Book Review: Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind by Daisaku Ikeda and Stuart Rees

I just finished this amazing dialogue between Soka Gakkai International president Daisaku Ikeda and Stuart Rees, who is the former director of the Sydney Peace Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Sydney. This dialogue was published just last year and we need dialogues like it more than ever.

I needed to read this dialogue because there is so much happening in the world. The trade war between the U.S. and China, Britain threatening to leave the E.U. and recent mass shootings, as well as the damaging that has been done to the planet and is just getting worse. But then I read Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind, and I can honestly say how empowered I feel to be a part of the movement to foster a more just and peaceful society. What I love about this dialogue is that Professor Rees and President Ikeda go deeper than the surface level definition of peace, which usually means no more war. Because, as Ikeda and Rees agree upon, the discussion around peace and justice is more complicated than just stopping wars. It involves bringing peace and justice studies into our schools’ curriculum, finding ways to take care of the planet and giving voices to marginalized individuals. They also emphasize in the dialogue the need for more discussion around the history of settler colonial countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, where Indigenous populations faced genocide and greed at the hands of white European settlers. Climate justice should involve Indigenous voices because this was their land first. Indigenous communities still face a ton of injustice today at the hands of the state, and while the communities of persons have fought so hard and so long for their sovereignty to the land’s resources,and while individuals in the U.S. and Canadian and Australian governments have spoken out against this injustice, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

That is the thing, I guess, about social justice. You have to keep talking about it. It’s not something you talk about and then all the problems of the world are gone. And more people are aware of this reality. In Nichiren Buddhism, if you want to understand what is happening in the present, you need to look at the past, and in order to understand what will happen in the future, you need to look at the present. Individuals create karma throughout their lives, and so this collective karma that we have with settler colonialism, global warming, the trade war, gun violence, injustice against immigrants and poverty, is because certain individuals created the cause of abusing their power and after many years, the effects have shown themselves in ugly ways. Which is why art is so important, because while I need to be nice at my day job, I don’t want to be so nice in my art. It’s why I painted a picture of an elephant and a polar bear standing on melting ice caps and sweating while the sun, which has a hole in its ozone layer, beats down on them. I was angry with the status quo and wanted to do something about it, and watching how Greta Thunberg fought hard to address climate change showed me that even as an introverted person, I can still speak up about these issues through creative means. Rees, in the dialogue says, that “artists break down the walls of habitual practice and promote visions of world citizenship. In this way, they touch the hearts and minds of so many people.” (p. 59 of Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind) As an artist, I need to speak out. And as a human, I need to be willing to have the tough conversations. I need to also use my art and my pen to create art that will move the human spirit, inspire a dialogue about the tough stuff.

Peace, Justice and the Poetic Mind: Conversations on the Path of Nonviolence. Stuart Rees and Daisaku Ikeda. 2018. 218 pp.

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