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Happy 95th Birthday, Ikeda Sensei!

Enduring dialogues—Over 700 books by Ikeda Sensei have been published around the world, including dialogues with leading thinkers and peacemakers. Photo by Seikyo Press.

On Jan. 2, Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist philosopher, peace builder, educator, author and poet, celebrates his 95th birthday. 

He was born on Jan. 2, 1928, in Ota Ward, Tokyo, as the fifth of eight children. Beginning in 1937, his four elder brothers were drafted into the Japanese military. Though as a teenager he suffered from tuberculosis and a weak constitution, he helped support his family by working at a munitions factory. 

Mr. Ikeda experienced the tragedies of war firsthand. During the Pacific War, his family lost two homes in air raids, and his eldest brother, Kiichi, died in battle. In his late teens after the war ended, Mr. Ikeda sought meaning amid the pain and chaos of a devastated Japan. His experiences gave birth to a lifelong passion to work for peace.

On Aug. 24, 1947, at 19, he attended his first Soka Gakkai discussion meeting, where he encountered Josei Toda (1900–58), educator and leader of the Soka Gakkai. The young Daisaku found in Mr. Toda an open and unaffected person, a man of unshakable conviction with a gift for explaining profound Buddhist concepts in logical, accessible terms. Mr. Ikeda respected the fact that Mr. Toda had been imprisoned during the war for his refusal to compromise his convictions in the face of pressure from Japan’s militarist government. He was inspired to embrace the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and decided that Mr. Toda would become his mentor in life.

Mr. Ikeda was later employed at a company run by Mr. Toda and completed his education under his mentor’s tutelage. And Mr. Toda shared with his disciple his visions for the future—the happiness of all people and fulfillment of kosen-rufu around the world. Although their time together lasted only 10 years, Mr. Ikeda describes his mentor’s training as the defining experience of his life and the foundation of everything he has since accomplished and become.

Expansion

In May 1960, two years after his mentor’s death, Mr. Ikeda, then 32, succeeded his mentor, becoming the third president of the Soka Gakkai. Under his leadership, the organization saw an era of innovation and expansion, becoming actively engaged in cultural and educational endeavors worldwide. Mr. Ikeda has dedicated himself to fulfilling Mr. Toda’s vision for kosen-rufu by developing initiatives in the areas of peace, culture and education grounded in Buddhist ideals.

In 1975, the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was established as a global association of independent Soka Gakkai organizations around the world, and Mr. Ikeda became its president.

Establishing the Soka Schools

Mr. Ikeda is the founder of the Soka (value-creation) schools system, which puts into practice the educational approach formulated by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, first Soka Gakkai president, and Josei Toda. It is a nondenominational school system based on the ideals of fostering each student’s unique creative potential and cultivating an ethic of peace, social contribution and global consciousness. The school system runs from kindergarten through graduate study and includes Soka University in Tokyo, Japan, and Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California.

Dialogue: The Foundation of Peace

As a staunch proponent of dialogue as the foundation of peace, Mr. Ikeda has engaged numerous world leaders, scholars and individuals around the globe in fields related to peace, culture and education. To further his vision of fostering dialogue and solidarity for peace, he has founded a number of independent nonprofit research institutes that develop cross-cultural, interdisciplinary collaboration on diverse issues. The Min-On Concert Association and the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum promote mutual understanding and friendship between different cultures through the arts.

The central tenet of Mr. Ikeda’s thought, and of Buddhism, is the fundamental dignity of life, a value that he sees as the key to lasting peace and human happiness. In his view, global peace ultimately relies on a self-directed transformation within the life of the individual, rather than on societal or structural reforms alone. This idea is expressed most succinctly in a passage from his work The Human Revolution, Mr. Ikeda’s novelized account of the Soka Gakkai’s early history and ideals. He writes, “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind” (p. viii).

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

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