The University of the Twenty-first Century—Cradle of World Citizens (Soka University of America, USA, May 22, 2005)
(Commemorating the First Commencement Ceremony of Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, CA, USA, May 22, 2005)
To the first graduating class of Soka University of America (SUA), Aliso Viejo, I wish to extend my heartfelt congratulations on the marvelous occasion of your graduation and to offer some words and thoughts to celebrate your new departure.
The Source of Strength
When I think of you earnestly pursuing your studies far from home, I am reminded of Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya, whom I met in Tokyo this past February and who also devoted her youth to study and learning. As you know, she is an environmental activist and a recipient of last year's Nobel Peace Prize.
For some 30 years, Dr. Maathai has struggled against and overcome harassment, persecution, and oppression as she has courageously led a grassroots movement of women to plant trees in order to enhance the lives of the Kenyan people and protect the environment.
Her persistence has produced results. The reforestation work that started from seven saplings has now seen more than 30 million trees planted throughout Kenya and Africa, supporting the lives of countless people and contributing to the peace and security of the region.
Dr. Maathai is a woman of brilliant intellect with a warm and embracing character. She possesses a robust spirit that remains unbent before all oppression. Where did she develop and forge these qualities and strengths? She has cited the important influence of her experience of studying in the United States where she was blessed with good friends and mentors.
She has written that the professors at the college where she studied cared for her as if she were their daughter. One professor whom she respected deliberately placed her office in a location where the students would pass by frequently. The door was always open, and the professor smiled gently on each of the students as they passed.
Dr. Maathai describes this experience and her profound gratitude to her teachers: "They did everything to help me, educate me, and enrich my life. I had already benefited from a full scholarship, yet I continued to receive so much more." 1
After completing a master's course at graduate school in the U.S., she returned to Kenya, receiving her doctorate from the University of Nairobi and becoming the first woman to earn a doctoral degree at a Kenyan university. Thus she began her struggle for the happiness of her country and its people.
Since her student days, Dr. Maathai's deep resolve had been to return to Africa and work for the people. A professor who taught Dr. Maathai in her youth stated with deep emotion: "We get many students who say that, then become successful and decide to stay in this country [America], but she kept her word." 2
I hope that all of today's graduates will likewise treasure, throughout your lives, the resolves you have made here at SUA, the vows you have shared here with your friends. A truly outstanding person is, I believe, one who never forgets the vows of youth and lives a life dedicated to contributing to the well-being of others.
At the same time, please remember that it is because of your parents and family, who have offered their support despite all difficulties, that we are able to celebrate today's joyous occasion. I hope that you will be the kind of people who remember and deeply appreciate this debt of gratitude.
Further, I wish to express my most sincere thanks to all the members of the faculty and administration who have worked so hard to create a new path where none existed before.
Finally, I wish to also extend my appreciation to all our neighbors and friends who have supported SUA over the years, and to all those people in the United States and throughout the world who have been earnestly yearning for and assisting the development of this new university.
For the graduates, today marks the start of a new phase as you step out on the main stage of your lives. I can fully sense the excitement with which your hearts must be filled, the feeling of great dreams taking flight into the future.
It is my fervent wish that each of you will blaze your own path of mission as a founder, pioneer, and eternal comrade of Soka University of America. Please create the kind of life, leave behind you the kind of personal history, so that you can proudly say: "Here stands a member of the first graduating class of SUA!"
Birth of the Modern University
It is said that the Western university finds its origin in medieval Italy at the University of Bologna. In June 1994, I was invited and had the opportunity to present a lecture at the University of Bologna.
Known as the mater nobilium studiorum, the "mother of noble studies," the University of Bologna developed through the passionate yearning of students to learn and the earnest determination of teachers to fulfill that desire. Rooted in the traditions of the medieval university, the University of Berlin (Universität zu Berlin), established in 1810, marks the start of the history of the modern university.
