Working for Peace, Education, and Culture and with Dr. Daisaku Ikeda and Soka Gakkai International

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

August 11, 2013

The irony of living in Japan for 8 years. I have written that my parents were captured, imprisoned and tortured before they were executed by Japanese soldiers in Balitbiton, Valencia, Bohol on October 23, 1944. That was three days after General MacArthur’s forces had landed at Leyte for our so-called “Liberation” from Japanese military rule that began in January 1942. Papa and Mama had refused to surrender and join the Japanese occupation government; instead they opted to serve in the underground resistance.

But in 1977, ironically, I was recruited to join the United Nations University (UNU) whose Center was located in Tokyo. The UNU contributes to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its peoples, and Member States.  

So my wife and I would live in Tokyo for a long time. Our eldest daughter, Lanelle, learned Japanese pottery as a three-year apprentice of her master potter in the island of Hachijojima. Japanese-style ceramics has been her profession since 1980. Our three other children studied in Japanese schools and learned Japanese before going on to study in the United States. Our children had also wondered why they would live and study in Japan.

My wife and I believed that it was God’s will, or providential, for us to know post-war Japan and be reconciled with the Japanese people. Indeed, we discovered that some Japanese had opposed Japan’s militarism and cruel occupation of China and Southeast Asian countries. And we came to know a new generation of Japanese who welcomed Japan’s democratization under its new post-war, peace Constitution.

We learned in more detail about the unspeakable carnage and suffering wrought by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. Air Force as a way to quickly end the war with Japan. And we would be with Pope John Paul II when he gave his UNU lecture in Hiroshima on humanity and global peace. When I kneeled to kiss his hand the Pope raised me up and said: “God bless your family.”

Soka Gakkai and its leaders. I would later hear and read about Dr. Daisaku Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai organization that he headed in pursuit of world peace and disarmament through education, culture, and international exchange. Dr. Ikeda is the third president of Soka Gakkai which means “Society for the creation of value.” He and I happened to be born in the same year, 1928. We would become partners in the pursuit of global peace through education and culture, advocacy and activism.

Soka Gakkai’s founder and first president was Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), an author and educator. His advocacies directly challenged Japanese authorities who wanted to educate docile subjects of the militarist state.  “The refusal of Makiguchi and his closest associate Josei Toda (1900-58) to compromise their beliefs and support the militarist regime led to their arrest and imprisonment in 1943 as ‘thought criminals.’” Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. Toda was released from prison just before the war ended.

The history of Soka Gakkai says that in postwar Japan “Toda set out to rebuild Soka Gakkai, expanding its mission from the field of education to the betterment of society as a whole. “He promoted an active, socially engaged form of Buddhism, Nicherin Buddhism,  as a means of self-empowerment—a way to overcome obstacles in life and tap inner hope, confidence, courage, and wisdom. xxx  Before Toda’s death in 1958 there were some one million members, or 750 households. xxx Toda had called on youth to work for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and this became the cornerstone of the Soka Gakkai’s peace activities.”

Since 1960, under Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, a charismatic leader and great organizer, Soka Gakkai has grown tremendously and broadened its scope. In 1975 he founded Soka Gakkai International (SGI). Now SGI is “a worldwide network with 84 constituent organizations and members in 192 countries and territories, sharing a vision of a better world. SGI’s Buddhist philosophy underpins a grassroots movement  promoting peace, culture and education.” Every year Dr. Ikeda issues a proposal for peace to the United Nations.” SGI is now linking more than 12 million people around the world, including Filipinos who belong to SGI Philippines.

Working for peace, democratization, and human development. In 1985 I was assigned to the UNU Office in New York to do liaison with the United Nations Headquarters. In February 1986 I was among Filipinos from New York and New Jersey who boarded four buses on our way to Washington, D.C. We decided to rally against President Ronald Reagan who had said that both Marcos and Cory Aquino’s side had cheated in the snap presidential election. We were very happy and excited to hear on radio that the EDSA revolution was in the process of overthrowing the dictator. That Sunday we proclaimed Cory Aquino our President in a mass concelebrated by several Filipino priests at the church near the U.N. Headquarters in New York. 

Soon I was recalled to UNU in Tokyo as Director of Planning and Evaluation. Early in 1987 I received a letter from President Cory Aquino inviting me to help Ambassador to Washington Emmanuel Pelaez in his role as head of the Government panel in the peace talks with Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front and Conrado Balweg of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army. Our extraordinary Ambassador succeeded in effecting a permanent truce in the hostilities between the Government and the two rebel groups. I was elated to be a small part of the Ambassador’s  team.

While working with Ambassador Pelaez and President Aquino I was asked by some friends at the University of the Philippines, where I had taught from 1952 to 1970, to be nominated for President of the University of the Philippines System. I agreed and was pleasantly surprised to be elected President by the U.P. Board of Regents. As a nominee for U.P. president I advocated peace, human development, and democratization as parts of my vision for the University.

Our paths crossed and we have been working together. Dr. Ikeda had heard of my interest in peace and social transformation. He invited me and my family to Japan to learn more about his work and Soka University that he had founded in a suburb of Tokyo. In 1991 I invited him to U.P. where he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his dedicated efforts for global peace and disarmament, and education and culture. I arranged for him to call on President Aquino and he presented her a poem extolling her leadership for democracy and human rights. He was sincere and so fulsome in his admiration that President Aquino whispered to me: “Binubola na yata ako.”  (“I think he is pulling my leg.”) 

Dr. Ikeda knew about my own advocacy of peace, so he offered to help me build what would be known as the Ikeda Center: Balay Kalinaw (House of Peace). Next to it U.P. built medium-rise apartments for visiting scholars. The Balay has become a very popular venue for various meetings. Meanwhile, Dr. Ikeda has become a great admirer of Jose Rizal as our national hero some of whose writings he has read. Soka University has also sent some students to study at U.P.

One of Dr. Ikeda’s many projects is his published dialogues with world leaders and scholars, among them Arnold Toynbee, Linus Pauling, Norman Cousins, Johan Galtung, and John Kenneth Galbraith. In the past several months Dr. Ikeda and I have conducted our own dialogue on learning, peace, nonkilling, and world citizenship which is to be published by 2015. Meanwhile, excerpts have been serialized in the Soka Gakkai magazine.

At the Escolta in Manila SGI Philippines is building the SGI Philippines Manila International Peace Center that will be dedicated on October 2, 2014. SGI commemorates October 2 as “World Peace Day.” The organization also has a cultural center in Tagaytay and offices in Quezon City, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao. It publishes a monthly magazine called Pagasa. It also organizes various cultural events.

SGI-Philippines’ leaders are: Hisako Alcantara, Director General; Dalisay Serrano, Vice Director Gen (Women’s Division); Eduardo Tan, Vice Director Gen.; Eduardo Tan, Vice Director Gen.;Jeremias Zhel Cruz, Youth Division Leader; Rodel Paul Sauza, Young Men’s Division leader; Hazel Andaya, Young Women’s Division Leader; Manuel Ang, Young Men’s Division General Secretary; Ferly de la Cruz,  Young Women’s Division General Secretary; Nobuyuki Ota, Young Men’s Division Asst. Secretary.

Soka Gakkai has its Soka University of America in a suburb in Los Angeles, the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusettes, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy, the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, and the Min-On concert Association in Tokyo.

I look forward to more active collaboration with Soka Gakkai International  and SGI Philippines in the cause of peace and disarmament, human rights, inter-faith dialogue, and sustainable development.

Both of us now 85 years old, Dr. Ikeda and I are blessed with reasonably good health: God willing it, I pray. 

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