Preface to The Art of True Relations

By Sarah Wider

Every dialogue is a journey. Conversing, we begin, a few words at a time. Where will this thought lead? How will that observation deepen? In thought, we do not—we cannot—stand still. When we are thinking freely and frankly, we move. Especially when we are thinking together. Then that miracle of miracles occurs. We change our minds. We learn to see differently. Actively sharing thought with another person, we reach a place we could not reach alone.

That the focus of these dialogues with Daisaku Ikeda would turn to education is no surprise. I like to say I have been in school all my life, always a student, although for the last half of my life, I count teaching as part of my student’s journey.

For President Ikeda, education is everything. Enabling education for others has been his lifework. As president of the Soka Gakkai International, the world’s largest Buddhist organization, he realized the longtime dreams of its earlier leaders, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda. Both wanted to create educational opportunities for people of all ages—not only opportunities but environments for learning that affirm and develop every student’s creative potential.

At the core of realizing these dreams was not a “me-centered” individual but a long-visioned person building a peace-centered world of truly large understanding. The Soka schools around the world attest to President Ikeda’s determination to see Makiguchi’s and Toda’s dreams become a lived reality for many students.

I had the great good fortune to meet President Ikeda and his wife, Kaneko, on a steamy July day in 2006 in Hachioji, Tokyo, at Soka University of Japan. We spoke briefly about our shared commitment to building cultures of peace in every moment. For me, this most often means in the classroom with my students. For the Ikedas, it includes their almost daily interactions—now, often through poems—with the students attending the Soka schools around the world.

Part of my trip in 2006 took me to those schools, meeting with their students, an opportunity I have been fortunate to repeat many times. I have heard junior high and high school students at the Tokyo Soka schools talk about the importance of cultivating imagination as a path to empathy; I have discussed Emersonian “conversations with nature” with students at both Soka University of America and Soka University of Japan. I have listened and learned from Soka Women’s College students as they studied the poetry of Daisaku Ikeda, and I have parsed the difficult, circuitous language of Emerson’s Nature with graduate students at SUJ.

Conversations with students at these Soka schools have been some of the most thought provoking of my life. This sounds like an exaggeration. It is not. These students have embarked on the mind-expanding life journey of dialogue.

When I was asked to join in a formal dialogue with President Ikeda, it was clear that we both felt the immediacy of our initial audience. Published first in Pumpkin, a Japanese magazine designed for women readers and the eclectic demands of women’s daily lives, our words quickly opened into the larger educative demands that face us on a daily basis. How do we attend to, learn from, and in turn create something humane amid the multiple demands that fragment our days and may leave us feeling displaced and depleted?

Pursuing questions that address the human capacity for wonder, we let our minds wander among all places and times, inviting our readers to undertake their own journeys as well. What might the women of the American Transcendentalist movement teach us about how we attend to the mind’s workings? How do Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and work continue to challenge our ways of seeing? What are our responsibilities to where we are? What are the powers of poetry, and why have we neglected them?

Thought opens to thought. Every observation is just waiting to be shared and explored. Throughout the process, what grew in clarity was the collaborative nature of thought.

The dialogue process itself exemplified collaboration. First, the many occasions for dialogue at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue or with the students at the Soka schools or with members of the women’s and young women’s divisions of the SGI created a rhythm of dialogue that opened happily and readily into this dialogue in particular. From the beginning, our thoughts were already used to traveling, to being in motion, given the freedom to ride on any train of thought that stopped at our dialogic station. In an interconnected world, there are no tangents.

Second, collaboration was built into the very way the dialogue proceeded. Much occurred via email exchange—each of us writing thoughts to which the other would in turn respond. We had time. We could always stop and think.

In addition, much of my thinking occurred in conversation with Masao Yokota, former president of the Ikeda Center. At a time when health concerns limited my writing and computer use, our conversations gave me the opportunity to expand and explore ideas, sharing in the fruitful give and take of thought. Grateful thanks also go to those who patiently transcribed the recorded conversations, especially to Clarissa Douglass, whose insight deepened and enriched the thoughts that would finally be written on the page. Such thought sharing would have been impossible without the translators who rendered English into Japanese, and Japanese into English. The gift of having one’s thought rendered for others is incomparably precious, and in addition to the translators, my deep appreciation rests with everyone at the Ikeda Center. They provide a rare and precious home for dialogue.

Reflecting upon the time during which President Ikeda and I shared this dialogue journey, a landscape emerges. Here is a topography of education in all its multifaceted features. How have the current consumer-based models of education drained the human capacity for curiosity and creativity? How can these capacities be rejuvenated and encouraged? What is the role of compassion in education? And imagination? And empathy? How do thinkers, poets, artists from earlier ages—whether Nichiren, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Rabindranath Tagore—most thought-provokingly enter the work we do in our daily lives? How do we continue to expand our understanding of education so that its dimensions remain inclusive and responsible? In a world of judgment and standards, how do we create and sustain a challenging and mind-expanding method based on respect, encouragement, and appreciation?

As I look out the tall library windows onto the windy summerscape of the college campus where I teach, I could translate these questions into the features I see around me, whether the blue heron just landing on the pond, or the clouds promising rain that would be more fully appreciated elsewhere, or the planted fields on the hillsides struggling for sunshine and warmth to allow the crops a chance to flourish.

Our campus is quiet in summer, and yet the work continues. Education never ends. Nor do the friendships begun and sustained through dialogue. Honoring education that nurtures and friendships that sustain, I celebrate Daisaku Ikeda and his buoyant and joyful commitment to learning, always learning. I invite you to join the journey and share your thoughts.

Dr. Sarah Wider

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