By Mitch Bogen
Be the heart of a network of global citizens, a bridge for dialogue between civilizations, and a beacon lighting the way to a century of life! This was the vision Daisaku Ikeda offered to guide the work of the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (now the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue), soon after he founded it in September 1993. Twenty years later, on Saturday, September 28, the Center hosted a celebratory gathering of many of the scholars and friends who have helped to realize Mr. Ikeda’s vision over the course of the last two decades.
After welcoming remarks from the Center’s current director, Richard Yoshimachi, the Center’s first director, and current Senior Research Fellow, Virginia Benson, shared some of her memories of the founding and highlighted a variety of achievements and turning points from the first twenty years that illustrate the Center’s core values and evolving areas of focus.
She recalled how, when Mr. Ikeda first met personally with the Center’s small staff, which also included at that time Masa Hagiya and Nancy Hodes, he encouraged them by reminding them that “from a single drop comes the mighty Mississippi River.” Further, he challenged them not to be dependent on him, and to strive, step by step and with determination and faith in their capacities, to make the world a better place. Addressing the attendees, Benson said: “As I look out at your faces today and reflect on what each of you has done with us to create this oasis of a special kind of dialogue, I feel like I am seeing the mighty Mississippi River—in myself and in you.”
The next speaker was Nur Yalman, Professor, Social Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University. Dr. Yalman has been a friend of the Center quite literally from the very beginning, as he was one of the faculty who invited Mr. Ikeda to Harvard to deliver, on September 24, 1993, the address that has come to be known as the Center’s founding lecture: “Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization.”
In Nur Yalman's view, means and ends must always be consonant. Dr. Yalman observed that in a time of significant strife around the world, including in such places as Syria and Sri Lanka, the commitment to dialogue across cultures, religions, and worldviews, as exemplified by the work of the Ikeda Center, is absolutely crucial. It lays the foundation of harmonious relationships among individuals that will enable the twenty-first century to truly become the “century of peace” envisioned not only by Mr. Ikeda but by all persons of goodwill worldwide. Why is dialogue so central to peace building? In Yalman’s view, which he traces back to Gandhi, means and ends must always be consonant. Therefore lasting peace will never be built through anything other than peaceful means, of which dialogue is the quintessence. Dr. Yalman also commended Daisaku Ikeda’s steadfast commitment to the eradication of nuclear weapons.
Two guests traveled from great distances to help commemorate the 20th anniversary, underscoring the importance of this milestone. The guests were Dr. Qu Delin, Director, Center for Japanese Studies at Tsinghua University in China, and Mr. Hiromasa Ikeda, the eldest son of Daisaku Ikeda, and Vice President, Soka Gakkai International. In his remarks, Dr. Qu explained that Daisaku Ikeda is an important figure for a significant number of Chinese citizens and scholars because of his trailblazing contributions toward the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations, both in the fraught decades following World War II and today in a period of greater openness in China. Of special importance was Mr. Ikeda’s meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai in 1974. Currently, there are 31 “Ikeda studies” organizations active in Mainland China, Dr. Qu said.
Among many other topics, Dr. Qu discussed how Chinese respect for Daisaku Ikeda is in many ways a reciprocation of the respect he has shown toward them. Ikeda’s respect, said Dr. Qu, is grounded in several assumptions. For example, Mr. Ikeda assumes that China: acts in good faith; always seeks to serve the people; possesses long-standing and worthy traditions; and has passed on significant cultural treasures to Japan, including Buddhism.
Daisaku Ikeda has established several secular institutions globally devoted to the pursuit of peace, observed Hiromasa Ikeda, but the Ikeda Center is the only to actually bear the Ikeda family name. Hiromasa said that his father agreed to the Center’s 2009 request for this name change because he knew that the newly renamed Center would carry out his lifelong pursuit of global happiness, justice, and well being through the practice of dialogue. In this manner, he said, the Ikeda name might become associated less with a person than with a commitment to dialogue as the surest path to peace—rather in the way we now associate the names Honda or Toyota with the widely used automobiles, rather than with particular Japanese families.
After these remarks, Rie Kasahara read a message composed by the founder to honor the anniversary and the wonderful people who have contributed to the Center’s work over the years. “Nothing makes me happier,” wrote Mr. Ikeda, “than to know that so many friends with whom I share years or even decades of fond memories have kindly decided to attend today’s event.” He emphasized that the success of the Center would not have been possible without the contributions of all the scholars and friends who have given of themselves to make the Center a true “hub of dialogue.” And he communicated his “wholehearted trust” to “the dedicated staff.”
Mr. Ikeda reflected on two friends in particular—friends who are no longer living but who inspired him to continue with confidence on his path of dialogue-based peace building. He recalled how on the last day of his series of meetings with Arnold Toynbee, on May 19, 1973, the historian told him that the dialogue they had been conducting “might not attract anything approaching the attention” being given in the news that day to an international summit meeting. Nevertheless, he recalled, Toynbee assured the younger Ikeda that “the work we were engaged in was for the sake of future generations, and that dialogue such as ours would be the key to building a path to lasting peace.”
We were all born of mothers whose deepest desire is for peace. The other friend recalled by Mr. Ikeda was Harvard professor John Kenneth Galbraith, who was a discussant at the 1993 lecture. Mr. Ikeda fondly remembered Professor Galbraith telling him that “we should make the twenty-first century an era in which people can say, ‘I enjoy living in this world,’ a place where there is no more killing.”
Among the most moving passages from Mr. Ikeda’s remarks was this:
Whatever country we hail from or interests we represent, in the end we are all human. We are comrades together confronting the universal human experiences of birth, aging, sickness, and death. Our lives are like gems bearing within them an indomitable force for good. We were all born of mothers whose deepest desire is for peace. When we unclench hearts like fists, and listen and speak with honesty and integrity, we can discover the shared resonance of our souls.
Toward the conclusion of his message, Mr. Ikeda emphasized that he was “delighted to learn that so many young scholars would be attending this gathering. My heart is filled with joy when I envision the future, ten years, twenty years from now, as each of you dynamically and energetically engages in dialogue spanning different cultures, religions, and disciplines.”
The afternoon’s program also featured two special presentations. The first was a slide show that featured photographs from our twenty-year history of events interspersed with quotes from scholarly friends reflecting on our seven core convictions. The second was an inspiring musical performance from pianist Emi Inaba and violinist Eriel Huang, playing an original composition of Inaba’s. Musical performances have been a central component of Center events over the last two decades, expressing our vision of peace in a way that our words alone, even words spoken in dialogue, cannot.
After the program, the gathering proceeded to the Harvard Faculty Club for a reception. Winston Langley, Provost at UMass Boston, offered a toast in which he meditated on the deep human value of acting as a heart, a bridge, and a beacon at this point in human history. During the reception, guests renewed old friendships and made new connections, all based on a shared commitment to the establishment of a peaceful, creative, and harmonious twenty-first century.