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The Dawn of a Century of Humanistic Education (Seikyo Shimbun newspaper, Jan. 1, 2000)

This essay by Daisaku Ikeda was first published in Japanese in the Seikyo Shimbun newspaper on January 1, 2000.

"Foster people, you must foster people!" --Victor Hugo

"Produce great persons, the rest follows." --Walt Whitman

Several years before Soka University was opened, young men and women came together to help clear the land that was to be the site for the university's first buildings. Tree stumps still protruded here and there from the barren ground. These young people had come from throughout Japan, filled with a desire to contribute in some way to the new school. They were drenched in perspiration, and their hands were blistered and bleeding from the hard manual work. Envisioning talented students pursuing their studies here in the future, they were focused single-mindedly on the task with no thought of gaining anything in return. Some local members of the Soka Gakkai1 supported the young people in their efforts by bringing them rice balls and refreshments.

Most of these volunteers never had an opportunity to attend university themselves. I hope that no one involved with Soka University will ever forget that the school was created in this way through the contributions and support of countless ordinary citizens, that it is a university founded by the people. I believe that a university's mission should be to serve people who, much as they might have wished, have not themselves been able to receive higher education.

The Flame of Soka

My part in the founding of Soka University began in the cafeteria of Nihon University in Tokyo's Kanda area in 1950. I was there with my mentor, Josei Toda.2 It was late autumn and the biting cold deepened with each passing day. These were dark, even desperate days.

Three months earlier, the credit association run by Mr. Toda had been ordered to suspend operations. Every day, angry creditors besieged Mr. Toda's office, damning us and demanding payment. They hurled groundless allegations, accusations and threats at us. Some even harassed Mr. Toda at his home from the early hours of the morning. The odds seemed overwhelmingly stacked against us.

One by one, employees began leaving the company. Mr. Toda was exhausted and haggard. I, also, was tired to the bone from fighting a solitary battle in the effort to protect and support my mentor in life. My exhaustion was so deep that at times my body would refuse to obey me.

But during this period, Mr. Toda would take advantage of any lull in our activities to share with me his future visions and goals. It was all too clear to me--it was a solemn, indisputable reality--that he wanted me to carry on his work should something happen to him. And it was so on that day in Kanda.

Sitting in the cafeteria, he was discussing theories of national identity and economic trends, when he broached the idea of founding a university.

"Daisaku, let's establish a university, Soka University. I hope this can be achieved in my lifetime, but that may not be possible. Should that be the case, Daisaku, I'm counting on you to do it." In that instant, a bright flame, the dream of Soka University, was kindled in my heart.

To others my mentor and I must have presented a destitute sight. In truth, Mr. Toda could not pay my wages, and I could not afford a warm overcoat even though winter was quickly closing in. Had we spoken to others of starting a university, they would surely have ridiculed us and dismissed the idea out of hand. But in our hearts, my mentor and I were kings. Mr. Toda declared, "Let's make it the best university in the world!" On that day, the flame of Soka University that burned fiercely in his heart was passed on to me.

The flame within Mr. Toda had been lit by his mentor, the Soka Gakkai's founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.3 Mr. Makiguchi once said to him,"In the future, we must found a school based on the value-creating (Soka) pedagogy that I have been formulating. If we can't do it during my lifetime, please do it in yours." On another occasion, he expressed his confidence that "young Toda will build Soka University without fail."

Understanding Mr. Makiguchi's fervent wish more than anyone, but now finding himself in dire financial circumstances that left even the next day uncertain, Mr. Toda suffered deep pain and mental anguish. Thus, his words to me bore the weight of a final testament.

Around this same period, the Japanese Minister of Education Teiyu Amano (1884-1980) wrote, "The fundamental pillar of any educational reform must be a clear determination to realize human revolution." Due, perhaps, to the absence of a solid philosophical foundation, or because of the competing interests of politicians, bureaucrats and big business, this lofty ideal was soon forgotten. And the effects of this are evident throughout present-day Japanese society.

The Goal of Education

When deadlocked, return to your starting point--this was Mr. Makiguchi's creed.

Writing in the 1930s, the Soka Gakkai's founder expressed his deep concern that education in Japan seemed either to consist of empty abstraction--with scholars lacking actual teaching experience importing new theories from the West and imposing these on classroom teachers--or to be designed to instill narrow-minded and intolerant nationalism.

