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Striving to Transform the Destiny of Humankind

Enduring the flames of war in his youth, Ikeda Sensei strove to uproot the causes of global conflict by promoting peace and dialogue throughout the world.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5 | Part 6

Transcending Cultural Differences and Bringing Down Walls

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”[1]—These words, appearing in the preface to The Human Revolution, express the theme of that work and its sequel, The New Human Revolution. It also articulates the challenge to which Ikeda Sensei dedicated his entire life.

He began writing The Human Revolution in 1964 in Okinawa, Japan, where a horrific monthslong battle occured during World War II. It opens with the lines “Nothing is more barbarous than war. Nothing is more cruel.”[2]

Sensei himself had been among the young people who experienced the cruelty of that war.

Growing Up Amid the Flames of War

Daisaku Ikeda was born in 1928, in what is today Ota Ward, Tokyo. He grew up at a time when, as he later wrote, “Japan was quite abnormally involved in the drift toward war.”[3]

The Second China-Japan War broke out when he was just 9. As he was about to turn 14, the Pacific War (World War II) erupted, and his four older brothers were drafted into the military one after the other. His family had to evacuate their home, and the house they moved into burned down in an air raid.

After the war, he watched his mother weep upon learning of his eldest brother’s death on the battlefield. The young Daisaku also suffered from tuberculosis, constantly haunted by the shadow of death.

“I hated war. And I hated the leaders who had incited people to war,” he later wrote. He was 17 at the time of Japan’s surrender. He continued, “I asked myself what I could do to make sure that such a tragedy never happened again.”[4]

At his first Soka Gakkai discussion meeting, on Aug. 14, 1947, he arrived to hear Josei Toda lecturing on Nichiren Daishonin’s treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

After the lecture, Sensei asked Mr. Toda about the correct way to live, what defines a true patriot and what he thought about the emperor and the Japanese imperial system. Sensei felt that Mr. Toda answered these questions clearly and succinctly. That Mr. Toda had opposed the war and been sent to prison as a result particularly impressed him.

Ten days later, he took faith in Nichiren Buddhism and became a disciple of Mr. Toda.

In “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” Nichiren writes, “If you care anything for your personal security, you must first pray for the peace and tranquillity of the four corners of the land, should you not?”[5]

Sensei’s first steps on the path of faith also marked his first steps toward securing his cherished dream of peace.

A Statement to Society

Just before he turned 30, Sensei listed in his diary how he had spent each decade of his life thus far. Despite the fact that his doctor had predicted he would not live to 30, he also included his goals for the decades to come:

To the age of 10: Growing up the son of a humble seaweed harvester.

To the age of 20: Self-awakening and struggling against illness.

To the age of 30: Studying and practicing Buddhism, and making earnest efforts to defeat the devil of illness.

To the age of 40: Perfecting my study and practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

To the age of 50: Making a clear statement in society.

To the age of 60: Completing the foundation for the kosen-rufu movement in Japan.[6]

On Sept. 8, 1968, eight years after becoming the third Soka Gakkai president and at the age of 40, Sensei made a clear statement to society directed to the world. Before 10,000 students and Japanese and overseas media at the 11th student division general meeting, he detailed a bold proposal for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. That day also marked the 11th anniversary of Mr. Toda’s Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

As the Cold War intensified, and the repercussions of China’s Cultural Revolution were being felt, relations between China and Japan reached a deadlock. What’s more, a Japanese politician who had worked to restore relations had been assassinated.

Why, then, amid such tension, would Sensei risk his life to make such a public declaration?

At the time, he thought in earnest:

I have no choice. I am a Buddhist. The social mission of a Buddhist practitioner is to work for world peace and the happiness of all people.[7]

The proposal was met with opposition, warnings and even threats from inside and outside Japan. Yet, Yoshimi Takeuchi, a Japanese scholar of Chinese literature, praised it as a ray of light. And the powerful politician Kenzo Matsumura, who had long worked for improved relations between the two countries, stated his feelings that, with the proposal, the cause had “gained a million allies.”

Liu Deyou, a Japan-based journalist for the Chinese newspaper Guangming Daily, received a copy of the proposal and quickly telegrammed a report of it to China. It reached Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, who was responsible for every aspect of China’s foreign policy.

In September 1972, the Komeito political party acted as an intermediary in negotiations to assist the process of normalizing diplomatic relations. This came about because the proposal from Sensei, the party’s founder, was evaluated highly in China and Premier Zhou Enlai placed trust in him.

Upon hearing of Sensei’s passing, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said: “He was a dear old friend of the Chinese people and has our trust and respect. When he first visited China in 1974, he said he was willing to build a ‘golden bridge’ to peace between China and Japan. We hope the golden bridge he advocated will stand forever.”[8]

Sensei set foot on Chinese soil for the first time on May 30, 1974. His visit lasted two weeks, during which a young girl asked him why he had come to China. “I have come to meet you!” he said.[9]

Setting his sights firmly on the happiness of each person, Sensei strove to move the world toward an era of peace and coexistence.

The Baton of Friendship 

The opportunity for a second visit to China came later that year. On the night of Dec. 5, 1974, the last of his visit, Sensei met Premier Zhou.

