The socially engaged Japanese Nichiren Buddhist organization the Soka Gakkai held a memorial service at the Toda Memorial Auditorium in Tokyo on 23 November for the pioneering Buddhist philosopher, educator, author, and peace activist Daisaku Ikeda, who died at his home on 15 November at the age of 95.*
Ikeda, who served as the third president of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement from 1960–79, and was the founding president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), was instrumental in helping to spread Buddhist thought around the world through the Soka Gakkai, and was an influential leader of the socially engaged Buddhist movement.
“Following recitation of portions of the Lotus Sutra and the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, appreciation was expressed by [Soka Gakkai] Senior Vice President Hiromasa Ikeda on behalf of the Ikeda family, and national Women’s Leader Kimiko Nagaishi and Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada gave tributes,” the Soka Gakkai told BDG. “Harada stated that the condolence messages received from noted figures around the globe attested to Ikeda’s greatest achievement of ‘forging bonds, bringing people together, and connecting the inherent goodness in their hearts, transcending race, ideology, and religion.’”
During the ceremony, Harada also emphasized that Soka Gakkai members were determined to continue Ikeda’s legacy of paving a path to peace, as the organization moved toward its 100th anniversary in 2030. Meanwhile, Nagaishi expressed gratitude to Ikeda and voiced her determination to fulfill his wish for gardens of peace to flourish around the world.
In his own tribute to Ikeda for the occasion, the Bangladeshi diplomat Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative, and himself a prominent advocate for sustainable peace and development, wrote: “[Ikeda] has given humankind hope and direction to face with courage the complexity and challenges of today’s world. I pay tribute to his creative energy and his intellectual expanse to elaborate and articulate the dimensions of human values and ideals to bring out the best amongst each one of us.”
Born in Tokyo in 1928, Ikeda was the fifth of eight children. His experiences in Japan during World War Two would play a pivotal role in Ikeda’s view of violence and conflict and his lifelong commitment to peace. In 1947, aged 19, Ikeda met Josei Toda (1900–58), educator and leader of the Soka Gakkai. He was inspired by Toda’s conviction and gift for explaining profound Buddhist concepts to embrace Nichiren Buddhism, taking Toda as his mentor.
At the age of 32, Ikeda succeeded Toda as the third president of the Soka Gakkai in 1960, heralding a period of innovation and dynamic growth, including overseas expansion. Ikeda dedicated himself to developing initiatives in the areas of peace, culture, and education based on Buddhist ideals. The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was founded in 1975 as an umbrella organization for the growing network of Soka Gakkai member organizations around the world, and Ikeda became its president.
In the subsequent years, Ikeda traveled widely, visiting more than 50 countries and meeting world leaders such as China’s former premier Zhou Enlai and former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev.
“The central tenet of Ikeda’s thought, and of Buddhism, is the fundamental dignity of life, a value which he sees as the key to lasting peace and human happiness,” the Soka Gakkai noted on their website. “In his view, global peace relies ultimately on a self-directed transformation within the life of the individual, rather than on societal or structural reforms alone. This idea is expressed most succinctly in a passage in his work The Human Revolution, Ikeda’s novelized account of the Soka Gakkai’s history and ideals: ‘A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.’” (Soka Gakkai)
Founded in 1930, the Soka Gakkai (the Value Creation Society) is a Japanese Buddhist movement based on the teachings of the 13th century Buddhist priest Nichiren (1222–82). Nichiren taught devotion to the Lotus Sutra, believed to contain the teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, toward the end of his life, as the exclusive means to attain enlightenment. Soka Gakkai centers its teachings on the Lotus Sutra, with recitation of the mantra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (“Glory to the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra”) as its main devotional practice.
The Soka Gakkai International, founded by Daisaku Ikeda in 1975, is an NGO with consultative status to UN ECOSOC. As a global community-based Buddhist organization that promotes peace, culture, and education based on respect for the dignity of life, the Soka Gakkai is involved in peace activism, education, and politics, with members in 192 countries and territories around the world.
Some of the Soka Gakkai’s high-profile international members include actor Orlando Bloom, jazz musician Herbie Hancock, and singer Tina Turner.
The compassion that never abandons others to suffer alone; the wisdom to perceive the equality and possibilities of life; the courage to make our differences the impetus for the elevation of our humanity: I believe that the challenge of constructing a global society of peace and creative coexistence begins with the recognition that all people inherently possess these qualities. I also believe that the social mission of religion in the twenty-first century must be to encourage the flowering of these capacities. It must bring people together in an ethos of reverence for life’s dignity and worth. — Daisaku Ikeda
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