Toynbee and Ikeda 3

January 28 2008

A Soka Gakkai member in Japan has put six files on YouTube of excerpts from the recordings of Toynbee’s conversations with Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakkai International, a lay movement of Nichiren Buddhists in Japan. The words are accompanied by stills. [The files have been taken off YouTube and put back at least once since I published this post.]

He (or she) doesn’t say what his source is, but he refers to Side A and Side B, so the sound, about 20 minutes per “side”, probably comes from an LP or cassette circulated by Soka Gakkai.

The conversations took place in London (at Toynbee’s flat?) over several days in 1972 and 1973. Some of the material in the excerpts is not in the 1976 book. Record them with WireTap, put them into an iPod and listen to them as a continuous radio documentary. You’ll hear Ikeda, who speaks in Japanese, his interpreter, who has been edited in and is not physically present, and Toynbee. At the time, there seem to have been simultaneous interpreters, who can barely be heard here.

Ikeda asks Toynbee about his earliest memory, about what made him become a historian-philosopher, and whether he likes songs – or sings.

He asks him about the first Paris peace conference. Toynbee points out that he attended both peace conferences in Paris, in 1919 and 1946.

[…] At a peace conference, I think inevitably, everything goes wrong, and to watch this happening after you’ve already lived through the war is a very tragic experience […].

He asks him what his motto is.

In one Latin word, because I was educated in Latin and Greek: laboremus. Let us do our work. In the year 211 the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus died in the city of York in the north of England. A Roman emperor had every day to give a watchword to his troops, and on the day on which Septimius Severus died in York he gave the watchword laboremus. Let us do our work. He was a very sick man at the time. Also, he was a native of Libya, which is a warm country, and he was on campaign, military campaign, in a very cold country, the north of Britain. But though he was dying, he wanted to go on doing his work till the very end of his life, so this watchword he gave on the last day of his life I take as my motto. […] He felt his responsibilities, at the head of this great empire.

Much and guttural appreciation from the Japanese.

When and where would he most like to have been born? The answer: what is now Chinese Central Asia in the second century of the Christian Era. Kashgar or Khotan, where many civilisations were coming together.

What does he want to do most at the present?

I would like to continue doing what we are doing at this moment in this room. I think that what we are doing here is to help to bring the whole human race together into a single family. I think this is a good thing to do in itself. I also think that if the human race is to survive we must become a single family.

“A world state, a world federation … this is the most correct thing,” says Ikeda. I’ve touched on the idea before, which was born, for practical purposes, in 1919, survived in a few minds until the ’70s, and sounds at best illiberal today.

In the next and longest part of these extracts Ikeda expounds some Buddhist principles. Whatever Polly Toynbee and others think of him, he is, as far as I can judge, at least a competent exponent and his motives in engaging with Toynbee seem sincere as you listen. Polly Toynbee might disagree even on this. On the other hand, religion is beyond Polly Toynbee’s understanding. This section contains some of the material in the section of the published dialogue called The Buddhist Approach. It is easier to follow if you have read that first.

Nichiren Buddhism is a Japanese sect of Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana is the branch of Buddhism that prevails in Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan. The main school in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia is Theravada, but both Ikeda and Toynbee refer to the Southern Buddhist schools, of which Theravada is the main one, as the Hinayana. Mahayana is obviously an Indo-European Sanskrit word related to major. Hinayana has a derogatory sound and is not much used nowadays. The published version of these dialogues rightly substitutes Southern Buddhism for Hinayana, but it goes further and substitutes Northern Buddhism for Mahayana.

Here, I will quote Toynbee exactly from the published book, not the tape, and summarise Ikeda mainly from the book. Many of the words are the same.

Ikeda lists the Ten States of life in Buddhism. He says that the theory can be likened in some respects to the concepts of hell, purgatory and heaven described by Dante in the Divine Comedy. But there are differences. The number of categories is not the same and, in contrast to Dante’s realms, which are worlds to be entered after death, the Buddhist states represent actual conditions and levels of happiness in this life.

