December 17, 2012
Choose Life Peace Symposiums Held in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata
The Choose Life symposium at BSG's Soka Bodhi Tree Garden near New Delhi
Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG) organized a series of peace symposiums celebrating the 40th anniversary of the dialogue between SGI President Daisaku Ikeda and British historian Dr. Arnold J. Toynbee, which was subsequently published as Choose Life: A Dialogue. The events were held throughout India from October to December 2012.
Over 100 dignitaries attended the first symposium, held on October 28 at BSG's Soka Bodhi Tree Garden near New Delhi, India. Discussions based on Choose Life were led by Mark Tully, renowned journalist and writer; Dr. Kavita Sharma, director of the India International Centre; Professor Mushirul Hasan, director general of the National Archives of India; and Naveena Reddi, director general of BSG.
Ms. Reddi introduced a passage from the preface to Choose Life in which Dr. Toynbee writes, "A human being's perennial spiritual task is to overcome his egotism by expanding his ego until it becomes coextensive with the ultimate reality, from which it is, in truth, inseparable . . . This spiritual exertion, made by individual human beings, is the only effective means of social change for the better."
Ms. Reddi stressed that, unless acted upon, even the ideal of the reverence for life can end up being a mere slogan without the power to transform reality.
The second symposium was held on November 26 at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai. Speakers included Kishor Chaukar, chairman of the Tata Council of Community Initiatives; Dr. P.K. Shahjahan, associate professor and chairperson of the South Asia Centre for Studies in Conflicts, Peace and Human Security at TISS; and Tasneem Mehta, vice chairperson of the India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, who addressed the audience live through videoconference. Around 400 people attended, including the school's faculty and students, BSG members and representatives of various educational institutions. The symposium was organized by BSG Mumbai members in collaboration with the TISS South Asia Centre for Studies in Conflicts, Peace and Human Security.
Dr. Devdas Menon, a speaker at the Choose Life symposium in Chennai
The third symposium, held on December 1 at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) in Chennai, attracted over 300 participants including students of IIT Madras and the neighboring Soka Ikeda College of Arts and Science, scholars, poets and BSG members. Panelists consisted of Dr. Devdas Menon, professor of structural engineering at IIT Madras; Prabha Sridevan, former judge of the Madras High Court; and B.S. Raghavan, author, former chief secretary of Tripura and policy advisor to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
An MBA student at IIT Madras commented, "Through this symposium, I learned that the purpose of education does not lie in material pursuits alone. Rather, education exists for the sake of creating value in society, amidst the people. And it is education with this purpose that directly connects to people's happiness."
The final symposium in the series took place on December 17 at a local performing arts center in Kolkata. Panelists were Prof. Bharati Mukherjee, former vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University; Prof. Bharati Ray, former pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta; Goutam Mohan Chakrabarti, director general (traffic) of West Bengal Police; and Goutam Ghose, film director. More than 300 people were in attendance, including the Bengali translator of Choose Life, Prof. Dilip Mukherjee.
To date, Choose Life has been translated into 28 languages including Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Polish, Turkish, Swahili, Russian and Serbian. The book is based on conversations that took place between Daisaku Ikeda and Dr. Arnold J. Toynbee over 10 days in London in May 1972 and May 1973. This encounter informed Mr. Ikeda's commitment to dialogue as the strongest force for building lasting peace and inspired him to engage in over 1,600 subsequent dialogues with leading thinkers around the world.
[Adapted from reports from Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG); photos courtesy of BSG]