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Global Perspective

Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship

Founding Soka Gakkai Presidents Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda never set foot outside Japan, but they upheld the ideal of global citizenship in their words, actions and pedagogy.

President Makiguchi’s educational philosophy, for instance, sought to imbue students with a universal outlook:

Makiguchi understood our sense of belonging and rootedness as members of a local community to be the foundation for a consciousness of global citizenship: “To know that our life extends to the entire world. The world is our home, and all the nations within it are the field of our action.”[2]

Amid great difficulties in the early days of the Soka Gakkai, President Toda dreamed of constructing a bastion of Soka education centered on the happiness of the student, saying to the young Daisaku Ikeda at the time:

[Daisaku], let’s build a university. A Soka University. …

This may not be possible for me to achieve during my lifetime. If that’s the case, I am counting on you, [Daisaku]. Let’s make it the best university in the world![3]

Ikeda Sensei went on to found a network of Soka schools around the world and, at the turn of the century, Soka University of America opened its doors in Aliso Viejo, California, with the mission to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life.”[4]

In his Columbia University speech, Sensei discusses three key qualities of a global citizen: wisdom, courage and compassion, and explains that a bodhisattva is a person who embodies these ideals. This section highlights key excerpts from the speech.

Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff

In 1975, 21 years ago, it was my privilege to visit Columbia University. Four years earlier, in 1971, we had established Soka University in Tokyo. The warm encouragement and invaluable advice we received at that time for a university still in its infancy is something that I will never forget. Thank you very much.

It is with profound emotion that I speak today at the college where the world-renowned philosopher John Dewey taught. The first president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, whose thinking is the founding spirit of Soka University, referenced with great respect the writings and ideas of Dewey in his 1930 work The System of Value-
Creating Education.

My own interest in and commitment to education stem from my experiences during World War II. My four elder brothers were drafted and sent to the front; the eldest was killed in action in Burma (Myanmar). During the two or so years following the end of the war, my three surviving brothers returned one after another from the Chinese mainland. In their tattered uniforms, they were a truly pathetic sight. My parents were already aged; my father’s pain and my mother’s sadness were searing.

To the end of my days, I will never forget the disgust and anger with which my eldest brother, on leave from China, described the inhuman atrocities he had seen committed there by the Japanese army. I developed a deep hatred for war, its cruelty, stupidity and waste. In 1947, I encountered a superb educator, Josei Toda. Mr. Toda, together with his mentor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, was jailed for opposing Japan’s wars of invasion. Mr. Makiguchi died in jail. Mr. Toda survived the two-year ordeal of imprisonment.

When, at 19, I learned of this, I instinctively knew that here was someone whose actions merited my trust. I determined to follow Mr. Toda as my mentor in life.

It was President Toda’s constant and impassioned plea that humanity could be liberated from horrific cycles of war only by fostering new generations of people imbued with a profound respect for the sanctity of life. He therefore gave the highest possible priority to the work of education.

Education is a uniquely human privilege. It is the source of inspiration that enables us to become fully and truly human, to fulfill a constructive mission in life with composure and confidence.

The end point in the development of knowledge isolated from human concerns is the weaponry of mass destruction. At the same time, it is knowledge also that has made society comfortable and convenient, bringing industry and wealth. The fundamental task of education must be to ensure that knowledge serves to further the cause of human happiness and peace.[5]

As Dewey put it, “Everything which is distinctly human is learned.”[6]

John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi were contemporaries. On opposite ends of the Earth, amid the problems and dislocations of their newly industrializing societies, both wrestled with the task of laying a path toward a hope-filled future.

Greatly influenced by the views of John Dewey, President Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners. He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation. Put simply, value creation is the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence, and contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstances. Mr. Makiguchi’s philosophy of value creation grew from the insights on the inner workings of life his study of Buddhism afforded him.

