Feature

The 15th World Peace Youth Culture Festival, 1996

Soka Gakkai Culture Festivals

Cristine Dhimos was one of the producers of the 15th World Peace Youth Culture Festival at Carnegie Hall held in June 1996. Ms. Dhimos said she learned from President Ikeda’s example that the true purpose of training is to make others more capable than yourself—a lesson she continues to apply as an artist. Photo by Marc Giannavola.


A Student of Ikeda University, New York, 1996

Cristine Dhimos
New York

Living Buddhism: Can you share with us how you started practicing Buddhism?

Cristine Dhimos: After high school, I moved to New York to pursue a career in dance. I received a scholarship at a prestigious dance school, which led to performing in multiple New York dance companies. And it was at one of these dance companies that I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 1976. I realize now that the real reason I moved to New York was to begin my Buddhist practice. Because I was a dancer, I participated in many SGI festivals and conventions, and they helped me solidify my faith and my relationship with my mentor, SGI President Ikeda.

Can you talk about your experience with the 1996 culture festival at Carnegie Hall?

Cristine: I was part of the planning committee and one of the producers for the show. We chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo constantly about every aspect of the festival to ensure that nothing was overlooked.

What is your most enduring memory from this festival?

Cristine: Before the show, as we headed backstage, we crossed paths with President Ikeda. I got excited and yelled, “Sensei!” Although he was being rushed to his seat, he stopped, put his hand on his heart and bowed deeply. In that moment, I felt like Sensei was bowing with his whole heart to me, a single individual.

I continuously asked myself, What would make Sensei happy? and chanted that we could create a moment where Sensei could truly enjoy himself amid his grueling schedule. We heard that one of his favorite songs was “Moonlight Sonata,” so we decided to include a performance of the song in the program. I was overjoyed to hear that during this song, Sensei grabbed Mrs. Ikeda’s hand. I felt that we had created that moment for Sensei and Mrs. Ikeda to enjoy themselves, and I felt that we had won.

After the festival was over, Sensei went to the office at Carnegie Hall to thank all of the staff. They remarked that they had never witnessed the hall filled with such electricity. Immediately following the show, one of the leaders from Japan supporting Sensei’s movement came to share a poem with the performers that Sensei had just composed in the car (see p. 31).

I was so moved by his consideration for all of the staff and performers. His humanity never ceases to amaze me.

How have these experiences shaped your life?

Cristine: Although I do not have a college degree, I feel most fortunate to have gone to Ikeda University and learned from the greatest mentor on how to live life to the fullest. As a result of the great fortune I’ve built through SGI activities, I am fulfilling all my dreams. Currently, I work with youth in several capacities, and it is my greatest source of joy. As an artist, I have learned from my mentor that the true purpose of training is to make people more capable than yourself. Many of the youth that I have worked with have become very successful in their fields. I owe everything to Sensei and my Buddhist practice. Without both, I would not have developed the courage or confidence to continue to strive forward and achieve my dreams.

 

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President and Mrs. Ikeda cheer on the performers during the 15th World Peace Youth Culture Festival at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall, New York, June 1996. Photo by Seikyo Press.

The Sublime Flowering of Art and Artistry

On June 20, 1981, 300 members gathered to hear a reading of the poem “To My Beloved Young American Friends: Youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth,” written earlier that day by SGI President Ikeda. Fifteen years later, to celebrate the anniversary of President Ikeda’s poem to New York, 2,700 members and guests gathered at Carnegie Hall on June 18, 1996, for the 15th World Peace Youth Culture Festival, with members and guests from New York, Japan, Canada, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

President and Mrs. Ikeda attended this event, enjoying the three-part festival, which included an orchestra, world-class jazz musicians, singers performing an original song and dancers showcasing dynamic modern dance.

The event also included over 100 UNICEF board members from around the world in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the organization whose mission is to save children and defend their rights around the world.

New York!
New York!
Such a splendid and glorious
culture festival.

Such a magnificent and superb
culture festival.

This culture festival
has been the pinnacle
the most sublime flowering
of art and artistry.

The venue—
Carnegie Hall
renowned throughout
the world.

I offer my wholehearted
applause
to these unparalleled,
these matchless performers and
producers
both on the stage and off.

Excitement ran electric
through the hall
bringing forth
a concerto of
praise and pure tears.

The glistening sweat
and sparkling eyes of
these lofty performers,
your lovely voices and dance
are certain to be praised
by all the forces of nature
by all the Buddhas of the
universe.

How much your dance today
resembles your performance
then—
the remotest past
on Eagle Peak.

This culture festival
held here in New York,
this city of the world,
on June 18, 1996,
your voices, the resonant
applause—
has surely created
a ceaseless succession of waves,
an eternal, undying path
that will illuminate the 21st
century
and will resound for 10,000
years and more.

Bravo!
The new New York.
Bravo!
My magnificent New York
friends!
Thank you very much.

(My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 466–68)

 

(pp. 12-13)