Highlights from the Ikeda Forums

Launched in 2004, the Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue is the Ikeda Center's signature event. Our event write-ups present the forums' presentations and conversations in great detail and we invite you to peruse them. Here, you will find a selection of passages from each write-up that provide a sampling of the kinds of ideas and insights that arise during each event. Note: No Ikeda Forum was held in 2017.

2021: Becoming Wide Awake to Our Wisdom, Courage, and Compassion: Global Citizenship as Action and Identity

This passage presents lead discussant Awad Ibrahim's understanding of wisdom, courage, and compassion along with his thoughts on why citizenship should be treated "as a verb."

Crucially, said Ibrahim, it is the “gifts” of wisdom, courage, and compassion that enable us to reach the most fully developed “level of awareness.” Or perhaps it is best to see them as “competencies” and “capabilities” that we work at and develop over time, he said. Indeed, “you will never just get up in the morning and rub your belly and say, I am so wide awake! Awakeness is a process.” The first step in awareness, said Ibrahim, is “to name your reality,” to “critically say I am here, and here is a complex place filled with challenges as much as it is filled with hope.” The next step is to no longer treat citizenship as a noun but rather as a verb, “something that we do every day it manifests itself every day and how we walk our talk how we relate to other people.” Finally, we understand that “here is where we start from,” meaning that global citizen is not “a free floating signifier. Rather, “a global citizen is someone who is deeply rooted in the local,” even when traveling. This means they have the capacity to think beyond their own local experience to link one’s reality to the reality of “other people in other places.” We are moved by compassion to think deeply and clearly about the world, in “a process that never ends.”

2020: Value Creation: Our Unlimited Power to Face Overwhelming Challenges

As the event's panel discussion segment concluded, each panelist shared the “value creation motto” that they created during the event planning process:

  • Anita Patterson: “Now is the starting point for everything… I am uniquely situated and must be willing to give history an unprecedented turn… striving to create that value which is mine alone to realize in order to benefit all humanity. Now is the starting point for everything.”
  • Will Moody: “With courage and hope, every negative can become a positive!”
  • Jason Goulah: “Every moment of life is pregnant with possibility of real value. The task is how much value are we going to create out of it. Are we going to create little value or something of great value. That ultimately is where agency lies. The beauty of value creation is no matter how old how young what context, value creation is possible. The scale of your life expands at equal measure in terms of how much value you create.”
  • Anna Lane: “Take one step forward. Never give up.”
  • Viv Suhanosky: “Listen to your inner child. Imagine and ask questions. Nothing is ever set in stone. Recognize your own value because only then can you be able to create it.”

2019: Can Dialogue Save the World: Exploring the Power of Human Connections

To launch the conclusion to the evening, Prachi Jain shared a pledge she and her event dialogue peers composed to express their gratitude for the opportunity this project presented and their commitment to continuing the peacebuilding practice of dialogue with one another and in the wider world.

We may have participated in these sessions in pairs. However, over the last few months, we have also shared this evolution and self-discovery together. We feel immensely privileged and grateful to be up here sharing our experiences with you. The last few months have been transformational, and yet we also know that a challenging path lies ahead. On behalf of The Ikeda Center Youth Committee, today we collectively pledge to allow ourselves to become more human through dialogue.

We pledge to not doubt ourselves in this ongoing journey of self-discovery.

We pledge to engage and come from a place of empathy with our loved ones, instead of shutting them out when we feel uncomfortable or upset in situations.

We pledge to stay humble. We know that dialogue is a powerful tool so we will initiate it while using our emotional intelligence to connect with beings from all walks of life.

We’re going to practice patience, compassion and listening to remove judgments we may have of others.

We pledge to take action whenever we can, especially for those that are oppressed. And most importantly, we pledge to keep this project going. We will continue to meet with each other over tea, food and conversation to discuss ways that we can create a bigger ripple effect within ourselves, our communities and the world. We don’t know what that looks like right now...but we hope you’ll get involved.

2018: How Do We Practice Human Rights? A Dialogue on Dignity and Justice in Daily Life

At the end of the small group dialogue segment of the event, participants were encouraged to write down specific actions each of us can do in our daily lives to build a culture of dignity and human rights. After such an inspiring evening, few were at a loss to offer ideas. Here are a few that capture the spirit of optimism pervading their “determinations.”