At the University of Berlin, a method of instruction centered on joint research by students and professors was adopted. At the time, it was common for students simply to listen passively to the professor's lectures. Scholarship was typically understood as the process of absorbing established forms of knowledge, and there was little room for students to raise a critical view. Professors could neglect their own research efforts without exposing themselves to criticism. There are those who describe the decades leading up to the establishment of the University of Berlin as an era of stagnation.
Based on the vision of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and the von Humboldt brothers, the founding of the University of Berlin was a breakthrough moment in the history of the university. At the heart of this was the principle of education through research in which students are accorded equal standing to professors in the quest for knowledge and truth. The seminar system, where students present their research findings and all participants engage in discussion and debate, is said to have started at the University of Berlin and other German universities.
The elder of the von Humboldt brothers, Wilhelm, figured importantly in the general plan of educational reform in Prussia at the time. He describes the motivating spirit behind his efforts in this way: "The university teacher is therefore no longer a teacher and the student no longer someone merely engaged in the learning process but a person who undertakes his own research, while the professor directs his research and supports him in it." 3.
Teachers and students mutually inspiring and stimulating each other in a vibrant process of learning through unfettered dialogue and debate, together scaling the summits of knowledge--herein lies an ideal vision of university education.
The introduction of the teaching principles of the University of Berlin marked the start of a period of dramatic development for German universities. A century later, by the early years of the twentieth century, German universities were leading the world in the number of Nobel Prize recipients for the natural sciences.
At the same time, we must be aware of the pitfalls of education that has developed an excessive focus on specialized knowledge. The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, for example, offers this bleak vision in Mission of the University, published in 1930: " . . . the astounding spectacle of how brutal, how stupid, and yet how aggressive is the man learned in one thing and fundamentally ignorant of all else." 4
For Ortega y Gasset, the core mission of university education is the transmission and fostering of culture, which he termed the "the vital system of ideas of a period" 5--the kind of philosophy or spiritual compass that can guide people along the correct path of life in complex and confusing times. For him, culture is "precisely the opposite of external ornament." 6 Rather, it is what "saves human life from being a mere disaster; it is what enables man to live a life which is something above meaningless tragedy or inward disgrace." 7
Some time back, I had the privilege of visiting the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. There I saw a reproduction of the site of the Wannsee Conference, the meeting of high-level Nazi officials where the extermination of Europe's Jews was planned. It is said that of the 14 participants in this meeting, 8 were holders of doctoral degrees.
Similarly, it was members of Japan's intellectual elite, trained at the nation's leading academic institutions, who supported and propelled the madness of Japanese militarism.
These are stark lessons from history demonstrating the depths of cruelty and barbarism to which intellectuals who lack a guiding philosophy can sink. People whose character has not been refined by genuine culture are capable of brutal acts that negate and deny all humanity.
In contrast to Ortega y Gasset's emphasis on the importance of culture and student-centered education, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers called for the cultivation of human personality and character through research. In May of 1945, immediately after the fall of Nazi Germany, he wrote The Idea of the University, in which he called for a reconstruction of the universities which had been ravaged by the Nazis. He himself had endured persecution at their hands.
Jaspers states: "Because truth is accessible to systematic search, research is the foremost concern of the university." 8 And: "Only he who himself does research can really teach." 9.
For Jaspers, research constitutes the very essence of the university. To what goal or end is this research to be directed? For Jaspers, this is, very simply, humanity. As he states: "Seeking truth and the improvement of mankind, the university aims to stand for man's humanity par excellence. Humanitas is part of its very fiber, no matter how often and how deeply that term has changed its meaning." 10
Jaspers believed that, "Ideally the relation between professor and student involves a Socratic equality of status with a mutual stress on standard, not on authority." 11 He emphasized that individuals whose intellect and character have been cultivated through dialogue and pursuit of truth based on this kind of mentor-student relationship are those most capable of contributing to society.
