By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN | 1 January 2024 (IDN) — “Even an old fountain pen, if it happened to have belonged to some great writer, is looked on with awe and reverence by the people of later times, for they feel that somehow it is capable of revealing the secrets of the great man’s masterpieces,” wrote Daisaku Ikeda in an essay titled ‘A Mirror’ in November 1978.
Much to my regret. I have neither such a pen. Nor have I had the privilege of a face-to-face encounter with him. Nevertheless, I am commencing this monthly column on the eve of his 96th birth anniversary to pay homage to a man whom Pope Francis in a message has recognized as a spiritual leader and mentor to many.
Additionally, the Pope commended Ikeda for his enduring commitment to peace and his efforts to foster interfaith dialogue throughout his life. “The Pope concluded his message by stating that he is keeping Mr. Ikeda and those committed to advancing his vision of unity among all people in his prayers.”
Indeed. SGI has been participating in interfaith dialogues, such as the International Meeting “The Audacity of Peace” in September 2023 in Berlin, hosted by the lay Catholic association Community of Sant’Egidio; a three-day International Conference on Religions and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Listening to the cry of the earth and the poor’ organized by Dicastery and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in March 2019 at The Vatican; the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions held in Kazakhstan in September 2022—and in the sixth congress in 2018—as well as the Bahrain Dialogue Forum in November 2022, where religious leaders openly exchanged ideas and shared wisdom on global problems.
Activities for peace, advocacy for nuclear abolition
While Ikeda’s mother was “… the starting point of his activities for peace”, Josei Toda inspired him to lifelong advocacy for nuclear abolition. He was with his mentor when at the height of the Cold War in 1957, Toda made a declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, shortly before he died in 1958.
Since his inauguration in May 1960 as the third president—after Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944) and Josei Toda (1900–58)—of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society) at 32, Ikeda spearheaded its development as a community-based Buddhist organization of over 12 million members in Japan and 192 countries and territories, with 90 registered constituent organizations.
In 1975, he founded the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) as a global association linking Soka Gakkai organizations around the world, and he became its president. Eight years later, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accredited the SGI as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in consultative status.
As the third president of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist organization, SGI founding president, and initiator of several international institutions promoting peace, culture, and education, he championed the transformative power of dialogue as a central means to addressing global challenges.
SGI’s six focus areas are Disarmament, Sustainability, Climate Change, Human Rights Education, Peace, Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment, and Humanitarian Relief. (Visit https://cdn2.assets-servd.host/un-sgi/production/assets/downloads/SGI_Peace_-Activity_Report_2022_12.10.23.pdf for details)
I have benefited greatly from Ikeda’s profound wisdom, fathomless compassion, and indomitable spirit reflected in email interviews he granted and opinion editorials he contributed to IDN-InDepthNews in the last about 15 years.
Ikeda’s versatility and precise and lucid writing have left a lasting impression on me. There is no trace of the apocalyptic scenarios in how he pleads for the need to address climate change or eliminate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction so common among supporters of urgent climate action nuclear abolition.
In Climate Change: A People-Centered Approach (IDN-InDepthNews, 19 Sept 2019), for example, he quoted Aristotle, highlighting an all-too-common human tendency: “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it”—a warning still relevant today, especially in our fight against climate change.”
“The problem is that what is missing in one’s perspective will also be completely lacking in one’s overall worldview,” adds Ikeda. “Consequently, the loss of something irreplaceably precious to a certain community can cause great suffering and deprivation without even being noticed by the overwhelming majority of people.”
Ikeda was of the view, as expressed in one of his quotations on his Website: “The history of the twentieth century, which witnessed the horrors caused by two global conflicts, should have brought home the lesson that nothing is more cruel or miserable than war.”
But the Ukraine War and the conflict in the Middle East indicate that the lesson has not been learned.
