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Ikeda Sensei

Dialogue Is Humanity’s Supreme Path

Challenge and response—British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, one of the most celebrated scholars of the 20th century, held that the crucial factor in a civilization’s survival is how it responds to inevitable and repeated challenges. Photo by Sophie Bassouls / Getty Images.

My dialogue with Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975), one of the 20th century’s great historians, began in the month of May and ended in the month of May. We spoke together for a total of more than 40 hours spanning 10 days over the course of two visits I made to London. The first session began on May 5, 1972, and the last was held on May 19, the following year.

An old English rhyme goes, “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.” Leaving the long, cold days of winter far behind, London in May, the season of flowers, is particularly beautiful. Mr. Toynbee and his wife, Veronica, especially chose this season to invite my wife, Kaneko, and me to their home. I fondly remember my stroll in nearby Holland Park with Mr. Toynbee, lending him my arm to lean on.

Recently, a group of dear friends from Ota Ward, where I grew up, presented me with a life-size bronze statue depicting my encounter with Mr. Toynbee. …

The statue’s representation is extremely precise and subtle, even down to Mr. Toynbee’s somewhat short trousers. I recall how this great man of learning once said to me with a cheerful smile that he would rather wear old clothes and spend his money on books instead.

In the statue, Mr. Toynbee’s hand is reaching for mine, as if he is about to pass something to me. On the final day of our dialogue, the 84-year-old scholar looked at me, then only 45, with a keen glow in his gentle eyes and voiced the hope that I, young as I still was, would spend the rest of my life engaging the world’s leading thinkers in dialogue, because dialogue is the key to humanity’s future. Thirty years [in 2003] have passed since then. Responding to the task Mr. Toynbee entrusted to me, I have engaged in more than 1,500 dialogue sessions [now 1,600] over those three decades.

I am presently engaged in a new dialogue with the internationally renowned American economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908–2006). My first meeting with Mr. Galbraith, who is now 94 years old, was in the autumn of 1978. We talked for two hours at the Seikyo Shimbun Building in Tokyo.

I welcomed the economist and his wife, Kitty, at the building’s entranceway. Mr. Galbraith, at a height of 6 feet 7 inches, is a man of commanding presence. As we shook hands, I stretched my free hand toward the top of his head, though it remained out of reach. Mr. Galbraith smiled at my friendly humor and joked that he wasn’t nearly as intimidating as his height might suggest.

I responded to this quip by Mr. Galbraith, whose book The Age of Uncertainty was a bestseller at the time, by saying: “A tall person has a good overview of his surroundings, but short people can see the ground more clearly. So perhaps by combining these two perspectives we will find some overall ‘certainty’!”

It is our differences that enable us to create new value and make new discoveries through dialogue. Mr. Galbraith and I didn’t agree on every issue we discussed, but he says that he looks back on our meeting as a very enjoyable one.

Mr. Galbraith kindly invited my wife and me to visit him at his home on the outskirts of Boston [in September 1993]. I will never forget him saying to me then that life had led him to conclude that nothing is more foolish or cruel than war, and that is why he felt such sympathy with my commitment to create peace through dialogue. I was privileged to have Mr. Galbraith, one of Harvard’s most eminent professors, present a commentary on my second lecture at that university [in September 1993].

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), a Harvard alumnus who was born exactly 200 years ago on May 25 this year [2003], called conversation with friends “the true school of philosophy.”[1] The mirror of dialogue enables us to see others as well as ourselves. Dialogue breaks through the shell of the petty ego and expands our state of life.

The jealous priest Ryokan,[2] who harbored ill will toward Nichiren Daishonin, was a coward who rejected dialogue. Rather than directly confronting the Daishonin, he skulked around spreading false accusations that ultimately led to Nichiren’s arrest. When the Daishonin was sent into exile on Sado Island, Ryokan pretended to demand a Buddhist debate with him as soon as possible, but once Nichiren returned to Kamakura, Ryokan shut his doors, feigned illness and did everything possible to avoid a meeting.