A Philosophy of World Citizenship
The approaches taken by Ortega y Gasset and Jaspers may differ, but both concur that culture and humanity must be the core goals to which university education aspires. In both, we note a shared concern that without the kind of philosophy that will direct it to the goal of human happiness, the most advanced knowledge will not only be useless, it will be dangerous.
The darkness enveloping this chaotic age is deep. In such an era, nothing is more sought or required than the brilliant light of culture that shines only from those who have polished their wisdom and character.
Culture may be thought of as the wisdom that enables us to make the best use of knowledge. The American philosopher John Dewey consistently stressed the importance of wisdom above mere knowledge. In the same way, my own mentor and second president of the Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda, considered the confusion of wisdom and knowledge the crucial misapprehension of contemporary civilization. The relationship between knowledge and wisdom may be likened to that of a pump and the pure, refreshing water it brings to the surface. Knowledge is actually the means by which wisdom is brought forth and manifested from within.
Knowledge alone cannot give rise to value. It is only when knowledge is guided by wisdom that value--defined by the father of Soka education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, as beauty, benefit, and goodness--is created. The font of wisdom is found in the following elements: an overarching sense of purpose, a powerful sense of responsibility and, finally, the compassionate desire to contribute to the welfare of humankind. When wisdom arises from such wellsprings, it nourishes the kind of inner strength that remains unmoved by the superficial judgments of society and can acutely discern what is of genuine value and what is, in fact, detrimental.
Soka University of America was founded as a liberal arts college in the hope and desire that all who learn here will be able to develop and polish the inner strength needed to generate limitless value from all forms of knowledge, to forge, in your capacity as world citizens, the peace and happiness of humankind.
Here I would like to consider some ideas about the kind of philosophy that can guide this process of value creation for the benefit of humankind.
Respect for Life
The first thing I would stress is that this must be a philosophy of absolute respect and reverence for life.
I am currently conducting a dialogue with Dr. Joseph Rotblat, the renowned physicist and champion of peace who for many years has dedicated himself to the abolition of nuclear weapons. I am certain that the encouragement Dr. Rotblat shared with you here at SUA in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks remains deeply engraved in your hearts. Dr. Rotblat has offered his heartfelt felicitations to all the graduates.
The focus of my ongoing dialogue with Dr. Rotblat is precisely the philosophy of reverence for life.
During World War II, feeling the need to respond to the threat that the Nazis would develop nuclear weapons, Dr. Rotblat participated in the Manhattan Project, the Allied nuclear weapons development effort. However, when he saw that Germany had given up on its efforts to develop such weapons and sensing that the true purpose of the project was the postwar containment of the Soviet Union, he courageously resigned from the project, the only scientist to do so before the completion of its purpose. He experienced immense hardship as he was treated as a communist spy and made the target of all manner of groundless slander.
Despite these difficulties, he continued to act in accord with his inner convictions. What was it that enabled him to do this? He cites the horrific experience of World War I, which left his consciousness indelibly marked with the awareness that war is an absolute evil. As a result of that war, his family lost all their possessions, making his childhood years a continuous struggle against illness and hunger.
Spurred by this experience, the youthful Dr. Rotblat made the determination to use the power of science to create a world in which there would be no need for war. He committed himself to the work of eliminating the causes of people's suffering and contributing to their happiness. This was the determination made in his youth. Later, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Dr. Rotblat lost his beloved wife in the Holocaust.
This year he turns 97; having surmounted all manner of obstacles, he continues to this day to work for the cause of peace and the sanctity of life.
Unless acted on, even the ideal of reverence for life can end up being a mere slogan without the power to transform reality. It must, therefore, be established as a genuine philosophy in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. We must put this philosophy into practice through concrete actions for peace, working one step at a time toward its realization.
In the statement he made in 1957 calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, Josei Toda denounced their use as a "demonic, satanic, and monstrous" threat to human existence and declared his determination to expose and "declaw" the monstrous nature lurking behind such weapons. This was his lion's roar.