  • Create education environments that practice the UDHR!
  • Speak up to those who have an “us versus them” mentality!
  • Monitor your assumptions!
  • Don’t be a bystander in the presence of injustice!
  • Make connections with people different from you!
  • Listen and be open!
  • Make sure everyone has a seat at whatever table you are sitting at!
  • Treat others how you would want to be treated!
  • And, finally, where there is love, human rights begin!

2016: Crisis or Opportunity: A Dialogue on Democracy, Inclusion, Community

In this passage, we learn some of presenter Ceasar McDowell's thoughts on how to include those whom we might disagree with.

In response to a question about the challenge of dealing with deep disagreement, Dr. McDowell observed that “maybe us progressives aren’t as inclusive as we think we are.” His point was that the best advice is “to model in your own homes and organizations real inclusion.” If you don’t, and you go out there as he does promoting community inclusion, “your hypocrisy stands out” immediately. He then invited others to answer this question. One participant, a science teacher, said that he has learned to express his trust in students by asking them the question: What do you see? They feel empowered when they feel they can respond honestly and directly about what their eyes are telling them. Another participant said that through his work with developmentally disabled men he has learned to “meet them where they are at.” When they resist the help he knows they need, he tries to “think the way they think” and understand that they are resistant to receiving help because of the way they perceive themselves to be stigmatized by society. Another participant said she practices introspection on a daily basis, and this forms the basis for her social and professional interactions.

2015: The Practice of Dignity: What It Means Today

Here, we learn how Meenakshi Chhabra's experience in cross-cultural dialogue helped her develop what she calls the WISE model of "dignity in action."

From [their shared dialogue experience], Chhabra and her friend, Anila Asghar, went on to become leaders of exchange and dialogue between Indian and Pakistani youth and adults. As her career developed, Chhabra also became involved with the Seeds of Peace program, which brings teenagers from regions of sustained conflict to a camp in Maine each summer to learn the skills of leadership and making peace. These experiences instilled in Chhabra a profound sense of hope and a commitment to education as essential to cross-cultural understanding. These experiences also inspired her to develop a model of “dignity in action,” which she calls the WISE model. These factors are essential to any work between self and other, said Chhabra.

  • W is for the willingness to engage in dialogue and learn from difference. This means openness and real desire to learn the other’s story.
  • I for the imagination to think of possibilities. This means the creativity to envision possibilities where none exist. This is not naïve idealism. It means the confidence that we can create value in any situation.
  • S for self-transformation. This is the core of dignity-in-action. It means the courage to challenge those insidious voices within us that insist that “they” will never change.
  • E for engagement through action. Action has the power to affirm or deny human dignity. Here Chhabra shared stories of how students from the Seeds of Peace program have gone on to create their own amazingly creative initiatives for dialogue and peace building.

2014: Dignity of Life: The Heart of Human Rights and Peace Building

One of four presenters at the 2014 Forum, Dr. Charlie Clements shared a story the beautifully illustrates the multidimensionality of reconciliation in a human rights context.

We all have the power to restore dignity, said Clements as he closed his formal remarks. To illustrate, he zoomed back out to the dramatic and transformative struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa, sharing the story of Albie Sachs, a lawyer working with the African National Congress (ANC). During the struggle, the South African government feared him enough to try to assassinate him with a car bomb. He survived, but lost an eye and an arm. While recovering in London, an ANC comrade came to see him, assuring him that they would seek vengeance, even if it meant “an eye for an eye, and an arm for an arm.” Sachs said no, let the achievement of democracy “be my soft vengeance.” And so the cycle of violent indignities was broken. And dignity was personally restored later when Sachs encountered the man who had planted the bomb. The two reconciled, not because forgiveness was offered by Sachs—it wasn’t—but rather because of the assassin’s deep remorse and the acknowledgement from both of their common humanity.

2013: “We the People: Who Are We and What Is Our Work?”

In this passage we get some nice insight into what the late Vincent Harding was contemplating during the final year of his life

[One audience question] prompted a reflection from Dr. Harding that revealed his core values. Often we hear people speak of equal rights, he said, but as the prior comments implied, there is something more at stake. He continued: "Sometimes I have wanted us to have deep love and concern for each other, a commitment to each other’s well-being. ‘Rights’ is such a legal idea. How do we become more human than that? How shall we consider our sister and brother? We never talk about sisters and brothers having equal rights. We talk about something else. And perhaps we should dream about new language for ways in which to be human with each other, because equal rights won’t cut it. Perhaps it’s a beginning and not the end. So let’s keep dreaming."

