Archive for the 'An Ikeda sequence' Category

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

Toynbee and Ikeda 2

June 24 2007

In 1972 Toynbee contributed a Foreword to Ikeda’s book The Human Revolution, which told the history of Soka Gakkai.

The Human Revolution is an English translation of the story of Soka Gakkai, Society for the Creation of Value, as told by this society’s third president, Daisaku Ikeda. The present book comprises the first two volumes of the original, and translations of further volumes will follow. There is also a French translation in progress, and, in thus making this book accessible to the English-reading and French-reading public, Mr. Ikeda has done a service to his contemporaries all over the world. These now include an appreciable number of adherents of Soka Gakkai; for, though this society was founded in Japan, and gained momentum in response to Japanese experience, its concern is for all mankind, and The Human Revolution is an accurate description of its objective. Soka Gakkai is inspired by a belief that a revolutionary change of mankind’s spiritual values is urgently needed in all spheres of life, and its adherents believe that this worldwide spiritual revolution can be achieved by embracing, and acting on, Soka Gakkai’s tenets.

The pursuit of this objective is an act of religious faith, and in fact Soka Gakkai is the lay association of the adherents of the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism, whose head temple is Daiseki-ji at Fujinomiya, near Mount Fuji. Nichiren Shoshu is one of the communities of followers of the thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhist prophet Nichiren.

“Prophet” is an appropriate description of Nichiren; for in many ways Nichiren has more affinity with the prophets of western Asia than with any of the other propagators and interpreters of Buddhism in India and in eastern Asia. Zoroastrian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish readers of this book will recognize Nichiren’s affinity with Zarathustra, Muhammad, and the prophets of Israel and Judah, and this impression will be confirmed if they read the English translation of Nichiren’s collected writings that Soka Gakkai has published.

Like the West Asian prophets, Nichiren has inspired other dynamic personalities in later generations. The common ground between Nichiren Buddhism and the West Asian religions is extensive and important. The source of the spiritual power of Nichiren and his followers was, and is, faith, in the meaning that this word carries in the histories and doctrines of the West Asian religions.

Faith, in this sense, is an absolute belief in the truth and saving power of a religious community’s object of worship [even Nichiren Buddhists have no object of “worship”, surely] and in the supreme spiritual authority of the founder. Indeed the founder and ultimate spiritual reality have, in some cases, been identified with each other. For instance, the followers of Nichiren Shoshu, unlike those of other Nichiren sects, firmly believe that Nichiren claimed to be and in fact was a manifestation of Buddhahood; this conviction has given them, as it gave Nichiren himself, the confidence and courage to play an active part in public affairs, secular as well as religious.

To take a strong line on controversial public issues exposes a prophet and his followers to persecution. Their faith gives them the moral strength to remain true to their convictions, even at the price of martyrdom. Nichiren himself narrowly escaped being put to death by the de facto government of Japan in his day (the Hojo regents of the Kamakura shogunate). Nichiren had made himself unpopular by his outspoken criticisms of the representatives of schools of Buddhism other than his own. He maintained that his school was the only right one. He warned the Japanese government and people that, if they rejected his formulation of the essence of the Mahayana Buddhist Lotus Sutra, they would bring calamities on themselves. The calamities came. A civil war was followed by two Mongol attacks, and Nichiren won the reputation of being a prophet in the popular sense of being endowed with a gift for foreseeing the future, besides being a seer of ultimate spiritual reality.

Japan’s situation in the thirteenth century after Christ was much like that of Israel and Judah in the eighth century before Christ. In both instances an aggressive empire (the Assyrian in the earlier case and the Mongol in the later), which had already achieved vast conquests, was poised to strike. In the case of Japan, however, the attackers were repulsed, and though he was persecuted, Nichiren escaped Isaiah’s martyrdom. Mr. Ikeda’s book deals with a later chapter in the history of Japan and of Nichiren Shoshu, in which the Japanese people suffered the worst tribulations that they had yet experienced, and in which the followers of Nichiren Shoshu were challenged, more harshly than ever before, to have the courage of their convictions.

This time Japan herself, like her thirteenth-century Mongol assailants, was led into aggression and consequent disaster by the wickedness and folly of militarists, who had dominated the government; and the adherents of Nichiren Shoshu were being pressed to betray their faith by paying allegiance to State Shinto – a political perversion of an ancient worship of the forces of nature, in which this non-Buddhist religion had been converted into a cult of the Japanese people’s collective power. State Shinto had been fabricated since the Meiji Restoration, and it was enforced – as an instrument for maintaining national solidarity – when, in World War II, in which the militarists had involved Japan, the tide was turning against her. The Christian church underwent a similar ordeal between A.D. 250 and A.D. 311, when the Roman counterpart of State Shinto was forced upon the Christians for the same reason.

The English edition of The Human Revolution covers the period of July, 1945, to October, 1947 – a testing time for Soka Gakkai and also for the whole of the Japanese people. The leaders of Soka Gakkai had distinguished themselves by their steadfastness in refusing to be intimidated into paying lip service to a religion that they did not believe to be true, and that they saw to be leading Japan into disaster. The first president of Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, died, a martyr in prison, in 1944. The present book opens with a moving account of the conditional release from prison of the second president, Josei Toda, only a few weeks before the war ended. Toda is the hero of this chapter in Soka Gakkai’s history. Though sick and penniless, Toda immediately set to work to rebuild Soka Gakkai. Under his presidency and then under that of his successor, Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai has achieved its astonishing postwar resurrection – a spiritual achievement that matches the Japanese people’s material achievement in the economic field.

What have been the causes of Soka Gakkai’s triumphant postwar success? The fundamental cause was the faith with which this community and its leaders in our time have been inspired by the founder, Nichiren, whose spirit is still potent in the seventh century after his death. This faith has given them the courage and constancy to endure persecution, and the sincerity that they have demonstrated by their endurance has opened their countrymen’s hearts and minds to this teaching and has helped to win Soka Gakkai its huge increase in numbers. When religious persecution was suddenly ended in August, 1945, by the collapse and liquidation of the military régime in Japan, Soka Gakkai had a free field for its missionary zeal.

The situation in Japan in 1945 is described vividly and harrowingly in Mr. Ikeda’s book. It was like the situation in the Roman Empire in 311, when the persecution of Christianity was reluctantly abandoned by the Roman Imperial Government. In both cases, there was a spiritual vacuum and a material crisis. The Roman Empire had been devastated by barbarian invasions and at the same time the old religions had lost their hold on the people’s minds and hearts. In Japan, State Shinto – the adulation of corporate national power dedicated to military aggression – had been discredited by the catastrophic denouement of half a century of successive military victories that had culminated in the sensational but ephemeral exploits of 1941.

When the Japanese people became the targets of their previous victims, they suffered a long-drawn-out agony before the militarists were compelled at last by force majeure to release the country from a war that had become a nightmare. By then, the people were bankrupt and starving, and many of them no longer had roofs over their heads. But their material straits were surpassed by their spiritual bewilderment. They had been led to imagine that Japan was destined to conquer the rest of the world; instead, Japan had fallen under foreign military occupation for the first time in her history.

This partly accounts for Soka Gakkai’s postwar success. In the midst of despair and disillusionment, this little community was sure of its objective and was confident that it could and would attain it. No wonder that, within the next three decades, Soka Gakkai has grown to its present stature.

The postwar rise of Soka Gakkai is not solely the concern of the country in which it started; already Soka Gakkai is a world affair, as is indicated by the translation of Mr. Ikeda’s present book into French and English. Soka Gakkai is a Buddhist society, and Buddhism was the first missionary religion to address its message to all mankind. Nichiren, like his followers in present-day Nichiren Shoshu, loved his country, but his horizon and his concern were not bounded by Japan’s coasts. Nichiren held that Buddhism, as he conceived it, was a means of salvation for his fellow human beings everywhere. In working for the human revolution, Soka Gakkai is carrying out Nichiren’s mandate.

Foreword in Daisaku Ikeda, author; Teikichi Miyoshi, illustrator, The Human Revolution, New York, Weatherhill, 1972

Toynbee and Ikeda

June 21 2007

In an earlier post I linked to Polly Toynbee’s article in The Guardian describing her visit to the President of the lay Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International in Toyko, Daisaku Ikeda. Soka Gakkai’s reputation in Japan is for getting money out of people. It is an extremely rich foundation. It also does good work around the world.

Heads of foundations usually take themselves seriously, and some claim that they could have become much richer had their abundant talents served a commercial enterprise. Daisaku Ikeda, on the other hand, has become rich, and SGI often behaves like a commercial enterprise.

Polly Toynbee felt that her grandfather made a mistake in agreeing, in his last years, to engage in an extended dialogue with Ikeda, who was using Toynbee to aggrandise himself. “It would be hard to imagine a less spiritual man,” she writes.

A Canadian in Osaka responded to my post by saying (I abbreviate): “I’ve seen Toynbee’s photo on Soka Gakkai magazine ads on the trains here. I could tell that there was a Toynbee interview featured in the magazine (this was sometime last year, I think), but at the time I saw them, I was unaware of Toynbee’s significance in Japan.”


If you look at SGI’s website, you get a sense of how the Toynbee connection is still milked. One does ask oneself why Ikeda has never insinuated himself into Davos.

Some examples.

November 11 2004:

“‘Another Way of Seeing Things’ won both the Chris Award for best documentary in the Social Issues category and the Edgar Dale Award for Screenwriting [at the Columbus International Film Festival], which goes to the writer of the essay on which the script is based, Buddhist philosopher and peacebuilder Daisaku Ikeda. […]

“Writing in response to 9.11 and the subsequent wave of mistrust and hatred toward those perceived as ‘different’ to ourselves, Ikeda calls out passionately against the dangers of stereotyping: ‘It is vital that we each ask ourselves some important questions … Do I accept without question the images provided to me? Do I believe unconfirmed reports without first examining them? Have I unwittingly allowed myself to become prejudiced?’ As president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist association, he has promoted peace and dialogue tirelessly for over 50 years, publishing over 100 works, including Global Civilization: a Buddhist-Islamic Dialogue with peace scholar Prof. Majid Tehranian.

“Filmed on location in Turkey, ‘Another Way of Seeing Things’ tells the story of British historian Arnold Toynbee’s determined efforts to ‘hear the other side’ – that of the Turks – at a time when the west was heavily biased in favor of the Greek side in the Greco-Turkish war of the 1920s. It is narrated by Academy-Award winning actor F. Murray Abraham, who says the script inspired him with the possibility of a world without hate.”

On Toynbee’s genuine wish to see the Turkish side in 1921 – a reaction in part to his own anti-Turkish propaganda work during the First World War and the “atmosphere of animosity against Islam and against the Turks in which I had grown up” – see this post.

August 7 2005:

“Visitors to ‘Choose Life – Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda,’ an exhibition featuring a dialogue between the late renowned British historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) and SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, showing at the Soka Gakkai Hiroshima Peace Auditorium in Hiroshima City since July 23, topped 100,000 on August 6.”

February 28 2007:

“Mr. Enkhbayar [President of Mongolia] remarked that after first meeting Mr. Ikeda, he began reading his works and found Choose Life (a dialogue between Mr. Ikeda and the British historian Arnold Toynbee translated into 26 languages including Mongolian) to be especially inspiring.”

April 1 2007:

“On April 1, 2007, the Daisaku Ikeda Peace and Culture Research Institute at Liaoning Normal University (LNNU), Dalian, China, hosted a forum attended by scholars and students who engage in research and study regarding the ideals and activities of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. […] The participants presented the results of their research on the ideals and thoughts of Daisaku Ikeda related to topics such as the modernization of Buddhism, corporate culture, the purpose of education, global vision and oriental civilizations. This was followed by active discussions on the Toynbee-Ikeda dialogue, the acceptance of Mr. Ikeda’s [not the Buddha’s or Nichiren’s] philosophy in China and its relevance to humanism.”

May 5 2007:

“Anniversary of Toynbee Dialogue Celebrated in London.”

Another SGI post about the Hiroshima exhibition shows a photograph of Toynbee with Ikeda. It says:

“Originally created in 2003 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Dr. Toynbee’s and Mr. Ikeda’s encounters, the exhibition introduces Dr. Toynbee’s life and achievements; contents of the dialogues between Dr. Toynbee and Mr. Ikeda; and Mr. Ikeda’s discussions for peace with over 1,500 of the world’s scholars, intellects, and activists – through some 300 panels. Original letters the two exchanged are also displayed. The exhibit has traveled extensively throughout Japan since its August 2003 debut in Miyagi Prefecture.”



In a Comment on a post called The frontier spirit, I referred to William McNeill, who states that the dialogue with Ikeda took place over six days in London in May 1972. The Soka Gakkai International website, however, says that it took place in London in May 1972 and again in May 1973: if that is true, then the frontier spirit remarks may have been made, as I had originally guessed, in 1973.

Yesterday, I posted a link to the only recording of Toynbee’s speech, as far as I know, available online.

Here is a YouTube clip in a Soka Gakkai film, the only snatch of video. It shows Toynbee meeting Ikeda. The film tells us that it was Toynbee who suggested to Ikeda the idea of a series of “dialogues” with world leaders, which he has continued subsequently. We are shown him with Mandela. Another in Ikeda’s series has been with that great philosopher Lou Marinoff.

I used yesterday’s speech link as a cue to quote EWF Tomlin on Toynbee’s voice. Though I dislike biographising for the sake of it, and the whiff of hagiography it brings, you can see something of what Tomlin finds in his character – vitality and charm – even in the tantalisngly short clip in this film.

He was a lively, sociable and active man, who possessed great charm. […] There was about him an “old-fashioned” courtesy, including a fondness for bowing, which made him at home in Japan. Benign and benevolent, he was an expert in l’art dêtre grandpère: his fondness for his family and particularly his many grandchildren was well-known. Given his extraordinary erudition and tenacious memory, he might have been expected to assume an academic air; but there was nothing whatever of the pedant about him. Indeed, in his last years he could have been taken for a retired farmer, with his loose country clothes, hitched-up trousers, and slightly rubicund face. He was a man of simple pleasures, who lived plainly enough, though he was always willing to try out exotic food and drink, especially on his travels. He knew tragedy at first hand, and, whether he knew it or not, his end was tragic. A few years before the severe stroke that reduced him to helplessness for the last fourteen months of his life, he had written that “though not afraid of death, I know, without any doubt, that I am afraid – and very much afraid – of being incapacitated before physical death overtakes me.”

EWF Tomlin, editor, Arnold Toynbee, A Selection from his Works, with an introduction by Tomlin, OUP, 1978, posthumous

Soka Gakkai and Polly Toynbee

April 25 2007

Who is Daisaku Ikeda of the published Toynbee-Ikeda dialogue, quoted in the last post?

He was born (in 1928) into a poor family of seaweed farmers near Tokyo. In his late teens he came across the teachings of the Japanese monk Nichiren (1222-82).

Nichiren Buddhism has had strong influence at several points in Japanese history, especially after the Second World War. It emphasises each individual’s ability to attain Buddhahood in his present lifetime. Nichiren was persecuted for his optimistic teaching.

Ikeda joined a lay organisation which propagated Nichiren Buddhism, especially among the rootless urban, called Soka Gakkai, which had been founded in 1930. He became its President in 1960.

In 1975 he set up Soka Gakkai International as an umbrella organisation for Soka Gakkai-affiliated groups around the world. He resigned as President of SG in 1979 because of a dispute with Nichiren Shōshū, but remains its Honorary President and President of SGI. The Nichiren Shōshū priesthood cut off relations with both SG and SGI in 1991, making the breach complete, and excommunicated Ikeda in 1992.

Japanese institutions are not always what they seem to be: see Karel van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power (1990). Soka Gakkai is rich and is extremely influential in politics and (apparently) in the entertainment industry. Its political influence comes through the New Komeito Party. But it has not entirely lost the sense of being a religious organisation. I don’t believe that its hold on parts of Japanese society is more sinister than a religious group’s usually is on a society. As far as I know, it is not tied up with the extreme right wing or with the yakuza. In fact, I think it is disliked by the right wing for having opposed, at the time, Japan’s actions during the Second World War. Its doctrines seem to me to be respectable. Perhaps its techniques and governance aren’t. There is a smell of money around it. Its opponents describe it as a cult. Its hold on some individuals has been held to be damaging.

Polly Toynbee is a British left-of-centre journalist. She writes in The Guardian. She is Arnold Toynbee’s granddaughter and the daughter of Philip Toynbee, who was at different times, and perhaps at the same time, a Christian and a communist. Polly Toynbee, unlike her grandfather, is vehemently atheist. On social questions, she takes after Arnold Toynbee’s uncle, the other Arnold Toynbee (1852-83), the economic historian and social reformer, after whom that powerful institution in the East End of London, Toynbee Hall, established in 1884, is named. Toynbee Hall is a centre for social work and education. It helped people from poor families rise in society in the days when we had real social mobility. (For example, a figure such as Thomas Okey, who began as an East End basket-weaver and became in 1919 the first Professor of Italian in Cambridge.)

In 1984 Ikeda invited Polly Toynbee to Tokyo. Her entertaining account of her stay was published in The Guardian on May 19. You can read it here (the paper is given its old name, officially scrapped in 1959, of Manchester Guardian). Ikeda never stood a chance of softening her up to provide him and his court with more reflected Toynbee glory, and perhaps make her into an advocate for the publication of additional, still unseen, Toynbee-Ikeda material.

Polly Toynbee (who seems to lack any basic sympathy for things Japanese) said of Ikeda in a 1995 BBC broadcast (quoted here): “I think it would be hard to imagine a less spiritual man. […] A powerful megalomania; we got this aura of power from him that was extremely alarming. We then went, on another day with him, to some huge Nuremberg-style rally in a stadium, where everything was to the greater worship of him.” Arnold Toynbee, on the other hand, respected Ikeda and is almost deferential to him.

She begins the Guardian piece by saying: “On the long flight to Japan, I read for the first time my grandfather’s posthumously published book, Choose Life – A Dialogue, a discussion between himself and a Japanese Buddhist leader called Daisaku Ikeda. My grandfather […] was 85 when the dialogue was recorded, a short time before his final incapacitating stroke. It is probably the book among his works most kindly left forgotten – being a long discursive ramble between the two men over topics from sex education to pollution and war.”

He was 83 when the discussion began and over two years away from that stroke, but I agree with her. It is the weakest of Toynbee’s published dialogues. There is something plodding about it and it is too long. Too much of it is like a weary traversal of predetermined ground, and although it is the most interactive of the later dialogues (Ikeda does much of the talking), there is little spontaneity. It sinks into truisms. It appeared posthumously. I assume that OUP heard the recordings and that Ikeda did not embellish his part. But there are a few good things in it, and I have done some posts from it (search under Ikeda). Polly Toynbee might find Ikeda both sinister and ridiculous, but he is, it seems to me, an at least competent interlocutor and hard to square in this capacity with Polly Toynbee’s portrayal of him – which I believe. Most younger Japanese regard Ikeda as a bad joke and good mainly at raising money from gullible people.

She is unkind in implying that her grandfather was losing his intellectual grip. I don’t think he was, though the dialogue doesn’t sparkle. She concludes her article by saying: “I like to think that if my grandfather had not been so old or if he had met Ikeda in his own bizarre surroundings [rather than in London], he would not have lent himself to this process of endorsement. He was a frail man at the time, and by nature trusting. If our trip to Japan was intended to bind him yet more tightly to Ikeda, I hope the effect will have been the reverse.”

The Wikipedia articles on both Ikeda and Soka Gakkai seem to lack neutrality. I say a bit about the circumstances of the Toynbee-Ikeda dialogue in a comment at the end of this post.