With this, he declared his determination to challenge and combat all forms of evil and violence, ignorance and prejudice. To achieve this, he consistently urged people to commit themselves to the cause of "human revolution"--a struggle to realize a fundamental, positive transformation in the depths of our own and others' lives.
The focus of Soka, or value-creating, education must always be the achievement of this kind of human revolution.
Respect for Cultural Difference
The next point I would like to stress is respect for cultural difference, developing the capacity to respect cultures that are different from our own.
Human history has seen all too many clashes and conflicts rooted in prejudice against and misunderstanding of other cultures, with people incited to hatred and hostility. Indeed, this is the tragic destiny we must transform.
The Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi Hall on the SUA campus bears the name of a great leader of nonviolent struggle. In the past, I had several unforgettable opportunities to meet and talk with Dr. B. N. Pande, member of Rajya Sabha (the Council of States) and vice chairman of Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti (the Gandhi Memorial Hall). The late Dr. Pande took part in the struggle for Indian independence as one of Mahatma Gandhi's closest disciples; during one of our meetings, he proudly shared with me the following episode, which he cited as an example of how deeply Gandhi's philosophy has influenced India's young people.
The incident occurred when a mob of fanatical Hindus attacked a student hostel where both Hindu and Muslim students were living, all working to complete their academic theses. The rabble called on the Hindu students living in the hostel to come out, saying they would be safe. The Muslim students were to remain inside. If no one came out, the mob would set fire to the building with everyone in it.
The students all refused to come out, saying that unless everyone's safety was assured, they would all stay inside; the mob could set fire to the building if they wanted to. Eventually, the army arrived and the students were able to evacuate the building.
At this time, the mob threatened that only the Hindu students could bring out their books and papers. But again, the Hindu students refused to accept special treatment from the mob--if you intend to burn the theses of the Muslim students, burn ours, too! In the end, the building was burned and, with it, all the students' papers.
Dr. Pande spoke with one of the Hindu students, who had spent three years writing his doctoral thesis. When he asked the student if he wasn't bitter, the student responded: "What could I be bitter about? My conscience is perfectly clear. I acted in accordance with Gandhiji's teachings. That is our spirit." He had protected, to the very end, his fellow students whose religion was different from his own.
Students from more than 30 countries are studying at SUA. Truly, you are the world in miniature. With mutual respect for differences in values and cultures, you have learned from each other, forging treasured friendships. I imagine there were many times when you found the differences in cultures and ways of thinking confusing, even bewildering. But I am certain that these experiences will all be an inestimable treasure and asset for you in your role as future leaders.
However the times and the world may change, I hope the graduates of SUA will always treasure, throughout your lives, the precious bonds of friendship which you have developed studying together here on this hilltop campus in Aliso Viejo. Please continue to build and spread a global network of friendship that unites the hearts of the world's people in trust and mutual understanding.
You are the eternal members of the first graduating class of SUA. As world citizens who have learned and absorbed Soka humanism, I know you are dedicated to living always at the forefront of efforts to realize a human future of harmonious coexistence.
Remembering the People
The third point I wish to stress is the spirit of working for the common people, sharing their joys and sorrows. This determination and conviction is the essential foundation for global citizenship. The university must be a place that fosters people of talent committed to serving the needs of all those who, much as they might have wished, have not been able to receive higher education. This has been my consistent assertion over the years.
Moscow State University recently celebrated the 250th anniversary of its founding. The rector of the university, Dr. Victor A. Sadovnichy, has shared with me the following episode from his own life.
When he was young, his circumstances made it appear impossible that he would ever be able to go to university. He left his native village and engaged in hard labor in a coal mine while continuing to study.
Initially, he applied for admittance to an agricultural college. But when his team leader at the coal mine heard this, he urged the young Sadovnichy to apply to Moscow State University, assuring him there was still time. This man even went to the post office and got the original application back, resending it to Moscow State University.
