens in Japan, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Further, educators in places as diverse as India and Brazil are presently studying and putting into practice Makiguchi's educational ideas.

The movement Makiguchi founded has evolved into the Soka Gakkai International, a global movement for the creation of value with members active in 163 countries and regions around the world. In this way, the ideas of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who died in obscurity, continue to play an important role in the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Finally, it is necessary to note that academic research into Makiguchi's life and ideas is still in its early stages. Because the final years of his life were lived under the conditions of surveillance, censorship and finally imprisonment, the definitive Japanese edition of his writings has yet to be completed, as previously unknown texts and biographical facts continue to come to light. 


Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) was a Japanese educator whose life and thinking contain many parallels to John Dewey. His writings on education contain references to Dewey and he acknowledged an intellectual debt to the pioneering American educator. Makiguchi has been described as the progenitor of an "indigenous Japanese pragmatism." (Bethel 1973, 79) Indeed, his philosophy of education, an experiential mode of learning aimed at equipping children to learn and, in his phrase, to "create value" throughout their lives, resonates deeply with Dewey's ideas.

As contemporaries, Dewey and Makiguchi shared and were shaped by the intellectual milieu of the latter half of the nineteenth century, the legacy of Durkheim, Darwin, Hegel and Kant. In particular, both struggled to come to terms with the influence of the idealism of the neo-Kantian and Hegelian schools, and to develop a philosophy capable of guiding actual life toward optimal experience. For Dewey, this signified continual growth; Makiguchi defined this way of life as one of "value creation."

As the sources of his educational philosophy, Makiguchi cites among others Pestalozzi, Herbart, Fröbel and the Danish educator N. F. S. Grundtvig, who were each also a presence in the American educational landscape. The American educator Francis W. Parker (1837-1902) provides a point of intellectual contact between Dewey and Makiguchi. "Colonel" Parker, who was hailed by Dewey as "the father of progressive education" was the subject of a 1897 essay by Makiguchi in which he expresses his support for the view that the school should function as a bridge between family life and a life of social solidarity. (7:262)

There are important parallels in their attempts to extend the realm of pragmatic thinking; to take it beyond the classroom and the institutions of education to the broader framework of building communities and societies; to look with fresh eyes at the role of religion in propelling that effort. Both Dewey and Makiguchi focused on the growth and development of the student into a fully realized human being actively engaged in society and the world at large.

At the same time, there are important differences between the two. The most crucial of these concerns how their ideas were received in their respective societies. The contrast between Makiguchi's and Dewey's lives speaks powerfully to the differences of the cultural settings in which they functioned and which they sought to reform. While Dewey distinguished precisely between the ideal of democracy and its present state of development in the United States, Makiguchi lived in Japan in an era of steadily diminishing freedom. As Dewey himself wrote following his visit to Japan in 1919, "It takes more force, more moral courage to be an outspoken critic of the politics and social condition of one's nation, to be a dissenter, in Japan than in any other country in the world." (Letters, 166-169) Throughout his life, Makiguchi was just such a critic and as a result, experienced constant marginalization and conflict with the educational establishment of Japan.

Makiguchi challenged assumptions central to the organization of education in Japan, and ultimately to the political organization of the state itself. First, he challenged the precedence accorded to abstract (often imported) pedagogical theories over the actual classroom experience of educators. Second, he challenged the notion, integral to Japan's national project since its opening to the West after two centuries of isolation, that the purpose of education is to create obedient servants of the state. His assertion, radical in that setting, was that the goal of education is the lifetime happiness of the individual learner. He was also firm in his defense of the educational process from what he perceived as political meddling. In 1931 after repeated clashes with the authorities, and despite his popularity among students, parents and his fellow teachers, he was assigned to a school that was scheduled to be closed the following year.

From around 1929, sensing that he was being driven from the educational arena, Makiguchi began to set down his educational ideas in a systematic fashion. 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. At the same time, he and Toda founded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (value-creating education society), the forebear of the present Soka Gakkai International (SGI).

Two years earlier, in 1928, Makiguchi had embraced Nichiren Buddhism, which he saw as providing a deeper philosophical basis and means for the realization of the educational and social reforms he had pursued throughout his life. During the 1930s and early 1940s, State Shinto was raised to the status of the officially sanctioned religion of Japan and was used to focus the spiritual energies of the nation on the war effort. Throughout this period, Makiguchi continued to criticize the structures of Japanese authority, despite the increasing pressures brought to bear against him. To the educational and ethical dimensions of his earlier critiques of Japanese society, he now added a religious one. He remained outspoken in his advocacy of freedom of conscience, and refused to worship the Shinto talisman as demanded by the authorities.

In July 1943 Makiguchi was arrested as a thought criminal. During his interrogation he continued to give clear voice to the ideas for which he had been arrested. He died in jail on November 18, 1944, a martyr to his ideals.

