The Leader of Securing Global Peace and Happiness
An organization cannot exist without leadership. What began as a reformist group of Japanese educators is now a global Buddhist community. The first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai (value-creating society), Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (19871-1944), Josei Toda (1900-1958), and Daisaku Ikeda (1928-present), shared a commitment to realizing a peaceful society through the practical application of Nichiren Buddhism. After succeeding Toda as the third president of the Soka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda focused on a worldwide movement by founding the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) in 1975. Daisaku Ikeda is an effective leader in promoting his goals of world peace, culture, and education by exemplifying transformational leadership via visionary communication and one-on-one interactions with organizational members.
Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher, educator, author, poet, and world citizen. He founded several institutions, such as universities in Brazil, Japan, and the United States. Additionally, he holds 300 honorary doctorates from higher learning institutions in more than 50 countries (Daisaku Ikeda Website Committee, 2020a). Ikeda has dialogued with Rosa Parks, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, and other critical leaders about achieving a more hopeful and peaceful global society. He also has written more than 250 translated published literary works about Buddhism, biographical essays, poetry, and children’s stories (Daisaku Ikeda Website Committee, 2020b). Ikeda has dedicated his days to spreading a message of peace and respect for all life throughout the world.
I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai International-United States of America (SGI-USA) since September 2018. The SGI-USA is part of a more extensive Buddhist network. I chose Daisaku Ikeda, who I will refer to him throughout the rest of the paper as Ikeda Sensei, for this assignment because I perceive him as my mentor in faith. Ikeda Sensei’s own life inspires me to seek confidence in myself to realize my profound potential to triumph in any circumstance and surmount any suffering by transforming it into a source of growth and strength. I strive to realize Ikeda Sensei’s commitment to a peaceful society by leading my life through compassionate action introduced by the Buddha.
The SGI is a lay Buddhist organization with 12 million practitioners in 192 countries and territories (Living Buddhism, 2021, p. 2). SGI members practice Nichiren Buddhism to enable every single person to become happy without exception. All people equally possess Buddhahood, so there are no priests, temples, or clergy in the SGI. Instead, there are lay leaders and community centers where people carry out their daily practice. A central activity for SGI members is monthly discussion meetings in local communities where members pray, study together, and encourage one another. The SGI is also an accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO) and holds consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (Soka Gakkai). SGI members integrate their practice into their daily life.
Ikeda Sensei’s role as the leader of the SGI is to serve as a mentor, not a person of worship. SGI members establish a mentor-disciple relationship with Ikeda Sensei in which members seek inspiration from his teachings, which is like a student and professor relationship. Instead of trying to imitate the mentor, SGI members learn from Ikeda Sensei’s way of life and bring a similar yet unique approach to their own set of circumstances. His humanistic philosophy helps members understand Buddhism as an interconnected relationship between themselves, other people, and the universe. This shared ideal creates a profound closeness between the mentor and members despite the physical distance.
Ikeda Sensei is a transformational and discursive leader who uses inspiring language to engage with SGI organizational members. According to Miller (2015), “Leaders who want to instill the ideals of hard work and ethical behavior would do so by exemplifying those ideals in their own behaviors” (p. 187). Ikeda Sensei’s philosophy and actions serve as a model for actualizing the limitless potential within each person. He exemplifies how ordinary citizens can attain Buddhahood in this lifetime when people see actual proof of his behavior documented in video recordings, pictures, books, speeches, and daily interactions. Additionally, when addressing any person he encounters, Ikeda Sensei speaks to them as equals and with a hopeful attitude.
There are many ways Ikeda Sensei communicates with SGI members and other key leaders, cultural figures, and scholars. Some of the mediums he uses are speeches, poems, daily guidance appearing on the SGI mobile application, dance, and songs. Miller (2015) writes, “…leaders who use ‘visionary’ content in their communication are more effective than those who use more pragmatic content” (p. 188). Often, Ikeda Sensei uses metaphors and stories to frame the message he communicates. For example, Ikeda Sensei (2021) writes, “A mighty tree with solid roots will not be toppled, even in the face of the fiercest storm. Similarly, those who put down strong, deep roots of faith will be fine, even if they grow anxious or lose confidence at times” (para. 17). This metaphor compares a person with a solid inner foundation to a sturdy tree to illustrate an abstract connection and help people see themselves in a new light. In addition to visionary language, Ikeda Sensei also engages in one-on-one dialogue.
The heart of SGI faith activities lies in connecting life to life with people. A discursive leader is "accomplished through interaction with others, is a process of meaning management, and is grounded in the accomplishment of tasks" (Miller, 2015, p. 191). Ikeda Sensei socially constructed his leadership through his interactions with other organizational actors. For instance, in 1960, Ikeda Sensei determined to share the humanistic practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism's with the world by visiting North American members. Ikeda Sensei visited members in their homes, listened to their struggles, and offered personalized guidance. He remembers the names of his members and sincerely cares about their well-being. Through exemplifying living one's life according to Buddhist principles and genuine encounters with others, Ikeda Sensei gained leadership within the SGI.
Ikeda Sensei publishes a peace proposal each year, which explores the interconnectedness of Buddhist concepts and the challenges global society faces. One action taken by this leader is actively engaging with the United Nations in policymaking on nuclear disarmament. In January 2021, the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force as the first legally binding "set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities" (United Nations, 2021). To create awareness about this treaty's significance, the SGI produced digital tools to disseminate to the public. Another example of action Ikeda Sensei works toward is education for sustainable development and climate action. The SGI partnered with the Earth Charter International (ECI) to develop the Mapting app, which allows people to "track and map activities that contribute to actualizing Sustainable Development Goals" (Soka Gakkai, 2020) and encourage youth participation. Although Ikeda Sensei accomplished many institution goals, evaluating Ikeda Sensei's behaviors against the essential actions necessary for effective leadership will assess his overall performance.
In 1995, the SGI adopted a Charter, which outlines ten purposes and principles of the organization. Ikeda Sensei’s behaviors and interactions with others align with the commitments of the Charter. For instance, he dedicates his daily life to enabling others to bring forth their inherent wisdom, courage, and compassion. He also encourages dialogue and respect for other people to resolve fundamental human issues through his writings and speeches. When members share their faith experiences, they thank Ikeda Sensei for propagating Nichiren Buddhism worldwide and encountering the practice in this lifetime. Members’ positive perception of Ikeda Sensei and his consistent effort toward promoting empowerment and collaboration illustrates how his humanistic behavior contributes to his overall effectiveness as a leader. However, even leaders continuously work on self-development.
One suggestion Ikeda Sensei could adopt to enhance leadership in the SGI is incorporating the advantages of managerial transactional leadership. According to Miller (2015), "A managerial transactional leader exchanges a pay raise, a promotion, or verbal praise for hard work on a project" (p. 187). Although members should not seek approval or validation for accomplishments outside of themselves, receiving appreciation from a person one looks up to means a lot to individuals. For instance, local lay leaders of the SGI encourage members to write directly or send emails to Ikeda Sensei to report their victories. Ikeda Sensei could outright encourage this two-way communication and show recognition for individual contributions and actions to share this Buddhist philosophy with others. However, as a leader of an international organization making strides toward realizing worldwide peace and happiness, he has little time to respond, but he does his best.
Ikeda Sensei is a role model of a person who guides others to happiness through personalized interactions. He inspires current SGI members to develop the skills and foundation of faith to become capable leaders of the future. Additionally, he spearheads campaigns in collaboration with the United Nations, NGOs, and other stakeholders to address global issues. His joyous outlook on life and genuine concern for humanity as a whole make him an effective leader of a diverse global community.