In The Beginning of the End for Nuclear Weapons? (IDN-InDepthNews, 2 March 2016), he argues: “Hidden in the depths of a security regime based on nuclear weapons is the toxic way of thinking that permeates contemporary civilization: the pursuit of one’s own objectives by any means; of one’s own security and national interest at the expense of the people of other countries; and of one’s own immediate goals in disregard of the impact on future generations. I believe that resolving the nuclear weapons issue means challenging and overcoming this way of thinking.”
United Nations’ central role
Ikeda firmly believed in the United Nations’ central role as a forum for peace. From 1983 to 2022, he authored 40 annual peace proposals providing a Buddhist perspective and concrete suggestions to move forward the discourse on the key challenges of the day, including disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons, environmental protection, and the promotion of human rights. He developed a philosophy of humanism anchored in the principles of Buddhism and advocated education for global citizenship.
Ikeda was a prolific writer who published over 250 translated works, ranging from commentaries on Buddhism to biographical essays, poetry, and children’s stories. He also authored an extensive novelized history of the Soka Gakkai, The Human Revolution (12 volumes), and The New Human Revolution (30 volumes).
Ikeda, the Buddhist philosopher and educator, also conducted dialogues with prominent figures from around the world in the fields of culture, education, and different faith traditions, including British historian Arnold Toynbee and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to identify ways of tackling the complex problems facing humanity. More than 80 of these dialogues have been published in book form.
During several visits to Japan, I was privileged to visit Min-On Concert Association and the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (TFAM). Min-on means “the people’s music” and engages in cultural exchanges with countries worldwide. Ikeda described Min-On a “great road of cultural exchange uniting people” as a “spiritual Silk Road”.
The collection of TFAM, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2023, comprises some 30,000 Japanese, Eastern, and Western artworks, ranging from paintings, prints, photography, sculptures, ceramics, and lacquerware to armor, swords, and medallions of various periods and cultures. Especially noteworthy is its outstanding collection of Western oil paintings that spans a five-hundred-year period from the Renaissance to the Baroque and Postmodernist eras and its exceptional collection of photographic masterpieces. It is indeed a “portal to the world”.
Thanks to the SGI Director General of Peace and Global Issues, Hirotsugu Terasaki, I could get an idea about the Soka School system—which includes Soka University in Japan and the USA. I visited the sprawling Soka University campus in Hachioji, Tokyo, which, since 1971, has been the highest seat of learning for humanistic education, the cradle of a new culture, and a fortress for the peace of humankind.
I learned that Soka University’s foreign student exchange program ranks among the largest of its kind in Japan, and it has academic exchange agreements with over a hundred universities worldwide. In 2014, Soka University was named one of Japan’s “Top Global Universities” by the Japanese Ministry of Education. The university shares its campus with Soka Women’s College, which opened in 1985.
Conversations over the years with Mr Terasaki in Tokyo and during international events outside Japan have opened a window for me to understand the Soka movement that is dedicated to spreading the humanistic principles of Nichiren Buddhism for the peace and prosperity of all humanity.
Visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki made me feel the suffering the Hibakusha have had to undergo and the surviving among them continue to feel. As Ikeda remarked: “Crying out in opposition to war and nuclear weapons is neither emotionalism nor self-pity. It is the highest expression of human reason based on an unflinching perception of the dignity of life.”
During my visits, I also spoke to different age groups of Soka Gakkai members across Japan. They share Ikeda’s conviction that “dialogue and education for peace can help free our hearts from the impulse toward intolerance and the rejection of others”. They are conscious of a simple reality: “We have no choice but to share this planet, this small blue sphere floating in the vast reaches of space, with all of our fellow ‘passengers.'”
SGI President Ikeda, who passed away on November 15 at the age of 95, stated in his last proposal addressed to the G7 Hiroshima Summit: “It is said that the darker the night, the closer the dawn, and the end of the Cold War demonstrated the scale of energy unleashed when people who refuse to be defeated unite in solidarity…Let us once again change the course of history through the power of people, paving a path toward a world free from nuclear weapons, a world free from war.”
“With these words in our hearts, we will continue on the path of cooperation, upholding the courage to never give up,” Mr. Terasaki told IDN in an interview. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun.