Message to the First International Conference
on Ikeda/Soka Studies in Education
There is nothing more robust or noble than the bonds connecting people who share a commitment to education. There is nothing more bright and beautiful than the solidarity of people of intellect exerting themselves fully in the cause of education. Here we find limitless trust in the positive potentials inherent in life itself, ceaseless value creation toward a hope-filled future.
I would like to offer this message as an expression of my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Jason Goulah, Director of the DePaul University Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education, who has worked tirelessly for the realization of this most significant and timely International Conference, the cutting-edge scholars from ten countries who have gathered for this occasion, and all those who have extended their support to this event.
The founding spirit of DePaul University, which marks its 120th anniversary this year, is to stand on the side of the vulnerable within society and to extend educational opportunity to all. It is an institution of higher learning that shines with the lofty and imperishable spirit of humanistic education. This spirit resonates profoundly with the aspirations of the father of Soka education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who arose to revolutionize educational practice around the fundamental objective of the lifelong happiness of children.
What Mr. Makiguchi later identified as the starting point for his research into value-creating education and a core element of his thinking grew from his experience as an elementary school student teacher, when he developed a method for guiding students in writing composition. He was around twenty-one years old at the time.
His method involved first writing a short composition on the subject of a river in the vicinity of the school. With this as a model, he then worked together with students to write a composition about another river that flowed by the side of the school. He then had the children write their own compositions about yet another river. As students grasped this method and procedure of composition, he had them write their own short essays, this time with a mountain as the subject. Once children had grasped the basic approach and method of writing about one subject, they could then proceed freely to write about any subject of their choosing.
His goal was to keep children from developing feelings of inferiority or incompetence about any subject. It was to enable children to enjoy learning while gaining a solid base of knowledge and understanding. His method of guiding their learning was a creative expression of fresh wisdom and flexible innovation. Rather than standardized instruction, he developed empathetic connection with the lives of these young learners. His determination was to enable each of them to fully realize their potential, to unleash the power of value creation that makes a self-directed life of happiness possible. This spirit is the original impetus underlying the value-creating education that is now gaining adherents and developing in new and exciting ways throughout the world.
Dr. Goulah has spoken of Soka education in the following terms: “The moment you define it is the moment you lose it. So if you say this is Soka education, then you’ve limited its possibility....This is what it looks like in various cultural locations. This is what it feels like to different people trying to practice it,…and I think all of those together give us a sense [of what it is].”
I was truly moved and gratified by the profound understanding that Dr. Goulah so aptly expresses regarding the essential nature of Soka education. Each site of learning brings into being its own practice, its own new forms of wisdom and innovation. At the same time, I am fully confident that each of these examples of practice and implementation will serve as rich and fecund soil for the ethos of global citizenship that Soka education seeks to foster.
This past June 5, my dear friend of many years, the Argentine human rights activist Dr. Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and I issued a joint statement encouraging the world’s young people to take up the challenge of resolving the issues presently confronting humankind. The statement, issued in Rome, reads in part:
There is no challenge that cannot be resolved if we unite in solidarity. We
are confident that young people will take up the search for solutions, acting
in solidarity from within their respective places of belonging across all
differences of spiritual and cultural identity to generate waves of dynamic,
We further urged the youth to take on the responsibility of walking the path of life together with the common people.
To advance together with the common people. This is a spirit that resonates clearly with the original inspiration of Soka education and the founding ideals of DePaul University.
Our joint statement also called for promoting the empowerment of young people through education for global citizenship.
This was based on our shared conviction that the empowerment of youth is the most crucial and effective means of overcoming the critical challenges facing humankind, including hunger, discrimination, and the threat of nuclear weapons. Dr. Esquivel has said that the task of humankind now is to plant the seeds of hope in the hearts of young people.
The global outlook and creativity that is at the heart of Soka education, a profound trust in humanity that issues from a philosophical commitment to the sanctity of life—these can powerfully undergird efforts to empower young people through education for global citizenship. Of this there can be no doubt.
The philosopher John Dewey, for whom Mr. Makiguchi embraced a profound respect and who left an indelible record of achievement here in Chicago, noted that the people do not develop their spiritual potential in isolation, but through their interactions and relations of mutual influence with others.
The ethos that animates the various sites of learning where Soka education is being practiced around the world is indeed the spirit of empathy that arises within a culture of dialogue. As John Dewey stated: “It is sympathy which carries thought out beyond the self and which extends its scope till it approaches the universal as its limit.”
This International Conference will be marked by lively and meaningful dialogue, informed by reports of the latest research results and best practices of teaching and learning around the world. One can only imagine the joy with which Mr. Makiguchi would have greeted the sight of value-creating education engaging the diverse cultures and values systems of the world, being strengthened and honed through these encounters, and shining ever brighter as an educational philosophy of hope for humankind.
This year marks the centennial of the birth of that lion of human rights, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Education was the focus of our discussions on the two unforgettable occasions I was privileged to meet with him. “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” This was the unshakable credo that “Mandela University” bequeathed to the world.
I am determined to join my efforts with those of the distinguished scholars gathered here today, in order to pursue the eternal dream of education for global citizenship, for the sake of a global society in which all enjoy the blessings of peace and happiness.
In closing, I wish to offer my heartfelt prayers for your personal health and well-being, and for the flourishing of your families. For each of you is a remarkable pioneer forging the way to a new era, one in which learning and education will be celebrated in triumphant glory.
August 9, 2018