From dark to light, the states are jigoku (hell, the state of suffering), gaki (rapacity, the state of being under the sway of desires), chikushō (animality, the state of fearing someone or something stronger than oneself), shura (anger, the state of constant competition or conflict in which one tries arrogantly to surpass others), nin (tranquility, the common tranquil state one may sometimes observe in human society), ten (rapture, the fragile state of being overjoyed at the gratification of a desire), shōmon (learning, or literally, hearing voices, the state of life in which one learns from the philosophers and feels joy in the pursuit of immortal truths), engaku (finding joy in a kind of enlightenment by observing universal or natural phenomena), bosatsu (the state of a bodhisattva) and butsu (Buddhahood).

The first four comprise the Four Evils. The six states from jigoku to ten are collectively called the Six Paths. Because man’s activities usually remain within these, Buddhism calls ordinary human life transmigration within the Six Paths. Toynbee:

And one of the practical aims of Buddhist teaching is to halt this transmigration within the Six Paths?

Yes, says Ikeda. Transcending unhappy states of life and attaining permanent happiness is the essence of Buddhist practice. But the Six Paths are inherent in life, therefore there is no intention to eliminate or confront them. (On confrontation, see Ikeda’s remarks on Socrates in this earlier post.) Instead, Buddhism strives to find the way to permanent happiness by concentrating on higher goals.

But the joys of shōmon and engaku are still self-centred. By contrast, bosatsu, the state of a bodhisattva, one on the verge of supreme enlightenment, is the state of altruism – the joy of helping others. This Buddhist compassion is like Christian love. Lastly, butsu or Buddhahood is the state attained only as a result of practice as a bodhisattva, an absolute happiness available to one who has penetrated to the ultimate truths underlying the universe (the truths attained in shōmon and engaku being only partial) and who achieves identity with the universe and all-embracing, eternal life. Toynbee:

Buddhism has made a subtler psychological analysis than any that has been made, so far, in the West. Shōmon and Engaku seem to me to be the goals of Southern Buddhism. These are grand and difficult goals, but Bosatsu goes beyond them. The Southern Buddhist goals are perhaps the highest attainable by the individual self, but in Bosatsu the individual self opens its heart to expand itself spiritually into the universal self.

When I look for Christian equivalents of Northern Buddhist conceptions and ideals, I see an affinity between the bodhisattva, who [in order to help others] voluntarily postpones his exit into Nirvana, and the second member of the Christian trinity, who emptied himself temporarily of his divinity in order to redeem his fellow human beings (the bodhisattvas redeem nonhuman sentient beings too). Like a bodhisattva, Christ incarnate suffered (according to the Christian story) by exposing himself to the painfulness of life, and his compelling motive was the same as a bodhisattva’s: compassion. […] Does the Butsu state of a bodhisattva resemble Christ’s state after his ascension?

Ikeda replies that Christ, in his role as a saviour, is a manifestation of the bodhisattva state. In both instances, the aim is altruistic. Southern Buddhism is not rich in the concept of altruism. For Southern Buddhists, the aim is self-extinction: something unrelated to the practical sphere. As to whether the state of the bodhisattva who has made his exit into Nirvana resembles that of Christ after his ascension, the Buddha state, at least in the Mahayana tradition, is not removed from this world but resides always in individual human lives and in the universal life. Toynbee:

I think I understand what Butsu means for a Southern Buddhist. If I am right, early Buddhism, before it had adopted Greek iconography, represented the Buddha in Nirvana by a blank, and not by an anthropomorphic image inspired by the Greek image of the god Apollo. The blank symbolizes the extinguishedness of Nirvana.

Ikeda replies that Southern Buddhism strives to merge the individual self with the universal self by rejecting and destroying the individual self. This is the highest thing possible of attainment within the limitations of the individual self.

