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Enduring Dialogues

Ode to the Grand Spirit

Chingiz Aitmatov and Daisaku Ikeda

Chingiz Aitmatov, prominent author in Kyrgyz and Russian literature and a Kyrgyz ambassador. Illustration by RickyHadi / Fiverr.

Ikeda Sensei has had dialogues with leading figures throughout the world to advance peace. More than 80 of his dialogues have been published as books. The following are excerpts from his dialogue with Chingiz Aitmatov in Ode to the Grand Spirit (pp. 23–27).

Encountering a Great Teacher

Daisaku Ikeda: You and I were both born in 1928. Although our environments were different, we both belong to a generation whose value criteria were violently upset by the Second World War. As Socrates said, human beings must strive not merely to live, but also to live right; that is, constantly to seek meaning in life. When our value criteria are confused, our need to search for meaning intensifies. As we both know from experience, in youth, the need amounts to a compelling thirst. This is why I always advise young people to question the purposes of all their actions. I realize that they require spiritual support in this process. Certainly, I did when I was young. And I suppose you did too. What was your source of spiritual support in those troubled years when you began trying to make a difference to society? I found it in Buddhism and in the guidance given me by Josei Toda, the second president of Soka Gakkai and my personal mentor. …

Chingiz Aitmatov: To my great good fortune, in my early youth, I came into contact with people who, inwardly, rejected totalitarian ideas. They gave me courage and taught me to be, and always to remain, a human being in spite of everything; to place a higher value on my own noble human worth than on anything else.

I will always remember a country-school teacher who told me sternly: “Never hang your head when you mention your father’s name!” As I have said, my father, Torekul Aitmatov, was repressed and executed in 1937, and our family was forced to live deep in what could be called the sticks. It was perilous even to entertain certain thoughts, even silently, in those days. And here was this school teacher, not only thinking them, but actually saying them out loud.

Although at the time I only sensed it, I now fully understand his meaning. He was telling me to take pride in my father. The lesson was unforgettable. Of course, there were many others who instructed me, though without words. But, after all, the simple working man’s wisdom is the man himself. Often you never even recognize his words as instructions.

In short, I too had teachers of life. I bow my head in profound respect for the pure people of my homeland. They remain a spiritual mainstay for me to this day. Nor do I have to go back home to be reminded, in moments of happiness, rapture and, forgive me, glory, of my sources and of my immense debt to people who, for some unknown reason, love me.

In the Soviet Union, a fearsome poison found its way into our blood. Many people of my own generation know from experience how unbelievably, agonizingly hard it is for us to find the way to true culture and to the spiritual sources of the good. But without teachers of life on our path, we would find no salvation. In the past, I devoted my life to the search for the spiritual good. I shall go on doing so for as much time as remains to me. Fortunately, I still meet people who help me learn how to live. I find it bitter, however, to be compelled to say that many of my contemporaries, unable to break from the ideological shadows of Stalinism, still cling stubbornly to obsolete dogmas.

In our complicated, contradictory world, I too want to do as much as I can to help young people, even through my own mistakes, find the true road. I think it was [Otto von] Bismarck who said that fools learn from their own mistakes and wise people from the mistakes of others.

Daisaku Ikeda: With your humanity and perceptiveness, you have a great deal to offer the young. I was only 19 when I first met Josei Toda. At our first encounter, I let fly with three tremendously weighty questions about the nature of a just person and of true patriotism and his opinions of the Japanese emperor system. My inquiries were the natural outcome of the perplexities of youth and experience with the crushing weight of militaristic fascism. As the subtitle of Plato’s The Republic, “An Inquiry into the Nature of Justice,” would have told me, humanity had been tussling with my first question for a very long time. I arrived at it intuitively. I vividly remember how Mr. Toda said, “Now those are tough questions!” and then, without the slightest hesitation, proceeded to answer them fluently and wittily, avoiding abstruse philosophical terminology and speaking in accessible language ringing with unshakable faith. Won over by his convincing powers, I realized that he was the man I wanted to be my mentor. Subsequent experiences with Mr. Toda proved my intuition correct. Through him, I learned about society and humanity. He showed me the truth about life. I can say joyfully, proudly and boldly that my mentor was everything to me.


Chingiz Aitmatov

(December 12, 1928–June 10, 2008)

Notable Achievements

Prominent author in Kyrgyz and Russian literature.

Awarded the Soviet State Prize for literature in 1968, 1977 and 1983.

Served as an advisor to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet ambassador to Luxembourg.

Became the Kyrgyz ambassador to the European Union.

Served as a member of parliament in Kyrgyzstan.

‘Never Seek This Gohonzon Outside Yourself’

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