By Daisaku Ikeda
Center founder Daisaku Ikeda composed this message to be shared at the September 2009 book release event for Creating Waldens: An East-West Conversation on the American Renaissance. His co-authors, Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson, shared reflections on Emerson and Thoreau as well as the experience of engaging in dialogue with Mr. Ikeda. Learn about the book here.
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My heartfelt congratulations on this celebration of the publication of Creating Waldens: An East-West Conversation on the American Renaissance.
First, my profound gratitude to Professors Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson, both past presidents of the Thoreau Society, whom I hold in the highest regard. Thank you for your invaluable support, culminating in the publication of this East-West dialogue centering on Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
My sincerest thanks as well to Professor Anita Patterson for participating today and sharing her thoughts on the new book.
I first encountered Professors Bosco and Myerson at Soka University of Japan in 2001, at a time when soft May breezes were rustling the lush greenery of the campus and spring flowers were in blossom, vying with one another to express a more splendid glory. My heart danced with excitement to know that I would be granted the rare privilege of meeting two of the most learned authorities on Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whose works I had savored since the days of my youth.
Our initial discussion of these two giants of the American Renaissance was inspired and mutually inspiring. At times, it felt like an encounter among starry-eyed youth; at other times, it felt like a reunion of trusted old friends. Out of our shared desire to carry on this wondrous exchange among kindred spirits, we agreed to begin a set of conversations in which we would explore ways to revive the poetic heart and bring to flower a renaissance of life.
That pervading sense of helplessness was exactly why I renewed my own pledge, determining again to make dialogue my point of departure. It was in September of that year that the United States experienced unprecedented terrorist attacks. Shocked by the scale and swiftness of the violence, people were stunned to see a new depth of division among religions and civilizations; many people were left with a sense of ominous emptiness, unable to imagine those rifts being bridged by dialogue.
Yet that pervading sense of helplessness was exactly why I renewed my own pledge, determining again to make dialogue my point of departure, believing in its power above all.
I contend that the key to such an endeavor is the poetic power of the imagination, that which compels the poet to create portals of hope and discover entranceways for exchange in the massive walls that divide our world. Crucial here is the poet’s unshakable optimism and faith in the inherent goodness of human beings. I was convinced it was necessary, more than ever, that we restore the poetic heart for the benefit of all humankind.
I wanted my first, firm step forward to be this dialogue with Professors Bosco and Myerson, exploring together with them the wellsprings that would sustain a renaissance of life. In this renaissance, hope abounds and all living beings coexist in harmony.
Our conversations reaffirmed for me that unlimited promise and power lies within every individual; and that for this truth to take root and flower, one must develop a “self-culture” that transforms the very core of one’s being.
What flowers from this self-culture is not the fragile, forlorn bud of the smaller self but the majestic blossom of the larger self — with its boundless capacity for empathy and understanding.
If we dig deep enough within the great earth of each person’s life, we find flowing there the same underground channels of empathy and compassion. This source gives rise to an immense range of human diversity, in which each of us is endowed equally with a unique role and purpose in this symphony of life. Our struggle to return to this source is thus central to bringing about a genuine renaissance for all people.
The bard’s role is to serve as what my friend Vincent Harding has called the “midwife” who assists people in bringing forth their true humanity. The poet’s special gift of creativity and imagination touches people's lives, inspiring them to fully realize their potential while strengthening their bonds with others.
I hope that our gathering today can also become such an oasis of creative insight, deepening our sense of mutual connection — much as Thoreau experienced when he communed with nature at Walden Pond or in his friendship with Emerson, with whom he shared wide-ranging dialogue. I offer my thoughts with similar sentiments, a member of your audience today in spirit.
This celebration, I understand, is the first official event of the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue, following its inauguration on July 3.
As the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (1993–2009), the Center diligently engaged in the task that I first proposed in my Harvard address of 1993: promoting open dialogue among civilizations, dialogue expressing the openness of the ennobled spirit. At the same time, the Center has worked hard to broaden the circle of empathy, founded on humanistic principles, that transcends all divisions.
My heartfelt appreciation to Virginia Benson, former Executive Director, and Masao Yokota, former President, as well as to each and every member of the BRC staff for your many years of invaluable service.
My lasting gratitude also goes to all the friends of the BRC. Your support over the course of the Center’s development has far exceeded our fondest expectations. Please continue to extend to the new Center your counsel and cooperation in the coming years.
I hold the highest expectations for the Ikeda Center, which begins a new phase under Richard Yoshimachi, who has assumed the position of President and Executive Director. As for the institution naming itself after me, I am immensely humbled and honored by your decision. Please be assured that my complete support will continue.
I identify deeply with the Center’s choice of peace, learning, and dialogue as its foundational pursuits.
Our objective must be the realization of peace for all people and to support the harmony and progress of global civil society. The way to achieve this, I believe, is, again, through the dialogue of spiritual openness. The key to such dialogue is devoting our very lives to listening and learning from those different from us. This humble willingness to learn is profoundly meaningful, invariably fostering deep, empathetic connections. Not only does this resonance enable us to understand others on a deeper level, it acts as a mighty impetus for our true self — our greater self — to flower within us.
People empowered by their greater self experience an untrammeled sense of freedom. Such people can see themselves for who they truly are, without needing to hide behind any veil of self-deceit. They naturally become adept in self-culture, mastering the art of communion with oneself at the depths of one’s being.
In Creating Waldens, Professor Bosco points out that Thoreau is regarded as a “master prophet of self-culture” in America and that Walden offers a guiding set of principles for developing oneself. He goes on to explain how important it is for each of us to seek and discover our very own “Walden Pond.”
My hope is that the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue will lead the effort to create such spiritual sanctuaries of life-affirming dialogue. Professor Myerson shares his insights on the significance of Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond, describing it as a “special test of nature’s genius and divinity as well as of his own.” Indeed, only by tirelessly challenging ourselves to create new Waldens within can we discern the profound, overarching principles that govern the universe and our own beings, enabling us to lead deeper, more meaningful existences.
My hope is that the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue will lead the effort to create such spiritual sanctuaries of life-affirming dialogue, where we can heal the wounds of the alienated lesser self and open pathways to our true self, the greater self, with its unlimited capacity for empathy. From such Waldens, I am confident that a mighty river of peace will flow — a flood of respect and reverence for the inherent dignity of humanity.
With that thought, I will close my message of congratulations. Please accept my deepest appreciation and gratitude.
President, Soka Gakkai International
Founder, Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue