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Back to listApr 6, 2013

Ikeda Center Hosts Seminar for Students on Dialogue

Professors Hickman and GarrisonThe youth seminar

We must embrace multiple modes of dialogue if we are to achieve fulfilling lives and a peaceful global community. This was the overarching message of a seminar and ensuing discussions that took place on April 6 between students and Professors Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The discussions were based on themes drawn from the book A New Humanism: The University Lectures of Daisaku Ikeda. Professors Garrison and Hickman are recent dialogue partners of SGI President and Ikeda Center founder Daisaku Ikeda.

The event provided a platform for Boston students to connect across their institutions in pursuit and celebration of new knowledge, shared ideals and greater understanding.

The first topic considered during the two-hour seminar was how to transform our lesser self and come to recognize and foster our greater self. In Buddhism, the former is associated with selfish, limited desires and the latter with compassion and empathy.

Dr. Garrison, who is professor of philosophy of education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, observed that Daisaku Ikeda articulates an important perspective by insisting that "in striving to discover the greater self, the genuine Buddhist approach is not to try to suppress or wipe out the lesser self, but to control and direct it so as to help lift civilization to better, higher levels." This notion, said Garrison, is quite compatible with the ancient Greek view that a prime purpose of education is "the education of Eros," nurturing wisdom, a sense of wonder and passion for learning.

Professors Hickman and GarrisonStudents were invited to offer insights based on the evolving discussion

Buddhism, Dr. Garrison added, also teaches through the doctrine of dependent co-arising that no self or phenomenon exists independent of other selves and phenomena. Thus, the movement toward a greater self must always occur in relationship. Dialogue, he said, is a form of relationship that is especially fruitful in fostering the greater self.

Dr. Hickman, who is director of the Center for Dewey Studies and professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, connected this insight with the views of the American Pragmatists, among them William James and John Dewey. It was James, Dr. Hickman said, who made the breakthrough of "de-reifying" the self, seeing it as an organization "of habits, desires, motivations, and relationships," an organization that at times can be very unstable, especially in times of crisis. This instability means that this self—which might more accurately be described as a collection of selves or identities that vary depending on context—is always being influenced, which also means that we have the power to shape the directions in which it grows. One way to promote conscious growth, said Professor Hickman, is through the process of "internal dialogue," or "communication with our various selves."

The seminar was moderated by Ikeda Center Education Fellow Julie Nagashima of the University of Pittsburgh. After the formal seminar, Professors Garrison and Hickman engaged in nearly two hours of informal dialogue with the students.

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On April 16, in response to the tragic bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon the previous day, the Ikeda Center posted the following message on its website: 

We are reminded by these fateful events how very important it is to keep moving forward in the spirit of dialogue and tolerance, especially in times like these. The Center's founder has said, "Everything is born from hope." Crucially, he adds that even when it appears that all hope is gone, we still have the power to create hope ourselves. In this spirit, we will carry on with even greater faith in the inherent goodness of people and the power of dialogue to bring that goodness to the fore.

[Adapted from a report from the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue; photos courtesy of the Ikeda Center]