Feature

Daisaku Ikeda’s Philosophy of Education

An interview with Jason Goulah, Professor and Director of the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education and online programs in Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship at DePaul University

DePaul University’s College of Education, where the master’s of education in Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship is offered, Chicago. Photo: Courtesy of DePaul University.


Scholars and universities around the world are increasingly engaging with the educational philosophies and practices of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and, most significantly, Daisaku Ikeda. Today, more than 40 universities across Asia, Europe and the Americas have established centers to research these educators’ ideas.

In 2014, DePaul University established the first such center in the United States and the Anglophone academy to research and translate the work of Daisaku Ikeda, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda. In 2018, it launched the world’s first degree and certificate programs, offered fully online, in Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship to prepare educators in the substance and application of these thinkers’ ideas.

As we celebrate 90 years since the publication of Makiguchi’s The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, which also marked the founding of the Soka Gakkai, Living Buddhism sat down with Jason Goulah, Professor and Director of DePaul’s Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education and its online programs in Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship, to learn about the growing field of Ikeda/ Soka Studies in Education and Daisaku Ikeda’s philosophy and practice of human education.

Living Buddhism: Thank you, Jason, for speaking with us. How would you characterize the growing field of Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education?

Jason Goulah: Thank you for this opportunity. The field of Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education engages with and takes its name from Daisaku Ikeda and his many contributions to education as well as from the heritage of ideas and ideals from Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda that he has embraced, developed and spread globally under the broad banner of “sōka,” a Japanese neologism that means “value creation” but which is often rendered into English as Soka.

These three individuals’ educational contributions span multiple disciplines and represent unique responses to the particular demands of the times in which each lived. Makiguchi was an elementary school teacher and principal, and authored multiple works on such topics as human geography, communities studies and, perhaps most important, value-creating pedagogy. Toda was an elementary school teacher and later opened a tutorial school wherein he applied Makiguchi’s pedagogy together with approaches outlined in his own publications on deductive reasoning, assessment, school choice, home education and educating society’s lowest performing students.

Inspired by the character and philosophies of Makiguchi and Toda, Ikeda established a network of 15 schools and universities named after Makiguchi’s pedagogical theory of value creation in seven countries across Asia and the Americas. He has expanded upon their ideas while simultaneously applying them in their most articulate essence and spirit. He has also developed his own important and distinct contributions in such areas as creative dialogue and education for a locally enacted global ethic of peace, human rights, ecological sustainability and a fundamental paradigm shift from education that serves society’s interests to society serving the essential needs of human education. He has written and presented widely on the purpose and practice of education across the lifespan and in contexts including the home, schools and local and global communities.

Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda are perhaps best characterized by their shared commitment to the ethic and practice of global citizenship, value creation and the lifelong growth and happiness of each individual, even as they use and articulate these concepts differently. They also share a deep commitment to respecting the dignity of all human life in accord with principles of Buddhist humanism. These shared commitments—uniquely Eastern and quintessentially universal—shape the founding ideals of the Soka schools and universities that Ikeda founded and increasingly inform the perspectives and practices of thousands of educators in multicultural, multiracial and multilingual contexts around the world. While all three thinkers’ ideas are the object of growing research, the international academy has been most substantively engaging with Daisaku Ikeda’s expansive ideas and contributions, not only in the field of education, but also in the arts and literary commentary, religion, peace and human rights, citizen diplomacy, nuclear abolition, climate justice and many other areas.

“Being born human does not make one a human being. Don’t we really only become human when we make tenacious effort to live as human beings? … That’s why education is so important. We need human education to become human beings.”

What is Daisaku Ikeda’s philosophy of education?

Goulah: Daisaku Ikeda’s fundamental life philosophy is Buddhist humanism. His approach to education stems from this core philosophy and is a secular manifestation of it. Ikeda calls his educational philosophy and practice ningen kyōiku, or “human education.” For him, “human education and Buddhism are two aspects of the same reality.”[1]The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 1, p. 133. Both seek to enhance our humanity. As Ikeda puts it: “Being born human does not make one a human being. Don’t we really only become human when we make tenacious effort to live as human beings? … That’s why education is so important. We need human education to become human beings.”[2]Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 139–40.