Both John Dewey and Mr. Makiguchi looked beyond the limits of the nation-state to new horizons of human community. Both, it could be said, had a vision of global citizenship, of people capable of value creation on a global scale.[7]

What then, are the conditions for global citizenship? Over the past several decades, I have been privileged to meet and converse with many people from all walks of life, and I have given the matter some thought. Certainly, global citizenship is not determined merely by the number of languages one speaks or the number of countries to which one has traveled. I have many friends who could be considered quite ordinary citizens but who possess an inner nobility; who have never traveled beyond their native place, yet who are genuinely concerned for the peace and prosperity of the world.

I think I can state with confidence that the following are essential elements of global citizenship:

The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living

The courage not to fear or deny difference, but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures and to grow from encounters with them

The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places

The all-encompassing interrelatedness that forms the core of the Buddhist worldview can provide a basis, I feel, for the concrete realization of these qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion. The following scene from the Buddhist canon provides a beautiful visual metaphor for the interdependence and interpenetration of all phenomena.

Suspended above the palace of Indra, the Buddhist god who symbolizes the natural forces that protect and nurture life, is an enormous net. A brilliant jewel is attached to each of the knots of the net. Each jewel contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality.

When we learn to recognize what Henry David Thoreau refers to as “the infinite extent of our relations,”[8] we can trace the strands of mutually supportive life and discover there the glittering jewels of our global neighbors. Buddhism seeks to cultivate wisdom grounded in this kind of empathetic resonance with all forms of life.[9]

In the Buddhist view, wisdom and compassion are intimately linked and mutually reinforcing. Compassion in Buddhism does not involve the forcible suppression of our natural emotions, our likes and dislikes. Rather, it is the realization that even those whom we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives and can afford us opportunities to grow in our own humanity. Further, it is the compassionate desire to find ways of contributing to the well-being of others that gives rise to limitless wisdom.

Buddhism teaches that both good and evil are potentialities that exist in all people. Compassion consists in the sustained and courageous effort to seek out the good in all people, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others. Engagement, however, requires courage. There are all too many cases in which compassion, owing to a lack of courage, remains mere sentiment.

Buddhism calls a person who embodies these qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion, who strives without cease for the happiness of others, a bodhisattva. In this sense, it could be said that the bodhisattva provides an ancient precedent and modern exemplar of the global citizen.[10]

The Buddhist canon includes the story of a contemporary of Shakyamuni, a woman by the name of Srimala, who dedicated herself to education, teaching others that the practice of the bodhisattva consists in encouraging, with maternal care, the ultimate potential for good within all people. Her vow is recorded thus: “If I see lonely people, people who have been jailed unjustly and have lost their freedom, people who are suffering from illness, disaster, or poverty, I will not abandon them. I will bring them spiritual and material comfort.”[11]

In concrete terms, her practice consisted of the following:

Encouraging others by addressing them with kindness and concern through dialogue (Skt priyavacana)

Giving alms, or providing people with the things they require (Skt dana)

Taking action on behalf of others (Skt arthacarya)

Joining with others and working together with them (Skt samanartha)

Through these efforts she sought to realize her goal of bringing forth the positive aspects of those she encountered.

The practice of the bodhisattva is supported by a profound faith in the inherent goodness of people. Knowledge must be directed to the task of unleashing this creative, positive potential.[12]

The proud mission of those who have received an education must be to serve, in seen and unseen ways, the lives of those who have not had this opportunity. …

Like John Dewey, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi focused on the local community as the place where global citizens are fostered. In his 1903 work The Geography of Human Life, which is considered a pioneering work in social ecology, Mr. Makiguchi stressed the importance of the community as the site of learning.

Elsewhere Mr. Makiguchi wrote: “The community, in short, is the world in miniature. If we encourage children to observe directly the complex relations between people and the land, between nature and society, they will grasp the realities of their homes, their school, the town, village, or city and will be able to understand the wider world.”[13]

Mr. Makiguchi argued that humanistic education, education that guides the process of character formation, is a transcendent skill that might best be termed an art. His initial experience as a teacher was in a remote, rural region of Japan, where he taught in the Japanese equivalent of a one-room schoolhouse. The children were poor; the manners they brought from their impoverished homes, rough. Mr. Makiguchi, however, was insistent: “They are all equally students. From the viewpoint of education, what difference could there be between them and other students? Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this? The teacher is all that stands between them and the cruel discrimination of society.”[14]

The teacher is the most important element of the educational environment. This creed of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s is the unchanging spirit of Soka education. …

I recently heard an educator offer this view: students’ lives are not changed by lectures but by people. For this reason, interactions between students and teachers are of the greatest importance.

