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Ikeda Sensei

The Power of Positivity and Optimism

Aerial view on John Kennedy Street in the Harvard University Area in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the USA. Eliot House white belltower seen on the background. Tourists in the street.
John Kennedy Street in the Harvard University area, Cambridge, Mass. Roman Babkin / Getty Images

This installment of the series “Unforgettable Journeys” features excerpts from Ikeda Sensei’s essay on Boston, which was originally published in the October 2012 issue of the Soka Gakkai–affiliated monthly magazine Pumpkin and later in book form in Japanese. The text was later published in the Aug. 21, 2020, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

O what refreshing blue skies!
What dazzling sunlight!
What lush, green forests!

A fresh, invigorating morning,
When all living things
Seem unborn.

I first visited Boston, on the east coast of the United States, in September 1991. While there, I composed a poem for my friends, which began with these lines celebrating the joy of the morning.

The morning light has a miraculous power to revive all things. For people, learning is like the morning light, bringing the revitalizing power of dawn to the soul.

Learning truly is a source of light, it is the sun. And Boston is a capital of learning brimming with the brilliant light of vibrant intellect.

Many renowned institutions of higher learning are located in Boston and on its outskirts—Boston University, the University of Massachusetts, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University. These centers of learning have produced numerous U.S. presidents and Nobel laureates in every field.

The brightest minds from around the globe flock here, forge themselves through learning and then take their place on the world stage. As a citadel of dynamic and engaged individuals, Boston continues to produce a steady stream of gifted minds who play an active role in shaping humanity’s future.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917–63), who was born in Boston, declared: “It is the peacemakers who are truly blessed,”[1] and “We are never too old or too young for public service.”[2]

I have many friends in Boston who are applying their energy and ingenuity to building a growing network of people committed to the happiness and peace of humanity.

The day before my second lecture at Harvard in September 1993, I visited the house where President Kennedy was born and reflected on his life.

I also visited the nearby home of a couple who were leaders in the local community, enjoying a pleasant conversation with them and their family, as well as other invited friends and their children. I encouraged them to make their community the happiest in the world.

With the motto “Take the Initiative,” my dear friends in Boston were working together in a warm spirit of fellowship to make positive contributions to society while studying a great philosophy based on respect for the dignity of life.

At the same time, they were putting the American spirit of democracy into action by engaging in dialogue and working together with others to improve their community.

Helen Keller (1880– 1968) studied at Radcliffe College, which was Harvard’s associated women’s college. Despite being unable to see, hear or speak as a child, she went on to become a pioneering social welfare activist. She regarded setbacks merely as evidence of eventual success.[3]

I deeply admire the American spirit of positivity and optimism that refuses to give in to despair and boldly blazes new trails.

I founded the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (now the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue) near Harvard University, establishing its mottos as “Be the heart of a network of global citizens. Be a bridge for dialogue between civilizations. Be a beacon lighting the way to a century of life.”

Openhearted dialogue has the power to bridge differences and create hope-filled harmony. The center’s first executive director, Virginia Benson, was a public policy expert who had worked in the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter. In the spirit of not just recognizing but celebrating diversity, she built a world-class network of leading scholars. To this day, she continues to rally voices for peace.

It is people who bring people together. That is why people of integrity and character are the pillars of peace.

One individual with whom Ms. Benson forged a strong friendship was Dr. Elise Boulding (1920–2010), a pioneering peace scholar living near Boston. Before her death, Dr. Boulding imparted some final words to Ms. Benson, saying: “Cultures of peace don’t just happen. We have to make them happen. We do it together. … We have to start where we are.” She continued: “We can’t escape the ‘now.’ … You have to be the fulfillment of what you’ve learned. Don’t stop. Enjoy what you’re doing.”

Taking action with courage and joy from this moment, from where we are now, from our own accord—this is the starting point for building a culture of peace.

On a visit to Boston City Hall [during my visit in 1991], where I met with city leaders and citizens, I spoke of my admiration for the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), who hailed from Boston.

Emerson urged people, “Trust thyself,”[4] and declared, “It is certain that there is a great deal of good in us that does not know itself.”[5]

We must bring forth great strength from within. Each day of our life is a courageous challenge, an adventure and an opportunity for self-development. The wings to carry us on this journey are forged by learning through our interactions with others and making efforts to contribute to society.

The fresh morning light of Boston conveys to us that the world and our daily lives are our “campuses,” our arenas of learning and action.

What role can Buddhism play in the restoration and rejuvenation of humanity? In an age marked by widespread religious revival, we need always ask: Does religion make people stronger or weaker? Does it encourage what is good or what is evil in them? Are they made better and wiser by religion? …

Perhaps because our Buddhist movement is so human- centered, Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School has described it as an effort to define the humanistic direction of religion. Indeed, Buddhism is not merely a theoretical construct; it helps us steer our lives, as we actually live them, moment by moment, toward the achievement of happiness and worth. —Ikeda Sensei

From his 1993 Harvard University speech, “Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-First-Century Civilization,” found in A New Way Forward, pp. 44–47


  1. John F. Kennedy, “Remarks at the Pageant of Peace Ceremonies,” Dec. 17, 1962, <> (accessed Aug. 28, 2020). ↩︎
  2. John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006), p. ix (Introduction by Caroline Kennedy). ↩︎
  3. See Helen Keller, The World I Live In (New York: New York Review Books, 2003), p. 152. ↩︎
  4. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays and Lectures (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 260. ↩︎
  5. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Considerations by the Way,” Essays and Lectures (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 1094. ↩︎

Advancing With Courage and Hope Toward a New Dawn

Let’s Continue Our Endeavor to Elevate the Life State of All Humankind