In concrete terms, human education is twofold. On one hand, it is an approach to encourage the individual right in front of us, to believe in everyone’s unique and unlimited potential, to never give up on anyone, no matter what. But it is also, equally, an approach that demands that we awaken to the full scope and possibility of our own humanity and “human-ness.” For Ikeda, being human is an action, a continual process of being and becoming more fully human. Significantly, Ikeda calls for a perspectival shift from “education,” pronounced kyōiku in Japanese and written with the Sino-Japanese character for “teaching,” to the homophone kyōiku, written instead with a unique character combination for mutual growth, meaning that true education is a process of the teacher and student, self and other, growing together.[3]Soka Gakkai kyoiku honbu (Ed.). (2015). Waga kyōikusha ni okuru: Ikeda meiyo kaichō no shishin [For our educators: Honorary President Ikeda’s guiding principles] (pp. 1–8). Seikyo Shimbunsha; Ikeda, D. (2015). Shin ningen kakumei, 27 kan [The New Human Revolution, vol. 27]. Seikyo Shimbunsha.

Toward this end, Ikeda advocates for the following four interlocking commitments and ideals: 1) a commitment to dialogue, 2) a commitment to global citizenship, 3) a commitment to value creation and 4) a commitment to creative coexistence.

Can you expand on each ideal?

Goulah: The first is “a commitment to dialogue.” Dialogue here is not chit-chat or simple conversation; it’s certainly not debate or bending someone to your will. For Ikeda, a commitment to dialogue is the essential starting point for becoming truly human, the master key for the inner transformation that he calls “human revolution.”[4]Ikeda Daisaku zenshū [The complete works of Daisaku Ikeda] (vols. 1–150). As he states: “We are not born human in any but a biological sense; we can only learn to know ourselves and others and thus be ‘trained’ in the ways of being human. We do this by immersion in the ‘ocean of language and dialogue.’”[5]A New Way Forward, p. 32. Put differently, one cannot carry out their full growth and development individually or in isolation. Therefore, Ikeda advocates for dialogue in all its forms, from dialogue with nature, great books and great works of art to dialogue with others. It begins, though, with open and earnest “inner dialogue,” through which we carefully and honestly examine our own attitudes and beliefs.[6]Daisaku Ikeda, in Hope in a dark time: Reflections on humanity’s future, edited by David Krieger (Santa Barbara, California: Capra Press, 2003), pp. 89–94. Inner dialogue leads to truly creative outer dialogue, whether among family and friends or between strangers, countries, cultures or civilizations. Ikeda’s collected works are full of assertions that dialogue is the driving force for such transformative human education.

As the author of more than 80 published dialogues with leading thinkers in the fields of peace, culture and education, Ikeda calls dialogue an art, likened to jazz, wherein everyone is enhanced because of the other:

These vibrant sessions—whether of jazz or dialogue—develop as participants give voice to the calls that issue freely from their lives, mutually respecting each other and bringing forth the best that each possesses. Participants can give new life even to each other’s seeming mistakes or failures. As a result, all involved are dynamically elevated, and previously unrealized heights of creativity are reached.[7]Daisaku Ikeda, “Foreword,” Peacebuilding through dialogue: Education, human transformation and conflict resolution, edited by Peter Stearns (Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University Press), pp. vii–xi.

He adds:

In order to achieve mutually enriching, deeply connecting dialogue, we need to overcome the divisions within our own hearts that make us unconsciously categorize people and rank their value on that basis. We need to be aware of the danger of categorizing people into such simplistic binaries as good and bad, us and them, and friend and foe. Such an approach is one of the deep drivers of conflict.[8]Ibid., ix.

This principle of eradicating divisions between self and other is essential in Ikeda’s formulation of dialogue as a theme of education. If the concept of “other” is absent from the “self,” he asserts, true dialogue cannot occur. Ultimately, dialogic engagement with a profoundly internalized other is what he views as the “source” and “basis” of education, the unparalleled hope for reviving human education in the truest sense.

These vibrant sessions—whether of jazz or dialogue— develop as participants give voice to the calls that issue freely from their lives, mutually respecting each other and bringing forth the best that each possesses.

How would you describe “a commitment to global citizenship”?

Goulah: Daisaku Ikeda advocates for education that fosters an ethic and identity of global citizenship as essential qualities for transcending all boundaries in our own hearts and awakening to a shared humanity beyond race or nation. This perspective is inspired by the cosmopolitan philosophies of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, and by Ikeda’s experience witnessing racial injustice in Chicago during his first trip to the United States in 1960. Significantly, in that moment, he invoked the ethic of global citizenship to abolish racial discrimination, unjust treatment and prejudice “rooted deeply in people’s hearts.”[9]The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, p. 160.

Toward this end, Ikeda has defined global citizenship as the principle that “all the world’s peoples are one people, and that the various peoples who inhabit this same planet must overcome any discriminatory consciousness and feelings of hostility that arise from differences in borders, language, customs and living environment, awaken to the reality that we form a community bound by a common destiny and live in harmonious coexistence.”[10]Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Seiji to shukyo (Tokyo: Ushio shuppan sha, 1969), p. 225. He invokes such global citizenship as the means to “transcend all kinds of discrimination,” asserting that the global network he leads “stems from this philosophy of non-discrimination.”[11]M.S. Swaminathan and Daisaku Ikeda, Revolutions: To green the environment, to grow the human heart (Madras: East West Books, 2007), p. 74.

Ikeda advances the following three characteristics as fundamental for global citizenship:

1) The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living.

2) The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them.

3) The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.[12]A New Way Forward, pp. 88–89.

Other philosophies of global citizenship also include aspects of wisdom and compassion, but Ikeda’s inclusion of courage is unique and important. For him, wisdom and compassion are inherent potentialities in all human beings. However, fear of difference, of the “other,” prohibits their realization and results in the “deep psychology of collective egoism, which takes its most destructive form in virulent strains of ethnocentrism and nationalism.”[13]Ibid., p. 91. That is, our own capacity for self-actualization—and global citizenship—is fundamentally hindered by fear. This is why the cultivation of courage is so important. “Engagement … requires courage,” he says.[14]Ibid., p. 90. See also Goulah, J. (2020). Daisaku Ikeda and the Soka movement for global citizenship. Special Issue: “Asian Cosmopolitanism: Living and Learning across Differences,” Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 40(1), 35-48.

Notably, in Ikeda’s framework, wisdom, courage and compassion are also the fundamental characteristics of the bodhisattva and of the Buddha. One sees here an example of Ikeda’s regular practice of crossing semantic boundaries between the religious and the mundane, bringing insights and terminology from Buddhism to secular affairs and identifying examples from the secular world as a means of illuminating Buddhist principles and concepts. This does not mean that Ikeda advocates for teaching or proselytizing Buddhism in schools. Having experienced the consequences of compulsory religious education preceding and during World War II, he explicitly opposes that.[15]Soka Education: For the Happiness of the Individual, pp. 61-62. Instead, he advocates for “the need to cultivate a sense of belonging to humanity as a whole,”[16]Mikhail Gorbachev and Daisaku Ikeda, Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005), p. 103. emphasizing a humanistic spirituality, interdependent totality and the virtues of wisdom, courage and compassion, because these “will enable students to enjoy personal growth and contribute to society.”[17]Soka Education: For the Happiness of the Individual, p. 63.

This cosmopolitan quest for our shared humanity exhorts us, in Ikeda’s words, “not to fear or deny difference, but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures and to grow from encounters with them.”[18]A New Way Forward, pp. 88–89. Global citizenship in this sense is a practice of speaking to the complex human being in front of us and challenging the spirit of abstracting people— oppressors and oppressed—into monolithic groups. His approach manifests in the cultivation of courageous compassion to realize that, as he asserts, “even those whom we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives and can afford us opportunities to grow in our own humanity.”[19]Ibid., p. 89. For Ikeda, global citizenship is found in the “sustained and courageous effort to seek out the good in all people, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and others.”[20]Ibid., p. 90.

Can you touch on the third ideal, “a commitment to value creation?”

Goulah: As I mentioned earlier, this concept is a translation of the Japanese neologism sōka, from the words sōzō (creation) and kachi (value). Viewed as the font of genuine, almost existential happiness, value creation is an important and unique principle that pervades and coheres the philosophies of Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda. Makiguchi and Toda coined the term sōka for the operating idea of Makiguchi’s four-volume work, The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. Makiguchi endeavored to foster an ever-expanding capacity to create value in terms of individual “gain,” social “good” and aesthetic “beauty,” as well as to develop a cognition of truth, or facticity. Beauty just means whether or not we like something. Gain is that which benefits us on an individual or personal level, and good is this same idea but on a quantitatively bigger scale, impacting the larger community or society. Creating value means striving to take action that accomplishes all three of these aspects simultaneously, understanding that the value of good outweighs that of gain, and where gain is preferable to beauty. Makiguchi labels the capacity to create such value as jinkaku kachi, or “character value.”

It is important to note that a value-creating approach to education is not, as it is often misunderstood, about creating, prescribing or fostering moral or socio-legal-religious “values”; it is not what we traditionally call “values education” or “moral education.” Rather, value-creating approaches engage students in learning to learn and to derive wisdom from knowledge to create positive and contributive effects in and from any situation.[21]Makiguchi Tsunesaburō zenshū, [The complete works of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi] (vols. 5-6, 8). Ikeda states, “Put simply, value creation is the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstance.”[22]A New Way Forward, p. 88.

