Biography of Daisaku Ikeda

Name: Daisaku Ikeda
Bith Date: January 2, 1928
Death Date:
Place of Birth: Tokyo, Japan
Nationality: Japanese
Gender: Male
Occupations: religious leader, writer
Daisaku Ikeda

Daisaku Ikeda (born 1928), a Japanese Buddhist writer and religious leader, was the third president of the rapidly growing Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization whose goal was to promote Nichiren Sho-shu, "True" Nichiren Buddhism, worldwide. He founded the Komeito or "Clean Government Party," a successful minority political party in Japan whose goal was to establish a "Buddhist democracy."

Daisaku Ikeda was born in Tokyo, Japan, on January 2, 1928, the son of a seaweed vendor. His formal education ended with graduation from Fuji Junior College. At the age of 19 he became an employee and disciple of Toda Josei. The Japanese government had imprisoned Toda and his mentor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, for refusal to participate in the state rites of Shinto and to conform to government restrictions on religion. Upon release a year before Ikeda joined him, Toda began to reconstruct the lay Buddhist religious movement of which Makiguchi was the founder under the name Soka Gakkai, the "Value-Creation Society." On May 3, 1951, Toda became its second president. For 11 years Ikeda received intense training from Toda and accompanied him on most of his travels. On May 3, 1952, Ikeda married Kaneko Shiraki, by whom he had three sons.

Under Toda's influence Ikeda ascended in the Soka Gakkai organization until he became chief of staff of the Youth Division. During this period of successful, aggressive evangelism by the movement, when allegations of terrorism, coercion, and intimidation were made against it, Ikeda became an aggressive evangelist. Upon Toda's death on April 2, 1958, Ikeda became the general administrator and on May 3, 1960, after a period of factionalism in the movement, Ikeda was appointed its third president. His active presidency, popular personality, and close control over the movement's activities contributed to its phenomenal growth.

One of Soka Gakkai's writers said that "The history of the activities of President Ikeda is no other than the history of the growth of Soka Gakkai." Its founder, Makiguchi, was a geography teacher who with Toda was converted to the relatively small Nichiren Sho-shu, "true Nichiren sect." The sect believed it was the only true group of followers of the Japanese Buddhist prophet Nichiren (1222-1282). In the spirit of Nichiren, it taught that he, not the historical Buddha, is the true Buddha for this last age and that the only acceptable religious acts for this age are recitation of the daimoku or name of the Lotus Sutra ("Namu myoho renge-kyo") and worship of the sacred diagram, or gohonzon, they believe Nichiren had drawn. Soka Gakkai is devoted to the promotion of Nichiren Sho-shu, which it considers the only true religion. Its stated purpose is "to bring peace and happiness to all mankind." With its headquarters at the foot of Mt. Fuji, Soka Gakkai considers pilgrimage to the head temple of Nichiren Sho-shu there, Taisekiji, as an important act of devotion.

Makiguchi died in prison and is considered a martyr. Toda organized the society along military lines and increased the movement's evangelistic fervor through development of the method Nichiren called shakubuku, "break and subdue." It included denunciation of rival religions and forceful argumentation to break down the resistance of potential converts. By 1957 Soka Gakkai proclaimed that it had attained its target of 750,000 families months earlier than expected.

Though continuing to maintain the exclusivism of the movement, Ikeda set out to broaden the appeal of Soka Gakkai through better public relations and tempered its open aggressiveness, while still maintaining its goal of kosen-rufu, worldwide-dissemination. After accusations of scandal in 1969, he turned the movement's attention to the formation of educational and cultural organizations, founding the Min-on Concert Association and the Oriental Institute of Academic Research in 1962 and the Fuji Art Museum in 1973. He also shifted its emphasis to international affairs and the peace movement.

