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Encouragement

Florence–A Capital of Culture

Giorgio Vasari’s “Six Tuscan Poets” (circa 1544) displays prominent poets and philosophers from 13th and 14th century Tuscany to highlight the merits of Italian literature and promote Italian instead of Latin as the language of the Italian culture. Photo by INSTITUTE OF ART MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ART AT GOOGLE CULTURAL INSTITUTE.

[Editors’ Note: This installment of the series “Unforgettable Journeys” features excerpts from Ikeda Sensei’s essay on Florence originally published in the Soka Gakkai-affiliated monthly magazine Pumpkin and later in book form in Japanese. Florence was the center of the Renaissance, the revival of humanistic culture in the 15th and 16th centuries. At this time when we are adjusting to new ways of living amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Seikyo Shimbun would like to provide the opportunity to learn from the spirit of the Renaissance so that we may strengthen our connections with others, bring forth invincible life force to revitalize our lives and create the greatest possible value. The text was published in the June 30 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.]

Italy,
like the morning sun,
envelops the entire world
with the fragrance of the Renaissance
in full bloom.

“I live in a wonderful capital of culture”—may we all live with such pride and adorn our lives and our communities with beauty.

Even if the place where we live seems somewhat plain and our life a bit ordinary, with the right attitude, we can enjoy meaningful dialogue, wonderful friendships and rich culture. The city of Florence, Italy’s cultural capital, stands as a prime example of this.

Italian scholar and Platonist philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) once wrote that the most wondrous thing in all the world is the human being.[1]

Florence is a capital of flowering humanity that inspires revitalization. It reminds us that we all possess a wondrous treasure within, and that by discovering and polishing it, we can cause our inner potential to bloom in our own unique and vibrant way.

• • •

Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444), a Renaissance scholar and political leader of Florence, said, “Distance will never separate us, nor will our memories or our affection for one another ever be forgotten.”[2]

I first visited Florence, often described as “an open-air museum,” in May 1981. I met with many young friends there, conversing with them while visiting their homes, sitting on a sun-dappled grassy knoll, crossing the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno River or gazing out over the cityscape from Michelangelo Square.

At that time, Italy was facing a number of challenges, including a growing problem of drug abuse, and many young people were struggling with extremely difficult circumstances. I was eager to encourage and impart strength to our sincere young members grappling with these issues.

I urged them not to seek to escape from reality, but to face it head-on with a philosophy of hope; not to make their parents worry, but to study and work hard as befits young people. I stressed the importance of having good, trustworthy friends to advance together with.

• • •

The Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) wrote, “It is Nature’s custom, when she creates a person of great excellence in any profession, to create not just one [person] alone but another as well.”[3]

No matter how talented an individual may be, he or she cannot continue to grow in isolation from others. It is a well-known fact that Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) and the other shining stars of the Renaissance learned from artists of excellence, passed on their skills to their own students and engaged in friendly rivalry.

Human bonds nurture the flowering of creativity; they are its light, water and nutrition.

• • •

I will never forget one Italian woman who was a close acquaintance of my wife, Kaneko. She was always there for her friends and the youth, always ready to encourage them, and she fostered many capable individuals.

At the age of 15, she suddenly contracted polio, which left her with a walking disability. But she didn’t allow this to defeat her. Instead of succumbing to despair and self-pity, she devoted herself to her studies and became a doctor. Having personally experienced the suffering of illness, she wanted to help others facing the same hardship.

After retiring from medicine, she encountered Nichiren Buddhism. She went on to dedicate the rest of her life to spreading its life-affirming philosophy, promoting our humanistic grassroots movement and contributing to peace throughout Europe, which had been ravaged by two world wars.

She walked with the support of a cane wherever she went. Having no children of her own, she encouraged all the young people she met as if they were her own sons and daughters. She mastered Japanese, and through her brilliant translations introduced the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism to her fellow Italians, contributing greatly to the development of our movement in Italy.  Today, tens of thousands of youth are following the trail she blazed and revitalizing their lives through their Buddhist practice.

I am reminded of her words, which she spoke with a wise smile, “No matter what difficulties we face, as long as we engage in heart-to-heart dialogue, we can definitely find a way forward. … It is crucial that people with different personalities unite together—if they don’t, world peace cannot be achieved.”

• • •

Mina Gregori, art professor and president of the Roberto Longhi Foundation for the Study of the History of Art, has devoted herself to fostering young artists. In a dialogue we shared, she described art as an indispensable treasure that enriches our daily existence and our lives. She also argued that bringing art more deeply into the lives of as many people as possible is the key to reviving our desolate times dominated by materialism, egoism and self-interest.

Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio—a palace of beauty whose ceilings, walls and pillars are decorated with painting and sculpture—was the center of political power from the Middle Ages on. Today, it serves as the Florence town hall.

Michelangelo’s Genius of Victory statue stands in one corner of the palazzo. Having triumphed over all manner of persecution and hardship to create timeless masterpieces, Michelangelo declared resolutely: “I’m doing my best in the circumstances in which I find myself.”[4]

An invincible life state that overcomes all adversity and creates great value in the here and now is the highest form of art. Like the beautiful red lily that is the symbol of Florence, such a life state is pure and strong. From this lofty spirit blooms a brilliant life and a shining capital of culture.

A brilliant life,
a lofty spirit,
a wonderful journey.

References

  1. See Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, translated by A. Robert Caponigri (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1956), p. 3. ↩︎
  2. Translated from Italian. Leonardo Bruni, Opere letterarie e politiche (Literary and Political Works), edited by Paolo Viti (Turin: UTET, 1996), p. 81. ↩︎
  3. Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 101. ↩︎
  4. Michelangelo Buonarroti, Letters of Michelangelo, translated and edited by E. H. Ramsden, vol. 2 (London: Peter Owen Limited, 1963), p. 180. ↩︎

Sufferings Are the Fuel for Our Happiness

Strive With Joy at Each Moment Part 2 of 2