In my own case, most of my education was under the tutelage of my mentor in life, Josei Toda. For some 10 years, every day before work, he taught me a curriculum of history, literature, philosophy, economics, science and organization theory. On Sundays, our one-on-one sessions started in the morning and continued all day. He was constantly questioning me—interrogating might be a better word—about my reading.

Most of all, however, I learned from his example. The burning commitment to peace that remained unshaken throughout his imprisonment was something he carried with him his entire life. It was from this, and from the profound compassion that characterized each of his interactions with people, that I most learned. Ninety-eight percent of what I am today, I learned from him.

The Soka, or value-creating, education system was founded out of a desire that future generations should have the opportunity to experience this same kind of humanistic education. It is my greatest hope that the graduates of the Soka schools will become global citizens who can author a new history for humankind.[15]

The actions of such citizens will not be effective unless coordinated, and in this regard we cannot ignore the important potential of the United Nations system.

We have reached the stage where the United Nations can serve as a center not only for “harmonizing the actions of nations”[16] but also for the creation of value through the education of global citizens who can create a world of peace. While states and national interests have dominated debate at the world organization to date, increasingly, the energy of “we the peoples… ” has been making itself felt, particularly through the activities of nongovernmental organizations. …

It has long been my belief that education must never be subservient to political interests. To this end, I feel that education should be accorded a status within public affairs equivalent even to that of the legislative, executive or judicial branches of government. This proposal grows out of the experiences of my predecessors, the first and second presidents of the Soka Gakkai, who fought consistently against political control of education.

In the coming years, I would hope that there could be held a world summit not of politicians but of educators. This is because nothing is of greater importance to humanity’s future than the transnational solidarity of educators. …

As Mr. Makiguchi stated: “Educational efforts built on a clear understanding and with a defined sense of purpose have the power to overcome the contradictions and doubts that plague humankind, and to bring about an eternal victory for humanity.”[17]

I pledge my fullest efforts to working, together with my distinguished friends and colleagues gathered here today, toward fostering the kind of global citizens who alone can produce this “eternal victory for humanity.”[18]

From the July 2024 Living Buddhism


  1. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, p. 447. ↩︎
  2. “For a Sustainable Global Society: Learning for Empowerment and Leadership,” <accessed on May 29, 2024>. ↩︎
  3. The New Human Revolution, vol. 15, revised edition, p. 86. ↩︎
  4. June 17, 2022, World Tribune, p. 6. ↩︎
  5. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 447–48. ↩︎
  6. John Dewey, “Search for the Great Community,” The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry (Chicago: Gateway Books, 1946), p. 154. ↩︎
  7. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 449–50. ↩︎
  8. Henry David Thoreau, “The Village” in Walden, The Selected Works of Thoreau, ed. Walter Harding, Cambridge ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), p. 359. ↩︎
  9. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 450–51. ↩︎
  10. Ibid., p. 451. ↩︎
  11. See The Lion’s Roar of Queen Srimala: A Buddhist Scripture on the Tathagatagarbha Theory, trans. Alex Wayman and Hideko Wayman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 65. ↩︎
  12. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 451–52. ↩︎
  13. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo shingenshu [Selected quotes of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi], ed. Takehisa Tsuji (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1979), p. 40. ↩︎
  14. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 453–54. ↩︎
  15. Ibid., pp. 454–55. ↩︎
  16. Charter of the United Nations, Article I. ↩︎
  17. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu, vol. 8 [The collected writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi] (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1984), p. 365. ↩︎
  18. My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 455–57. ↩︎

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