Subservience to the tyranny of borrowed ideas or subservience to political authority . . . both demonstrate a lack of moral courage; neither expresses the courage and conviction of independent thought.

But more than anything, Mr. Makiguchi felt that the quintessential goal of children's happiness had been lost sight of. Where, he demanded, was the love for children?

In his view, those who called most loudly for children to receive proper moral guidance and direction were the ones most in need of such guidance themselves. His critique of their intellectual and moral failings was scathing.

Mr. Makiguchi used the allegory of medical treatment to make his point. If a physician prescribes the wrong treatment, he can kill the patient. Mistaken education can be equally deadly. While the results may not be as immediately apparent as the effects of the mistaken treatment of a medical condition, the negative impact will become undeniable with the passage of decades. Japan's present course, Mr. Makiguchi warned, would result in ruin.

Mr. Makiguchi's cry was coldly ignored. Most educational professionals found it presumptuous for a "mere elementary school principal" to propose new pedagogical theories.

Their response was an essentially emotional reaction. It reflected the prevailing arrogance and condescension toward the common people and anything born from among the common people.

What use are universities, if all they produce are individuals who look down on their fellow citizens? It was just such overweening elites that plunged Japan and its Asian neighbors into the hell of militarism.

In complete contrast, what burned in Mr. Makiguchi's heart was a profound love for children--a love so intense that he wrote of feeling truly unbearable anguish at the thought of their suffering.

Neither Mr. Makiguchi, a great scholar who bequeathed to his disciple the mission of creating a university, nor the disciple, Mr. Toda, were themselves university professors. Rather, they devoted themselves to the most fundamental stage of education, that of teaching elementary school children.

In the cold northern island of Hokkaido where Mr. Makiguchi lived before he moved to Tokyo in 1900, he would wash students' chapped hands with warm water in winter to ease the pain. When snow storms raged outside, he would carry young students home on his back.

The Mikasa Elementary School in Tokyo, where Mr. Makiguchi served as principal for several years in the 1920s, was located in one of the city's most impoverished precincts. Broken windowpanes could not be repaired; instead they were covered with paper. Many children worked during the day to support their families, and evening classes were established to meet their needs. By the dim light of gas lanterns, they studied arithmetic and other subjects, fighting exhaustion and sleepiness.

For students who were too poor to bring packed lunches from home, Mr. Makiguchi raised funds to provide meals and snacks. He would place the food in the caretaker's room for the children to collect, so they wouldn't have to suffer unnecessary attention or humiliation.

Children's sorrows and chagrins--for not being able to go to school, for living in poverty, for bleak home lives--Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda understood them all.

The willingness to do whatever is needed, the clear understanding that teachers exist to help all children, without exception, to become happy--the pedagogy of value-creation was born from the spiritual light of compassion and love for humanity. This is why it has found a reception among educators around the world.

And this is why it was inevitable that it would clash head-on with the wartime educational policies of militarist Japan, a society rife with discrimination, a land whose heart was closed to the rest of the world.

Building the Victory

I have exerted myself to give form to the vision of Soka University. I have written ceaselessly, making financial contributions from the royalties. I have strived to win the cooperation and trust of many people. I have visited dozens of universities throughout the world.

When typhoons hit Tokyo, my foremost thought is for the safety of the university. When I hear of students becoming ill, I send messages of encouragement. It is not my intent here to stress my own efforts. Everything I have done has been motivated by the desire that the students be victorious in their lives.

While I am delighted by such developments as the completion of the university's new Central Tower, what delights me far more is seeing a grand tower of victory being built in the depths of each student's life.

Holding aloft the flame that has been cherished by the succession of mentor and disciple of Soka-the light to which we have devoted our lives-build magnificent, triumphant treasure towers of humanistic education in your respective spheres of mission.

This year, 2000, marks the centennial of Mr. Toda's birth. It is a momentous turning point. Material and social revolutions were the struggles of the twentieth century, while the revolution of humanity itself will be the challenge of the twenty-first. As we move from the darkness of the end of the old century into the dawn of the new, there is no mistaking what needs to be done.

We must send the sparks flying!
From the hearts of youth!
Using the flame within!
To educate is to kindle the soul's flame!