Born in Tokyo to a family of seaweed farmers on January 2, 1928, Ikeda emerged from World War II with a firm resolve to work for peace. He became a member of the Soka Gakkai in 1947 after attending a talk by its second president, Josei Toda, whose revolutionary approach to Nichiren Buddhism had been forged during his imprisonment by the Japanese military government for resisting the war.
Inspired by Toda, Ikeda became a tireless advocate for nonviolence, mounting an international movement to eradicate nuclear weapons. He succeeded Toda as president of the Japanese Soka Gakkai in 1960, and became the president of the Soka Gakkai International in 1975. At the time of his death, the SGI had spread to 192 countries around the globe, with a combined membership of more than 12 million, making it the largest Buddhist lay movement in history.
The Soka Gakkai (“Value Creation Society”) began as a student-centered educational movement in the 1920s under the guidance of founding President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Buddhism in 1928, grounding his educational theory in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. Imprisoned by the government along with his protégé Jose Toda in 1943, he was subject to harsh interrogation and died as a result of malnutrition the following year.
Daisaku Ikeda’s approach to Buddhism combined the optimism of Makiguchi’s Value Creating educational theory with Toda’s unshakable confidence in the power of chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (the title of the Lotus Sutra) to transform any situation. He founded four-year universities in Japan and America, published dialogues with philosophers, scientists, and civil rights activists, and supported humanitarian and social justice causes throughout the world.
A TIME magazine article written in 1975 hailed Ikeda as “The Super Missionary” and claimed, “His most consuming passion is the creation of an international people-to-people crusade against war.” Its authors clearly believed that his passion for peace had inherently political overtones, given that, at the height of the Cold War, he had made in-person appeals to Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. Even as a private citizen, Ikeda had worked to establish diplomatic relations where the efforts of governments had failed—a goal he described as a “great desire” for the happiness of all humankind.
Daisaku Ikeda leaves behind hundreds of published works, including scholarly books on Buddhism and The Human Revolution, his twelve-volume novel recounting the history of the Soka Gakkai. He is survived by his wife, Kaneko, and his sons, Hiromasa and Takahiro.
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