Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 26: Leaders Who Guide Others to Happiness [26.3]

26.3 Lead by Example

Through the example of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement, President Ikeda underscores the importance of first setting an example by changing ourselves if we wish to help others change.

I would like to relate a story that Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi shared from his childhood.

When he was about six or seven, Arun lived in an ashram community with his grandfather. One of his friends was a boy of about the same age, who was living there with his parents. This friend was very fond of sweets, consuming them in great quantity. As a result, he started getting a rash all over his body. No matter how his parents nagged him to stop eating sweets, he wouldn’t listen. Since there were always sweets around, he would simply grab some to eat when nobody was looking.

Worried, his mother went to see Gandhi and urged him to speak to her son and explain to him that he should not eat sweets anymore.

After hearing the mother’s story, Gandhi said: “Please come back in 15 days and I will speak to him.”

Perplexed, the mother did as asked and returned 15 days later. Gandhi took the boy aside and spoke to him for less than a minute. That was all, but surprisingly, from then on the boy stopped eating sweets.

His mother was puzzled. What kind of miracle had Gandhi performed on her son, she wondered. A few days later, she went to ask Gandhi this question herself. He replied that it was no miracle. “The reason I asked you to come back in 15 days,” he said, “was that I had to give up eating sweets for 15 days before I could ask the child to give up eating them.” He had told this to the boy and added that he himself would not touch any sweets until the boy’s rash had healed and he was able to eat sweets again.

In other words, Mahatma Gandhi lived by the creed “I’ll challenge myself, so please do so, too.” This was the secret of his success in changing the young boy’s attitude.

Arun Gandhi further remarked that leaders and educators are persuasive only when they set a good example themselves. This was Mahatma Gandhi’s conviction, he said, and the secret to his charismatic leadership. He added that the essence of nonviolence is the ability to educate people, and education is about being a positive role model.

The key to the Soka Gakkai’s development, too, has been the fine example set by the leaders themselves, their dedicated efforts and hard work. When leaders fail to exert themselves, they become bureaucratic and lapse into empty rhetoric.

As a country, Japan today is badly deadlocked, and all kinds of remedies are being recommended, each presented as the best or surest way to recovery. And while any advice is worth considering, many of those handing it out are overlooking one very simple but very important point: the need for those offering advice to set good examples themselves. If the people making fine speeches and proposals actually did what they preached, surely the country would soon be in fine shape. But the exact opposite is true. There are far too many political leaders who seek only personal gain and advantage while urging others to show patience and self-restraint.

We find a similar scenario in the case of the child in Arun Gandhi’s story. The reason there were always sweets around was that the child’s entire family loved sweets and were always eating them. It is hardly surprising that they could not convince him to give up sweets under such circumstances.

Why could people endure the bitter struggle for Indian independence? Despite the difficult hurdles to self-rule once thought impossible to overcome, people still followed Gandhi. Why? Because he never asked others to do anything he had never done himself. Gandhi always stood at the forefront of protests and marches. He always went where there was the greatest crisis or suffering. This, in fact, is the essence of nonviolence. In other words, it is to change oneself first and then, through that transformation, to change the hearts of others.

From a speech at the SGI Asia Peace and Culture Conference, Okinawa, February 21, 1999.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.