Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist philosopher, educator, nuclear disarmament activist, founding president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Buddhist community, and treasured mentor to me and millions of Buddhists globally, passed away in Tokyo on November 15, 2023 at the age of 95. Throughout his life, Ikeda Sensei emphasized that a profound transformation within an individual can lead to profound global change, a process he referred to as human revolution: 

“A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.… An ascending life, in which we keep striving to grow and improve—this is what is meant by human revolution.”

Ikeda Sensei beautifully demonstrated this teaching throughout his life, from his transformative leadership in education to his advancement of global peace efforts. Born into economic hardship in 1928, he witnessed the suffering of World War II as a teenager and endured the ravages of war on his own family, including the loss of his family home in an Allied air raid and the death of his eldest brother in combat. Ikeda stated that his mother was heartbroken upon hearing about the death of her eldest son and that he would never forget the sight of her pain and sorrow at that moment for as long as he lived. This was the initial impetus for his lifelong efforts toward global peace.

Shortly after the war ended, 19-year-old Ikeda attended a talk by the second Soka Gakkai president, Josei Toda, on “Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” and was so moved by it that he immediately joined the Soka Gakkai. Describing his meeting with Toda, Ikeda Sensei said, “I feel deeply fortunate that at this most difficult juncture in my youth, I was able to encounter a person who was willing to engage with me and other young people head-on and whom I would come to regard as my mentor in life.” Guided by Toda Sensei’s wisdom, Ikeda Sensei encouraged young dharma practitioners to dedicate their youth to something lofty, to “engage the gears of our practice” to manifest our dreams. 

When I was introduced to Buddhism and the SGI by my mother at the age of 17, I began my practice with the resolve to contribute to peace, justice, and education. I was inspired by my mother’s vision, values, and actions, which were infused with both Islamic and Buddhist wisdom and aligned with Ikeda Sensei’s emphasis on youthful prosocial action. 

In my twenties, I remember Ikeda Sensei saying that even though we’d experience numerous day-to-day benefits through our practice, the full blossoming of wisdom and good fortune in our lives would become more evident to us after practicing for thirty or forty years. At the time, I cringed at that idea. I wanted to feel it all “now!” Yet, now that 41 years have passed since I began my practice with the SGI, I see how this guidance has borne out in my life. Today, I sense in my being a rich expanse of mind, heart, and spirit that simply needed decades of practice to bloom. This is reflected in my work as a psychotherapist, researcher, leader in racial and climate justice, and educator. I see how I have been inextricably influenced by Ikeda Sensei’s writings, his educational leadership, and his global action as an engaged planetary citizen. The mentorship of Ikeda Sensei truly altered and expanded the course of my life. 

Ikeda Sensei’s desire to guide people toward enlightenment was the driving force behind his remarkably innovative and contributive life. He grew up amid escalating nationalistic militarism in Japan and endured an educational system that trained young people to serve the interests of the militaristic state. Recognizing that peaceful societies can be developed through education, Ikeda founded the Soka School System in the 1960s, a network of K-12 schools in Asia and South America, and three higher education institutions, including the Soka University of America. “Soka” means value creation, and as Ikeda declared, “education must cultivate the wisdom to reject and resist violence in all its forms. It must foster people who intuitively understand and know—in their mind, in their heart, with their entire being—the irreplaceable value of human beings and the natural world.”

As I began learning from Ikeda Sensei’s teachings, I resonated with the idea that love for humanity, nurtured by spirituality, enriches education. This passion flowered throughout my life, supporting me as I embarked upon my academic career and earned my bachelor’s, MSW, and PhD degrees. In my twenty years in the professoriate, I’ve made joyful learning that supports peace and justice paramount. The goal as I teach is to infuse my classes with Buddhist insights on navigating suffering with wisdom and mudita (empathetic joy). I can attest to the vigor and good cheer with which students engage when I dedicate my daily practice to their happiness. I’ve had the honor of guest lecturing at Soka University and Soka High School in Japan, where I shared with students how practicing Buddhism as a 17-year-old undergraduate bolstered my capacity to comprehend complex reading materials and thrive at a challenging college—which is actually what convinced me to keep practicing in the beginning! 

Every life possesses an enlightened aspect that endures eternally.

My mother always said that education was a portal to peace for humanity and a pathway to justice for us as Black people. She was also an educator, first at our faith-based elementary school and then at Rutgers University, where decades later her first granddaughter, also an SGI member, would earn her Bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies. My second niece, also a third-generation SGI member, is carrying forward this legacy as she pursues her Master’s in Education at Harvard University (where, incidentally, Ikeda Sensei gave his pivotal lecture, “Mahayana Buddhism in the 21st Century”). 

In all my teaching and research, domestically and internationally, I strive to embody Ikeda Sensei’s ethos of engaging cross-culturally through dialogue. “Without dialogue,” he wrote, “humans are fated to walk in the darkness of their own dogmatic self-righteousness. Dialogue is the lamp by which we dispel that darkness, lighting and making visible for each other our steps and the path ahead.” It is this lofty perspective that led Ikeda Sensei to have dialogues for peace and justice with over 1,600 leading figures over the past five decades. Ikeda Sensei hosted dialogues with scholars, artists, policymakers, and heads of state from a plethora of nations and backgrounds. It is striking to me that this ordinary man from humble origins felt empowered enough to reach out and engage icons who were strangers to him in discourse towards peace. Having experienced racism and other types of discrimination myself, I know that not every world leader he reached out to welcomed him with open arms. Yet he advanced bravely, undeterred by any discriminatory or dismissive responses he received in his efforts to promote peace.

