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Peace, Culture and Education: The Flowering of a New Humanism—Part 7

Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace—The Flowering of a New Humanism

“The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace” is a three-part series that features key selections from SGI President Ikeda’s collected works, which thus far have been compiled into 150 volumes in Japanese. These selections introduce core concepts expressing the wisdom and universal message of Nichiren Buddhism. Through this series, SGI members throughout the world are able to simultaneously study the SGI president’s thought and philosophy.

Photography Is a Universal Language

The Soka Gakkai’s cultural activities aim to create value in a way that is accessible to all. SGI President Ikeda often takes photographs during his travels across Japan and around the world, and shares them with friends and fellow members as a means of encouraging them. In The New Human Revolution, Shin’ichi Yamamoto (whose character represents President Ikeda) talks about what prompted him to take photographs. Adapted from The New Human Revolution, volume 15, “Flowering” chapter.

About a decade had passed since Shin’ichi Yamamoto[1] started actively taking photographs (in 1971). Staff of the Fuji Art Museum in Shizuoka, which he had founded in 1973, as well as photographers who were among his friends, began to urge him to hold an exhibition of his work.

Shin’ichi was embarrassed by the idea. He wasn’t a professional photographer, and his aim wasn’t to exhibit his work. But requests for an exhibition gained momentum, and when he thought about it, he realized he had started taking pictures because he wanted to contribute, in his own small way, to inspiring popular participation in the arts, so he finally agreed.

His photographs were shown at the Fuji Art Museum in April 1982 under the title “Images of Peace and Culture.” There were about 250 works, including photographs taken outside Japan, in Europe, the United States and China.

The exhibition drew a very positive reaction. One viewer said, “The photographs reveal a great love for nature and peace, and I felt enriched by them.” Another commented: “I was encouraged by the uplifting message that the world around us is filled with the dynamism and vibrancy of life. The exhibition invigorated me.”

Shin’ichi’s main motivation for taking up photography had been to encourage members. He was happy and pleased, therefore, simply knowing that people were encouraged by his photographs. The kind words of praise he received for them, he felt, were far too generous.

Soka Gakkai Headquarters staff who viewed the exhibition and published compilations of his photography expressed the wish to have Shin’ichi’s work displayed at the headquarters and at community centers around Japan. Soka Gakkai community centers are meant to serve as “citadels of culture” in the local community. However, adorning their lobbies and landings with paintings would have been a huge expenditure. Therefore, Shin’ichi agreed to the request, hoping his photographs would be of some use. Soka means creating value in every area of life.

Shin’ichi’s photographs thus came to decorate Soka Gakkai centers around Japan. Enjoying the opportunity to view the photos, many members sensed the warm intent they embodied, and felt inspired and encouraged.

Photography is a universal language. A photograph can communicate without the need for words, and foster a sense of connection. For example, a picture of rushing water may evoke the dynamism of life, and an image of weeds growing stubbornly from a crack in a rock may impart courage.

Shin’ichi sought to link the hearts of people everywhere through photography, transcending differences of nationality or ethnicity.

Photographs are powerful. When the French literary giant Victor Hugo was in exile, he had many photographic portraits taken of himself, which he sent back to France. He regarded this as a way of challenging the oppression of the dictator Napoleon III.

Hugo’s exile lasted 19 years. No doubt many thought that his spirit would be broken, but his portraits conveyed a different message. The bold images shouted: “I am still here—hale and hearty as ever! I am invincible!” For Hugo, these were more than just photographs.

In a similar way, Shin’ichi considered photographs an instrument for revitalizing people by inspiring joy, hope and courage. They were a way to encourage members, calling to them:

“Do not be defeated! Be strong! Advance with me!”

Reviving the Culture of the Written Word

President Ikeda has consistently underscored the important role that literary culture has played in the development and progress of humankind. He explains that a defining feature of Soka Gakkai activities is a spirit of learning based on the written word.  Adapted from an essay titled “The Spiritual Nourishment of Good Books,” in the compilation Haha no mai (Dance of Mothers), published in Japanese in January 2000.

A tradition of studying and learning together is embedded in the Soka Gakkai’s day-to-day activities. Our members of all ages are eternal learners. They study the writings of Nichiren Daishonin at monthly discussion meetings. They also read, listen and study intently at various other group meetings.

Buddhism is a living philosophy. At the heart of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings is the understanding that everything in our lives and the world is Buddhism; that “all phenomena are the Buddhist Law” (“The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 848).

That’s why we also make efforts to read and learn from novels—for instance, the works of great authors such as Tolstoy, Goethe and Hugo. We strive to gain an understanding of economics and politics, of art and music. We seek to acquire wisdom and insights on all aspects of life. That is our spirit.

This is also where we find the Soka Gakkai’s strength. The term gakkai, after all, means “a study association or society.”

It has always been my hope that our young people in particular will read good books and familiarize themselves with good writing.

Reading books is also the way to inherit the intellectual legacy of the human race.

Whereas reading stimulates and develops our minds, helping us acquire critical thinking skills, watching television is a very passive way of receiving information and its images can be deceptive.

There is a need to revive authentic writing issuing from the profound depths of the human spirit in order to combat writing that is full of lies and deliberate misrepresentation.

