I attended the 6th Annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue yesterday at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge. The topic was John Dewey, Daisaku Ikeda, and the Quest for a New Humanism. The occasion was the 150th Anniversary of John Dewey’s birth.
Although Ikeda’s Nichiren Buddhism, a form of Mahayana Buddhism, may at first seem far removed from Dewey’s American pragmatism, the speakers found many areas of consonance between the work of the two. I was pleased to see that Jane Addams was brought into the conversation, too.
Nichiren was a 13th century Buddhist reformer, who based his teachings on the Lotus Sutra and its message of the dignity of all life. Like Dewey’s pragmatism, Nichiren Buddhism is grounded in the realities of daily life. It promotes “human revolution,” in which individuals take responsibility for their lives and help to build a world in which diverse peoples can live in peace.
Ikeda is the founder of the Soka Gakkai International, a movement characterized by its emphasis on value creation (soka). This implies that each individual needs the opportunity to find value in their unique path while contributing value to humanity. Soka schools have much in common with the kinds of schools Dewey envisaged (but rarely saw enacted).
At the Ikeda Forum discussions focused on connections and divergences between Dewey’s naturalistic humanism and Ikeda’s Buddhist humanism. Presentations examined how their work can be used as resources for individual and social change.