In contrast, Northern Buddhism teaches not that the individual self must be destroyed, but that it must be expanded toward the universal self. The bodhisattva in Northern Buddhism is himself a bridge, helping to bring others to the Buddha state. In Northern Buddhism, bodhisattvas, like the Buddha himself, have postponed their exit into Nirvana out of compassion for other sentient beings. This is explained in the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important of the early Mahayana texts. Later, a Chinese priest, Chih-i (538-97), who founded T’ien Tai Buddhism, analysed the bodhisattva world into fifty-two stages, the fifty-second of which is the enlightenment and absolute happiness of the Buddha.

Northern Buddhism emphasises the possibility of the awakening to Buddhahood of each human being. The realm of butsu is an internal condition brought about by a perception of the true nature of life. Instead of advocating self-extinction, it requires that greedy desire be turned into altruistic desire, so that desire may become one with the Law that is the fundamental entity of the universal self. All life includes the Ten States of life. Consequently all life has concealed within it the supremely worthy universal life force. This means that all life deserves respect. All human beings, by practising the Buddhist Law, can manifest the life of the Buddha state: a human revolution.

Ikeda asks Toynbee for his suggestions for mankind in the twenty-first century. I will go back to quoting the tapes, not the book.

In the twentieth century, we have been intoxicated, almost, by our technological power and by the constant possibility of producing wealth. I think the future need is to return to some virtues that are very old which the twentieth century has rejected. In the past, it was a virtue to be ascetic, abstemious, self-disciplined, self-denying.

He compares St Francis with his rich father. Similar figures have existed in all civilisations

… the Buddha himself, many Hindu saints. This is a common ancient piece of general human wisdom and virtue. We ought to revive this, something of the spirit of self-denial, self-restraint, self-sacrifice. I hope this will be the spirit and the ideal of the twenty-first century.

“A highly important and pertinent suggestion,” says Ikeda. He asks for advice for the young, for women, and for himself, Daisaku Ikeda.

For the young his advice is patience and non-violence, because now

human beings have such terrible weapons in their hands that even the slightest violence is very dangerous.

“Extremely important, vital advice.” The advice to women isn’t worth quoting. Toynbee says it would be impertinent of him to give personal advice to Ikeda. But

I think dialogues like this can play quite an important part in bringing the people of the world and the different religions together, and now we are having a Japanese-British dialogue. I would like to see a Japanese-Russian dialogue, a Russian-American dialogue, or a Chinese-Russian dialogue. If we can arrange this, this would help very much to bring things together. Perhaps Soka Gakkai can start some of these other [inaudible].

I said that Toynbee should have been at Davos. Ikeda, in any case, took his advice, at least by organising dialogues between himself and Chinese, Russians and others. I am surprised that he has not worked his way into Davos. I assume that a word in Klaus Schwab’s ear from someone (probably Yu Serizawa) prevented that from happening.

Some years after Toynbee met Ikeda, Soka Gakkai ceased to be affiliated to Nichiren Buddhism and became an organisation entirely in its own right.

The page here called Cv links to all easily-available recordings, broadcasts or film footage of Toynbee of which I am aware.

The earlier Soka Gakkai posts are:

Soka Gakkai and Polly Toynbee

Toynbee and Ikeda

Toynbee and Ikeda 2

For a history of Soka Gakkai, including its role in Japanese politics, see David Machacek and Bryan Wilson, editors, Global Citizens: The Soka Gakkai Buddhist Movement in the World, New York, OUP, 2001.

Taped conversation between Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, London, May 1972 and probably also May 1973

Its published version was

Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda; Richard L Gage, editor; Choose Life, A Dialogue, OUP, 1976, posthumous

4 Responses to “Toynbee and Ikeda 3”


  1. […] At a peace conference, I think inevitably, everything goes wrong, and to watch this happening after you’ve already lived through the war is a very tragic experience […]. That is from an unpublished part of his dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda, 1972 or ’3, which I quoted here. […]


  2. […] November 18, 2008 Toynbee and Ikeda 3 Two peace settlements Toynbee and Young Indiana Jones Versailles […]


  3. […] Northern Buddhism is the Mahayana, a term still used. The Mahayana travelled to China and beyond from India via Central Asia and Xinjiang. Tibetan Buddhism is part of the Mahayana. Some of the philosophical differences between the two schools are mentioned here. […]


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