Education & Philosophy

Perspectives on Conviction Two: Humanistic Education and Global Progress

Students at Soka University of America

Students at Soka University of America, founded by Daisaku Ikeda as an exemplar of humanistic higher education

In 2013 we helped to celebrate our 20th anniversary by gathering perspectives from diverse scholar-friends on our seven core convictions, which are all drawn from Daisaku Ikeda’s messages of guidance to us. Taken together, the perspectives of our contributors reveal the richness of the principles that guide us.  Here are thoughts on Conviction Two: “Humanistic Education Is Vital to Global Progress.”


From Larry Hickman, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History and Philosophy, Southern Illinois University, and former Director, the Center for Dewey Studies

Given my association with the Center for Dewey Studies, I have been particularly interested in the Ikeda Center’s core conviction that humanistic education is vital to global progress. Even though the idea is clear enough in an intuitive sense, it is still fair to ask what it means in terms of practice. During one of our meetings, Center founder Daisaku Ikeda provided a particularly interesting insight into the matter when he stated that “religion is important, but education is equally important.” As I recall that moment, he seemed both animated and eager to make sure his statement would not be misunderstood, so he repeated it.

But his statement could hardly have come as a surprise to anyone who had attended Dr. Ikeda’s Harvard lecture “Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization,” presented in 1993 in connection with the events that inaugurated what is now the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue. During that lecture Dr. Ikeda referred to a little book by John Dewey published in 1934 as A Common Faith.

Dr. Ikeda recalled Dewey’s assertion that it is “the religious” rather than any specific religion that is of importance and noted that “the religious” is not a species of dogma, but rather a quality that can permeate experiences of many types, including those that are aesthetic, educative, and even political. It was in this connection that Dr. Ikeda associated the long-term viability of any form of religious expression with the degree to which it is capable of balancing and harmonizing internal and external forces in ways that promote positive social change.

For Dewey, both religion and education involve a balance between accommodation to conditions that cannot be modified and adaptation of conditions that we can change. He thought that this balance, or what he termed “adjustment,” is normally dynamic, fleeting, and in need of continual renewal. It can only be produced by carefully wrought processes of inquiry, which must include appropriate aesthetic and emotional components. Yet there are occasions, he suggested, during which this type of harmony is so profound and far reaching that it involves our being in its entirety, eliciting enduring modifications of the self. He thought it should be a major goal of all institutions — including those that are religious as well as those that are educational — to facilitate this type of adjustment. In doing so, they can open the door to the creation of value across generations and effect lasting social change.

Dr. Ikeda has called for precisely this type of adjustment. He encourages us to believe that it is possible to develop an enduring state of consciousness such that it cannot be defeated or destroyed by even the most debilitating of external conditions. The human revolution that he calls for inverts the traditional notion of karma by raising the stakes for positive human action: even the most difficult and debilitating karma can be overcome by individuals who are willing to do the work — call it religious or call it educative — of reconstructing their habits and behavior in ways that create value. That means that every human being has the potential for the type of transformation that can effect lasting social change by altering external circumstances. This is an idea that links the thought of Ikeda and Dewey, and that also links religion and education within a humanist framework.

Dr. Ikeda surely got Dewey right during his Harvard lecture when he said that “the religious” for Dewey is not a specific external power but rather “that which supports and encourages people in active aspiration toward the good and valuable.” That is precisely what education and religion do when they function at their best. In other words, religion and education are equally important.


From Sarah Wider, Professor of English, Emeritus, Colgate University, and co-author, with Daisaku Ikeda, of The Art of True Relations: Conversations on the Poetic Heart of Human Possibility

“All are needed by each one; / Nothing is fair or good alone.” 
From “Each and All,” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A new semester begins opening possibilities we have only begun to imagine. It’s the first full day of class. Here are twenty-seven people who have never before been in conversation. The room looks pristine, almost sterile. We have not yet lived our thoughts and debates and delights and frustrations into it. The chairs are in tidy rows. That simply won’t do. First of all, who can explore thoughts freely when they are talking to the back of another person’s head? And then, why should comments for all of us be directed solely to a single figure at the front of a class? We circle our chairs. Already the powerful structure of a spider web has entered the conversation as one metaphor for class discussion. In the shape of our chairs, students see the outer rim, and begin looking for the interconnecting threads that weave from one idea to another, from one person to another. What will this semester bring?

I am one of the lucky ones. I have always loved learning and have always (or almost) lived in close connection with those who share that love. But increasingly, I see a different attitude from those in my classrooms. Expedience takes precedence over expansiveness. Pressure for the right answer silences curiosity about multiple approaches. Grade anxiety suppresses poetic imagination. When the young adults in my classes associate imagination with childhood and believe it is inevitably forfeited to schooling, then I know we are losing our learners, our visionaries, our creative and yes, critical thinkers. With love of learning lost, how will we nurture listening, cooperation, collaboration? Who will be able wholly to attend to the profound complexity within which we are all deeply connected?

Learning’s most powerful foundation rises from encouragement and appreciation.