• • •

I spent the highly impressionable years of my late teens amid the chaos and confusion of the immediate postwar period. Having been denied learning during the war, we young people hungrily sought new knowledge.

I participated in a reading group with several youth in my neighborhood. Books were scarce, so we borrowed and lent those we had to one another.

Though I was poor, I treasured books as my most prized possessions. The shelves in my room contained books both classic and modern, from both East and West, mainly works of literature. My most ardent wish at the time was to establish a deep, solid view of life. So when some old school friends invited me to a meeting, saying there was to be a discussion of “life philosophy,” I agreed to go.

It was at that meeting that I first encountered Josei Toda, who later became the second president of the Soka Gakkai. I was deeply moved by his impressive character and his profound compassion for people who were suffering. It is no exaggeration to say that most of my education from that time on came through personal instruction from Mr. Toda.

He always urged young people to make time in their lives for reading and contemplation. Almost every day, he would ask me what book I was reading, with a strictness that seemed more an interrogation than a casual question. I didn’t dare meet Mr. Toda without having done any reading. All my earnest struggles in reading and studying in those days have now borne fruit as my greatest strength and treasure.

After his inauguration as Soka Gakkai president, Mr. Toda devoted himself wholeheartedly to training the members of the young men’s and young women’s divisions. He started by having us read a number of great works of world literature, including The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin, A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo and Ninety-three.

Encouraging us to share our thoughts and impressions, answering our many questions freely and sometimes even providing individual advice, he fostered each one of us and helped us develop our potential. In the process, he covered the many different kinds of problems we might encounter in the course of life.

There is a limit to what one person can experience in a single lifetime. But by reading, we can incorporate the experiences of others in our own lives. We can learn the profundity of life and the vastness of the world, gain insight into human nature, and cultivate the ability to see and understand society.

With every training session, we young people grew by leaps and bounds.

Reading is a lifelong treasure. It is a precious source of spiritual nourishment. It is the foundation for all forms of learning. Reading develops the ability to think and broadens our horizons.

In order to create a positive future, we must learn good lessons from the past. The 20th century was a time of remarkable material progress on the one hand, but the lag in spiritual progress has created a situation in which the very survival of humankind is threatened. That is why we must make the 21st century an age of great spiritual progress.

Making Art Available to All

In May 1973, President Ikeda founded the Fuji Art Museum in Shizuoka Prefecture,[2] and in November 1983, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum in Hachioji, Tokyo. Both institutions were a culmination of his efforts to promote cultural exchange, realized in collaboration with noted figures in the fields of art and culture around the world. In this selection, he recounts his motivation in establishing these art museums. From a speech delivered at an Education and Culture Conference, Tokyo, September 12, 2005.

In November this year (2005), the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum will celebrate its 22nd anniversary. Over the years since its founding, it has developed into one of Japan’s leading private galleries, a premier repository of art and beauty.

With its guiding principle of serving as a “Portal to the World,” the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum has held numerous exhibitions, featuring some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. Its collection includes some 30,000 works of Japanese, Asian and Western art, covering a wide range of genres.

The core of the museum’s collection of Western paintings was formed with the assistance of the late René Huyghe (1906–97), an internationally acclaimed art historian.

Mr. Huyghe served as chief curator of drawings and paintings at the Louvre in Paris. During World War II, he risked his life to save many priceless art treasures of humanity from the occupying Nazi forces. I spoke with Mr. Huyghe multiple times, and we published a dialogue together, titled Dawn After Dark.

With his rich experience and expert eye, Mr. Huyghe provided extremely helpful and informed advice from the earliest planning stages of the museum, including the formation of the Western painting collection and suggestions for exhibitions. He played an instrumental role in the success of the museum’s opening exhibition, “Masterpieces of French Art” (1983–84) as well as “The Life, People and Nobles in 18th-Century France” (1986–87), “The French Revolution and Romanticism” (1987) and others. He continued to offer his advice and support until his death at the age of 90 in 1997. His guidance and instruction remain an invaluable guide for the museum to this day.

One of the purposes of an art museum is to make works of art, which had previously only been enjoyed by a privileged few, available to the general public. The mission of the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum is just that—to provide ordinary citizens with the opportunity to experience first-rate works of art, making art accessible to all.

Genuine beauty moves us. The soul of art uplifts and inspires us, infusing our lives with fresh strength and vigor.

Culture and education cultivate and enrich the human spirit, and are the foundation for building peace.

I can still hear the deep resonant voice of Mr. Huyghe saying that materialism is the cause of war and insisting that we must make our way through the desert of materialism to regenerate a vibrant “inner richness.” He called our friendship a “spiritual united front” dedicated to reviving the human spirit.

Let us energetically continue our own spiritual struggle, our efforts in the sphere of culture and education, to counter the savage materialism that lays waste to civilization. This is the path to peace and a future of true humanism.

To be continued in an upcoming issue.

Translated from the November 2017 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

With President Ikeda’s permission, some minor edits and revisions have been made to the original Japanese, and excerpts of remarks originally in dialogue format have been recast as monologues for ease of reading.

—Selected Excerpts Editorial Committee


  1. Shin’ichi Yamamoto is the pseudonym for SGI President Ikeda in The New Human Revolution. ↩︎
  2. The museum’s branch in Shizuoka closed in 2008. ↩︎

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