Green Koans Case 29: Makiguchi Refuses to Lecture

Clark Strand

Makiguchi Refuses to Lecture

CASE #29:    Makiguchi Refuses to Lecture

Once Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was asked whether it might be better to have formal lectures instead of a discussion format.  “No, it wouldn’t,” Makiguchi replied. “At a lecture, listeners inevitably feel uninvolved.”

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi 
   The first president of the Japanese Buddhist lay organization Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (“Value Creation Society”), which subsequently became the Soka Gakkai International. During World War II he was incarcerated by the Japanese military government for his refusal to consolidate with other Buddhist sects behind the national war effort. He died in prison of malnutrition in 1944.
Discussion format    The Japanese term zadankai refers to monthly group discussions, usually held in members’ homes. At such meetings, rather than listening to the Buddhist teachings of a master as one might do at a temple, participants share their experiences with one another, with an emphasis on recounting how they used Buddhist teachings in real-life situations.
NOTE: Egalitarian discussions were an important part of Tokyo intellectual life during the early years of the 20th century. Makiguchi’s innovation was to hold religious meetings in that format, making each member responsible for manifesting the teaching in his or her life.

Makiguchi was a dynamic spiritual leader. Probably everyone wanted to hear what he had to say. Why wouldn’t he take the lectern? The key is involvement.

When it comes to eco-spirituality and the kinds of environmental action it inspires, are we better served by a pulpit-to-pew, platform-to-cushion kind of approach? Probably not. Every major reform movement in American history began with a discussion group. Find an exception if you can.

One full-throated trill
And suddenly the forest
Is filled with dharma.
Try if you must to locate
A leader among the frogs.


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Dominic Gomez's picture

According to the Nikayas, the Buddha's last spoken words were: "Work hard to gain your own salvation. Do your best."
He, also, seemed to de-emphasize a top-down approach, encouraging each individual to take the lead in his or her own efforts to become enlightened.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Perhaps the frogs hear one, but to them it may just be another croak of the dharma.