Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist group leader Ikeda dies at 95

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Daisaku Ikeda. Kyodo file photo

Daisaku Ikeda, the longtime leader of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, one of the largest religious groups in Japan, and founder of Komeito party, the junior coalition partner of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, died of old age Nov. 15, the group said. He was 95.

Ikeda died at a Soka Gakkai facility in Tokyo, the group said. He became the third president of Soka Gakkai, with a claimed membership of over 8.27 million households, in 1960. The group provides a powerful electoral base for Komeito.

Ikeda established Komeito’s predecessor political group in 1961 and formed Komeito in 1964. In the wake of a controversy over the separation of politics and religion, he became focused on the activities of Soka Gakkai, though he remained influential in politics.

Ikeda assumed the post of the group’s honorary president in 1979, four years after establishing Soka Gakkai International, which claims 2.8 million members in over 190 countries and territories.

Upholding the “humanistic philosophy” of Nichiren Buddhism, Ikeda engaged in dialogue with world leaders and intellectuals, including the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on measures to build global peace, according to Soka Gakkai’s Website.

Ikeda was born in Tokyo in 1928 to a family of seaweed manufacturers. His experience of life during World War II propelled him to work for peace, the Website says.

“I cannot contain my deep sorrow.” current Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada said in a video posted online.

Komeito will forever uphold its spirit of “being with the masses” that Ikeda put forward, party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi said, describing the spirit as the party’s “unchanged starting point.”

“Ikeda left a great mark on history through his efforts to promote peace, culture and education in Japan and abroad,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, praised Ikeda for his efforts in “establishing friendship and goodwill with China and other countries in the world.”

Ikeda “laid the foundations for friendly diplomatic relations between China and Japan,” a Chinese diplomatic source said, adding that his contribution to the development of the bilateral ties was “immeasurable.”

According to Komeito, Ikeda in 1968 advocated the importance of the early restoration of diplomatic relations with China, at a time when the Japanese government’s policy toward China was not settled.

Russian media also reported on Ikeda’s death, detailing the academic exchanges between Soka University — a university run by Soka Gakkai — and Moscow State University, as well as his close interactions with former leader Gorbachev, who himself died in August last year.

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