Early Years in Meiji-Era (1868-1912) Japan

Most of the extant photographs of Makiguchi show an expression that can best be characterized as stern. Those who interacted with him, however, have described him as warm and compassionate. Makiguchi's empathy and support, particularly for the down-trodden, can probably be traced to the sufferings of his youth. The process by which Japan transformed itself, in the last decades of the nineteenth century, from a feudal, largely agrarian society into a modern industrial power was accompanied by large-scale dislocation and disruption. Niigata Prefecture, where Makiguchi was born in 1871, felt these changes deeply. The supplanting of traditional Japan Sea trading routes sent once prospering communities into decline. Amidst extreme poverty, Makiguchi's father abandoned him at age three. His mother felt unable to care for him and he was entrusted to relatives.

His efforts to continue his education were hampered by the poverty of his adoptive family and the need to work to help support them. In 1885, at age fourteen, he left home and moved to Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, where he found work as an errand boy in a police station. Recognizing his intellectual gifts, however, his supervisor supported Makiguchi's effort to attend a teachers' college, from which he graduated in 1893 at age twenty-two. The fact that he had not graduated from a prestigious, national university was one impediment to the acceptance for his ideas within the Japanese educational establishment which then--as now--placed foremost emphasis on formal pedigree.

It was during Makiguchi's days as a young teacher that Japan began pursuing in earnest a national policy of "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.

For example, in October 1890, the Japanese government had issued the Imperial Rescript on Education in the name of Emperor Meiji. This document served as a powerful instrument of political indoctrination and remained in effect until the end of World War II. Certified copies of the rescript were distributed to every school throughout the nation and it was ceremoniously read at all important school events. Students were required to study and memorize the text for their moral education classes. This 315-character text defined Japan's unique national polity based on the historical bonds uniting its benevolent rulers and their loyal subjects. It also stated as an imperative that all Japanese subjects should cultivate virtues, central among them being loyalty and filial piety for the greater glory of the imperial household. Makiguchi's assertion that the Emperor should not demand this loyalty was one of the charges listed in the indictment against him at the time of his arrest in 1943.

The Geography of Human Life

In 1903, at the age of thirty-two, Makiguchi published his thousand-page work Jinsei Chirigaku (The Geography of Human Life). Makiguchi's interest in geography, in particular, the interaction between and impact of geographical features and human activities, finds a parallel in Dewey's own thought. As Dewey wrote in The School and Society:

The unity of all the sciences is found in geography. The significance of geography is that it presents the earth as the enduring home of the occupations of man. The world without its relationship to human activity is less than a world. (18) 

Makiguchi's Geography was published on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, as a result of which Japan emerged on the world stage as a major power. 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 sought to promote the ideal of global citizens who, while rooted in the local community, would avoid the pitfalls of "narrow-minded nationalism." He also compared imperialism to thievery on a grand scale, (1:15) the outcome of national egotism. (Makiguchi, Geography 5:27) 

Makiguchi in the same work declared that "the freedom and rights of the individual are sacred and inviolable." (Makiguchi 2:341) It is important to note that the Japanese emperor had been granted supreme sovereignty and power by the 1889 Meiji Constitution, in which his person was described using these same words, "sacred and inviolable." To appropriate this language, intimately linked to the Emperor, for this distinctly democratic usage, was, in the context of his time, nothing less than audacious.

While Makiguchi was critical of what he termed "narrow-minded nationalism," he was also skeptical of "vacuous, utopian globalism," devoid of actual content. He posited a three-layered scheme of identity or citizenship; education should instill a sense of belonging and commitment to the community, to the nation, and to the world. (1:15) Ultimately, he saw the welfare of the world as intimately linked with and necessary to individual well-being. Years later, in 1941, at a time when Japanese society was fully under the sway of virulent ultranationalism, Makiguchi would return again to the theme of the interdependent connections between the individual and the life of the world:

Unless the ultimate aim is established, intermediate aims cannot be fixed. Without perceiving the world, one cannot understand the nation. Unless the life of the nation is realized, individual livelihood cannot be secured. Therefore, if we are to achieve stability of individual livelihood in every household, that of the nation must first be established. Without the well-being of the world, that of a nation cannot be assured. (10:7) 

Humanitarian Competition

Also in the Geography of Human Life, Makiguchi set forth his ideas about the path that human civilization had followed and the direction in which it should move. Influenced, like Dewey, by the Darwinian image of evolution, Makiguchi saw competition in its various forms as a driving force in history. Also like Dewey, Makiguchi never unquestioningly embraced the cult of progress, but interrogated it from a variety of perspectives. He described the shifts over time in modes of national competition: from the military, to the political, to the economic--which he saw becoming, at the turn of the 20th century, the predominant mode of competition.

Finally, moving from the descriptive to the predictive, he set out a vision of what he termed "humanitarian competition"--where he saw the future of his country and of humankind to lie. What Makiguchi described as humanitarian competition is not merely a locational or methodological shift in the competitive arena and modes. It represents a profound qualitative transformation in the very nature of competition, toward one which is based on a recognition of the interrelatedness and interdependence of human communities and which emphasizes the cooperative aspects of living.

