Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 31: The Great Path to World Peace [31.14]

31.14 Restoring the Poetic Spirit

President Ikeda has stressed that one means for reviving contemporary civilization is restoring the poetic spirit—the topic of this column he contributed to The Japan Times, a leading English-language newspaper in Japan.

“In the sea of sky
The waves of cloud rise up,
And the moon-boat
Is seen rowing out of sight
Into the forest of the stars.”

This waka-style poem was written some thirteen hundred years ago. It is included in the Man’yoshu (A Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), the oldest extant collection of Japanese poems.

Today, we have sent human beings beyond the reaches of Earth’s atmosphere; we have stood on the surface of the moon. Yet, reading this poem, one has to wonder if people in ancient times didn’t sense the presence of the moon and stars more intimately than we do today. Is it possible they lived richer, more expansive lives than we, who for all our material comfort, rarely remember to look up to the sky?

Immersed in material distractions, clamor, and bustle, contemporary humanity has been cut off from the vastness of the universe, from the eternal flow of time. We struggle against feelings of isolation and alienation. We seek to slake the heart’s thirst by pursuing pleasures, only to find that our cravings have grown that much more fierce.

This separation and estrangement is, in my view, the underlying tragedy of contemporary civilization. Divorced from the cosmos, from nature, from society, and from each other, we have become fractured and fragmented.

Science and technology have given humanity undreamed-of power, bringing invaluable benefits to our lives and health. But this has been paralleled by a tendency to distance ourselves from our surroundings, to objectify and reduce everything around us to numbers and things. Even people become things. The victims of war are presented as statistics; we are numbed to individual realities of unspeakable suffering and grief.

In contrast, the eyes of a poet discover in each person a unique and irreplaceable humanity. While arrogant intellect seeks to control and manipulate the world, the poetic spirit bows with reverence before its mysteries.

Human beings are each a microcosm. Living here on Earth, we breathe the rhythms of a universe that extends infinitely above us. When resonant harmonies arise between this vast outer cosmos and the inner human cosmos, poetry is born.

At one time, perhaps, all people were poets, in intimate dialogue with Nature. In Japan, the Man’yoshu collection comprised poems written by people of all classes. And almost half of the poems are marked “poet unknown.”

These poems were not written in order to leave behind a name. Poems and songs penned as an unstoppable outpouring of the heart take on a life of their own. They transcend the limits of nationality and time as they pass from person to person, from one heart to another.

The poetic spirit can be found in any human endeavor. It may be vibrantly active in the heart of a scientist engaged in research in the awed pursuit of truth. When the spirit of poetry lives within us, even objects do not appear as mere things; our eyes are trained on an inner spiritual reality. A flower is not just a flower. The moon is no mere clump of matter floating in the skies. Our gaze fixed on a flower or the moon, we intuitively perceive the unfathomable bonds that link us to the world.

In this sense, children are poets by nature, by birth. Treasuring and nurturing their poetic hearts, enabling them to grow, will also lead adults into realms of fresh discovery. We do not, after all, exist simply to fulfill desires. Real happiness is not found in more possessions, but through creating a harmony with the world at the core of our being.

The poetic spirit has the power to “retune” and reconnect a discordant, divided world. True poets stand firm, rooted in life’s complex, conflicted, and fissured reality. Harm done to anyone, anywhere, causes agony in the poet’s heart. Yet, the poet intrepidly steps forward to offer people words of courage and hope, seeking to share a perspective—one step deeper, one step higher—that enables them to perceive the enduring spiritual realities of our lives.

Now more than ever, we need the thunderous, rousing voice of poetry. We need the poet’s impassioned songs of peace, of the shared and mutually supportive existence of all things. We need to reawaken the poetic spirit within us, the youthful, vital energy and wisdom that enable us to live to the fullest. We must all be poets.

Our planet is scarred and damaged, its ecosystems threatened with collapse. We must shade and protect Earth with “leaves of language” arising from the depths of life. Modern civilization will be healthy only when the poetic spirit regains its rightful place.

From an essay titled “Restoring Our Connections with the World,” published in The Japan Times, October 12, 2006.

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

  • *1Edwin A. Cranston, A Waka Anthology, Volume One: The Gem-Glistening Cup (California: Stanford University Press, 1993), p. 236.