2012: "Awakening Our Connections: A Dialogue On Interdependence"

Here are some highlights from the Q & A session.

Are there connections between self-awareness and self-reliance and the larger context of interdependence? Tanya Henderson said that her preparations for the Ikeda Forum enabled her to see that “I become a stronger individual by realizing my dependence on and interdependence with others.” McDowell built on her thought, saying “I don’t understand myself outside of relationship and interdependence.” Adding nuance, he said, “We’re both interdependent and individual, and one informs the other. I try to hold both at the same time, intertwined.”

Are there certain characteristics or skills that are best suited to bringing about progress in an interdependent world? Steve Gould observed that the mark of true leadership is the “capacity to engage others in identifying problems that affect that group and to develop solutions together.” Sounding a similar note, Ved Nanda said that the key to working well together is mutual trust based on the capacity to be a good listener. Tanya Henderson cited a quote from Daisaku Ikeda that inspires all her work, whether it be working with a woman in crisis or a State Department official: engaging in true dialogue for peace, says Ikeda, means “the desire to know another’s heart and the courage to have your own heart be known.”

2011: "Cultivating the Greater Self"

Lou Marinoff considered the concept of the greater self in the context of Stoicism.

The Stoic Zeno of Citium, said Marinoff, "realized that suffering arises from erroneous judgments about our selves, others, and the world." Developing a proper view of life's challenges, one free of "negative emotions and destructive passions," he continued, is an art, which "like all arts, requires practice." The Stoic Epictetus, Marinoff added, observed that "Everything has two handles: One by which it can be born; the other, by which it cannot." He commented on this quote, saying: "The lesser self is the one who cannot bear things without great difficulty. For example, the lesser self cannot bear "adversity, or enmity, or calumny," and so reacts with anger, greed, envy, and so forth. Whereas the greater self can bear adversity, or enmity, or calumny, or whatever circumstances present themselves. In Stoic terms, the greater self is the handle by which all things can be born."

2010: This Noble Experiment: Developing the Democratic Spirit

In this passage, Sarah Wider describes various poetic resonances of the democratic spirit.

Concluding the morning session was Sarah Wider, Professor of English and Women's Studies at Colgate University, and currently a dialogue partner with Daisaku Ikeda. Referencing a well-loved poem by Emily Dickinson, Wider titled her talk "Dwelling in Possibility: Poetry's Noble Experiment." In Wider's view, poetry excels at calling forth the ideas and insights needed to enrich our world and support the democratic spirit. She quoted the poet Audre Lorde: "For it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless, about to be birthed but already felt." And she cited Daisaku Ikeda's Choose Hope dialogue (with David Krieger), asserting that the poetic spirit not only calls forth vital human qualities; it also preserves them in the face of what Ikeda calls "the mechanizing effect of the nation-state system and its authoritarian theories." Instead of living in the nation state, wondered Wider, "what if we lived in that poetic state? Valuing connection, eyes wide open to its multiplicity; ears open to its manifold music. Listening with all our being."

2009: John Dewey, Daisaku Ikeda, and the Quest for a New Humanism

The day began with an introductory lecture from Steven Rockefeller, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Middlebury College. In his remarks, he set forth some of the core connections between Dewey and Ikeda, including these observations on their shared humanistic aspirations:

"As religious humanists who chart a middle way between theism and a materialistic secularism, Dewey and Ikeda agree that what is of vital importance is realizing the ideal possibilities of human existence, not religion, as an end in itself. They reject all forms of religious authoritarianism, dogmatism, and exclusivism without lapsing into a self-centered individualism and a subjective moral relativism. They are concerned to break down the dualism of the sacred and the secular, the religious life and everyday life. They both endeavor to awaken people to the inherent meaning and value and the opportunities for spiritual growth to be found in the normal flow of life itself."

2008: Living With Mortality: How Our Experiences With Death Change Us

This excerpt presents thoughts from event participants on their transformative experiences with death.