He foresaw an age in which the power of character and the humane qualities of individuals and whole societies--manifested in the creative forces of their cultural achievements--would be a greater force than military prowess, political or economic domination. He envisaged a time when people and countries would compete -- in the original sense of "seeking together" -- to make the greatest contribution to human happiness and well-being.

He also saw humanitarian competition influencing and transforming other modes of competition.

The methods of humanitarian competition are not, of course, simple or unitary; all other forms of competition--military, political, economic--must be conducted within a humanitarian framework. In other words, the objective of states should not be merely the selfish pursuit of their own good, but should be to enhance the lives of other peoples as well. We must choose those methods that profit ourselves while profiting others. We must learn to engage consciously in collective life. (2:399) 

This echoes Dewey's call for "drawing out and composing into a harmonious whole the best, the most characteristic which each contributing race and people has to offer." (Dewey, MW, 10:204)

Towards the end of this work, and without much elaboration, Makiguchi wrote that he saw the first signs of humanitarian competition emerging in the United States. At the same time, he clearly hoped that Japan would choose the path of humanitarian competition.

Makiguchi saw a special role for island nations which, being connected by oceans to the rest of the world, tended to act as points of contact, interaction and fusion among the world's cultures. He identified three island nations which he saw playing a pivotal role in the future of human civilization: Britain on the western edge of the Eurasian continent, Japan on the eastern flank, and the United States which he considered an island nation writ large. Of these three, he saw the British Isles as already fulfilling the role of a cultural center; the United States was likewise destined he felt, by location and by the multiple cultures it was embracing and absorbing, to become the future locus of human civilization. In Japan, he saw a similar potential and voiced his strong hope that this indeed would be the path Japan would choose to tread.

The Geography closes with the hope that these three countries will make full use of their respective situations, propitious to the development of culture and the advancement of civilization, to engage in humanitarian competition for the benefit of the entire world.

Teaching Career and Educational Philosophy

In 1913, at age forty-two, Makiguchi was appointed principal of a primary school in Tokyo. For almost twenty years, he served in this capacity, assisting in the development of some of Tokyo's most outstanding public schools such as Shirogane and Taisho Primary Schools, at times even holding positions in two schools simultaneously.

As evidenced in his writing, Makiguchi was aware of Dewey's ideas and drew on them in his efforts to reform the Japanese educational system. In The School and Society, Dewey called for a Copernican revolution, by which the child becomes the center around which all educational endeavors must revolve.

Makiguchi likewise strove to make what we would now term "the best interests of the child" central to the theory and practice of education. He denounced what he termed the force-feeding of knowledge far removed from the realities of the child's everyday living. In its place, he called for education to have the happiness of children as its fundamental purpose. These sentiments can be sensed in the introduction to his 1930 work Soka Kyoikugaku Taikei (The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy):

I am driven by the intense desire to prevent the present deplorable situation --ten million of our children and students forced to endure the agonies of cutthroat competition, the difficulty of getting into good schools, the "examination hell" and the struggle for jobs after graduation -- from afflicting the next generation. I therefore have no time to be concerned with the shifting vagaries of public opinion, ... (5:8) 

Indeed, Makiguchi was relentless in his critique of those social structures and authorities that accepted or actively promoted coercive and destructive modes of education. Makiguchi's views of education stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing nationalist agenda with its focus on raising "little national citizens" (shokokumin). In the Pedagogy, he asked: "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?" (4:27) Makiguchi's focus of interest was never the state, but always people, individual human beings.

The Pedagogy, incidentally, offers the one point of known, if indirect, contact, between Makiguchi and Dewey, in the form of a shared friend, Japanese diplomat and League of Nations Undersecretary-General (1920-27) Inazo Nitobe. Nitobe had encouraged Makiguchi's independent scholarship and wrote the foreword to the Pedagogy, in which he described Makiguchi's views on education as representing a "major shift from the present idealistic approach to a genuine science of education." And it was Nitobe who had played host to his longtime friend Dewey during his 1919 visit to Japan.

There was a strong preference in Japanese educational circles for "high-minded conceptual theories" and contempt for "mere experience." In contrast, Makiguchi always stressed an experience-centered approach. He strongly asserted the importance of teachers assessing "cases of success and failure by analyzing their daily teaching experiences" as a basis for the discovery of principles. (5:12) In other words, he believed that principles should be extracted from experience, and not imposed on reality "from above." Makiguchi's own ideas about education were derived directly from his experience as a teacher and school principal. The four volumes of the Pedagogy(twelve were initially planned) were edited from the small mountain of notes that he jotted on the scraps of paper that he kept with him always for that purpose, sometimes even pausing in mid-conversation to set down a thought.

What he had observed and experienced as a teacher was widespread suffering and the tragic waste of human potential. His first posting as a teacher had been to a remote, rural region of Japan, where he taught in the Japanese equivalent of a one-room schoolhouse. The children were poor and the manners they brought from their impoverished homes were rough.

Makiguchi, however, was insistent: "They are all equally students. From the viewpoint of education, what difference could there be between them and other students? Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this? The teacher is all that stands between them and the cruel discrimination of society." (7:183)

In 1920, Makiguchi was assigned as the principal of a primary school in one of Tokyo's poorest neighborhoods. With the end of World War I, the demand for wartime production that had boosted the Japanese economy collapsed, and the unskilled laborers who were the parents of Makiguchi's pupils were forced to compete for meager employment opportunities. Moved by the spectacle of dire need, Makiguchi prepared box lunches out of his own pocket for children whose families could not afford them, and in order not to hurt their feelings, left these in the janitor's room for children to freely take them. This predated by many years before the establishment of a formal school lunch program in Japan. 

Confrontation with Educational Authorities

In Makiguchi's time, it was customary for principals to pay visits to the wealthy and influential families in the school district, a practice that he consistently refused to follow. Makiguchi also refused to accept the prevailing custom of granting special treatment to the children of influential families, and encouraged teachers working under him to do likewise. When wealthy parents sought special treatment for their children, Makiguchi flatly refused.

In 1919, this stance came to the attention of a leading local politician, who lobbied for Makiguchi's removal. Students, teachers and parents all rallied to Makiguchi's defense and sought to have the transfer order stayed, even staging a three-day boycott of classes. Even after he had been transferred to another primary school, this same politician continued his campaign against Makiguchi. This time, Makiguchi was able to make the educational authorities renovate a playground as a condition for accepting the transfer.

Because of these experiences, he insisted that it is crucial to create an inviolable realm for education, one protected from abuses of authority. To this end, he made a number of proposals in the Pedagogy of Value-Creating Education and elsewhere. For example, he urged that an examination system be instituted for elementary school principals, to provide an objective, impartial basis for selection and to forestall selection of candidates with political or other connections. Also among Makiguchi's controversial proposals was a call to abolish the system of official inspection through which representatives of the central bureaucracy could directly interfere in the running of local schools. 

Instead he advocated a democratic, participatory vision of education. He saw this as essential to assuring children's right to learn. He urged parents, and mothers especially, to become involved as active partners in their children's education. As mild as this may seem from the perspective of the present, it should be remembered that in Japan until very recently the standard expression for "parents" in relation to educational concerns has been fukei (lit. "fathers and elder brothers").

The Role of Teachers

What then is the concrete methodology of Makiguchi's value-creating education, and what roles does it suggest for teacher and learner? First, the emphasis shifts from education as the transmission of knowlege, a view that continues to predominate in Japan to this day, to education as the process of learning to learn. As Makiguchi put it:

[Education] is not the piecemeal merchandising of information; it is the provision of keys that will allow people to unlock the vault of knowledge on their own. It does not consist in pilfering the intellectual property amassed by others through no additional effort of one's own; it would rather place people on their own path of discovery and invention. (6:285; Bethel 1989, 168)

This quest for "discovery and invention" may be described as the learner's autonomous effort to discover and create value amidst the realities of life.

For teachers, this means several things. First, they must reassess their role as teachers.

Teachers should come down from the throne where they are ensconced as the object of veneration to become public servants who offer guidance to those who seek to ascend to the throne of learning. They should not be masters who offer themselves as paragons, but partners in the discovery of new models. (6:289)

The role suggested here bears resemblance to Socrates' metaphor of the educator as midwife, or as gardener drawn by Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel. The emphasis in Makiguchi's pedagogy is not on teaching so much as the work of carefully guiding the students' own process of learning.

Thus teachers must be diligent in their own efforts to deepen their understanding of how learning occurs and to this end, Makiguchi, like Dewey, urged a commitment to an empirical method.

Positivism says that we are to take the daily realities before us in education as our working knowledge, then wield the scrupulous scalpel of the scientist to dissect out educational theory; that is, to yield the constant truths at the root of educational practice. Only then will education embrace an integrally systematized body of knowledge (5:20; Bethel 1989, 7-8)

This also requires continuous learning and personal growth on the part of educators. Makiguchi himself was already past fifty when he took up the study of English with the help of a text book designed for junior high school students.

Another anecdote comes to us from Masataka Kubota, a teacher at the Nishimachi Primary School in Tokyo where Makiguchi was principal in 1920:

having worked for a number of principals, there was nobody as devoted to learning as Mr. Makiguchi. 

The principal [Makiguchi] always had a newly published book in his hand, which he never monopolized, but always left for us to read, always inquiring after our impressions of the book. (Isonokami, 150)

Philosophy of Value Creation

Central to Makiguchi's Pedagogy was his theory of value. In his schema he modified the neo-Kantian value system of truth, goodness and beauty dominant in Japan at the time, and reordered it as beauty, benefit (also translated as gain or utility) and goodness. He defined beauty as that which brings fulfillment to the aesthetic sensibility of the individual; benefit as that which advances the life of the individual in a holistic manner; goodness as that which contributes to the well-being of the larger human society.

While space does not permit a detailed analysis and comparison of Makiguchi's theory of value with Dewey's philosophy, a few points bear noting. Makiguchi removed "truth" from his list of values, seeing truth as essentially a matter of identification and correspondence; value, in contrast, is a measure of the subjective impact a thing or event has on our lives. While truth identifies an object's essential qualities or properties, value may be considered the measure of the relevance or impact an object or event bears on the individual. Makiguchi explains that:

Value arises from the relationship between the evaluating subject and the object of evaluation. If either changes relative to the other, it is only obvious that the perceived value will change. The differences and shifts in ethical codes throughout history provide but one of the more outstanding proofs of the mutability of value. (5:236; Bethel 1989, 61) 

Dewey expresses a similar sense of historical and social contingency: "No longer will views generated in view of special situations be frozen into absolute standards and masquerade as eternal truths." (Public, 203) This aspect of Makiguchi's thought also parallels Dewey's critique of the centrality of epistemology in traditional philosophy and his focus on honing the tools of practical inquiry.

Following the suggestion of his young disciple, Josei Toda (1900-58), Makiguchi coined the neologism "soka" for the creation (sozo) of value (kachi). The fundamental criterion for value, in Makiguchi's view, is whether something adds to or detracts from, advances or hinders, the human condition. This view resonates with what he found in Nichiren Buddhism, with its emphasis on manifesting one's innate human dignity amidst the challenges of everyday life. The humanistic philosophy of Buddhism provided a firm and animating foundation for his theory of value.

The theory of value and value-creation were central to the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (value-creating education society) which Makiguchi and Toda founded in 1930, within an initial membership made up almost solely of educators. At the time of its suppression by the authorities in 1943, the organization counted some 3,000 members, from virtually all walks of life.

Through their various activities, members of the society sought to give form to Makiguchi's vision of education that would contribute to the life-long happiness of learners. Firmly committed to the importance of "actual proof," these educators implemented the methods of value-creating education, recording and publicizing their results. As the organization's membership expanded and its activities shifted to a more purely religious focus, these same methods--of testing and proving--were applied to the realm of religious experience.

Experiential Learning for Global Citizenship

It was crucial, in both Dewey's and Makiguchi's view, to give children the opportunity to think and acquire experience in real-life settings.

This, of course, derived in Dewey's case from the philosophy of pragmatism, or as he preferred to term it, experimentalism. Contrary to the long-held view of experience as being uncertain and anecdotal, Dewey re-conceived experience as a fundamental, holistic function of life activity. Both Dewey and Makiguchi lamented the banishment of experience from the site of education. As Dewey describes it, the school was "so set apart, so isolated from the ordinary conditions and motives of life, [it] is the one place in the world where it is most difficult to get experience--the mother of all discipline" (School, 17) Makiguchi felt that the prevailing educational theories were "almost entirely unrelated to the realities of life." (8:388) He proposed a solution consonant in many ways with Dewey's own thinking.

In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity, an inherent danger in standardized education. (6:199; Bethel 1989, 153)

Dewey, linking school with everyday living, advocated the importance of guiding children to improve their social competence. In his words, a school should be a "genuine form of active community," (School, 14) "a miniature community, an embryonic society." (School, 18) The essential aim of education implied here is the continuous, life-long growth of an individual. This is brought about by acquiring experience which evolves in depth and extensiveness from life in the home to that in school and finally to social life.

For his part, Makiguchi proposed a system in which students would attend class for a half-day and spend the remaining half in "productive vocational activity," either assisting their parents' work, at a trade or further specialization of study. Makiguchi wanted this system to be implemented for all students from the primary to the university level. According to him, it would have the following merits. It would: encourage greater efficiency in teaching (which Makiguchi was convinced from his own experiences was possible); make more effective use of limited educational facilities by effectively doubling the number of students who could receive education at a school; alleviate the "examination hell" by which students competed for access to those facilities; and, most critically in Depression-era Japan, produce graduates with experience and capabilities that would enhance their prospects of finding meaningful work. (6:209) 

Both Makiguchi and Dewey, were, in their respective social contexts, pointing to a prevailing weakness in education, the impact of which was visible in all aspects of society. As it was conceived, school could not prepare students to think critically about social conditions or contribute constructively to their improvement. Moreover, the traditional educational methods remained distant from the empirical, scientific approach that was proving so effective in other fields of human endeavor. Dewey's Laboratory School and Makiguchi's proposals, such as that for half-day schooling, can be thought of as attempts to close this gap, as well as the gap between living and learning, which was of deep concern to both. In Makiguchi's words, we should not view "learning as a preparation for living, but enable people to learn in the process of living." (6:212)

For a child operating under her own initiative, learning may be described as innovative, investigative as well as creative. To kindle in all children an ever-burning passion for discovery, one that will lead them unfailingly to think for themselves, make their own decisions and live out their lives accordingly--to do this is, in Makiguchi's view, to provide children the keys to the "treasure house of knowledge."