The premier had been bedridden with cancer that had spread throughout his body. His doctors and those close to him opposed the meeting, but the premier dismissed them.

He walked slowly to Sensei and clasped his hand.

“I very much wanted to meet you,”[10] he said. “President [Ikeda], you have emphasized the need to foster amicable relations between the people of our two nations, regardless of the difficulties involved. I am extremely pleased by this.”[11]

Premier Zhou stressed that “the last 25 years of the 20th century will be a crucial period for all of humanity.”[12]

Responding to the premier’s wish that he continue to promote bilateral friendship, Sensei poured his energy into creating opportunities for educational and cultural exchange among youth from the two countries. He also served as personal guarantor for six Chinese exchange students, sponsored by the Japanese government, who studied at Soka University. They were the first such students to study in Japan since relations between the two countries had been restored.

Dialogue With a World-Class Historian

The year after proposing normalized relations with China, Sensei received a letter from Arnold J. Toynbee, one of the leading historians of the 20th century. Mr. Toynbee invited him to exchange views on fundamental world issues.

Their first conversation took place in May 1972 at Mr. Toynbee’s home in England. At the time, the Vietnam War dragged on, and the threat of nuclear war loomed ever larger.

Mr. Toynbee had long been interested in Buddhism, understanding it to uphold perspectives that could reveal ways to overcome the crises facing modern civilization. He regarded Sensei as a leader of a “living Buddhism.”

Their dialogue spanned about 40 hours over two years. It was compiled, edited and published as a book in Japanese in spring 1975, titled Dialogue for the 21st Century. (In 1976, Oxford University Press published the English edition, titled Choose Life.) To date, it has been published in 31 languages and is considered by many a “textbook for humanity.”

On the last day of their talks in 1973, British television widely covered another meeting, one between the leader of the Soviet Union and the Chancellor of West Germany. Mr. Toynbee commented that, though his dialogue with Sensei might not attract that much attention, they were discussing vital topics that would benefit future generations. He believed dialogues like theirs were the key to building lasting peace.

He also expressed his hopes that Sensei, who was much younger than him, would continue engaging people throughout the world in such dialogues to unite humanity.[13] On a piece of paper, Mr. Toynbee wrote down names including American microbiologist René Dubos, co-founder of the Club of Rome Aurelio Peccei and several other leading thinkers, reiterating his hope that Sensei find time to meet them.[14]

Sensei met with these and many other leading thinkers around the world, discussing prospects for the 21st century and building bridges of peace through his words and actions.

Going Out to Meet People

On Sept. 8, 1974, following his May visit to China, Sensei made his first trip to the Soviet Union.

The Cold War divided the world into two camps, with the Soviet Union leading the communist bloc. Many people, in addition to criticizing Sensei’s proposal to normalize relations with China, strongly opposed his visit to the Soviet Union.

Why would a religious leader visit a country that denies religion? they asked.

To that, he answered: “Because there are fellow human beings living there. I’m going there to meet people.”[15]

He met public figures such as Rem Khokhlov, rector of Moscow State University, and Mikhail Sholokhov, a Nobel laureate in literature. He also spoke with ordinary townspeople and students at Moscow State University. He spoke with a woman who kept the keys to one of the school’s dormitories and an elderly man and his grandson who were fishing. He did all he could to create warm encounters, melting away any distrust in people’s hearts.

On his last day in the Soviet Union, Sensei met with Premier Aleksey Kosygin at the Kremlin. During their talk, the premier asked, “What is your basic ideology?”

Sensei replied unhesitatingly, “I believe in peace, culture and education—the underlying basis of which is humanism.”

“I appreciate your philosophy. We need to realize those ideals here in the Soviet Union as well.”[16]

As the conversation proceeded, Sensei directly asked the premier, “Is the Soviet Union considering attacking China?”

At that time, the Soviet Union’s relationship with China had become as tense as its relations with the United States.

“No, the Soviet Union has no intention of attacking China.”

“May I convey that to the leaders of China?”

“Please feel free to tell China’s leaders that the Soviet Union will not attack their country.”[17]

Sensei conveyed Premier Kosygin’s assurance to the Chinese leadership three months later during his second visit to China.

“Premier Zhou attached great importance to this information,” later observed Cong Shigefeng, director of the Zhou Enlai Research Center at Nankai University in China.

The following year, in January 1975, Sensei met with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. With that, he had met with representatives of the world’s three major powers—China, the Soviet Union and the United States—fulfilling the task entrusted to him by Mr. Toynbee. As a private citizen, he engaged in diplomacy aimed at peace and the avoidance of nuclear war.

Meeting With a Leader of a ‘New Thinking’

Sensei’s activities for peace, which began in earnest in the 1970s, continued to broaden after he stepped down as Soka Gakkai president on April 24, 1979. He remained Soka Gakkai International president since the organization’s formation on Jan. 26, 1975.

In June 1982, Sensei presented a proposal to the Second Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Disarmament calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In January 1983, commemorating Jan. 26, SGI Day, he submitted a “New Proposal for Peace and Disarmament.”