Finally, “value” here is not an already readymade “thing” just waiting to be applied in designated situations. It is a novel and contextually contingent meaning born from our own creativity and engagement with others and the realities of our circumstances. Value creation is thus inherently dialogic, and no value can be created if actions one deems valuable inherently violate another person’s dignity or humanity.

“Value creation is the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and to contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstance.”

And, finally, can you explain “a commitment to creative coexistence?”

Goulah: Daisaku Ikeda advocates for a profound and action-oriented understanding of interdependence that he calls kyōsei, or “creative coexistence.” Consistent with the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination, kyōsei is the principle of active and intentional interconnection. No thing or person exists or flourishes in isolation. Ikeda defines kyōsei as “an ethos that seeks to bring harmony from conflict, unity from rupture, that is based more on ‘us’ than ‘me.’ It signals a spirit that seeks to encourage flourishing and mutually supportive relationships among humans and between humans and nature. It is my belief that by making this ethic of coexistence the shared spirit of our age, we can find the certain means to close the ‘gap between power and ethical standards of behavior.’”[23]April 2003 Living Buddhism, p. 12. Kyōsei has been differently translated into English as “symbiosis,” “coexistence,” “harmonious coexistence” and “creative coexistence.” “Creative coexistence” is the most comprehensive translation of this term as Ikeda uses it, for it captures his vision of interdependence as conscious, volitional and based on creativity and value creation. In this sense, human beings must actively work at peaceful and harmonious coexistence by creating value for oneself and others in each moment and in every interaction with everyone and everything.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about the principles of “human education.” Where can we learn more about the educational philosophy of Daisaku Ikeda and the field of Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education?

Goulah: Thank you very much for this opportunity. I would point readers to three things: First, much of what I outlined here appears in more detail in a forthcoming book tentatively titled Hope and Joy in Education: Engaging Daisaku Ikeda across Curriculum and Context. It will be published spring 2021 by Teachers College Press and includes twenty authors who consider Daisaku Ikeda’s ideas in diverse disciplines and settings. Second, readers can learn about Daisaku Ikeda’s educational philosophy and the field of Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education by visiting us at go.depaul.edu/vce. Lastly, I am pleased to share that the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education is currently producing a comprehensive English translation of Makiguchi’s The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy, which we believe will become foundational for future research and teacher preparation.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 1, p. 133.
2. Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 139–40.
3. Soka Gakkai kyoiku honbu (Ed.). (2015). Waga kyōikusha ni okuru: Ikeda meiyo kaichō no shishin [For our educators: Honorary President Ikeda’s guiding principles] (pp. 1–8). Seikyo Shimbunsha; Ikeda, D. (2015). Shin ningen kakumei, 27 kan [The New Human Revolution, vol. 27]. Seikyo Shimbunsha.
4. Ikeda Daisaku zenshū [The complete works of Daisaku Ikeda] (vols. 1–150).
5. A New Way Forward, p. 32.
6. Daisaku Ikeda, in Hope in a dark time: Reflections on humanity’s future, edited by David Krieger (Santa Barbara, California: Capra Press, 2003), pp. 89–94.
7. Daisaku Ikeda, “Foreword,” Peacebuilding through dialogue: Education, human transformation and conflict resolution, edited by Peter Stearns (Fairfax, Virginia: George Mason University Press), pp. vii–xi.
8. Ibid., ix.
9. The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, p. 160.
10. Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Seiji to shukyo (Tokyo: Ushio shuppan sha, 1969), p. 225.
11. M.S. Swaminathan and Daisaku Ikeda, Revolutions: To green the environment, to grow the human heart (Madras: East West Books, 2007), p. 74.
12. A New Way Forward, pp. 88–89.
13. Ibid., p. 91.
14. Ibid., p. 90. See also Goulah, J. (2020). Daisaku Ikeda and the Soka movement for global citizenship. Special Issue: “Asian Cosmopolitanism: Living and Learning across Differences,” Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 40(1), 35-48.
15. Soka Education: For the Happiness of the Individual, pp. 61-62.
16. Mikhail Gorbachev and Daisaku Ikeda, Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005), p. 103.
17. Soka Education: For the Happiness of the Individual, p. 63.
18. A New Way Forward, pp. 88–89.
19. Ibid., p. 89.
20. Ibid., p. 90.
21. Makiguchi Tsunesaburō zenshū, [The complete works of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi] (vols. 5-6, 8).
22. A New Way Forward, p. 88.
23. April 2003 Living Buddhism, p. 12.