One of the earliest teachings I absorbed from Ikeda Sensei is the idea that dialogue begins in prayer. As a Buddhist, you pray for and about those with whom you wish to engage in dialogue, especially when the topic or meeting is expected to be fraught with tensions or conflict. Ikeda Sensei’s practice enabled him to walk into intense circumstances as a relaxed citizen diplomat. He demonstrated that engaged Buddhism means engaging with and supporting others in actualizing their enlightenment, including those in power or leadership positions. Ikeda Sensei put the belief that everyone has a buddhanature into action, and he reached out to help cultivate that buddhanature in everyone.      

Ikeda Sensei’s commitment to multicultural engagement and exchange is most evident in the powerfully diverse global SGI community. With over 11 million members worldwide in 192 countries and territories, the SGI is the most diverse community of Buddhists. Each local organization carries out activities in the spirit of respecting cultural diversity while following a common daily practice, including sutra recitation and Buddhist studies. As I teach and lead around the world, it is so moving and encouraging to be able to attend SGI gatherings throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. The SGI center in Cote D’Ivoire seats 1,700 people and watching hundreds of fellow African heritage people dance and sing in their native tradition during a Buddhist meeting is glorious! 

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Ikeda with jazz artists Herbie Hancock (center) and Wayne Shorter (right) | Tokyo April 2000

Ikeda Sensei also recognized that arts and culture are potent means of building relationships across differences, which is necessary for peaceful societies. He fostered cultural exchanges through enduring initiatives including the Min-On Concert Association, which he founded in 1963 to nurture cross-cultural respect and understanding through music, and the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, established in 1983 to support international creative collaboration in the arts. His spiritual mentorship of artists is well-documented in his dialogues with famous musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Buster Williams, and Wayne Shorter. All of these artists describe Ikeda Sensei as their mentor in their explorations of Buddhism, jazz, and joyful living over decades of practice together. Music and religion share at the deepest level the aim of inspiring the human spirit,” Ikeda stated. “The sounds of music—stirring, heartening, and imparting courage—affect more than the individual. Music that moves the soul of one person spreads with unexpected suddenness and nourishes the hearts of countless others. This invigorating ripple effect so characteristic of music shows the way to revitalize and rejuvenate society.” Inspired by Ikeda Sensei’s vision, SGI members including Tina Turner, Kate Bosworth, esperanza spalding, and countless other acclaimed musicians, actors, and artists worldwide have honed their creativity with Buddhist practice. 

Music and religion share at the deepest level the aim of inspiring the human spirit.”

Throughout my life, I have been inspired by the ways Ikeda Sensei championed diversity and encouraged artists, especially Black artists. As a young woman, it was deeply affirming to have so many Black Buddhists to learn from. When I practiced in the SGI’s Harlem district in New York in the 1980s, there were always musicians and artists speaking at our meetings about using the practice to overcome struggles and develop their craft. These experiences showed me how Buddhism could help me tap into my creative and artistic capacities as a writer and hobbyist photographer. I’m constantly taking photos wherever I go. Whether it’s a snapshot of a particular skyscape or a person, I love capturing life in the moment, and I sense Ikeda Sensei’s influence in this as well. He lived the aspect of enlightenment that is wonder and awe, taking photographs often as a witness to the beauty of life.      

Ikeda Sensei was also a prolific author. He published over 250 works throughout his life, including peace proposals, children’s stories, essays, and over 100 books, including his roman à clef, the thirty-volume series entitled The New Human Revolution, which chronicles his life and the development of the SGI. Ikeda Sensei often quoted Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching that “the voice does the Buddha’s work,” and this has guided me to find the voice of the Buddha within me and to write from the wellspring of wisdom that Buddhist practice unearths. This is reflected in my book, Joyfully Just: Black Wisdom and Buddhist Insights for Liberated Living, which offers practices we can use to be just towards ourselves and create justice in the world as we manifest and share mudita.   


Ikeda Sensei once said, “We don’t need to go to some faraway place to attain buddhahood. We don’t need to become someone special. We can commune dynamically with the universe as and where we are and fully reveal the brilliance of our own innate ‘true aspect’—that is, our true self as an entity of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” This is what it means to manifest our buddhanature. In the decades since I joined the SGI, I’ve focused on engraving the meaning of the Lotus Sutra into my life through the twice-daily practice of gongyo, which is the recitation of the second and sixteenth chapters of the sutra, and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as Ikeda Sensei encouraged.      

The word gongyo means assiduous practice, and as we recite, we reaffirm the sutra’s core message, that every life possesses an enlightened aspect that endures eternally. The last four lines of gongyo translate as, “I am always thinking: How can I cause all living beings to enter into the unsurpassed Way?” My life and work are enriched when I base my thoughts, words, and actions on this aspiration, and I am guided by Ikeda Sensei’s example.

With Ikeda Sensei’s passing we honor the completion of the masterfully fulfilled life of a poet, environmentalist, photojournalist, nuclear abolitionist, citizen diplomat, author, educator, peace activist, and bodhisattva whose vast legacy will enrich us for all time. Ikeda Sensei’s life is forever an example of practicing Buddhism to catalyze an enlightened, contributive existence in the world as an ordinary human being.

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Daisaku Ikeda and his wife Kaneko | Nagano August 2003

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