Like Dewey, Makiguchi strove to realize a holistic approach to human development. For him, this meant enabling the student to engage in value-creation, for which he set out six transformative indices. These are: from unconscious, emotional modes of living to a life of self-mastery, consciousness and rationality; from a life of less to one of greater value creation; from self-centered to a social and altruistic mode of living; from dependent to independent modes of living in which one is capable of making principle-based judgment; from a life dominated by external influences to a life of autonomy; from a life under the sway of desires to self-reflective modes of living in which one is capable of integrating one's actions into a larger sense of purpose.

Ultimately, he cherished a vision of fostering people who could be described as true global citizens--individuals fully able to transcend self-seeking egotism and elevate their way of life to one linked to all of humanity.

Drawing inspiration from Makiguchi's thinking and from the Buddhist understanding of interdependence, I offered the following goals for education for global citizenship at a talk I gave at Teachers College, Columbia University, in June 1996.

  • The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living.
  • The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them.
  • The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one's immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.

I am convinced that, as we enter the 21st century, education that fosters these qualities is the most pressing imperative facing humankind.

In the Shadow of Totalitarianism

In 1939, the dark clouds of totalitarianism hung over the world. As Dewey warned in his Freedom and Culture:

. . . democratic ends demand democratic methods for their realization. [R]ecourse to monistic, wholesale, absolutist procedures is a betrayal of human freedom no matter in what guise it presents itself. (Freedom, 13)

Japan was by this time fully caught up in the vortex of totalitarianism. Needless to say, neither the means nor the objectives were democratic. 

The Japanese people had been manipulated into supporting the goals of imperial aggression and expansion in Asia under the guise of creating a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." This slogan, purporting pan-Asian co-existence and co-prosperity, was Japan's justification for replacing Western colonial imperatives and influence with its own.

In 1938, the National Mobilization Law stripped people of their civil rights and granted summary powers of government over national resources, both human and material. In the name of national defense, the entire nation was mobilized. In April 1939 the government enacted the Religious Organizations Law. This law empowered the government to disband any religious organization whose teachings or activities contradicted the "Imperial Way."

In 1941, the Peace Preservation Act of 1925 was revised, expanding its scope to prohibit--under penalty of life imprisonment or death--any acts that were seen as blasphemous of the emperor or of State Shinto, which asserted the emperor's divinity.

Makiguchi chose this time to launch 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, who had had embraced Nichiren Buddhism in 1928, opposed this trampling underfoot of the freedoms of conscience and belief. Again and again, in writing and in speech, he criticized the government's stance. To the end, he refused to compromise his commitment to peace.

In 1941, the guiding principles of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai which were published in the first issue (July 21) of the organization's journal Kachi Sozo (Value Creation). Here, Makiguchi sought to express a balance between what he had long identified as the destructive aspects of unrestrained individualism and the totalitarian ethos that was sweeping Japan.

The Soka Kyoiku Gakkai shall be a gathering devoted neither to the individualism dictated by a myopic worldview that ignores the welfare of others; nor the fallacious dictates of totalitarianism that divests the individual of his identity. Instead, it shall take as its highest honor to be a living testimony to a truly holistic way of life that is based on a correct and undistorted worldview. (Makiguchi 10:6)

In the spring of 1942, Kachi Sozo was forced to cease publication at the order of the domestic security authorities.

Japan's military authorities were constantly vigilant against any sign of independence of opinion. They systematically undermined freedom of thought, conscience and expression in their efforts to make the populace 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." (Tsuji, 26-27)

In Makiguchi's theory of value, discussed earlier, good and evil were understood as relational. In many of his later writings, Makiguchi is harshly critical of what he termed "small good"--the passive avoidance of evil. He was insistent that "great good" could only be realized by confronting and challenging "great evil"--which he clearly identified as the actions and belief structures of militarist Japan.

As a result of these attitudes, Makiguchi was targeted as 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 different parts of Japan. 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.

In November 1942, Makiguchi addressed the Fifth General Meeting of Soka Kyoiku Gakkai. In that speech, he praised as "an incontrovertible truth" Dewey's assertion that our chosen way of living can only be proven within and through the act of actual living. The record of this meeting proved to be the last official publication of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai.

In July 1943, Makiguchi and Toda were arrested by the dreaded Special Higher Police. Tokko Geppo (Monthly Report of the Special Higher Police) reports the arrest of Makiguchi: "The thoughts and beliefs of [Soka Kyoiku Gakkai]-related persons centering on President Makiguchi manifest a number of subversive and seditious elements. Following secret investigations by the Police Agency as well as the Fukuoka Prefecture Special Higher Police Department, the Agency on the 7th day of this month arrested and interrogated Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and five other persons for suspicion of blaspheming the dignity of the Imperial Grand Shrine and lèse majesté." Makiguchi was charged with expressing such opinions as: "The emperor is a common mortal (bompu)"; "The emperor should not demand the people's loyalty"; and "There is no need to worship the Grand Shrine of Ise," a sacred site with close ties to the imperial household. (10:206, Tokko Geppo, 127-8)

Makiguchi was already seventy-two and spent the next year and four months, a total of five hundred days, in solitary confinement. Throughout, he refused to recant. Rather, he engaged in courageous dialogue with his interrogators and fellow prisoners, sharing with them the convictions for which he had been arrested. His stance remained, to the very end, one of a humanistic educator, committed to his own beliefs and opposed to the direction in which Japan was headed.

