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A Message of Condolence on the Passing of Mikhail Gorbachev

Photo by Consolidated News Pictures / Contributor / Getty Images.

Adapted from an article in the Sept. 1, 2022, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

Ikeda Sensei sent a condolence message on the passing of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who died in Moscow on Aug. 30, 2022, at 91.

The two men first met at the Kremlin in Moscow in July 1990, when Mr. Gorbachev was president of the Soviet Union. In April 1991, Mr. Gorbachev became the first Soviet head of state to visit Japan when he met Sensei in Tokyo. Over the years, the two met with each other 10 times and collaborated on the book-length dialogue Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century: Gorbachev and Ikeda on Buddhism and Communism, in which, as members of the generation that had experienced the horrors of World War II, they discussed pathways to peace in the 21st century through respect for the dignity of life and living in harmony with the natural environment.

Mr. Gorbachev is known for his historic contributions in helping bring the Cold War to an end. He became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1985 at 54, and, as head of state, implemented glasnost and perestroika—openness and reconstruction—policies to reform and reconstruct the Soviet Union. His “new thinking” approach to foreign policy opened the way for peaceful coexistence with the West and led to significant progress in nuclear disarmament. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

In his Aug. 31 condolence message, Sensei stated that his first encounter with Mr. Gorbachev and the many discussions that followed have been indelibly etched in his heart. He praised the late president for his achievements, won amid great hardships, and his spiritual legacy as a peacemaker. Mr. Gorbachev, he said, will continue to live on in the hearts of many as an eternal source of light illuminating humanity’s future.

Gradual Reform Ensures Lasting Change

The following excerpt is from Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century: Gorbachev and Ikeda on Buddhism and Communism, pp. 18–19.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Extremism is as tenacious as the seduction of easy solutions. In the 20th century, countless people suffered because of the naïve belief in miraculous one-stroke solutions to all difficulties. In each new generation there are always radicals calling for a complete break with the past, a profound upheaval. Such people believe that the greater the destruction of the past, the greater the hope that the future will flourish.

That is all nonsense and deception. Deep roots in the past make the new durable. Only gradual, evolutional reforms ensure the irreversibility of change. The 19th- and 20th-century conviction that the most radical, the most revolutionary acts guarantee the endurance of change and progress was false. We can now say that evolutionary development and gradual reform consonant with the nature of humanity and social life are more effective than the revolutionary quest.

Although we learned important things from the 20th century, we have not found the whole truth. In many instances, the wisdom of the future must be founded on the wisdom of the past.

Daisaku Ikeda: My belief and long-standing convictions are in moderation and the principles of gradual change. … Though to some they seem fossil, in fact the principles of the gradual and moderate embody profound human wisdom.

Of course, mere slowness does not represent the principle of gradualness. Physical speed is not the issue. The essential thing is for development to be both gradual and, first and foremost, in the best interests of humanity. Reforms, progress and development must be made for the sake, not at the cost, of human happiness. Developers must not limit their sights to their own aims or strive blindly to achieve given results without taking human well-being into consideration. We must remember that everything must be done for humanity. This is my understanding of the principle of gradualness.

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