American Renaissance

Daisaku Ikeda: "The Triumph of the Human Spirit"

Walden Pond

Walden Pond

Daisaku Ikeda composed “The Triumph Of the Human Spirit” to serve as the Preface to Creating Waldens: An East-West Conversation On the American Renaissance (Dialogue Path Press, 2009), which he co-authored with Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson. In this poem, he evokes how the spirit of of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman rings through the centuries.

A Dedication by Daisaku Ikeda

A new paean to the triumph of the human spirit, the American Renaissance, which emerged in the New World in the mid-nineteenth century, is an example of how, at great turning points in history, spiritual giants stride forth to break free of the past. The gemlike writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman—giving succinct expression to the drama of their own lives—have become beloved by people everywhere. Their works constitute a deep spiritual current from which this book attempts to draw universal messages for people living in the twenty-first century.

Two noble, learned, and sincere scholars joined me in these exciting conversations: Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson, both past presidents of the Thoreau Society. Let me take this opportunity to express my respect and gratitude for them both. In addition, I thank all the people who undertook the difficult task of editing and publishing this book.

By way of a preface, I offer the following verses dedicated to the standard-bearers of the American Renaissance, who, through their writings, became cherished friends of my youth.

The Triumph of the Human Spirit

Brisk dawn in the New World,
the light of daybreak
dyes the eastern sky crimson,
brightening endless expanses
of canyon and plain.
The pale mysteries of
obscuring mists
quietly disperse,
revealing the green forest,
its colorful flowers and towering trees—
trees that stretch high into the heavens,
with more than a century of growth,
whose regal bearing speaks of
triumph in struggle after struggle.
Early rising birds dance and sing,
dewdrops on leaves flash gold,
as everything that lives
breathes deep the morning air.

The wind rises to carry off
the fresh energy of growth—
the abundant, vital pulse
arising from these magnificent woods—
transporting it to the clustered skyscrapers,
the very heart of civilization.

Towering timbers of the spirit,
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Henry David Thoreau,
Walt Whitman—
friends bound by a deep and mutual respect,
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Henry David Thoreau,
Walt Whitman—
ceaselessly issue the generous
cry of their souls,
a call redolent with the
vastness of nature,
into the endless firmament
of humanity.

Proud banner-bearers of the
American Renaissance!
Before their emergence,
the word ‘I’ never had so proud a ring,
the words to live were never spoken
with such earnest dignity and grandeur.

Literature is a mirror
precisely reflecting the human heart.
It is only when the right person
gives it voice
that the written word can shine
with its true, original brilliance.

The poetry of these men
was never authoritative revelation
conferred from oracular heights.
Rather, their words were like
treasured swords
forged in the furnace of the soul
day by day, blow by blow,
amidst the onslaughts of
suffering and trial.

It is for just this reason that
they have continued to offer
to so many people—
in different lands
and different times—
the strength and courage to live
when they confront the implacable
challenges of life.

“Camerado! This is no book,
Who touches this, touches a man….”
In these words of Whitman,
fearless poet of the people,
we hear the confidence,
the pride in humanity,
that gave birth to
the American Renaissance.

Although they be words on paper,
each phrase and line
earnestly addresses
the innermost being and concern
of every one of us as we face
the unavoidable sufferings
of living, of aging,
of illness, and of death.

“Nothing at last is sacred
but the integrity of your own mind.”
Emerson’s declaration of
spiritual independence
resounds like a proud,
solemn cry of triumph,
a paean to the
dignity of humankind.

Having left behind
the urban tumult,
Thoreau began his life in the woods,
on the pristine shores of Walden Pond:
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.
There is more day to dawn.
The sun is but a morning star.”

It is in the vigorous spirit
of taking on new challenges
that youth has always found
its defining pride and place.

As they grappled with
the realities of their times,
Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman
never silenced their leonine roar.
The crisp clarity of their call
aroused long-stagnant minds
urging a complacent society
toward vibrant transformation.

A century and some decades later,
the courageous claim of their convictions
continues to echo and resound—
deep, strong, and everlasting.

The workings of nature
are infinite and enduring.
The wisdom that issues
from nature’s spring
is likewise limitless.
These great leaders of the
American Renaissance
took untold pleasure
in their dialogues with nature,
drawing from it
the nourishment to live,
the energy to raise
loud alarms against
the evils of the age.

The word renaissance signifies
the radiant triumph of the human spirit,
the full flowering of
the infinite power and potential
of a single individual,
the grand undertaking of constructing
a magnificent sense of self,
a new society.

When the chords of the human heart
resonate with the august tones
of nature’s ensemble,
we perform a wondrous symphony of life
whose rhythms vibrate
into eternity.

The stars that sparkle
in distant constellations
and the inner cosmos
of the individual life—
in their primal principle,
these are two and yet not two,
indivisibly interwoven.

On the azure expanses
of this oceanic renaissance,
the freely intermingling
wind and light
of East and West
generate ever-spreading waves
of harmonious union.

Each form of life
supports all others;
together they weave
the grand web of life.
Thus there really is
no private happiness
for oneself alone,
no suffering
afflicting only others.

An age in which
all the world’s people
enjoy the mutually recognized
dignity of their lives,
savoring days of happiness
in a peaceful society…

Such is the world of which
Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau dreamed.
This is the path humanity must pursue in the
twenty-first century.

Let us set out in quest
of the dawn of a new renaissance,
guided on this
vivid journey of inquiry
by two learned scholars.

Together we advance
in the thrilling adventure
to explore the inner human cosmos,
to find new sources of our creativity,
our planet’s fresh dawn!

In Whitman’s words:
“Allons! We must not stop here.”
Let us press on together,
my friends and companions.
And let us sing songs of praise
to life’s beauties and wonders
as we go.

July 3, 2006
In boundless gratitude for the literary training I received from my mentor, Josei Toda,
Daisaku Ikeda