For example, under questioning, Makiguchi describes the on-going war as a "national disaster"--not a "holy war" as it was officially characterized--that had been brought about by adherence to erroneous ideologies. He also repeated his assertion that the Japanese emperor is neither divine nor infallible. (10:203, Tokko Geppo, 152, 156)

On November 18, 1944, he succumbed to the ravages of privation and brutal treatment, a martyr to the cause of human freedom and dignity.

Views of Religion

As mentioned above, Makiguchi was already fifty-seven when he embraced Nichiren Buddhism, an advanced age for an enthusiastic religious conversion. Dewey, having let lapse his ties to any specific church, sought to pursue religion as an impulse and experience ("the religious") outside the framework of any particular tradition. Makiguchi, in apparent contrast, adopted a lineage of Buddhism traceable to a specific teacher--in this case the 13th-century monk Nichiren. Despite this difference, their approach to religion and the function of religious faith are in fact deeply cognate.

First, both were adamant that religion must serve humanity; humanity does not exist to serve religion. Emblematic of this, Makiguchi rejected the neo-Kantian Wilhelm Windelband's positing of the sacred as an independent category of value. Rather, he held that religion, to the degree it enhances the lives of individuals, generates the value of benefit or gain; and to the degree it contributes to the advancement of society, creates the value of good. Beyond this, in Makiguchi's view, religion had no purpose. This refusal to acknowledge "the sacred" as a self-sufficient value and his insistence that religion has value only to the degree that it concretely advances the human condition is deeply resonant with Dewey's rejection of the supernatural and his understanding of "the religious" as that which can "unify interests and energies now dispersed; it can direct action, generate the heat of emotion and the light of intelligence." (Faith, 52)

Further, it should be noted that Makiguchi's embrace of Nichiren Buddhism was the outcome of a highly conscious process. His commitment to an empirical method of evaluation and choice-making was so deep as to preclude anything resembling blind faith or dogmatism.

This is illustrated by Makiguchi's own journey of faith. Born to a Zen Buddhist family and having close Christian friends, Makiguchi had gained exposure to a number of religious traditions. Although he felt that none of these faiths withstood the test of scientific and philosophical inquiry, he refused to dismiss religion per se as meaningless.

In 1928, as he was preparing the first volume of the Pedagogy, Makiguchi began to study the key Mahayana Buddhist text, the Lotus Sutra. Here he was struck by a sense that the Sutra, and its interpretation by Nichiren, accorded fully with his own rational principles.

This was not his first exposure to Nichiren. His foster family had practiced a form of Nichiren Buddhism and he had attended the lectures of Chigaku Tanaka (1861-1939) whose interpretation of Nichiren's teachings was highly nationalistic and emperor-centered. Makiguchi appears to have been unimpressed by Tanaka's ideas and they played no role in shaping his own later reception of Nichiren's teachings. When Makiguchi re-encountered Nichiren Buddhism, this time in the form of the more humanist/pacifist reading of fellow educator Sokei Mitani, he found a system of religious thought that "revitalized" his theory of value. (10:195; Tokko Geppo, 146)

As a philosophy, Buddhism accords central importance to life. As Nichiren stated: "Life itself is the most precious of all treasures. Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life." (Hori, 1569) This clearly resonated with Makiguchi's own views: "The only value in the true sense is that of life itself. All other values arise solely within the context of interaction with life." (5:232) Both Buddhism and Makiguchi's philosophy contained a powerful critique of the prevailing militarist ideology that saw the lives of individual citizens and soldiers as subservient to--and expendable in--the overriding interests of the state.

From his writings, it is clear that Makiguchi saw the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai as a lay movement dedicated to realizing a "life of great good" through the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. As he is recorded as saying during his police interrogation, his decision not to become a priest but to remain a lay practitioner stemmed from his desire not to be confined within a narrow sectarian interpretation of Buddhism. (8:188; Tokko Geppo, 139-140) Makiguchi clearly saw himself as returning to the core values of Buddhism, most notably a prioritization of human life and happiness, while at the same time developing ideational and organizational structures that could put these into practice in the 20th century.

Specifically, the aspects of Nichiren Buddhism he found attractive were: 1) an emphasis on empirical experience and congruence with the scientific method 2) the centrality of a universal law or principle (dharma) as the focus of faith rather than an anthropomorphic being or deity; and 3) an emphasis on social engagement (seho soku buppo) and a stance of using religion's contribution to society as the measure of its validity.

Regarding the second aspect, the emphasis on the law over the person, Makiguchi felt that this was a mode of faith consonant with the historical trend toward constitutional democracy under an impartial rule of law, as opposed to rule by the despotic will of a single individual. "Rely on the law, not the person" is one of the famous injunctions of Buddhism which Makiguchi repeated consistently. The law, in Buddhism, is the law of causality, of cause and effect. 

This law, according to Makiguchi:

is not confined to the physical present nor to the linear span of a single lifetime. It presides over humanity for time without end, in the boundless expanse of space and time, in the spiritual and the material realms. We live in its midst; we are inevitably subject to this law of causality. (8:63) 

A Universal Law of Causality

Needless to say, the gulf between Makiguchi's principle-based view of religion and the dominant ideology in militarist Japan was vast. Starting in the 1920s, the government took an increasingly active interest in the religious beliefs and practices of its citizens. A series of ever more stringent laws were passed restricting heterodox views and seeking to unify the spiritual resources of the nation under State Shinto. During the 1930s, several large sects were violently suppressed and their membership dispersed.

The structures of the militarist state were intimately intertwined with State Shinto which forged from the indigenous animism of Japan an ideology of nationalism centered on the purity and "selection" of the Japanese race and the divinity of the emperor. Imperialist Japan not only enforced this belief system domestically, but sought to forcibly export it. This disgusted Makiguchi who declared: "The arrogance of the Japanese people knows no bounds." (10:84)

To question any aspect of this ideology was to challenge the legitimacy of Japanese militarism, its policies and their impact. The state became increasingly intolerant of dissent as the military position of Japan in the war became increasingly desperate. As stated, the Peace Preservation Act strictly outlawed any act or statement that could be construed as criticizing Japanese "unique national polity" (kokutai). It thus required enormous courage on Makiguchi's part to write, in the December 1941 Soka Kyoiku Gakkai periodical Kachi Sozo (Value Creation):

We must strictly avoid following ideologies of uncertain origin that cannot be substantiated by actual proof--even if they may be the most time-honored tradition--and thereby sacrificing the precious lives of ourselves and others. In this sense, the question of [compulsory worship at] Shinto shrines must be re-thought as a matter of great urgency. (10:26)

Again, Makiguchi returned to his belief in the all-pervasive Buddhist law of causality, rather than the caprices of individuals. He extended this outlook even to his understanding of Shakyamuni, the Buddha. Makiguchi is recorded as responding to his police interrogators as follows:

Buddhism is not something invented or created by Shakyamuni. Without beginning or end, it is a law governing and giving vitality to the constant flow of all phenomena since time without beginning. What is called Buddhism are simply acts and practices that accord with this already existing law or principle. (8:192, Tokko Geppo, 143-144) 

To understand the nature of this law is to understand Buddhism and at the same time Makiguchi's philosophy, a philosophy of value-creation that continues to inspire millions of people worldwide. In Makiguchi's view--and that of Buddhism--the ultimate "law" is neither transcendent nor anthropomorphic. It does not exist behind or above reality, but within it. As Nichiren explained in an exegesis on a sutra passage: "'no affairs of life or work are in any way different from the ultimate reality.' A person of wisdom does not practice Buddhism apart from the affairs of the world... " (Hori, 1121)

It was this commitment to reality, to experience, to people and to the work of finding real-life solutions to the problems of living that sustained Makiguchi in his final confrontation with the Japanese militarist state. These same elements have been inherited and given concrete form in the global activities of the membership of the Soka Gakkai International.

In Conclusion

Although denied recognition during his lifetime, Makiguchi's intellectual and spiritual legacy has had an important impact in Japan and beyond. In the post-war years, the organization Makiguchi founded was reconstituted as the Soka Gakkai by his disciple, Josei Toda, growing into a Buddhist-based grassroots movement with membership in the millions. Today the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) has active members in some 163 countries worldwide and is involved in peace education, environmental protection and the promotion of international understanding through cultural exchange. Makiguchi's theories have begun to attract the serious interest of educators throughout the world.

It is also these same values--reality, experience, people--that form the most solid link between Makiguchi and the pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey. Inevitably, the course of their lives and careers, as well as the impact they exerted on their respective societies, diverge widely. But for just this reason, it is inspiring to learn from the lives of two men whose ideas and commitments developed along parallel paths united by a profound desire to contribute to human happiness, in particular the happiness of children.

Today, what our world requires most is a vast, collaborative effort by all those who share a commitment to empowering children and young people with the inner means for a lifetime of growth, happiness and the creation of value. Toward this end, and inspired by the examples of these great men and others like them, I believe we must continue our efforts without cease.

Works Cited

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Dewey, John. The Collected Works of John Dewey, 1882-1953. Ed. Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969-1991. Published as The Early Works: 1882-1898 (EW), The Middle Works: 1899-1925 (MW), and The Later Works: 1925-1953 (LW).

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Nichiko, Hori. Ed. Nichiren Daishonin Gosho Zenshu [The Complete Works of Nichiren Daishonin], Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1952.

Tsuji, Takehisa, Ed. Makiguchi Tsunesaburo Shingen-shu [An Anthology of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's Maxims]. Tokyo: Daisan Bunmei-sha, 199