Skip to main content

Enduring Dialogues

Fostering ‘Human Flowers’

Nelson Mandela and Daisaku Ikeda

Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of South Africa. Illustration by Rickyhadi / Fiverr.

This installment highlights Sensei’s dialogue with Nelson Mandela, then-deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) on October 31, 1990. Along with 500 youth division members, Sensei welcomed Mr. Mandela and his party upon their arrival at the Seikyo Shimbun’s head office in Tokyo. The following is excerpted from the November 12, 1990, issue of the World Tribune (pp. 1–3).

Education Is Key to Building a Just Society

Daisaku Ikeda: I understand that, in a broad sense, you are a great humanistic educator. In this light, I would like to present you with Soka University’s highest award.

Nelson Mandela: I am very honored. I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t think that I deserve this honor, but I believe this indicates your expectations for myself and my organization. I promise to never betray your expectations. This honor I have received today, I believe, is an indication of your support for our anti-apartheid movement.

Ikeda: South Africa is called a treasure house of flowers. I have heard that more than 7,000 species of plants grow in the area surrounding the Cape of Good Hope. In the Lotus Sutra, which is the king of Buddhist scriptures, there is a beautiful word that means human flowers (ninge). I cannot help longing for the day to come to your country when beautiful people with great character and talent will blossom in equality, just as so many flowers now bloom in your land. You, Mr. Mandela, can serve as the rich soil for such a great future in your country. …

From a long-range perspective, I have to say that education is the basic cause for a nation’s growth. This is my unchanging conviction. This might sound presumptuous, but even though your country has in you an unprecedented and great leader, unless there are many excellent people behind you, your job will never be accomplished. One tall tree does not make a [forest]. Unless other trees grow to the same height, you cannot have a large grove.

Mandela: We in the ANC have been taught since childhood the importance of contributing to society.

Ikeda: Youth absorb things very quickly. They can assimilate new knowledge immediately and apply it to their daily endeavors. The more people of intelligence you raise through education, the easier your job will be. Through education, many more people will develop the judgment to discern good from evil. The foundation of social development will be distorted if we only think about politics and economics. For your country’s lasting prosperity, the rise of education is indispensable. Japan has made tremendous progress since World War II, and the basis of its prosperity can be attributed to the power of education.

The first Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi fought against the military authorities and for this was imprisoned at 72. He passed away in prison the following year. The second Soka Gakkai president, Josei Toda, was in his 40s when he was jailed. He spent two years in prison. As the third president of the Soka Gakkai, I have also experienced various persecutions, including imprisonment, yet, with unswerving belief, I have been carrying out a movement for peace, culture and education based on Buddhism.

It is said that Shakyamuni Buddha of India was 72 when he expounded the Lotus Sutra, which elucidates the equality of all people and the eternity of life. I think the true stage for your activities will open up in the future. I sincerely pray for your longevity and for the success of your efforts for Africa and the rest of the world. 

This morning I wrote a poem for you, whom I regard as my great senior. Because I composed it very quickly, it might not sound polished, but this is my sincere gift to you, the hero of the battle for human rights.

Sensei’s poem “Banner of Humanism, Path of Justice” was read in English.  Afterward, in the midst of applause, Mr. Mandela stood and shook hands with Sensei.

Ikeda: Please do not forget that you have a comrade in Japan. You have comrades around the world as well, and you will have more in the future. I cannot forget the address you made after your release from prison this February, especially the closing part: “In conclusion, I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are as true today as they were then. I quote: ‘I have fought against white domination and
I have fought against black domination. I have carried the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

These words are the crystallization of your soul. I have been a soldier of human rights, a soldier of justice. Therefore, these words of yours deeply touch my heart.


Nelson Mandela

(July 18, 1918–December 5, 2013)

Notable Achievements

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid, a system of segregation and political, social and economic discrimination against nonwhite people in the Republic of South Africa.

After serving 27 years in prison for opposing the apartheid system, became the first democratically elected President of South Africa (1994–99).

The Eternal Triumph of Mentor & Disciple

District Study Meeting Material