In Dialogue with Nature, Oneself, and Others
Author Event Celebrates the Publication of
By Mitch Bogen
Ronald A. Bosco (left) and Joel Myerson, exploring the legacy of the American Renaissance
The more than 75 Boston-area community members who attended benefited from insights based on lifetimes of reflection on the subjects explored in the eighteen conversations that comprise Creating Waldens. Professors Bosco and Myerson are leading authorities on the lives and letters of Emerson and Thoreau. Each has devoted decades to promoting deep understanding of these great figures and their writings. A prolific writer and influential proponent of Buddhist humanism and cross-cultural dialogue, Mr. Ikeda consistently incorporates the lessons of these great figures into the heart of his humanistic vision. In his introductory remarks, Center advisor Masao Yokota observed that Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman were Ikeda’s “heroes when he was young,” and that even now, when Ikeda speaks of them, his face “returns to that of the young Daisaku Ikeda.”
Throughout the afternoon, it was apparent that the authors want to instruct, yes, but also to inspire all of us, especially our young people, to emulate the reverence for nature, poetry, and self-knowledge so valued by those nineteenth-century seekers.
In his message, Mr. Ikeda shared how, in the aftermath of the horrible events of September 2001, he renewed his own commitment to dialogue as the true path to peace, especially when it is powered by the “poetic power of the imagination,” which “can create portals of hope and discover entranceways for exchange in the massive walls that divide our world.” He also revealed that he wanted his “first, firm step forward” to be this dialogue with professors Bosco and Myerson, so greatly does he esteem both these scholars and the lessons that the American Renaissance holds for our time.
Their conversations, he said, reaffirmed his belief that unlimited promise and power lies within every individual. Using a phrase popular among Transcendentalists, Ikeda called on people to develop a “self-culture” — one in which people remain true to their deepest commitments and that transforms the very core of being. “What flowers from this self-culture,” he continued, “is not the fragile, forlorn bud of the smaller self but the majestic blossom of the larger self — with its boundless capacity for empathy and understanding.” (Read the full message here.)
For the Sake of Nature – and Poetry
Setting the stage for the discussion to follow, she cited sections from the book in which Bosco and Myerson explore the profound benefits that can accrue for young people — and indeed for all of us — when we adopt an attitude of reverence and respect for nature and poetry alike. Patterson quoted Bosco from Conversation Five of Creating Waldens: “Thoreau immersed himself in nature for the sake of nature. … By immersing himself in nature he elevated his experience to poetry.” Nature, like poetry, she added, teaches us “to love not for what we can get out of it.”
Patterson then cited Myerson, also from Conversation Five: “Thoreau’s labor not only provided his food, but also literally rooted him to the earth. He learned about nature while working.” Patterson said that Thoreau’s insight holds a parallel meaning for her own students this semester, who are studying the poetry of the American Renaissance. “There is this way in which labor — the labor of studying and the investment we have in learning to work on poetry, or whatever it is we are working on, eventually will bear fruit in our having a sense of profound rootedness in a tradition.”
During their remarks, both Bosco (left) and Myerson shared warm recollections of their interactions with Mr. Ikeda. Recalling their visit with him at Soka University of Japan in 2001, both men marveled at how he brightened in the presence of the young students there — like “turning on a light bulb,” said Myerson.
And Professor Bosco recalled how it was a question from Ikeda during that visit, so simple yet unexpected, that inspired the process of dialogue that led to the creation of this book. What, asked Mr. Ikeda, did he, Professor Bosco, believe to be the real purpose of education and the professor’s role in ensuring that it is achieved? “To inspire poetic reverence for the world we live in and the culture we have inherited,” replied Bosco. Ikeda seized on this idea, and made it “the germ” for the book being celebrated today, added Bosco.
Commenting on Ikeda’s dialogical method, Myerson said that Ikeda’s tendency to ask “straightforward, open-ended questions forced us to re-think some things, and re-articulate some things, so it opened up the dialogue in a fascinating way.” Noting some of the cross-cultural aspects of the dialogue, Bosco said, “It was revelatory to have President Ikeda’s take on how the study of nature in pre-war Japan did yield types like Henry David Thoreau in that culture as well. So Thoreau … is part of a much larger movement within human culture.”
Professor Myerson (right) likewise reflected on how Thoreau, in his quest to “live deliberately” went to Walden Pond where he “asked questions of himself and of nature” — to deliberate, as it were — defining himself without consideration for the demands of established society. And he described Emerson as equally a proponent of “finding out who you are,” though he added that Emerson was very upfront about society’s likely displeasure with such non-conformity. Nevertheless, said Myerson, Emerson felt that “it is incumbent upon people who find themselves to bring that knowledge to the other world — as he puts it, ‘to the combatants in the dusty arena below.’” We have a responsibility, said Myerson, “if we find these universal truths, these poetries of life, to share them with other people.”
On teaching and learning the poetry and poetic prose of the American Renaissance
On the connection between lives and literature
Fruitful Conversations, Then and Now
Professor Bosco remarked on the aspect of integrity that informed the lives and interactions of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman: “No matter what you like or dislike about them, what you appropriate or disregard in their writings, they are three incredibly moral, ethical individuals. There is a parallel between what they think and write about and what they actually believe. They are not out there selling a good word for the trade.” A commitment to this same principle was evident in the presentations of all the day’s participants.
The thoughtful, searching discussion around Creating Waldens represented another step toward Daisaku Ikeda’s dream for the Center, expressed in his message: “My hope is that the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue will lead the effort to create … spiritual sanctuaries of life-affirming dialogue where we can heal the wounds of the alienated lesser self and open pathways to our true self, the greater self, with its unlimited capacity for empathy. From such Waldens, I am confident a mighty river of peace will flow.”
Addendum: Celebrating Some Milestones
PURCHASE A COPY of Creating Waldens
READ ABOUT IKEDA FORUMS exploring the American Renaissance
Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue