A Spiritual Journey

A Spiritual Journey Review by SHARIL DEWA, The Star (Malaysia), Oct 31, 2003 Wonderful Encounters: Recollections of Meetings With Unforgettable People From Around the World Author: Daisaku Ikeda Publisher: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia The folk he met included Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Italian football star Roberto Baggio, and American jazz musician Herbie Hancock. Despite coming from very different social and political backgrounds, all 30 individuals featured in the book have one theme in common: each one strives to grow towards becoming a better citizen of the world. In his dialogue with Ikeda, who is the third president of Soka Gakkai, an international Buddhist movement that promotes education, world-wide cultural exchange and the establishment of world peace, the Malaysian premier stated that leaders are always confronted with tough problems and difficult solutions, which should be tackled head on, as by running away from the tasks at hand would equal defeat in one’s personal growth. “There is no ocean without waves,” said Dr Mahathir. “Only by overcoming hardship can leaders shine with even greater brilliance.” He said all great leaders should actively seek out and take on challenges. At the time of Ikeda’s first meeting with the premier in February 1988, Dr Mahathir was in the midst of political unrest, with United Malays National Organisation (Umno) being deemed unlawful by the local courts. Though he looked tired and worn out, Dr Mahathir possessed a steely determination to see the crisis out before admitting victory or defeat, noted Ikeda. “Without getting to the root of the problem, without giving a situation a chance, we cannot say that we have tried if we haven’t looked at the cause of the breakdown,” Ikeda wrote. With his first meeting with Dr Mahathir, 15 years before the Prime Minister’s retirement, Ikeda witnessed firsthand one man’s determination to change his country for the better, and in the process allowing himself the chance to grow. Likewise, American jazz musician Herbie Hancock, who met Ikeda while on tour in Tokyo in 1999, told the Buddhist leader that at the age of 59, “I am still growing, I am in the process of development.” Ikeda’s account of Hancock’s personal development lies in the fact that the musician is not afraid to travel on the path less traveled. Hancock, who has been a follower of Soka Gakkai Buddhism since 1972, said to Ikeda that “music is an expression of what it is to live. If we don’t enquire into how we should live, how can we create good music?” As music is an expression of one’s life, the struggles and the victories over difficulties in Hancock’s personal life found their way into his music, causing him to create sounds that he had never produced before. Instead of repeating his past success, Hancock decided to move forward, fusing different styles of music, all the while understanding that his new musical direction may alienate his fan base. However, his desire to create a new sound that “would touch the public” garnered him an Oscar for his musical score in the film Round Midnight in 1987. “I used to think that music brought people happiness, that it had the power to change people’s hearts. But now I know that personal growth is the source for creating better and deeper music. “I will continue doing my best to contribute to the development of music while polishing the spirit to earnestly seek what it is to be truly human,” he declared. Ikeda, who first met Italian footballer Roberto Baggio in Tokyo in 1993, a year before the World Cup, remembers the sportsman as a man who was very focused on what he had to do, and he did not allow fame or popularity to sway him in any way. “No matter how I am criticised, I am what I am. People call me a superstar, but I’m just a human being. Whether I am praised or blamed, I play the game the way I play it,” he said. Despite having three major knee surgeries at the start of his professional career, Baggio, who was asked to consider giving up football for good, was adamant this was his chosen profession and that he was sticking to it no matter what. “Buddhism teaches us that we are responsible for our own happiness or unhappiness, and I was determined to make myself happy in the only way I know how: by playing to the best of my ability,” Baggio said. Though he led his team to victories over Nigeria, Spain and Bulgaria in the 1994 World Cup, Baggio’s leg injuries might have kept the Italians from defeating the Brazilians. Instead of harbouring ill feelings, Baggio noted the team that is the most determined to win will do so. “Everyone is created equal and everyone has the same desire to succeed. Once you decide to win, you must do so, you must give your best; any less than your best are mere excuses. “A pro must win, be it personally or professionally. It is his mission to keep winning and inspiring courage in others. “The idea behind these (football) matches is that everyone is doing their best to win, and in that sense all the teams are winners. The losers are the ones who never tried,” said Baggio. Written from Ikeda’s point of view and in short chapters, with each section focusing on the author’s encounter with an individual, Wonderful Encounters describes how each subject managed to overcome the obstacles in his or her life, which proves that such people face the same personal and professional struggles that haunt everyone else, famous or not. Although some of the individuals featured in the book are followers of Soka Gakkai Buddhism, Ikeda looks through their triumphs from a humanitarian point of view. In short, Wonderful Encounters is one man’s experience with the people of the world who are, in their own ways, trying to find out what it means to be human.