Without such heartfelt support and encouragement, Dr. Sadovnichy stated, he would never have studied at, much less become rector of, Moscow State University. Dr. Sadovnichy told me that the determination to do something for the people who believed in him and sought his growth is at the heart of his own efforts to assure that Moscow State University continues to develop as an institution dedicated to the welfare of ordinary citizens.
Soka University of America is a university of, by, and for the common people. It embodies the intense desire and expectation on the part of the world's ordinary citizens that you will grow into people capable of contributing to the realization of peace. In places and countries throughout the world, there are people who want you to have the kind of education they themselves were not able to enjoy. Concurring with the founding ideals of SUA, they have offered their generous support. These are people who, far from affluent themselves, have made sincere donations to the university in the hope that they will be of help to those who study here.
I ask that you never forget the noble, precious hearts of your fellow citizens. I ask that you live the kind of lives that will be a sincere requital of this debt of gratitude. And I ask that each and every one of you become the kind of strong and capable person who continues always to proudly tread the path of contribution to society, working for the happiness of the world's ordinary citizens. For it is precisely in such a life that you will find your highest pride, purpose, and joy.
The fourth point I wish to stress is that education and learning are, more than anything else, the motive force propelling the development of democracy. John Dewey and other American philosophers have offered us some of the most profound insights into this reality.
As Dewey repeatedly emphasized: "A democracy is more than a form of government." 12 For Dewey, universal suffrage, majority rule, and other forms of political organization are best understood as means for the realization of genuine democracy. He went so far as to state: "It is a form of idolatry to erect means into the end which they serve." 13
The great poet Walt Whitman declared: "Democracy too is law, and of the strictest, amplest kind." 14 And: "Law is the unshakable order of the universe forever." 15
Democracy is a way of life whose purpose is to enable people to achieve spiritual autonomy, live in mutual respect and enjoy happiness. It can also be understood as an expression of human wisdom deployed toward the goal of harmonious coexistence. It is in this sense that it can be understood as a universal principle.
But here we must bear in mind Dewey's stern warning. People tend to think of democracy as something that is fixed and complete, which can simply be passed from the hands of one generation to the next. But this is not the case: "Every generation has to accomplish democracy over again for itself." 16
The continuous effort to accomplish democracy was identified by Dewey as "the greatest experiment of humanity." 17 The work of pursuing and carrying out this noble experiment is the daily task of education. This is because a genuinely democratic society cannot be realized by authority or force applied from without. The proper path involves drawing forth and unleashing the capacities inherent in people, which are then directed with autonomy and spontaneity toward the construction of a democratic society. Dewey's insight was that education holds the key to making this possible.
I wish therefore to deeply affirm once more that the primal mission of the university is to temper and forge democratic ideals, rooting them in society as a form of service to all of humankind.
The Spirit of Mentor and Disciple
In the words of Leo Tolstoy: "Religious teaching, that is, the explanation of the purpose and meaning of life, should be the basis of any education." 18
Needless to say, Soka education does not purport to teach any religious doctrine. Yet it is based on a solid and, I believe, universal worldview. If I were to express this in a single phrase, it would be the spirit of shared commitment between teacher and learner, mentor and disciple.
Just as a diamond can only be polished by another diamond, it is only through intense human interaction engaging the entire personality that people can forge themselves, raising themselves up to ever greater heights. It is the relationship between teacher and learner, between mentor and disciple, that makes this possible.
The Lotus Sutra, which contains the essence of Eastern philosophy, expresses the Buddha's determination to make his disciples "equal to me, without any distinction between us . . ." 19 This is the teacher's vow and pledge to raise the learners' life-state to the same level as the teacher's.