Sarah Wider

Years ago, just as those questions were asking themselves in my daily life, I learned about Soka education thanks to my attendance at events at the Ikeda Center. I was reminded that learning’s most powerful foundation rises from encouragement and appreciation. Here was what had always been fundamentally part of my educational experience, and yet was increasingly absent from the loudest words about American education.

Encouragement: how deeply we need the courage to take risks in thought, to examine something freely and fully, regardless of what may happen to our own long-held beliefs or assumed truths. We daily need courage to see things differently, to see from other and others’ perspectives, to step from what we know into the unknown and take the time, sometimes painfully long, truly to learn. In the United States, how we like to think about this as an individual achievement, the person solitary and self-sufficient. And yet we know it is not so. Courage is neither abstract nor created in a vacuum. Encouragement is that process by which a person gains creative and innovative strength. 

And yet how do we discern the difference between strength that is creative and strength that is destructive? Sadly, in our times of increasing militarism and “zero-sum gain,” courage has been equated with the power to kill or the power to eliminate. We have set aside the courage of peace making, the courage of inclusion, the courage of creating value (soka). What makes the difference? As I learned from my visits to Soka schools: appreciation. How we look askance at the word in academia, associating it with a “lesser” mental activity. We do not stop to see the range of thought it involves and the extent of evaluation that it demands. I am reminded of Emerson’s comment about “Self-Reliance”: “If anyone imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day.” Appreciation is neither superficial nor slight. It comprises multi-dimensions of history, cultural understanding, psychological and sociological breadth, as well as the always-ongoing hard work of empathy. 

I return to the twenty-seven of us meeting twice a week in our spider web spinning. What courage will we need, collectively and individually as we embark on the unknown? How will appreciation enter to help us think more fully about the fragmented lives and lands that cry the truth of our contemporary world?  The unknown beckons. Entering it as compassionate thinkers following the slender strands in this web of relation, we journey together, creating value as we go, knowing “All are needed by each one; / Nothing is fair or good alone.”

From Lou Marinoff, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at The City College of New York, founding president of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, and author of the bestseller Plato Not Prozac!

Humanistic education is a necessary cornerstone of 21st century global citizenship. Only by a thorough appreciation of the universal essence of humanity can people fully develop their own potential, and also co-exist harmoniously. The Humanities themselves are under siege of late, partly because too many leaders and educators have come to believe that technologies alone will solve our human problems. That view being misguided, we must work with renewed vigor to heighten awareness of global humanistic values, and their diverse expression through humanities and the arts.  


From Jason Goulah, Professor of Bilingual-Bicultural Education and Director of the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education at DePaul University

After more than a decade of researching Daisaku Ikeda’s educational philosophy and practice, I am not only interested in the Ikeda Center’s second core conviction, but I am convinced that it is both the means and goal of the other six convictions. As I understand it, the second conviction derives from Ikeda’s philosophy and practice of ningen kyoiku, a concept he has used regularly since the 1950s. Literally “human education,” but more frequently translated into English as “humanistic” or even “humane” education, ningen kyoiku is Ikeda’s formula—both in and outside the context of schooling—for becoming “fully human” in the richest, truest sense of the term.

In his 1993 speech, Radicalism Reconsidered, Mr. Ikeda asserts that we are born human only in a biological sense; we must learn and train—educate—ourselves in the ways of being and becoming human. Emphasis on continually becoming is key in his understanding of human education. It is the process he calls “human revolution.” Moreover, there is no defined telos, no model of being “human” toward which all should strive; rather, each individual should seek to improve and expand in his or her own way, as they are, the inherent qualities that make us human. These qualities for Ikeda are courage, wisdom and compassion, and their development gives rise to the appreciation of and dedication to dialogue, interdependence with and appreciation of the Other, creativity and imagination.

Such a view of education, as its Latin etymology indicates, is analogous to Ikeda’s Buddhist philosophy of “pulling out” or tapping one’s inherent potential toward the same qualities of courage, wisdom, compassion and growth in the dialogic space of the Other. As he states in volume 1 of Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, “Human education and Buddhism are two aspects of the same reality. That is why … I, based on the Lotus Sutra, actively promote a movement for education and culture.” Thus, in secular human education as in Buddhism, an individual realizes his or her fuller human self through dialogue, inner transformation, creativity and imagination, awareness of local-global interdependence, and a belief in the Other’s unlimited potential as equal and equally valuable to one’s own. These in turn foster a greater, volitional sense of being human, which thereby enhances one’s volitional engagement in dialogue, inner transformation, creativity and imagination, awareness of (and action based on) interdependence, and interaction with the Other. And the process continually repeats in endless progression toward both becoming “fully human” and fostering others’ full humanity.

Unfortunately, such perspective has gained little traction in current educational policies and practices. While the U.S. and other countries focus on and legislate schooling in terms of standardized accountability, “sameness-as-fairness,” and cutthroat competition as the means to revive a moribund economy and engender happiness, Daisaku Ikeda’s philosophy and practice of ningen kyoiku—embodied in the Ikeda Center’s 20 years of socially engaged peace, learning, and dialogue, as well as in the 14 Soka schools he founded in Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States—is the prime point to which we must return in the ongoing discourse on education. Far deeper than the policies and processes of schooling, ningen kyoiku is the means by which we transform ourselves to transform local and global society.