Nikken[3] and the Nichiren Shoshu priests, too, rejected discussion, unilaterally attacking and persecuting the Soka Gakkai. Clearly, they are Ryokan’s descendants.

In one of his letters to the lay nun Sennichi, the Daishonin writes: 

Strengthen your faith now more than ever. Anyone who teaches the principles of Buddhism to others is bound to incur hatred from men and women, priests and nuns. Let them say what they will. Entrust yourself to the golden teachings of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha, T’ien-t’ai, Miao-lo, Dengyo, and Chang-an. (“The Embankments of Faith,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 626)

As this passage indicates, no matter how we are hated and showered with slander and insult, we should speak out for truth and justice with complete fearlessness.

Achieving the widespread propagation of Nichiren Buddhism through committed dialogue, burning with the determination to bring happiness to those around us who are suffering, is the essence of the lofty Soka Gakkai spirit.

Of course, in today’s troubled, complicated world where people’s hearts are polluted by the three poisons, to engage others in dialogue and foster mutual understanding is not a simple thing. It is clear, however, that without dialogue and discussion true mutual understanding will never be possible. 

To base one’s positions on speculation and preconceived notions without even attempting to meet and talk with others only increases unnecessary misunderstanding and hostility. What untold suffering this kind of arrogance has inflicted on the human race throughout history!

Whether in our individual human relations—our interaction with our neighbors and those around us—or in relations between nations, everything starts from meeting directly with others, holding dialogue and getting to know and understand one another.

The courage to meet and talk with people is absolutely crucial. Choosing dialogue is itself the triumph of peace and of humanity. That is why I have met, as one human being to another, with all kinds of people, transcending differences of nationality, ethnicity, religion, ideology, generation, gender and social position. I also have carried out interfaith dialogue for the sake of peace with people of many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.

My partners in dialogue are incredibly varied. Among them are leaders of nations, politicians, government officials, educators, literary scholars, scientists, economists, peace activists, journalists, writers, poets, artists, entertainers and astronauts. They also include people who have even endured imprisonment for their beliefs.

In each of these encounters, I make it a point to find out what the person has dedicated their life to—their life’s purpose or mission, if you like—and to learn from it. Hearing the precious experiences and wisdom of first-rate people is always more rewarding than reading mountains of books. Dialogues are like a drama in multiple acts. There are moments when sparks fly and moments of sheer delight when chords of sympathy reverberate. Lively, vigorous dialogue is satisfying and overflowing with dynamism. That is why I give my absolute all to each encounter.

Words are seeds” is a proverb from our neighboring country of South Korea. Over time, the seeds sowed through dialogue grow and blossom.

When we talk to someone, we aren’t speaking solely to the person before our eyes. That person has a family, friends and many young successors who will carry on their work. A beautiful dialogue in which hearts meet is always the beginning of a new dialogue, the first step to creating an ever-expanding network of friendship.

The path from conflict to cooperation and harmony is to be found in dialogue; it is the way to build the bridge leading to peace. I am determined to keep devoting each day of my life to dialogue, confident that our youth will follow in my footsteps on this great path forever.

May 17, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 2–3


  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904), vol. 8, p. 292. ↩︎
  2. Ryokan (1217–1303): Also known as Ninsho. A priest of the True Word Precepts school, who enjoyed the patronage of the Hojo clan and became chief priest of Gokuraku-ji temple in Kamakura in 1267. He was hostile to Nichiren Daishonin and actively conspired with the authorities to have the Daishonin and his followers persecuted. ↩︎
  3. Nikken Abe (1922–2019), former head of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, led its priests in betraying the teachings and spirit of Nichiren Buddhism. He instigated what has become known as the second priesthood issue in 1990. During this time, the Soka Gakkai repeatedly requested to discuss claims brought forth by the priests. However, the priesthood rejected all attempts at dialogue. On Nov. 28, 1991, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood excommunicated millions of Soka Gakkai members throughout the world. This date has since become celebrated by Soka Gakkai members as the Day of Spiritual Independence from the corrupt and ossified priesthood. ↩︎

Bringing Your True Self to Your Relationships