Daisaku Ikeda – Greatest Buddhist Leader of our Time

When you mention Buddhism to people in the world today, many have a rather hazy image of what Buddhism really is.  They think of the Dalai Lama, who has been popularized in the media.  Or they think of Zen, monks, or meditation.

But people are mostly unaware of another form of Buddhism that is emerging as a powerful force for peace and individual empowerment upon the world’s stage. This is the SGI, or Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist lay organization with over 12,000,000 members in 192 countries and territories.

The SGI was established in 1930 in Japan, by a prominent educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who took faith in Nichiren Buddhism around this time. Nichiren Buddhism is based upon the Lotus Sutra, which elucidates the universal Buddha nature within all beings.

During the Second World War, Makiguchi and his closest disciple, Josei Toda, were imprisoned by the military government, and Makiguchi died in prison. Later, at the end of the war, with Japan in ruins, Toda began rebuilding the SGI. Toda died in 1958, and Daisaku Ikeda became the third president of the SGI, which position today he retains after 52 years of extraordinary leadership.

Daisaku Ikeda, President of the SGI

Daisaku Ikeda has received over 320 honorary doctorates and degrees from universities all around the world for his work in peace building.  He is a prolific writer, poet, educator and founder of a number of cultural and educational institutions around the world, including Soka University of America, in Aliso Viejo, California.  He has developed and inspired the largest, most diverse international lay Buddhist association in the world today.  He has met with many leaders around the world, conducting dialogue as a means of building ties of friendship.  He was intimately involved in rebuilding ties of friendship between Japan and China after the war.  His life and accomplishments are documented more fully on a website about his life.

The great Krygyzstan writer Chingiz T. Aitmatov, a close friend of former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, once gave the following assessment of the SGI in a speech.

“Humanism is an extremely important word.  Until now there have been systems of thought that served to bring people together in unity within a given ethnic group.  But the kind of unity whereby people open their hearts to all others and forge bonds of trust based on friendship is a completely new spirit of unity that has never before been seen.

“Such unity cannot be realized without a supreme philosophy.  This philosophy must be spread by an outstanding individual who is a product of the age.  Through my long association with President Ikeda, I have come to believe that he is the very person who is promoting just such a philosophy.

“If I were asked to describe what kind of age the twentieth century has been, I think I would have to say it has been a century of war and frightening brutality. Some might characterize it as the age of the rise and fall of communism.  Others might describe it as the age of mass culture born in the West.  In other words, a great many would likely describe the twentieth century as having been the age of Westernization.

“I would distinguish the Soka Gakkai movement as an undertaking that has transcended all of that, that has gone beyond the ideologies and politics of the past century.  The Soka Gakkai emerged during the twentieth century, and it has advanced and developed while overcoming all manner of ordeals and obstacles.  It is because of this continuous effort that we have been able to learn of a fresh perspective on the world.  Let us all have great pride in this.

“Globalization is proceeding as the overall trend of the times.  This is true in economics as well as in the areas of technology and communications.  But it is my belief that unless this is accompanied by a spiritual globalization, humankind will perish.

“Lastly, I would like to share my thoughts on the Soka Gakkai itself.  In addition to enjoying utter freedom, the members of the Soka Gakkai believe in and strive to realize the ideals upheld by the organization.  Ordinarily, religious doctrine tends to restrict in some way the individual’s inner realm.  But the Soka Gakkai has no such limitation.  While each member is free as a unique individual, all are brought together by a common philosophy.  Never before have I seen such a wonderful phenomenon.”

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James Hilgendorf

James Hilgendorf is the author of “Life & Death: A Buddhist Perspective“, “The Buddha and the Dream of America“; “The New Superpower“; “The Great New Emerging Civilization“; and his latest release, “A New Myth for America“.

All of the books are available through bookstores and at Amazon.com.

His website is at http://www.jimhilgendorf.org.

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