In terms of the essential capacities and possibilities of life, there is no inherent difference between teacher and learner. The mentor creatively and imaginatively uses various means and methods to inspire and awaken in the learner the wisdom and power that has been realized by the teacher. The true teacher, the mentor, desires nothing so much as to be equaled--no, to be exceeded and surpassed--by the students and disciples.
Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda dedicated, risked, and offered their lives to the goal of awakening individuals to the infinite possibilities of their own lives, enabling them to experience and live out those possibilities in reality.
During World War II, Mr. Makiguchi critiqued the core philosophical basis of the militarist authorities of Japan. As a result, he was arrested and died in prison. President Toda likewise struggled against and survived the ordeal of imprisonment. Emerging from prison, he dedicated his entire life and being to spreading a philosophy of humanism and working for the happiness of people.
Inheriting this legacy from my mentors I have, as a disciple, founded Soka University of America to be a bastion of profound spirituality.
The Future Is Yours
I have touched on a variety of points, but in conclusion I would like to emphasize that the true value of a university is determined by its graduates. The activities and contributions of its graduates are what establish the worth and standing of a university.
Among the many educators I have had the opportunity to meet is Dean Lawrence E. Carter of Morehouse College which is, of course, the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When I asked Dean Carter what is the most important point of pride in the university's history, he answered without hesitation: Our great alumni.
It is the graduates who determine the value of a university. The challenge of a university is to foster as many people as possible who truly contribute to the flourishing of society and the welfare of humankind.
I have twice had the privilege of meeting and sharing thoughts with President David P. Roselle of the University of Delaware.
The University of Delaware was established in 1743, several decades before the American colonies declared their independence. The founder, Francis Alison, was a young man in his 30s. The first graduating class consisted of just 10 people. Facilities, buildings, and textbooks were entirely inadequate; the founder's home served as the main classroom.
And yet from this initial group came state governors, members of congress, doctors, lawyers, and scholars. Among the first graduating class were three signers of the Declaration of Independence and one signer of the United States Constitution.
When I asked President Roselle what he thought Dr. Alison had left to the University of Delaware, his response was clear: Dr. Alison's greatest legacy was the students of the first graduating class.
I share his feelings completely. You, the graduates who now take limitless flight into the vast skies of the future, are my greatest legacy to humankind, humanity's greatest treasure.
There were 10 members of the first graduating class of the University of Delaware. There are some 100 members of SUA's Class of 2005. Just imagine the brilliant new world you can create!
I hope that you, who are my very life, will pursue your respective paths of mission, exercising leadership in your places of work and in society, becoming leaders for peace, culture, and justice, leaders of humanity dedicated to the welfare of the people.
Please advance victoriously toward lives of such greatness that future generations will gratefully declare that the first graduating class of SUA opened and forged the path to a new world. I fully believe in and look forward to your victory.
José Ortega y Gasset, the philosopher I referred to earlier, declared: "To live is, in fact, to have dealings with the world: to address oneself to it, exert oneself in it, and occupy oneself with it." 20.
The main stage of your activities awaits you. As world citizens who view the entire globe as your home, I hope you will work for humanity and make vibrant contributions.
Always holding in your hearts the pride of being members of the first graduating class of SUA, please triumph over whatever storms and challenges await you. Please become truly first-rate people in your respective fields of endeavor. To the very end, tread the path in life that will enable you to confidently declare your own victory.
With my entire being I call out: Soka University of America! Become a bastion of hope for world peace! Become the cradle in which is fostered a global civilization of reverence for life!
Creating new value--creating peace and hope for humankind--this is the vast and noble mission borne by each of you as you set out from SUA.
In closing, I would like to offer you these words of Jules Michelet, the French historian, which he addressed to students: "Youth! You bear responsibility for the future. The world needs you!" 21
Again, my heartfelt congratulations on your graduation!.
I salute the glorious first graduating class! I wish you victory and happiness! Together let us create a new era of the victory of Soka education!
(Translated from the May 26, 2005 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai daily newspaper).