In September 1993, Daisaku Ikeda delivered a lecture titled “Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-first Century Civilization” at Harvard University. He highlighted the contributions Mahayana Buddhism can make to the peaceful evolution of humanity.
Soon after, he established the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (BRC) in Cambridge as a tangible commitment to the spirit behind his talk—the spirit to engage diverse voices in contributing value to humanity. In 2009, the BRC changed its name to the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue, which both honors our founder and more clearly expresses our core objectives, which derive from the main themes of the lecture, including the primacy of interdependence and the power of dialogue to overcome the artificial, human-conjured differences that divide us. Put another way, we are devoted to investigating the ideas and values best suited for the creation of diverse cultures of peace in the 21st century.
In its initial decade or so, the Center focused on supporting, and exploring issues vital to, the flourishing of global civil society. During this period, the Center engaged in dialogues, seminars, and publications largely focused on four frameworks: human rights, nonviolence, economic justice, and environmental ethics. One highlight was hosting conferences and working closely with scholar Steven Rockefeller to draft the global initiative known as the Earth Charter. Key books from this period include Subverting Hatred and Subverting Greed, multi-author publications explicating what the world’s religions can tell us about nonviolence and human-centered economics, respectively.
In its next phase, considerable focus was on building a network of scholars and established peacebuilders who could bring their knowledge and values directly into dialogue with Ikeda’s Buddhist humanism, including how it illuminates the same themes from the initial period. In many cases, this meant collaborating with scholars who had engaged directly in dialogue with Mr. Ikeda. Often, they were featured speakers at the annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue, launched in 2004, or they came to the Center to lead seminars or give talks. Because the focus was now directly on Ikeda’s writings, topics relating to the American Renaissance and humanistic education, two of his core interests, moved to the fore. From 2009 to 2018 the Center’s Dialogue Path Press published ten Ikeda dialogue books.
Today, we are continuing this work, but adding a new emphasis on building a network of young people who engage directly with Ikeda’s vision and with one another to create fresh cultures of peace. Indeed, the ideals of youth are the fuel for our hope in the future. Central to this new direction is the Dialogue Nights series, which, since 2017, has brought Boston-area university students and young professionals to the Center to engage in openhearted, open-minded dialogue on topics of direct relevance to young adults today. Perhaps the most popular Dialogue Nights to date has been 2019’s “The Loneliness Epidemic: Can We Talk About It?” Closely related to Dialogue Nights is the establishment of the Ikeda Center Youth Steering Committee, which helps the Center strategize about new topics for investigation. During this current phase, the Center has published two well-received multi-author volumes, Peacebuilding Through Dialogue: Education, Human Transformation, and Conflict Resolution and Hope and Joy in Education: Engaging Daisaku Ikeda Across Curriculum and Context.
Across these phases, one of the main constants is a focus on “the human element.” That is, everyone in the Ikeda Center network is encouraged to bring their whole self to the projects at hand, with one’s “humanness” seen as the foundation for whatever expertise that person might bring. Thus, the story of the Center is the story of its friends. Many of them are significant figures in peace studies and peacebuilding practices during the last 50 years, including, but not limited to, Elise Boulding, Betty Reardon, and Vincent Harding, all of whom selflessly shared the wisdom with us on many occasions. Several professors from nearby Harvard University have been generous with their time and their perspectives, and some, such as Harvey Cox and Nur Yalman, played key roles in the establishment of the Center. Then there are Ikeda’s dialogue partners such as Sarah Wider, Larry Hickman, Ron Bosco, Jim Garrison and others whose insights have sharpened our understanding of how Buddhist humanism can effectively inform human flourishing. Our most recent events have been enlivened by the participation of Boston-area scholars such as Catia Confortini, Shirley Tang, Ceasar McDowell, and Karen Ross. All of these people can be said to be leaders of heart and mind. But this is true of every person, well known or not, whose presence and participation make our community a living and breathing thing.
Reflecting on the core values of the Center upon its 10th anniversary in 2003, former Executive Director Virginia Benson highlighted “the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the remarkable people that we’ve been able to attract to the Center—scholars and activists and people of all ages and from various cultural backgrounds who have inspiring life experiences to share. Even in large groups, when we have a major conference, there have been moments of true dialogue, of true understanding. You go through a lot of preparation for a large conference to make people feel comfortable … and sometimes you get this crescendo when it seems like everybody in the room is just getting it. I love that. This experience gives me hope that the whole world could move in this direction—toward a profound sense of interconnectedness, of harmony with the other.”
Upon Benson’s retirement in 2021, longtime Center Program Director Kevin Maher became our current Executive Director. With 2023 marking the Center’s 30th anniversary, he says this of our past, present, and future: “When I reflect on the history of the Center and everything that has brought us to this point, like Ginny Benson, the first thing that comes to mind for me are the wonderful friendships that we’ve made over the last three decades. It’s safe to say that these relationships have enabled us to envision what it means to foster cultures of peace in ways we might never even have thought of. Especially exciting for me today is seeing how many young people are taking an active role in our programs. This gives me much to be hopeful about. So now, when I look toward the next phase in the Center’s history, I’m filled with more energy and passion than ever to expand on the timely vision Mr. Ikeda had for the us when he established the Center all those years ago.”