From 1983 to 2022, he issued a total of 40 annual peace proposals.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Sensei’s peace-building efforts broadened further still. When the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood’s plots to dismantle the Soka Gakkai surfaced the following year, Sensei forged ahead unfazed, continuing to build bridges of dialogue between civilizations and religions.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Sensei met with world leaders, including Richard von Weizsäcker, president of a newly reunified Germany; Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa; Fidel Castro, president of Cuba; Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India; Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore; and Mahathir bin Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia.

He also befriended Rosa Parks, known as the mother of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement; Yehudi Menuhin, a master violinist; Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel laureate in chemistry and peace; and John Kenneth Galbraith, the world-renowned economist.

Shortly after Sensei’s passing, Japanese and international media highlighted in particular his friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union.

The two first met on July 27, 1990, at the Kremlin in Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev had implemented perestroika (meaning “reform”), a program to rebuild a depleted Soviet society. In December 1989, he declared the end of the Cold War at the U.S.-Soviet summit in Malta. And in 1990, he became the first president of the Soviet Union.

At their first meeting, Sensei broke the ice with a touch of humor: “I have come to have an argument with you. Let’s make sparks fly and talk about everything honestly and openly, for the sake of humanity and for the sake of Japan-Soviet relations!”

President Gorbachev responded with some humor of his own, replying, “I have heard a great deal about your activities, but I didn’t realize you were so passionate!”[18]

Their discussion lasted for more than an hour and touched on the current state and significance of perestroika and their expectations for young people.

The president said, “The ‘new thinking’ that is part of our program of perestroika is like a branch of the tree of your philosophy.”[19]

President Gorbachev also announced his intention to visit Japan the following spring, which became a top news story in Japan. As promised, in April 1991, Mr. Gorbachev became the first Soviet head of state to visit Japan, where he made time amid his packed schedule to meet with Sensei.

Later, even after he resigned as president of the Soviet Union, the exchanges between Gorbachev and Sensei and their families continued. They met a total of 10 times. A compilation of their dialogues was published as the book Moral Lessons of the Twentieth Century.

On Soka University’s campus in Japan, alongside cherry trees honoring Zhou Enlai and his wife, Deng Yingchao, Mr. Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, planted a cherry tree, which continues to stand in their honor.

‘Life Is a Joy; Death Is Also a Joy’

In addition to his dialogues with world leaders and thinkers, Sensei delivered lectures at universities and academic institutions. He explains:

In the university and its aims, humankind can find agreement and harmony. Learning transcends national, political and ethnic differences.[20]

He spoke twice at Harvard University, first in September 1991, with his lecture “The Age of Soft Power.” Then in September 1993, he squarely discussed Buddhism’s view of life and death in his second lecture, “Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-First-Century Civilization.”

At the root of today’s turmoil, including war, is modern civilization’s attempt to avoid the issue of death, an attempt that has exacted a heavy price. Touching on Mahayana Buddhism’s philosophy that finds joy in both life and death, he shared his vision of building a human civilization grounded in open dialogue and respect for life.

In his further lectures at institutions around the world, Sensei presented a grand humane vision for the transformation of humanity’s destiny.

The Eternal Path of Peace

In January 1998, as he turned 70, Sensei wrote in an essay:

If I were to set down what I had accomplished from the age of 60
to the present, along with what I envisage for the decade ahead, it would read as follows:

To the age of 70: Establishing the principles of a new humanism.

To the age of 80: Completing the foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu.

From that point on, in accord with the Mystic Law and the undying, unaging nature of life expounded in Buddhism, I am determined to take the lead in kosen-rufu throughout eternity.[21]

Today, we face challenges old and new, including the increasing threat of nuclear war, ethnic conflicts, the climate crisis and much more. Sensei has shown us the methods and principles for solving these problems through his words and actions. And together, with the youth in the lead, we strive to create a brighter future for successive generations.

January 2, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 15–17


  1. The Human Revolution, p. viii. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., p. 3. ↩︎
  3. My Recollections (1980), p. 20. ↩︎
  4. Jan. 29, 1999, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  5. “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 24. ↩︎
  6. Dec. 8, 2023, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  7. The New Human Revolution, vol. 13, revised edition, p. 32. ↩︎
  8. <accessed Dec. 12, 2023>. ↩︎
  9. March 9, 2018, World Tribune, Future Journal insert, p. 3. ↩︎
  10. NHR-20, 287. ↩︎
  11. Ibid., p. 288. ↩︎
  12. Ibid., p. 290. ↩︎
  13. See NHR-16, 165–171. ↩︎
  14. See Ibid., p. 172. ↩︎
  15. NHR-20, 139. ↩︎
  16. Ibid., pp. 226–27. ↩︎
  17. Ibid., pp. 229–30. ↩︎
  18. NHR-30, 646. ↩︎
  19. Ibid., p. 647. ↩︎
  20. Translated from Japanese. From an essay in the Sept. 24, 2006, Seikyo Shimbun. ↩︎
  21. Dec. 8, 2023, World Tribune, p. 3. ↩︎

Establishing a Network of Peace Throughout the World

Staking His Life on a Battle of the Pen