The Age of Soft Power
The City of Boston honors SGI President Ikeda on the 25th anniversary of his September 1991 Harvard address.
by Anne Hudson
BOSTON, Sept. 18—In 1768, the Sons of Liberty commissioned Boston silversmith Paul Revere to design a gift for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The “Glorious Ninety-Two,” as they were called, had refused to withdraw their written protest of the Townshend Acts (1767), which imposed taxes on tea, paper and other commodities imported into the colonies.
This act of civil disobedience prompted the British Army to occupy Boston, which, in turn, stoked the fires of the coming American Revolution. The Sons of Liberty Bowl—or Paul Revere Bowl— is considered one of the nation’s three most cherished historical treasures, alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
On Sept. 18, former Boston Mayor and Ambassador to the Holy See Raymond Flynn presented a replica Paul Revere Bowl to SGI President Ikeda on behalf of the City of Boston. The bowl, the city’s highest honor, has been bestowed on other world figures who have fought for peace, including Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II.
The City of Boston also proclaimed Sept. 26, 2016, The Age of Soft Power Day, citing the SGI president’s enduring record of peace-building and his role as a “mentor for youth around the world who are seeking alternatives to prevalent hard power tactics that perpetuate ongoing cycles of violence— actively inspiring the use of soft power and dialogue to create hope and build trust among people.”
SGI-USA Senior Vice General Director Tariq Hasan accepted both awards on the SGI president’s behalf.
An inner-motivated philosophy is essential
for an age of soft power.
It was a fitting tribute marking 25 years since President Ikeda first visited Boston in September 1991 to give the first of two talks at Harvard University, this one titled “The Age of Soft Power and Inner-Motivated Philosophy” (see September 2016 Living Buddhism, pp. 10–19).
In his address, he proposed that “in an age when knowledge, information, culture, ideas and systems—elements of what had been characterized as ‘soft power’—were playing an increasingly important role in shaping world history, an inner-motived philosophy would be essential as a basis for sustaining and accelerating this trend.”
On Sept. 18, 1,011 North Zone members and guests from the six New England states and New York’s Hudson Valley converged on Boston’s Strand Theatre to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his 1991 speech and renew their vow to eternalize the flow of Nichiren Buddhism.
The Strand Theatre, built in 1914, with its high-vaulted ceiling, red velvet curtains and ornately carved gold proscenium arch, provided a dazzling setting for the joyful gathering.
The meeting took off with six vibrant performances that alternated with the reading of passages from President Ikeda’s September 1991 poem to the Boston members, “Flagbearers of Human Renaissance.”
The members then watched a video of President Ikeda’s visits to the United States in 1991 and 1993 highlighting his talks at Harvard.
In a moving message, President Ikeda asked “my friends of New England,” as good citizens of their communities, nation and the world, to “proudly hold aloft the banner of a new humanism, and by broadening your efforts at dialogue, call forth from this land a fresh surge of capable Bodhisattvas of the Earth. And while developing the next generation to surpass you in ability and excellence, please move ahead in good cheer and warm friendship.”
When Ambassador Flynn took the podium to present the award and proclamation, he said of President Ikeda’s soft power address: “Aren’t these words of President Ikeda ones that we could all live by—and leaders could live by here today? Certainly it’s an understatement that President Ikeda was ahead of his time, but he is right on the mark.”
Ambassador Flynn sought to summarize the main theme of the Harvard speech, saying: “It’s not going to be power or military troops or powerful economics that are going to bring stability to the world; it’s going to be communication and love. Is that what he said?” The audience replied with raucous applause. “I don’t know about you,” he says, “but you just got a convert here today.”
The SGI-USA presented a framed photograph of the Boston skyline to Ambassador Flynn as a gift to the city. Superimposed on it was the poem that President Ikeda penned to the Boston members during his 1991 visit.
Mr. Hasan then addressed the group, saying the soft power speech is even more important today, when the world remains embroiled in gratuitous and endless violence.
“So what is the solution? The very speech that we are commemorating today has all the essential ingredients to create a different society than we have now. The acceptance of soft power is a monumental undertaking against the deeply, deeply ingrained culture of violence that is so prevalent in our society. The solution, as we all know, lies in the human revolution of each one of us and our efforts to propagate Nichiren Daishonin’s humanistic philosophy of the value and dignity of human life.”
Mr. Hasan stressed that the age of soft power that we all seek will not come about just by enabling more people to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but rather by teaching them to carry out their Buddhist practice for self and others, and by doing so, transform their lives. “We call this inner transformation ‘human revolution,’ which results in the transformation of the world we inhabit,” he said.
In this regard, he referred to President Ikeda’s message on the first anniversary of Sept. 11:
Each of us must be deeply convinced that a transformation in the awareness of a single person can eventually change the whole world. Efforts to enable the reformation of the life of the person will ultimately move the hearts of many people, reforming society and changing the history of humankind. (Dec. 6, 2002, World Tribune, p. 5)
Mr. Hasan said that each day we should ask ourselves: How can I expand the network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth? How can I ensure that the youth learn the spirit of mentor and disciple, and stand up and fight for kosen-rufu with Sensei?
“If we could truly decide—I want to change myself so that I can open my heart to people who are different from me and help them see that their true happiness lies not in shutting themselves off from other people but in being able to see the dignity of all human life— then soft power has been actualized.”
The meeting ended with all performers returning to the stage to lead “Youth With a Noble Vow.” Joy was palpable as members and guests departed, invigorated and recharged.
Ambassador Flynn said of the meeting: “I was tremendously impressed by the spirit and enthusiasm of the people in the meeting. They were engaged! I felt welcome and part of it, able to relate to everyone and the message of friendship and peace.”
Mark Parsekian contributed to this article.