In the tradition of Nichiren's teaching of obutsumyogo, "agreement in purpose of government and Buddhism," on November 17, 1964, Ikeda founded the Komeito, "Clean Government Party," based on the previous success of Soka Gakkai-supported candidates in Japanese elections. Though officially an independent party, the two work closely together. In May 1970 Ikeda announced its separation from Soka Gakkai in response to a public scandal investigation by the Japanese Diet. At the end of 1969 Soka Gakkai and Komeito had been accused of the suppression of the publication of a series of books criticizing the movement. Since then, however, Soka Gakkai-Komeito unity has, in effect, been restored. Komeito remains a minority party, but it has been successful in large metropolitan districts, taking a liberal, neutralist, pacifist, and socialist stance in Japanese politics. In 1978 it joined a more conservative alliance with the majority Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Socialist Party.

Ikeda has written over 100 books and articles concerning "true" Buddhism, its history and the benefits that it can provide which lead to individual happiness and world peace. He has received honorary doctorates from 20 universities, including the University of Glasgow (UK), Moscow State University, Sofia University (Bulgaria), University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), Ankara University (Turkey), University of Nairobi (Kenya), and the University of the Philippines. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the United Nations Peace Award, National Order of the Southern Cross of the Republic of Brazil, Honorary Cross of Science and the Arts from the Austrian Ministry of Education, Medal of the Grand Officer of Arts and Letters from the French Ministry of Culture, and the World Poet Laureateship from the World Poetry Society. He portrayed Soka Gakkai as a "Third Civilization," a synthesis of East and West and an alternative to East-West power blocks, and under his leadership the movement continued to spread overseas. It claimed more than 10 million adherents worldwide, with 200,000 in the United States in the mid-1980s. He has maintained his residence in Tokyo.

In a 1996 Los Angeles Times article, Teresa Watanabe attempted to examine the contradictions between Ikeda's public personas. Alternately called a devil or an angel, a Hitler or a Gandhi, Ikeda has been portrayed as a threat to democracy at the same time that members of his organization perceive him as crusader against oppression. Nichiren Sho-shu priests accused him of slandering Buddhist doctrine and went so far as to excommunicate him in 1991, but his followers maintain that he is an inspired religious teacher. And even though he himself is not a scholar, Ikeda has nevertheless published works with a number of seminal thinkers.

Ikeda's more recent publications include The Human Revolution (1984); Life: An Enigma, a Precious Jewel (1982); Buddhism and Cosmos (1986); and Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death (1988). He is also the author of Choose Life: A Dialogue with Dr. Arnold J. Toynbee; Dawn After Dark with Dr. René Hughye; Before It Is Too Late with Dr. Aurelio Peccei; A Lifelong Quest for Peace with Dr. Linus Pauling; Dialogue of World Citizens with Dr. Norman Cousins; and Choose Peace, with Dr. Johan Galtung.

Associated Organizations

Further Reading

  • Studies of Soka Gakkai and Ikeda's place in the movement include chapter nine of H. Neill McFarland, The Rush Hour of the Gods (1967), and Kiyoaki Murata, Japan's New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai (1969), based primarily on the movement's own publications. One of the polemical works which the movement is alleged to have attempted to suppress is available, Hirotatsu Fujiwara, I Denounce Soka Gakki (1970), and one scholarly observer of contemporary religion, Shigeyoshi Murakami, includes the movement in his Japanese Religion in the Modern Century (1980). Terasa Watanabe's "Japan's Crusader or Corruptor?" in the Los Angeles Times (March 15, 1996) looks at some of the controversies that have surrounded Ikeda's remarkable career.
  • The U.S. branch of the movement, known as Nichiren Shoshu of America, publishes articles and pamphlets by Ikeda in English. A number of Ikeda's works have been translated into English. See particularly Lectures on Buddhism (1962), The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography (1976), and Buddhism, the First Millennium (1977). Readily available is the Oxford University Press publication of a dialogue between Ikeda and Arnold Toynbee, Choose Life: A Dialogue (1976).

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