After welcoming remarks from Center Executive Director Virginia Benson and Center President Masao Yokota, the more than 100 attendees engaged in a series of small group dialogues facilitated by Pam Kircher. Dialogues were structured around two core directives/questions: “Share one experience with death that changed you.” “As you have had other experiences with death, how have your own views toward life and death changed?” As participants engaged in deep sharing and deep listening with one another, diverse truths and lessons learned emerged. “Share the ‘essence’ of who you are with your loved ones,” said one participant. “Be sensitive to the sorrow of those who have suffered/experienced loss of a loved one,” said another, adding, “They may not even know what they need.” And: “Your words and actions can be a gift for another person’s life.” Through the multitude of observations, perhaps one core truth was confirmed: There is no experience more humanizing than death – both for those who face it and for those who are with them as they do.

2007: Women and the Power of Friendship

During her prepared remarks, Charlene Haddock Seigfried explained how Jane Addams' Hull House help break the tradition of condescending toward "the needy."

Critically, said Seigfried, the circle of relationships at Hull House included not only these "luminaries" [prominent Chicagoans who leant the support and talents], but also "the many people of diverse nationalities in the Chicago tenement houses whom she sought out and who poured through the Hull House doors." Addams, explained Seigfried, "insisted on calling them 'neighbors,' rather than clients or charity recipients," pointing to the essence of Addams' contribution. "This practice of patiently coming to know the needs of the immigrant, inner-city neighborhood around the Hull House settlement is extremely important," said Seigfried, "because it marks a deliberate break with the top-down model of giving to the poor or displaced or despised ethnic groups what those who thought themselves superior thought they needed, rather than letting their neighbors express their needs and working with them to bring about long-term solutions."

2006: Emerson and the Power of Imagination

Here, Andrew Gebert considers how Ikeda shares Emerson's sentiment that the enlightenment of the people is prior to the enlightenment of institutions.

This theme of possibility was also addressed by Andrew Gebert’s reading from “Sun of Jiyu,” a poem by Daisaku Ikeda. Jiyu, Gebert explained, is a word that suggests emerging out of the Earth as well as the universal reality of a vast human potential or compassionate nature that is rooted in each life. The voice of the poem poses a critical question to America: "What is to become of the / spirit of your nation / fostered by so many people of / wisdom and philosophy?"

In his essay entitled “Politics,” said Gebert, Emerson’s words echo Ikeda’s theme of recognizing the role of enlightened, thoughtful individuals in creating this United States. Emerson encourages his readers to look deeply and not fail to appreciate the influence of such individuals on the nation’s institutions: “In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not … superior to the citizen: that every one of them was once the act of a single man.” Individuals, he goes on, can remake and advance these institutions, but only with proper education: “If men can be educated, the institutions will share their improvement, and the moral sentiment will write the law of the land.”

2005: Talking Back to Whitman: Poetry Matters

Among the many speakers at this 2-day event was Joel Myerson, who expertly outlined the far-reaching influence of Whitman's poetic expression.

Modern literary scholars now agree that Whitman’s poetry was “a watershed in American literary history,” Myerson explained, noting that by rejecting the formal structures of traditional poetry in favor of free verse and replacing commas and periods with ellipses, Whitman opened the way for later poets to experiment stylistically. Myerson elaborated by suggesting that Whitman’s verse was a far cry from the poetry of the day that ignored sex, rarely dealt with contemporary life, and was written in highly formal and prescribed poetic language. He pointed out that Whitman was a man of enormous physicality who introduced eroticism into mainstream American poetry, thus making his verse sensuous in an age of decorum. Referring to Whitman as “the great poet of democracy,” Myerson noted that his writing contains elaborate catalogues of Americans, their occupations, and their lives, all presented with a spirit of egalitarianism. This interconnectedness of citizens was intended to evoke the equality of all. Myerson said Whitman considered himself a man of the people employing the language of the people, and he was in fact one of the first American poets to embrace the speech of the street. Myerson concluded that Whitman’s work, which reflected America and American life in the 1850s and 1860s, has served as a model for future poets, not only in America but throughout the world.

2004: Walden and Beyond: Awakening East-West Connections

This excerpt features thoughts from Yoichi Kawada on how Hinduism influence Thoreau's conception of enlightenment.

Throughout Walden, Thoreau refers to Indian texts and philosophy. For example, he states that "the pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges." Also, for Thoreau, the symbolism and significance of morning as a time of awakening was crucial. "All wisdom awakens with the dawn," he says, quoting the Vedas. For him, an awakened life was the life which we, as humans committed to living the most humane life, should lead. "We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep," Thoreau writes. According to Dr. Kawada, the simplicity of Thoreau's life in the woods was an earnest attempt to live the life of an awakened person of wisdom.



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