2004 Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai and SGI President Meet in Tokyo
On February 18, 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate and Kenyan Vice Environment Minister Wangari Maathai met with SGI President Daisaku Ikeda at the Seikyo Press building in Shinanomachi, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Dr. Wangari, accompanied by her daughter, Wanjira Maathai, and Kenyan Ambassador to Japan Dennis N.O. Awori, were warmly welcomed by shouts of "Karibu!"--"welcome" in Swahili--from Mr. Ikeda, Mrs. Kaneko Ikeda, Soka Women's College representatives, Soka University Pan African Friendship Club members and others. Dr. Maathai is founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. In 1977 she inspired women across Kenya to plant trees to combat soil erosion resulting from deforestation as well as provide firewood for cooking fires. Today, the movement has transcended national boundaries and some 100,000 people have planted 30 million trees. Dr. Maathai has also contributed greatly to advancing women's education and empowerment, democratization and sustainable development.
Calling her "Mother of the Green Earth" and "Mother of Victorious Smiles," Mr. Ikeda expressed deep pleasure in having the opportunity to meet Dr. Maathai with Soka Gakkai youth representatives. He congratulated her on receiving the Nobel peace prize and praised her dedicated efforts to fight desertification of her beloved country and the African continent while surmounting persecution and oppression from authorities who feel threatened by her environmental protection efforts. He said Dr. Maathai was an exemplar who has heightened awareness of the environment, women and Africa in the new century.
Dr. Maathai stated that she had first learned about the SGI through Earth Charter activities and respects SGI members and their work that is grounded in the socially-engaged philosophy of Buddhism, which teaches respect for life, the natural environment, and the oneness of people and society. She said the SGI and the Green Belt Movement share the same ideals. Dr. Maathai expressed her belief that Mr. Ikeda, who has continued to promote these values with his life, is a wonderful "gift" to humanity.
Mr. Ikeda thanked Dr. Maathai for her understanding of the SGI and its movement, and informed her that a cherry tree and fig tree would be dedicated in her honor on the campus of Soka University in Japan and America, respectively.
Asked the secret behind her ever-present smile, Dr. Maathai heartily stated that a smile is a natural expression of a happy state of life. Nature itself--including the sun, sky, and flowers--also smiles upon humanity. She further stated that if one feels something needs changing, then one should first change oneself. Life is a wonderful experience and should be enjoyed to the fullest.
Mr. Ikeda agreed with Dr. Maathai and remarked that the essential teaching of Buddhism exhorts people to develop one's life, based on the concept of "human revolution," so that life can be enjoyed.
Dr. Maathai is said to have advised her son, Waweru, that the difference between success and failure in life is often no more than willingness to get up when one is down. Concurring with her philosophy, Mr. Ikeda asked Dr. Maathai to give a message to the youth, who shoulder the future. She stated the future does not exist in some far off distance, but exists in the present, and therefore, anything to be realized in the future must be rooted in one's present actions. On her philosophy of dedicating her life for the sake of others, she asserted that when one serves others, one's life is imbued with satisfaction and fulfillment. In contrast, when one lives selfishly, one feels dissatisfied with life.
On the occasion, Dr. Maathai received Soka University's Award of Highest honor.